Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: Brain Jack

Earlier this summer I came across this book at the local Barnes & Noble and thought the premise for the book rounded really cool and a bit unique so when I came across it again at the local library I picked it up without a second thought. From the summary on the jacket flap, it sounded like it was set in a future so advanced that people simply plugged in their minds to use the internet but other people took advantage of holes in the firewalls to steal their minds, something I've never seen before. I did read a webcomic earlier this summer (Anatta which died in 2010 sadly) that involved people using technology to sell/switch bodies, which isn't the newest concept but it was the most thematically similar idea to the jacket description. Of course the book wasn't like that at all so in the end it doesn't really matter.

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
 A nice snazzy cover, even though I have no idea why they choose the color green (usually when I think of technology I think more of silvers and blues, maybe purple but certainly not green). The cover is also shiny in real life so it does an excellent job at attracting the viewers eye, no problems here!

Summary: In the near future, a near future where terrorism appears to be even more rampart, Sam is a teenager who fancies himself to be a great hacker and pulls off one of the greatest hacks in American history. When the government catches wind of what he did he's given two choices, work for us or go to prison for life and it turns out there is even more exciting stuff to come, stuff that only Sam has a shot at preventing.

The Good: Some people lately have been complaining that not enough teenaged boys are reading because "there are no books for them" (among various other reasons) and this is a book I would recommend to a teenaged boy without a second thought. It's got action, a girl who inexplicably ends up liking the main character, a chance to save the world or die trying, guys like this kind of stuff right?* The government/military in this story is more competent than they are in many stories which was rather nice (they were also pretty nice people) and the character that was the "villain" was an interesting choice (I've seen that kind of character used before, such as in Code Geass R2 but it's a less common kind of character). 

The Bad: The book comes off so differently from the way it's described, basically it's a summer blockbuster movie in book form which isn't so bad in and of itself  but I did not want to read an action film when I checked this out. Some of the earlier bits, such as Sam escaping from the kiddie prison reminded me heavily of the Alex Rider spy books (another series that will certainly appeal to male readers) but, while I thought those books were okay, the events here felt horribly contrived and simplified. Those two words also describe the hacking which plays a huge role in the book, hacking is something that's a lot easier to show than to describe (unless you want to put in a ton of technobabble) and Falkner tried to describe how the hacking would look in a Hollywood film, meaning that the way Sam interacted with the computer sounded nothing like the way people really use them. This book honestly would have worked much better as a made-for-tv Disney movie than a book and don't want to read the author's other books now in case they have the same problems.

I should mention that the book also takes a long time to get going, I think it takes about a hundred pages to cover everything I posted in the summary (which I hate to do but that you do need to give a basic set-up of the plot to summarize a story). It also had an incredibly pretentious opening** and managed to pull a "character becomes Jesus, uses deus ex machina and tells us a moral" while doing the exact same thing the story's "villain" did all in the last chapter which is actually a bit impressive. So, one of my least favorite books I've read this summer, partially because it was nothing like I was hoping for and partially because it just wasn't that interesting as a book, good thing the book I read after it was much more awesome.  

*yes I'm being sarcastic, I know sarcasm doesn't come across in print as well but I'm being very snarky about all of this, here's a great rebuttal to the earlier article. 
**paraphrasing: I know who you are, when you bought this book, look I got it from the library, I used your credit card number to hack into your computer and found those files that you don't want anyone knowing about .....are you telling me there's porn on my computer I don't know about? Don't worry, I won't actually use any of it so it's blackmail, not pr0nz? None of this was very hard, the security on your PC is a joke ....dude, I use a Mac, at least get that right! You can actually read the first few pages on Amazon, if you want a good laugh go do it.