School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Seventeen-year-old Sam single-handedly hacks into a large telecommunication company (thought to be impenetrable) and inadvertently takes out the world's infrastructure in his attempt to cover his tracks. He is recruited by a secret government department staffed by former hackers to protect the Internet and is taken to San Jose, CA. They find a malicious presence on the web that could destroy the world and must work as a group to preserve life as we know it. The story takes place in the near future, and the technology has some interesting new enhancements, most notably neuro helmets that allow one to control a computer with one's mind. On occasion the author provides too much detail about San Jose. Occasional use of non-American slang by American characters also detracts from the dialogue: "mates" is used instead of "friends," food is described as being "tinned" rather than "canned." Still, the nicely paced plot and well-crafted story arc make this a title worth recommending, particularly to boys who like technology or science fiction. This book will also have broad appeal since, despite the age of the main character, the content is appropriate for younger readers.—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH
VOYA - Erin Wyatt
In America in the not-too-distant future, expert computer hacker Sam is recruited by Homeland Security after successfully engineering one of the most sophisticated hacks in history. Neuro-headsets that directly connect thoughts and computers are becoming all the rage. The headsets, however, leave users vulnerable to implanted memories and altered information, which some shady force seems to be using to its advantage. Sam, Dodge, and Vienna discover this before they are infected and are soon on the run to try to save the world by destroying the information infrastructure of the country, effectively freeing the minds of the people. Hacker-speak and tech-talk are heavily used in the book, particularly in early chapters when the work Sam is doing as a hacker and his subsequent work for the cyber defense division are being described. Once the setup for the novel is established, the pace picks up, and the action gets intense as the situation deteriorates into near civil war. The rapid turn of events at the conclusion of the novel may require a re-read in order to absorb the dramatic choice Sam makesto become part of the collective consciousnessand to follow the shift in the narration to the point of view of the network. A strong cautionary warning is delivered in the brief section about the network trying to be a moral force to change the world. The story raises many thought-provoking questions about the future of technology and will find fans among computer enthusiasts. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt
A cyber-thriller that reads like a video game. Sam Wilson isn't out of high school yet, but he's on his way to becoming the most wanted hacker in the world--first for crashing the international computer grid (well, he didn't mean to), then for subverting the White House security system (OK, that was on purpose). But when he escapes from federal custody, he learns that his country needs him: Terrorists prowl the Internet, and Sam's skillz may be the last defense from a neuro-virus wiping out humanity. The adrenaline-pumped action relentlessly levels up from caper novel to virtual combat to elaborate chases to military apocalypse, culminating in the traditional god-mode confrontation with the Final Boss. Plausible tech and a series of deftly detailed settings make up for pixel-thin characterizations, although thoughtful readers may be frustrated at the ethical dilemmas and sociological issues that are raised only to vanish like vaporware. But most will blast through to the epilogue, simultaneously satisfying and deeply unsettling, and eye their keyboards with more respect and a little nervousness. Geektastic. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
1 | Dirty Tricks
On Friday, on his way to school, Sam Wilson brought the United States of America to its knees.
He didn’t mean to. He was actually just trying to score a new computer and some other cool stuff, and in any case, the words “to its knees” were the New York Times’, not his—and were way over the top, in Sam’s view. Not as bad, though, as the Washington Post’s. Their headline writers must have been on a coffee binge, because they screamed
in size-40 type when their presses finally came back online.
Anyway, it was only for a few days, and it really wasn’t a disaster at all. At least not compared to what was still to come.
A juddering roar reverberated off the high-rise buildings, and Sam glanced up as the dark shadow of a police Black Hawk slid across the street. His breath caught in his chest for a moment, as if all the oxygen in the street had suddenly disappeared, but the chopper didn’t slow; it was just a rou- tine patrol. It weaved smoothly between the monoliths of uptown Manhattan, a cop with a long rifle spotlighted in the open doorway by a brilliant orange burst of early- morning sun.
He tried to remember a time when armed police in helicopters hadn’t patrolled the city, but he couldn’t. It seemed that it had always been that way. At least since Vegas.
Gray clouds were leaking a dreary, misty drizzle from high over the city, but low on the horizon, there was a long thin gap into which the sun had risen, teasing New York with a short-lived promise of a sunny day.
Sam cut down 44th Street and turned right at 7th Avenue to avoid beggars’ row along Broadway. He took 42nd to Times Square, where the tall video screens flickered intermittently or were silent and dark. The M&M’s screen still worked, although there were several blank spots that were said to be bullet holes.
Forty-second Street station was crowded—jostling, bustling, shortness-of-breath crowded—at this time of the morning, but he was used to that, and the subway was still the fastest and safest way to get around Manhattan.
He got out at Franklin Street station and took Varick Street down to West Broadway. He quickened his step as he passed Gamer Alley. His nose wrinkled involuntarily at some of the odors that hung around the entrance.
Two dogs were fighting on the corner of Thomas and West Broadway but stopped as he approached. He slowed, not comfortable with the narrowing of their eyes or the jelly-strings of drool dripping from their fangs.
One took a step toward him, a low growl in its throat. The other followed, its lips drawing back from its teeth.
Sam took a step backward. The dogs moved closer, haunches high, stalking him. He stumbled backward a few more steps. A police Humvee cruised past, and he half turned toward it, hoping the cops would stop and intervene, but they either didn’t see or didn’t care.
The entrance to Gamer Alley appeared to his right. As the dogs spread out to cut off his escape, he turned and strode into the smoky unease of the alleyway.
He glanced behind but the dogs had not followed.
The walls of the alley were high, and the street was narrow, a deep saw-cut across a city block. None of the dawn glow penetrated, just a tired dullness that washed through the clouds and was swallowed up by the steam and smoke from the food stalls. Gaudy fluorescent signs appeared indistinctly through the haze, promising the latest in video-gaming technology. The games they promoted outside were innocuous, but everyone, especially the cops, knew that inside, the full range of games, including all the illegal ones, was freely available.
People drifted past. Both men and women with the vacant stares and twitching hands of longtime game addicts.
Sam thrust his hands into his jacket pockets, hunched his shoulders, and moved deeper into Gamer Alley.
A woman in her twenties, fashion-model beautiful, sat on a blue office chair next to an overflowing Dumpster. Her hair was plastered to her scalp by the rain, and droplets of water formed on the end of her nose before breaking away in a rhythmical pattern. She did nothing. She said nothing. She just sat, watching Sam as he made his way down the alley toward her. A game addict for sure.
As he neared, the chair swiveled slightly, and although her head and neck did not move, her eyes remained fixed on him.
He passed her, the chair swiveling more, her whole body turning with it to stay focused on him, her face expressionless.
His shoulders crawled as he left her behind, as if her strange inactivity might suddenly explode into mindless violence.
Ten yards past, he glanced back. She stared at him, unmoving.
“Want to buy a dog?”
The man in a shabby gray overcoat was right in front of him, and he had to stop abruptly to avoid a collision.
“I, er . . .”
“Want to buy a dog?”
The dog in question was in the man’s arms. A mangy cross about the size of a small poodle but of no detectable breed.
“He’s a good boy,” the man said, thrusting the dog forward. The dog snarled and snapped at Sam, missing his arm by a fraction of an inch.
“No, I . . .”
“Hardly ever bites,” the man said.
Sam took a wide step around the man as the dog’s teeth snapped together again in midair.
The end of the alley neared.
To his right, a door opened on a second-story fire escape. A man in his fifties burst out of the building dressed only in Mickey Mouse boxer shorts and a Hawaiian lei around his neck. He was carrying a coffee machine. He leaped down the metal steps three at a time and disappeared across the street and around the corner of a building just as two policemen in black tactical gear burst out of the same door, hard on his heels.
Sam escaped onto Church Street with a slight sigh of relief and a relaxing of his nostrils. His cell rang, right on cue, as he turned into Thomas Street, and he tapped his Bluetooth earpiece into his ear.
“Hi, Mom,” he said.
“What kept you?” Fargas asked on the other end of the line, his mouth full of something.
Sam looked up at the building opposite. He caught a glimpse of Fargas behind a window on the second floor, the two black circles of a pair of powerful binoculars jutting out from his long mop of unruly hair. Sam made a discreet waving motion with his left hand.
There was a flash of white from the window that he took as a sign Fargas had waved back.
“Cut through Gamer Alley,” Sam said.
There was a short pause while Fargas digested that. “Quick hit on the way?”
“Just sightseeing,” Sam said. “What are you eating?”
It would be caramel corn. Fargas was the only person he knew who could eat caramel-coated popcorn for breakfast.
“Caramel corn,” Fargas said. “Want some? I’ll toss a couple pieces out the window.”
“Suddenly not hungry,” Sam said. “Can’t think why.”
He walked casually past the Telecomerica building as if he had no interest in it whatsoever. He didn’t even glance at it.
“You sure this is possible?” Fargas sounded a little nervous.
“I’m sure it’s not,” Sam said. “Be no fun otherwise. They’ve got industrial-strength firewalls with a DMZ and a secondary defensive ring with ASA and IPSec. Impenetrable.”
“Then give it away, dude,” Fargas said. “I’m not going to jail for the sake of a hack.”
“Fargas,” Sam said, “you’re my brother and I love you, but you gotta get your head out of your butt before you fart and suffocate yourself.”
“I’m not your brother and you don’t love me,” Fargas pointed out.
“You know you’re the one I’d turn gay for.” Sam grinned up at the window.
“I thought you liked Keisha,” Fargas said.
“I’d definitely turn gay for her,” Sam said. “If I was a chick. How is she?”
“Still not interested.”
“Her words or yours?”
“She’s a sophomore. You’re a senior. That’s just wrong. Should be illegal.”
“Have you asked her for me?” Sam asked.
“You can’t ask her yourself?”
“She’s a sophomore. I’m seventeen. That’s just wrong. She’s got to ask me.”
“Loser,” Fargas said.
Sam said, “Okay, here we go.”
From the Hardcover edition.