In Review: I, Human

The questions this novel addresses go beyond the genre and hammer at modern man's existence. Worth reading.

I, Human by John Nelson

Published by Cosmic Egg Books, May 27, 2016. Paperback of 270 pages at $18.99 or as an ebook at $7.99.

The cover: A large eye surrounded by the circuitry from a computer board dominates this cover to create a neat sci-fi image. The dot on the I from the first word in the title is in the center of the eye’s pupil, with the remainder of the title just below. The designer of this image is Design Deluxe, using an image from Adobe Stock. They should be complemented for creating an image that nicely symbolizes the technological question of this book. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back, “The author’s 1988 novel, Transformation, told the story of a young geneticist who wanted to root out and replace the human species’ more unsavory character traits. But he found himself part of an experiment by advance being who revealed the real inner-workings of human evolution and self-transcendence. Twenty-five years later, after the themes of transhumanism, its peril and its hope, have been bandied about by authors of every stripe, Nelson revisits these themes in I, Human. Set in the ‘Brave New World’ of the late 21st century, most everyone has neural implants that have raised average I.Q.s to 200 plus and monitor one’s activities. The downside is they suppress feelings and intuition and are causing massive emotional breakdowns among the techno elites. This sets the stage for Alan Reynard and his journey from callous transhuman to a feeling-oriented intuitive. Fitted with an experimental processor, he infiltrates a ‘borny’ village to discover the secrets of its spiritual healers. Having lost the ability to program integrative functioning, his superiors hope Reynard’s processing can rectify this deficit and save their society…” How feelings will be integrated, or repressed, by future technology is a common idea of the genre, but it is always intriguing as society seems to inch closer to it. I’m looking forward to seeing how this spy will confront this threat and what it will, obviously, do to him. Overall grade: A

The characters: Alan Reynard starts the novel as a typical Everyman: he has a neural implant, making him a transhuman, that has upped his I.Q. and he uses that ability. However, where he differs is that he works for a company, K industries (“a private sector think tank for all levels of law enforcement”) that specializes in finding individuals who are breaking the law. Reynard specializes in thinking outside of the box, thinking of non-logical ways that a felony was accomplished. Early in the novel he’s assigned a case involving a security leak and the means by which data was being stolen is superb and how Reynard thinks of it is even better. This is a terrific indicator by author John Nelson to show Reynard’s thought process and how he differs from others. Additionally, when being interviewed by the company psychologist Reynard shows he is able to switch from one mental state to another to another quickly. It’s not explained what he’s doing, but it’s strongly insinuated that he’s able to essentially switch off his emotions, an ability he’s trained himself to do. This distances him from being human and more like his computer implant, but makes him the perfect focus for an individual to rediscover what it means to be emotional. Reynard hides nothing from the reader in his narration. He is, rightfully, in a constant state of second guessing, bordering on paranoia, how anyone’s words and actions could be hiding a more sinister purpose, including his wife Sherry. Alan reports that his wife wants him more for sex, causing him to think that she’s being directed to do so by his superiors. Reynard is still getting over his previous assignment in a “borny” village, a town where people don’t have the implants. When on this mission of infiltration he posed under alias and was assigned a wife, agent Emma Knowles. After the mission he still thinks of Knowles, though she’s disappeared. She makes a reappearance at the beginning of the novel, sowing the seeds of how the society Reynard exists only to further or maintain itself. Dr. Klaus weaves in and out of the novel whenever Reynard is mandated to speak with the psychologist. Klaus is an wonderfully enigmatic character, who seems to confide confidential information to his patient, but ultimately reports to the company. Maria Fria is the X factor of this novel, being the next “borny” assignment. The government, who has hired Reynard, believes she may have telepathic abilities because she is causing a community in Arizona to grow in their distrust of implants and has, supposedly, caused previous agents to go insane from their contact with her. After a tremendous build up from company characters, Fria turns out to be a very different character, and in doing so Nelson has made her every appearance an important and excellent one. These characters are all outstanding, with Reynard being one of the better original science fiction protagonists I’ve encountered in some time. Overall grade: A

The settings: There are no radical or stereotypical science fiction settings in this book and that works immensely to the story’s success. The only futuristic settings are the rooms at K that are filled with computers where the characters do their work. Otherwise, this could be set in New York ten to twenty years from now. Reynard’s home is the same as anyone’s today and his work place is the same as anyone that uses a computer, albeit there are more of them and their implants allow them to input and analyze the data more quickly. The explosive setting is in Arizona and the many road trips that Reynard takes with his companions. After being exposed to Fria, Reynard begins to see and experience things he hasn’t done before, allowing Nelson to describe sensations that are wonderful to read. The descriptions of something so simple as food made me immensely hungry with how each meal is described. I live in Southern California and dislike desert environments, but after reading this book I have to go to Arizona. This is good writing. Overall grade: A+

The action: The action is psychological in this novel. The threat is what Fria and her ilk could do to one’s implant and to one’s mind. There is a lot of build up that allows Fria’s reveal and actions to have an incredibly high level of tension. Before going on this mission, every scene at Reynard’s home and work is one of constant distrust, pulling the reader into the protagonist’s mind wonderfully. This paranoia is constant, which had me reading the book in one setting because I could not put it down. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: This was a disappointment. Once the characters make a key decision, the novel follows a predictable path. The end of Chapter 18 takes the book in a direction that is incredibly out of place with the rest of the novel, leading to a very unsatisfying ending. This seemed tacked on, too short, and too pat. Chapter 19 really hurt my enjoyment. Overall grade: C+

The final line: There is much to enjoy in this tale of a too near, too possible existence. Alan Reynard is one of the best Everyman characters in recent science fiction. If only the ending hadn’t taken a drastic turn. The questions this novel addresses go beyond the genre and hammer at modern man’s existence. Worth reading. Overall grade: B+

To find out more about I, Human go to

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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