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Science Fiction and Fantasy: ‘Leech’ by Hiron Ennes

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Science Fiction and Fantasy: ‘Leech’ by Hiron Ennes

It’s an inevitable and disappointing fact of life: The more years you spend reading speculative fiction, the fewer genuinely new ideas you come across. Unique hooks, plot twists, ideas, characters and creations grow fewer and further between. Which is why every single one of you sensation seekers should immediately go out and buy a copy of “Leech” by Hiron Ennes.

Leech

By Hiron Ennes

Tordotcom

336 pages

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The book takes place in the far, far future, on an Earth so wrecked by war and climate disaster that life is a grim slog for what remains of humanity. Much like M. John Harrison’s “Viriconium,” the world is a gray landscape of total misery interrupted by pops of archaic class structure: a nobility and its attempt to remain civilized.

The “hero” is the single point of view of a biological distributed consciousness, one of thousands of a single parasite’s host bodies. It can think for itself and refers to itself in the first person, but hears many voices from other bodies in its head constantly giving opinions and theories—as well as access to their own eyes and hands, their experience and their knowledge.

Every remaining doctor left to heal humans from the exotic plagues and vicious beasts that ravage this deadly earth is a host to the intelligent parasite. Each was once a normal human who was physically mutilated and infected to become yet another sexless, selfless vehicle for the parasite, little more than a telepresence system for it.

The story is pure Gothic horror: We follow the adventures of a doctor assigned as the new personal physician to an endlessly dying old duke in a crumbling mansion. The parasite must solve the mystery of why the previous doctor killed himself, and why it can’t access the last week of memories before that body died. Somehow the reader winds up rooting for this loathsome protagonist in his quest for answers.

The novel’s second half unfortunately winds up feeling a little like two completely different stories squished together because of this—the mystery doesn’t sit comfortably within a spaceships-and-plagues dystopia. But the real genius here is in the story of the host, as its body slowly regains human memories, reactions, gender, race and, finally, a name. Hiron Ennes does a transcendent job in telling the tale in the first-person without revealing anything of the host’s original identity; nowhere does this feel forced or artificial.

The path of discovery in “Leech” is slow and intriguing: In the end, the book might reveal less about who the host really is and more about the reader’s own assumptions. The result is a masterpiece of complex morality and uncertain identity, lurking within an intriguing puzzle.

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