22. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid, read by Courtney, on 11/11/2013

Tom and his father have been traveling from place to place, grifting along the way to keep themselves fed. When Tom’s talent for virtual reality simulation games gets noticed, he is tapped by the those in the highest echelons of the US military to join their elite group of combatants who are currently fighting World War III. Tom agrees and is quickly shuttled off to the Pentagonal Spire, where these new types of soldiers are trained. He’s in for a bit of a shock when he gets there though. While the military aims to get the best and brightest, natural traits just aren’t enough in this brave new world. Each plebe (combatant-in-training) must receive a neural transplant. The brain is altered in such a way as to enhance memory and processing, while also allowing plebes and combatants to directly connect to the space ships that are doing the actual fighting in the war. Tom isn’t crazy about the transplant and realizes that he’s been manipulated, but eventually agrees to it on his own terms.
At first, Tom kind of loves his new transplant; he’s faster, smarter, better looking – everything that he wasn’t before arriving at the Pentagon. It isn’t long, however, before the drawbacks of the technology become glaring apparent. For instance, Tom learns rather quickly that the brain can be easily accessed and hacked by others, including curmudgeonly teachers, bullies, enemy combatants and the corporations that finance a plebe’s promotion to combat. Naturally, in a school full of teenagers with the same type of implant, hijinks ensue.
For me, this book had a kind of Ender’s-Game-meets-Harry-Potter (or Percy Jackson, if you prefer)vibe. Tom and his friends were, to me, strongly reminiscent of the Harry-Ron-Hermione trio. His programming professor reminded me of Snape. The bully? Total Draco potential. The virtual training and manipulation of children comes across as an updated rendition of Ender’s battle school. It’s both fun and thought-provoking. I read this with my middle school book group; everyone in the group loved it. Interestingly enough, roughly half the group said they’d love to have similar implants while the rest shuddered at the thought.

Comments closed.