Monday 30 July 2012

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Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Insignia by S.J. KincaidInsignia by S.J. Kincaid (ARC) - What if playing computer games could save the world... And what if the Government's secret weapon was you?

Tom Raines is suddenly recruited into the US Army to train as a virtual reality Combatant to see if he is good enough to help fight World War Three. Equipped with a new computer chip in his brain, it looks like Tom might actually become somebody. But what happens when you start to question the rules?

Fast-paced and futuristic, INSIGNIA, the first of a trilogy, asks significant questions about the use of technology and the value of human life.
From the press release.

If, like me, you read the above description of the book and automatically think it's going to be quite techy and possibly confusing, stop! I was intrigued when I first heard about this book, but not entirely sure if I would like it. Surely it’s going to be very complicated and I’m going to get completely lost? Actually, not at all! It's absolutely amazing!

It's hard to describe what this book is; I'd say it was a YA dystopian novel, but one that is very different from the ones we read a lot of lately. It's set in the not-too-distant future, where technology has advanced and it's not exactly the governments that rule. Everyday life for people is pretty much the same as it is now, it's the way things are run at the very top that's different. The world is in control of businesses, and the governments of the world are in their pockets. Why? Well, for example, one company who works in genetic modification owns all food in the world, because due to cross-pollination and cross-breeding, their genetic work is in all living things. Another company owns all water because the non-harmful chemical by-product they created leaked into all water, and it can't be filtered out. So if you want to eat and you want to drink, well, you have to pay these two companies money - and if a country doesn't, well... bye-bye country. There are other companies with power, and together they have all formed a Coalition of Multinational Corporations, and if the governments want any funding, they do as they're told.

But then why World War Three if the whole world is practically run by the Coalition of the Multinationals? Well, because the world has started to run out of valuable resources that will make the companies money, so they've started to look elsewhere. Where? The Solar System, of course! But who says which company gets which region of space? What if one company claims it and then another company decides, actually, they want it? Well, you have a fight on your hands. The Coalition decides to stick together when it comes to matters of Earth, but when it comes to the Solar System, all bets are off. And if you have people who are still on Earth - Combatants - controlling the starships in space, nobody dies, no buildings are destroyed, and life for the average Joe continues as normal.

It all sounds complicated and hard to understand, but it's really not! It's all explained in such an easy, understandable way in the book, it's amazing! If it wasn't, there's no way I would have been able to explain those last two paragraphs! And then this is where Tom comes in, brilliant virtual reality gamer, who is recruited into the Army to train to become one of the Combatants who can control the starships through the computer surgically implanted in their brains.

Aside from the politics and the war, what we really read about is Tom's life at the Pentagonal Spire, where he trains up to become a Combatant. When I was first told about this book, there was mention of a Hogwarts-y feel to the friendships and dorm-life, and I was really struck by how spot on that description is. None of the characters in this book are copies of those in Harry Potter, the camaraderie between the friends is just the same. You learn to really love these characters - Tom, Vik, Wyatt, Yuri and Beamer - and their own personal, normal, every day stories.

Yet so much goes on! There are several major subplots focussed around Tom that all connect with the larger story, and for the first book in a trilogy, it’s brilliant! There are more villains in this book than you can shake a stick at! This is not just setting up the series, things - big things - actually happen. Just like the politics side of things, the techy side of things is just as easy to understand due to terrific explanation of what sounds extremely complicated. The idea of the neural processors - the computers in the trainees' brains - is both amazing and terrifying. You can download information in your sleep, and when you're awake, you know it all. You're a complete genius if you want to me. And you're able to become characters in games and simulations, and eventually, starships. It was so amazing to read, some of the time I actually wished I had one myself - all the things you could do! The fun you could have! Yet, like all computers, neural processors can be hacked and get viruses. There were some moments when I was disturbed and absolutely horrified by just what could be done to a person simply because they have a computer in their head. It was amazingly clever, and with the advances in technology that are happening everyday, completely believable - you get the idea that this could happen one day, and it's so very scary! Oh, it would make such a fantastic movie!

Insignia completely took my breath away! Guys and girls, geeks and technophobes - everyone is going to love this book! It's absolutely amazing, and one of my favourite books of the year! You must read this book!

Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy.

Published: 2nd August 2012
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Buy on Amazon US
S.J. Kincaid's Website

Other reviews:
Eleusinian Mysteries


  1. bit of an odd queston but is this book YA (I know you review adult books too)? Looks great :)

    1. Yes, it is YA! Sorry, I didn't make that clear. I'll edit my review.