Book Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid + Giveaway
OverviewGenre: Science Fiction
PROS:fun, rollicking story, strong central cast of characters, amazing friendship story, brain-tickling sci-fi elements, gaming fun
CONS:maybe not the best read if you suffer from tech paranoia (but if you wear your aluminum foil helmet while reading, you should be ok)
A thrilling and immersive read for guys and girls of any age.
If William Gibson had written Harry Potter instead of J.K. Rowling, it would probably have read a lot like S.J. Kincaid’s intelligent and charming debut sci-fi novel, Insignia. (If you’re a fan of Gibson and/or Rowling, you are aware of the badass story possibilities such a mashup promises.)
Combining mind-bending technology, a thought-provoking future world of corporations on steroids and the puppet governments they control, and a likable-but-flawed guy who risks everything to be a part of something extraordinary, Insignia is a thrilling and immersive read for guys and girls of any age.
Seriously, I could gush about this book with a twelve year old boy and hold my own. It’s Harry Potter age-proof.
Insignia is set in a not-too-distant future where multinational corporations control the world’s resources. Along with coalition governments (Indo-American and Russo-Chinese), they are fighting amongst themselves over space territory in a virtual, bloodless World War III. There are no nukes, no ground troops. This time the battles are fought in space via intrasolar drones manned by teen fighters on Earth.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never be done with “character is whisked away from awful, dreary life and into magical world” stories. Instead of uncovering a magical world and discovering latent powers, Tom Raines gets his break into a new and improved world because of his raw talent at gaming.
At the start of the novel he’s just a poor kid who spends his days hopping between hotel casinos with his degenerate gambler of a dad, trying to score quick cash in virtual reality gaming parlors. Tom is shocked to be approached by General Marsh, who offers him the chance of a lifetime: to join the elite military academy that trains Indo-America’s intrasolar fighters. What gamer doesn’t dream of putting their well-honed reflexes and strategic minds to use in a real way? To have their competitive, thrill-seeking nature fulfill a job requirement?
When Tom arrives at the Pentagonal Spire where the fighters train, he soon realizes this too-good-to-be-true offer may have a downside—there’s a lot about these teen fighters the public doesn’t know. And he may have to give up everything to be the best.
The scientific and political backdrops that fuel the premise—that teens fight our country’s wars in space—are actually well-explained, plausible, and perhaps even creepily prescient.
Futuristic Tech Geekfest
For anyone else who is fascinated by emerging tech and the brave new world it promises, you will be thrilled by the science of Insignia—the neural processor mechanics, the mind-bending simulations, and their advantageous (and adverse) effects on the human body.
Where wizards might get an advantage over the mundane world with spells, the Spire students can improve their lives immeasurably by uploading programs to their neural processors—as in, upload a program and bam! you know Japanese. Instead of dueling with wands, they fling pieces of code at their opponent’s IP addresses.
But as in any well-conceived cautionary sci-fi, the technology that produces almost wizard-like results comes with its own set of risks. If you can write a program that can make your classmate giggle uncontrollably, what’s to prevent you from writing your very own version of the Cruciatus curse? Or coding an Avada Kedavra?
When the line between perception and reality becomes this blurry, the kind of damage someone can do to you, especially in such a cutthroat world of corporate and military vultures, is seemingly endless.
Characters You Won’t Want to Leave Behind
The characters in Insignia are genuine and heartfelt and funny and awful. Just like real people, you may think you know them, then they blindside you with their actions. A few people I was sure I was going to love disappointed me BIG TIME, and characters I thought were pretty horrible had shockingly redeeming qualities.
I confess, once I had settled into the tone of the story, I was inadvertently looking for Harry Potter matchups while reading (“hmm….could this be our Ron?”, “oooh, she’s totes Hermione!” “I’m getting a whiff of Snape”, etc.), but ultimately this cast of plebes and military officials are their own complex and delightful group of well-drawn characters that will feel as eerily real and beloved to you as your fictional Hogwarts besties.
I especially love Tom’s newfound group of friends, Wyatt, Vik and Yuri. We see them go from strangers to an almost-family through banter, shared experiences, and getting one another’s back, no matter the risk. There is a touch of romance as well, and a hint that more will be coming down the road in future books.
It’s Just Fun
Like the Harry Potter books, what makes Insignia such a wonderful book is that the story is SO MUCH FUN to read. Yes, there is drama, and even danger, but there is also laugh-out-loud humor and a comforting sense that friendship and loyalty will eventually triumph over corruption, greed and cynicism, even in a world that gives individuals such little control over their lives.
While there’s a strong competitive atmosphere in the Spire among the plebes, especially where they divide along division lines (think Hogwarts houses with more official uniform swag), there’s also room for hilarity and pranks that lighten the mood. You don’t have to be a gamer to get absorbed in their virtual reality training simulations, or to fist pump during the the high stakes competitions.
Insignia is out now! I cannot encourage you more strongly to head to your local indie and buy this book immediately. Or download it to your e-reader. Or if you’re lucky (and brave) enough to be outfitted thusly, upload it to your neural processor.
For fans of:
Check out the trailer:
We love sharing books we adore with our readers, and spreading the word, so we’re having a trailer contest!
Up for grabs is a hardcover copy of Insignia. All you have to do to enter is spread the trailer love by posting the trailer or linking to it somewhere in your virtual space—Facebook, Twitter, your blog, a gaming discussion board, anything goes. Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.