Thirteen-year-old Johnny Turnbull has always known there was something different about him. It turns out he's the first-ever human softwire -- able to enter and communicate with computers with his mind. Now that JT and two hundred other orphans have been put to work in alien factories on the first ring of Orbis, things are going very wrong. The "perfect" central computer is malfunctioning, and suspicious eyes are turning to JT. Could he be the one responsible?
Haarsma's debut novel inhabits a sci-fi world that feels like a melding of Logan's Run with Ender's Game, but this particular mix of dystopian conditions, conspiracy theories and evil slave-lords has the satisfactions of neither. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Turnbull is one of many orphans aboard the spaceship Renaissance, in space 253 years-its original crew long dead, its young crew recently hatched from frozen embryos. The ship is brought to the Rings of Orbis, where two-headed alien Keepers inherit the children as workers to pay off their parents' debts. The children must tend to mundane tasks; although robots can do the work better, "humans are cheaper." But Johnny is a rare "Softwire," able to communicate mentally with computers - and when Orbis's central computer starts to malfunction, the Keepers believe that Johnny's presence has something to do with it. Characters don't evolve much beyond sci-fi stereotypes, particularly the Keepers. Latter chapters get bogged down in an overly complicated political battle between economic and religious interests. Although there is little here that hasn't been done elsewhere, future installments might build on the promising setting, a telepathy/sci-fi blend for readers not yet old enough for William Gibson's Neuromancer. Ages 10-up. Copyright � Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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February 25, 2008
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