Touch starts with a science fiction premise that I’ve seen a few times before. Beings exist that can move from one human body to another, taking complete control of their hosts. The Denzel Washington movie Fallen is about a serial-killer demon that moved from person to person. One of my favorites books, Wild Seed, by the brilliant Octavia Butler, has a main character that can move to another body, but the host is killed in the process.
In Touch the host isn’t killed, but they have no memory of the time that their body is occupied. This leads to confusion and disorientation if the possession is for just a few minutes, or a ruined life if the person awakens years later with no memory of what has been done with their body.
The story is told by one of these beings, called ghosts, as he tries to stop both an organization dedicated to destroying his kind and another ghost that seems to be wantonly killing people.
I enjoyed the book and found myself looking forward to reading it. It did slow down in some parts. The author is fond of vivid descriptions, but after a certain length these distract and keep the story from moving forward as fast as it could.
The pages are filled with action, but that isn’t the most interesting aspect. I liked reading the transitions from host to host and how the concept of identity is explored. The fundamental question of what it means to be yourself, apart from the physical, is asked and answered well. We grow to know the main character, named Kepler by those who pursue him, by the consistent traits he shows in inconsistent bodies. In fact, I chose the masculine pronoun completely arbitrarily. Kepler moves from male to female without preference. We never even learn what gender Kepler was to begin with, a clearly intentional choice by the author.
Each time the ghost moves to a new body, a hard line break splits the sentence. I’m normally not a fan of telling a story with typographical tricks, but this one works and conveys the ghost’s moves, which are jarring and continuous at the same time.
I’m also a fan of short chapters, and this book takes it to an extreme. My books typically have fifty or so five- to ten-page chapters. Touch has nearly a hundred, some just a page or two.
Much like Wild Seed, at its heart Touch is a love story. It is absolutely not a romance. It is the rare book that can explore what love is without confusing it with sexual attraction. In one of the most profound insights of the book, Kepler finds that he loves someone who is trying to kill him simply because they are doing something to him, not his host. Kepler has spent centuries acting as other people, and being treated as his own being is attractive, even if the attention isn’t positive. How many people love those who hurt them simply because that person is showing some sort of interest?
I recommend Touch for readers who are fans of science fiction and those who aren’t. The story has one speculative aspect, and the rest is completely grounded in the real world. The mechanism of how the ghosts work is never answered or even addressed. But this doesn’t matter. Every story gets one thing that the reader will simply accept, as long as the rest of the story is believable and consistent. And this story is.