Author: S. J. Kincaid
Release Date: available for purchase now
First off, let me just say that I’ve never been too much of a science-fiction kind of girl. That being said, I loved this book. Insignia is one of the best Sci Fi books I’ve read in a while. It’s set in the future, in a time when two corporate war machines have basically taken over the world. Two alliances, the Russo-Chinese and the Indo-American, are fighting in World War III. Only this time, no one dies and nothing on Earth is destroyed. Instead, they are fighting in space by way of airships controlled by specially-groomed fighters in military bases around the world. The fighters? Teenagers with advanced neural processors implanted in their brains. These mini computers act kind of like thought-driven Wii devices, and through these, the teens (called Combatants) can control ships in outer space, where war can be waged without harm to Earth’s resources or the fighters themselves.
Tom Raines is a gamer. He thrives on VR games that are basically less-advanced versions of the neural processors (which, incidentally, the public knows nothing about). He and his father, the epitome of an anti-establishment conspiracy theorist, gamble their way through casinos to make enough money to rent a room for the night and buy food. Tom, though, wants nothing more than to escape this life of chance, and when he gets it, he jumps.
Soon, Tom is ensconced in life as a trainee in the Intrasolar Forces, a neural processor firmly implanted in his brain. He has become everything his father hates, but he’s made friends, instantly understands everything he’s taught (thanks to that nifty little computer in his brain) and is maturing into a handsome young man. But before long he realizes that nothing is as it seems, and it is up to him and his friends to keep themselves safe. See, neural processors can be hacked programmed with viruses. And it’s the processors that control their hosts’ behavior. So, say you have a neural processor in your brain: I can program a virus into you that will make you think you are a horse, and you’ll go around whinnying and prancing and sneezing digested carrot into everyone’s faces (which a horse did to me once). I can also program you to become a bully, or not to sleep, or to become a homicidal murderer. As many pluses there are to having a neural processor, Tom is only starting to understand the one major negative – he is now vulnerable to anyone who can program a virus.
I really liked the character development in this story. Tom doesn’t follow the clichéd path that many awkward-turned-handsome protagonists tend to follow. He is loyal. He is cunning. He has a mind for strategy and a propensity toward risk. He is not a perfect character by any means, which makes him quite relatable.
The group of friends he hangs with are also a lot of fun. There’s the socially awkward diabolical computer genius, the nice guy distrusted by the government, and the general teenage guy. Their group has a really fun dynamic to read; it’s very real in such an unreal situation.
The plot arc was great. So much was going on – with only a few pages left, I was reading quickly and thinking, What?! How is this going to end so quickly?! Personally, if the muse so strikes Kincaid, I’d like to see a sequel. Or two… or three…. You get my point.
This is definitely a book to look for (hmmm, gift list anyone?), even for the not Sci Fi inclined – this story and these characters are real without being so unrealistically futuristic. And, better yet, its already been released…. Happy reading!
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