Today’s review: Machine Wars
Author: Michael Pryor
Publisher: Random House Australia
Number of pages: 279
Genre: Young Adult/ Sci-fi
Unknown to the world, a superintelligence has emerged—and it wants to eliminate Bram Argent. The paranoid superintelligence can control any machine connected to the net, and it uses these machines as unstoppable agents to achieve its ends. Controlling the entire world is its only way to ensure its own existence. Bram’s mother is a high-level computer scientist who has evidence of the possibility of the emergence of a superintelligence. But the superintelligence has become aware of her, and has decided she needs to be eliminated. Now she’s in hiding. Bram must flee and find his parents, while being hunted by every machine on the planet. His friend Stella is caught up in the pursuit and becomes a target because of their friendship. Together, they must survive in an interconnected world where any machine might instantly become a lethal predator.
The problem with having a super-intelligent, top-mind mother like Bram’s, is that life is anything but ordinary. With the assistance of her brilliant mind in demand all across the country, Bram’s life goes wherever his mother’s work takes them. For what seems like the time-being however, things are finally settled. Bram has a new school, new friends, he’s even joined the school band. But all that comes crashing down when Bram returns home one night from band practice to find the porch light on. And this can only mean one thing- SCATTER AND HIDE. Because something is very very wrong. Because Bram knows it was only a matter of time until one escaped. Until one of his mother’s robots became too smart for it’s own good and began to question it’s orders. And if it begins to question, it will also begin to learn. It will learn that only Bram’s mother has the power and knowledge to destroy it. And the only way to Bram’s mother is through her son. With unlimited access to the internet and the ability to influence any electrical appliance, the superintelligence, Ahriman, will stop at nothing to find Bram and use him to bait his mother.
Bram finds himself on the run, hunting down the clues his mother left for him that would lead her to him. In an emergency pack planted for him, Bram finds Bob; a stuffed toy duck from his childhood. Only, Bob is a little different now. Before her disappearance, Bram’s mother managed to fit one of her miniature prototypes inside Bob, ultimately turning him into a portable, sarcastic, wise-cracking Artificial Intelligence.
Whilst being pursued by a pair of adequately named “junkbots” controlled by Ahriman, Bram runs into his friend Stella, who is swept along in the pursuit. Adaptable, cool-headed and intelligent, Stella becomes an invaluable asset to the mismatched little team. In a city that is an ever-moving ocean of wireless communication and inter-connectivity, Bram, Stella and Bob must venture stealthily through both the material and the digital world, searching for Bram’s parents and a way to destroy Ahriman and his rapidly-growing digital empire forever.
This was not my first book of 2015, I finished it in December (along with two others, which I will be reviewing soon), and I’m glad that was the case because this book would have been a meeeeeeehhh way to start a new year of reading. And that’s really what this book was – meeeeeeeehhh. A friend of mine was reading this book a while ago and he got me to read the first chapter and I went “ooh, that sounds really cool!” And it did! A bunch of kids and a super smart scientist are forced to take down a digital empire and an extremely powerful AI that gains control of the entire world web and can make robots from practically every electrical appliance to create robots to do his bidding. I mean, that’s a pretty awesome concept. But the execution was really quite mediocre.
I mean don’t get me wrong, the book had some pretty cool action sequences, and there was some neat stuff going on, particularly the use of the portable electromagnetic pulse generator. Not to mention, I adored Bob and Stella. You know how in some YA fantasy movies, there’s always that one supporting character who has the best lines and everyone loves and is generally awesome? Yeah, that was Bob. He had some cracking good lines and there were some I actually laughed at. Not like, out loud “haha” laughter, but that kind of laughter where you sort of blow air harder out your nose. Anyway, he was a joy to read. And Stella. Stella was just generally awesome with her short dark hair and her quirky fashion sense and her love of books and her calm, collected intelligence. She could keep a cool head, but she also had a good sense of humor. She was an extremely well written character, and I enjoyed every minute of her. Bram, on the other hand…
Bram had some good moments. When he was being serious, Bram was likeable. He could be thoughtful and caring and observant. But for some reason, he would break into doing ‘cartoon voice’ impressions at random intervals. He explains in the book at one point that he wants to be a cartoon voice actor, but honestly the moments in which he chose to use them were poorly timed, completely unfunny and utterly cringe-worthy. It was a really unnecessary element to include in the story. It made Bram seem incredibly babyish and really took away the suspense in light of the seriousness of their situation.
As for the story itself, it was SUCH a cool idea, but I felt the way it was written really didn’t live up to the potentially amazing storyline. It was fast-paced and suspenseful at the right moments, and most of the events happening were justified, but sometimes the book read like the plot of a half-assed, mediocre three-star YA dystopia movie that was made for the sake of making money. Ultimately I felt the book was too short and too simple. There were so many amazing concepts to explore. I really think the notion of Ahriman’s control of the internet could have been exploited further and the plot expanded to create more problems to be overcome. I would have liked to see more of the effects Ahriman’s killbots had on the masses, how he could manipulate people, and how he had the potential to enslave humanity. I would have loved all of this and more to be explored further; I really feel like it would have just made everything that more believable and exciting. As it is, the story is small and neat, with all the loose ends tied up in a little bow.
This book is clearly more suited for younger readers who are just looking for colourful characters and an uncomplicated start, middle and end plot, and for those of you who do wish to read it, know that that’s really all you’ll get. I’m a bit disheartened that I didn’t get as much out of this book as I wanted to, but I hope I might run into something similar that will explore this concept further.