Holy Nano-Tech, Batman, BZRK Is Awesome!

A Review of BZRK by Michael Grant

Egmont USA, 2012

BZRK by Michael Grant BZRK by Michael Grant

by REBECCA, July 21, 2013

hook

On one side of this near-future war, the Armstrong brothers seek mindless utopia; on the other, a guerrilla group (code name BZRK) fights to keep our messed up humanity. The technology is nano; the battleground is the human brain. Can the hackers of BZRK intervene, and save humanity from itself?

worldview

nanoscale

a nanometer is one billionth of a meter

In the near future, humans have developed the ability to manipulate nanotechnology so deftly that certain highly-skilled operators can simultaneously see from the perspectives of two tiny biots as well as their own. They can direct these nanobots with their brains because they are, strictly speaking, part of them. They can tell these biots to climb in through your eye socket and make their way to your brain. And then they can control you. Note: in case it’s not clear, THIS SHIT IS TERRIFYING! The Armstrong brothers are conjoined twins who have built an empire and are now leveraging their wealth and power in attempting to turn the world into a utopia where there will be no more war and we’ll all get along. (I think we all know how that one’s going to turn out, guys.)

Opposed to the Armstrongs is BZRK, a ragtag group of hackers who are fighting against this takeover, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the Armstrongs. This is no Hackers; this is high-level international politicking. And it’s all done with something so small it’s invisible.

BZRK is told from the perspectives of both BZRK and the Armtsrongs’ team of hackers, and it is a thrill ride, y’all. Michael Grant does an amazing job of making nanotechnology come alive. The explanations are rigorous enough that I was completely convinced that this will all come to pass soon, and I have actually not been this horrified while reading a novel in a while. Manipulating biots is sort of like a combination of playing a video game, commanding soldiers, and being in a virtual reality simulation. Sometimes while running for your life in the real world. The hackers call having your biots on or in someone’s body as “being in the meat” and the descriptions of the landscapes of the human body are thrilling. It sounds a bit like this ride at Universal Studios, Body Wars, where you’re a blood cell or something and you move through the body! My mom got totally sick on it, but I thought it was awesome.

I was lately bemoaning my own lackluster science experience in middle and high school and saying to a friend that if I had learned about science from doing research into elements of my favorite science fiction books I would have been totally captivated. BZRK is one of those books that I immediately recommended to everyone science-y that I know (which is, like, two people, so spread the word).

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

BZRK Reloaded by Michael GrantGrant’s goal seemed to be to terrify the ever-loving bejeezus out of me, and he succeeded unequivocally. Reading about fighting a battle where the landscapes are the surface of someone’s optic nerve, or the folds of their brain? Truly awesome. And that’s where the real innovation of this novel was—the ideas. I was sold on them 100% and I can’t wait to read the sequel. But the ideas aren’t instead of a plot or good characters. The dialogue in BZRK is great, and the characters well delineated. There is definite room for development in the sequel, BZRK Reloaded, out October 8th.

Bonus: I have never met a ragtag group of hackers that I didn’t like! I also really love that we’re at the point now where a book can just go ahead and assert that the side that is trying for utopia is clearly the villains and not need to explain why because we all totally get it. Refreshingly, BZRK does some things that make them just as villainous as the hackers for the other side, so this isn’t a sunshine and rainbows high school computer club that makes us all warm and fuzzy.

BZRK is violent, harsh, and intense, and I loved every minute of it. Read this immediately if you like sci-fi, tech, strategy, hacking, and good, old-fashioned awesomeness.

procured from: the library

Ready Player One is Sci-Fi Potato Chips

readyplayerone

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline

Random House, 2011

review by Tessa

Characters

Wade Watts / Parzival – our hero – a teenager living in a stack of mobile homes in future Oklahoma City who has nothing else to live for but figuring out the OASIS fortune scavenger hunt.

James Halliday – reclusive genius and co-coder of OASIS. He left the wiliest will ever – solve his puzzles and find the Easter Eggs embedded in OASIS and you’ll receive his forturne.

Aech – Wade’s best and only friend in OASIS and a fellow gunter (Easter Egg hunter)

Art3mis – Wade’s super crush who is also trying to beat him in the hunt.

The Sixers – Unethical employees of a corporation that wants to take over OASIS and use it for their greedy goals.

ReadyPlayerOne RD 1 finals 2

Hook / Worldview

OASIS – a fully immersive online world – has, by 2044, pretty much become the world. The outside world sucks, and it’s free to join OASIS, so there’s no reason not to spend as much time as possible there.  It was invented by a sort of Steve Jobs-like dude named James Halliday. Being an extremely socially-averse person, he left no heirs when he died. What he did leave was a series of puzzles and tests inside of OASIS that, when solved and unlocked, would lead to the biggest Easter egg of all time – his fortune.  They are represented by 3 keys and 3 gates – copper, jade, and crystal.

And because Halliday was obsessed with the culture of his youth in the 1980s and wished everyone else would be, the keys and gates have everything to do with the 80s. So the egg hunters, or gunters, are basically experts in 80s pop culture.  Four years go by after Halliday’s death, and no one shows up on the scoreboard. Until one day, someone does. An avatar named Parzival, who is actually a teenager in Oklahoma City.

Once the first key is found and the first gate opened, Parzival is quickly followed in his feats by Aech, his best friend and a clever gunter, and Art3mis, a snarky girl gunter and blogger who Parzival has been crushing on hard for years.  Oh, and the evil Sixers who exploit the loopholes in the rules of the game so they can win and take over OASIS, turning it into billboardmoneyland.

WHO WILL WINNNN?

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Does this book achieve its intentions?

As you can probably tell from the description, Ready Player One is a book written by a geek, for geeks, with much love for geek culture. It concerns a quest, so that means built in suspense, and Cline’s chops as a screenwriter guarantee that the journey from copper to crystal key is smooth and hits all the tried-and-true suspense/tension points.

Accordingly, the response has been pretty huge. Enough so that Cline was able to buy himself a DeLorean and customize it, and get a seven-figure book deal for his sophomore novel (and also a seven-figure deal for the movie rights??). Wil Wheaton narrated the audiobook version of Ready Player One. Cline created his own Egg Hunt in real life (with the prize being another DeLorean). It’s brain candy for a certain audience.

And I guess that audience isn’t me. Sure, I devoured Ready Player One in a weekend and wanted to know what would happen to Parzival, Aech, and Art3mis (and two other players who were clearly created to be meaningfully killed), but I never stopped feeling like I was reading a series of tropes, and ones that weren’t very creatively put down on the page.

I can't stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

I can’t stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

Cline doesn’t stop to think that the reader might want to figure it out his or herself. Or that (s)he might already know some of the stuff he’s saying. He just explains it and goes on to make another reference to the 80s.  I couldn’t even enjoy the nice romance between Parzival and Art3mis, and the fact that Art3mis probably has my BMI so I could identify with her, because the romance was so unwavering and neatly wrapped up – even its rough spots were predictable.

Although OASIS is a giant universe, it lacks depth. After finishing Ready Player One I felt the same way I used to feel as a teenager after staying up too late drinking too many cans of Squirt and mechanically crunching on Bugles or Doritos or whatever–the kind of snacks that companies build mechanical mouths to test for the sweet spot of crunchiness so that they are wickedly addictive.  A temporary pleasure with no real substance.

I would read a fact put forth in the book, like the halls of Wade’s virtual school being no swearing zones, so kids were automatically muted when they used profanity, and immediately wonder – how did no kid hack that yet?  Or, why hadn’t the kids developed new insulting slang to work around the restrictions?  And the universe was so culturally homogenous – I’m not sure if it was because the book is written from Wade’s POV and he hangs out with other gunters and only thinks of the 80s, so all the book provides is planet after planet and person after person based on or obsessed by the 80s – and mostly video games and movies from the 80s. No art, very little music, and the usual suspects of fantasy books. Where were the other subcultures? The black-and-white planet where people dance like Fred Astaire?  And what about the outside world?  It seems less over the top than the world of Idiocracy but less realistically scary than Ship BreakerEveryone in it has just given up – no protesters, information about no neo-hippies forming hopeful communes.

I guess I expected something more complex than a movie pitch disguised as a novel.  So to answer my question, yes, the book achieved its intentions but did not satisfy my expectations.  But whose fault is that?

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