|Insignia by S J Kincaid|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Fourteen-year-old Tom has had to be a hustler, conning gamers out of their money so he and his gambler dad will have food and shelter. But his talent has been spotted, and he is invited to join an elite group of young warriors who are learning to wage World War Three through computer simulations.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 450||Date: August 2012|
|Publisher: Hot Key Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Tom is awkward, wary and self-reliant. He has spent his life on the road, moving from casino to casino with his dad and catching a little online education whenever the opportunity presents itself, but frankly he is far more concerned with finding his next meal than any more distant future. A poor diet and a life spent in gaming rooms has left him scrawny, small, and with a serious case of acne. He feels he is nothing and no one, and cannot imagine ever living any other life.
And then suddenly his skill as a gamer and a certain ruthless streak he developed to survive mean he is invited to join a military school and to train as one of the young warriors who are fighting World War Three. This is not a conventional war with death and bloodshed as its main features, but a series of battles conducted in space by remote control. Gifted adolescents have a chip is inserted into their brains which allows them to control computers for this task. The upside of all this is that Tom has at last a purpose in life and a home, and can even do things like download his homework directly into his memory. It is only gradually that he comes to realise the downside: the chip can never be removed, and he is the property of the military for the rest of his life. It is a dramatic situation and it is hardly surprising that film companies have expressed interest in the book.
This all sounds very hi-tech, and those readers who are not particularly fond of science fiction may wonder if they should avoid this book. But that would be a pity, because this story is much more than it appears at first glance. First and foremost, Tom is a teenager, and being a brilliant games player in no way insulates him from ordinary young male concerns like girls, spots and friendship. In fact, his nomadic upbringing means he finds it even harder than most to be a team player, or to trust anyone around him. The result is at times gloriously funny, as Tom and his new friends push the boundaries, work out how to break the rules without getting caught, and give each other bad advice on relationships. In that level, this story is on a par with any of a dozen excellent boarding school tales.
This book is fairly long, and it has a complex plot involving the role of big business in government, the uses of technology and the fine line between humanity and the machine. Battles are not fought for national prestige but simply for profit: the big companies own all the water and food in the world, and governments have little choice whether or not they comply with their wishes. One horrific incident which occurs before the beginning of the book illustrates just how dependent every nation in the world is on these companies. And the question of the human right to self-determination is soon raised, too—at Pentagon Spire, one lone female civilian is employed to defend the rights of the children in her care against the whole might of the military machine.
This pacy, thrilling book is the first in a trilogy, but the reader need not worry about cliff-hangers. Every major plot point is satisfactorily resolved, the baddies have been put in their place and Tom is free to look forward to a future which may be precarious but is nonetheless exciting and full of promise.
Another excellent book which looks at the melding of humanity and technology is Being by Kevin Brooks. And Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the beginning of another pacy series of thrillers in a dystopian setting.
You can read more book reviews or buy Insignia by S J Kincaid at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Insignia by S J Kincaid at Amazon.com.
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