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World War 3 has just begun, but only a handful of people know anything about it. The battlefield is not swathes of land or the open seas this time, the war is raging within the minds and bodies of human beings. The objective is to control the worlds leaders - making them into mindless puppets and two major international forces are lined up against each other. The first wants to usher in an era of worldwide peace prosperity and happiness, while the second group is fighting and very willing to die for the concept of free will.
This battle has been made possible by massive advances in the world of nanotechnology. I won't pretend to understand how these things work. I can not even begin to understand the concept of working with something so small. In trying to get a grasp I did look up some of this online and understand a 100,000 nanos could fit on the width of a human hair - so millions or billions would fit on the full stop at the end of this sentence. The idea of anyone being able to actually produce anything on this scale seems so far fetched to me, that it goes beyond science fiction - placing it on the level of magic and voodoo in terms of plausibility. But as skeptical as I am - the amount of research going into development of nanotechnology is staggering with the pentagon being one of the major players. As far as I can comprehend this - the possibilities are endless but perhaps every bit as frightening as the nuclear arms race once was. The idea of self replicating nano has been seriously considered by scientists as a possible end of the world scenario - while they feel this event is unlikely - the grey goo idea could be used as weapon of war, more or less disintegrating cities, power plants , people and everything else into a grey sludge. It could most likely be stopped - but at great costs. There are all sorts of nasty ideas proliferating on this technology , some of which could make good old fashioned germ warfare look moderate by comparison. So the ideas put forth in this book are not really as far fetched as one might think.
In this book the villain is a deranged set of Siamese twins, Charles and Benjamin, willing to stop at nothing to bring in a universally controlled world in which all humanity is happy, peaceful, and has their basic needs met - but also lack free will. The means to this would be re wiring human brains with nanotechnology. By wiring connections in the right places they can artificially create love, hate, trust or fear - or even cause a person to kill. Of course they can also easily destroy a few key areas and leave a person dead or a vegatable. The weapons in their arsenal include biots - created using human DNA spliced with several other life forms and nanobots. The main drawback is that the biots can only be used by the human whose DNA they share, and must be controlled by this person - called a twitcher much as one would control a video game. In fact twitchers are often selected based on having reached international high scores on certain video games. Only a limited number of humans have the ability to do this, most of them quite young. For some this becomes the ultimate video game, for others the exploration of a new universe, and for others a descent into madness. To make the game a bit more interesting - the stakes are quite high. Beyond the whole freedom of the world bit - each twitcher is playing with his own sanity. If he looses he biots - the result is insanity or death. I never felt this was at all believable - but if it was just a matter of losing some little robots the battles wouldn't have had much meaning. The twins have arranged to plant their mind controlling technology in most of the world's leaders - the job of the opposition, or BZRK is to stop them.
BZRK is entirely made up of young people, at least all the members we are made aware of. They operate with a cell structure not unlike most terrorist groups. This book is intended as a young adult novel , so I can certainly see the point of using youngsters as their main characters, but even if this were not the case, it does seem likely that a younger brain could adapt to this type of exercise far more easily. The characters in this book are all meant to keep virtually everything about themselves secret, using assumed names, and revealing nothing about their past. The result is, that you never get any really feeling for any character, you have no idea what makes them tick. I find it difficult to get deeply involved in a book when I can not relate in any way to any of the characters.
Without any real character development, or any interpersonal relationships worth mentioning ( yes the good looking fellow does get the hots for the beautiful rich girl) this book must centre on action only. The whole story becomes about playing the game. There are certainly some philosophical questions to ponder - such as would you rather be happy or free - but without ever being able to feel anything for the characters - I really felt this book was missing something. However - if you prefer plenty of actions and the speed of a video game - you might just love this book. It is to me, very much a book about a video game - as the twitchers move like characters in game controlling their bots through mental powers as one would control a character in a game. At the same time - they will have to carry on in the macro - the real world, carrying on conversations, even involved in fire fights and battles both in the body of whichever human they are fighting to control or free from control, and in the physical world of their own bodies.
This book has plenty of action and gore. It also seeks to give us a sense of the wonder - and horror of life at the sub atomic level. I'm afraid I feel that this was done ever so much better by Madeleine L'Engle in her book A Wind in the Door - way back in 1973. By becoming so small everything on earth becomes a whole new frontier, something to explore and discover. But while L'Engle focused on the wonder of such a new viewpoint, Grant focuses on the horror with dust-mites looking like monsters and the immune system being capable of destruction.
The story line did manage to keep my interest though, and I did get some enjoyment from the book - but this book is far better suited to readers who prefer an action driven plot to those who like a character driven plot like myself. I would say this book would best suit a teenage reader, preferably one who has a bit of an obsession for video games. As I recognise the need for this type of book, I don't want to rate it down to severely. There are plenty of good action driven scenes, but I simply can not give 5 stars to a book so lacking in character development. I could name a number of high octane non stop action books which also happen to have excellent character development - so this book loses one star in this department from me.
I can not going into the ending without giving away a massive spoiler, but I will say that it is bad - and that is massive understatement. I can see the need to leave things open for the next book in the series - but the way in which this was done is so pathetic that I must remove another star based on this. Despite all my complaints about lack of character development, up until the very end I seriously thought I might buy the next book. The author obviously has some talent, and perhaps more character development would come in the next books, but even without that - the storyline is decent. However the ending was so sadly far fetched - I know longer have any interest whatsoever in reading the next book. It is almost as if he were writing away and got a call from his publisher saying he needed the book complete in the next 15 minutes so just threw in anything possible. Perhaps it was intended as a moral statement - but still comes across as a remarkably foolish one. Had they held a contest for children to write the final chapter - I think you'd be hard pressed to find one worse. So while I recognise that this a very popular author with a massive fan base through his Gone series - I absolutely can not give this book higher than a 3 star rating.