Book: Brain Jack
Author: Brian Falkner
Age Range: 12 and up
Brian Faulkner's Brain Jack is a near-future science fiction story that explores what could happen to a society reliant upon neuro-technology (through which, in the book, people can operate computers using only their brains, while wearing special headsets). Seventeen-year-old Sam is a talented hacker. So talented that the first sentence of Chapter 1 is "On Friday, on his way to school, Sam Wilson brought the United States of America to its knees." Hard to resist that start, isn't it? When Sam's exploits bring him to the attention of a secret government agency, then the fun really begins.
Brain Jack is a quick, compelling read. The scenes in which Sam is delving into computer networks are portrayed as action sequences. For example:
"Sam crept carefully into the network of the UPS supplier and slid slowly down the wire to the UPS device itself.
It wasn't enough to load Cross Fire onto the server, though; it had to be run. The program had to be executed and he couldn't do that through a serial connection.
He encased Cross Fire in a self-executing shell and renamed it to that of a common internal Windows program..." (Page 51)
Other scenes are written in which Sam acts as a wingman, with full battle imagery, as he makes his way through various computer networks. There are also real-world action sequences, chase scenes and the like. Brain Jack would make a fantastic movie.
What I like about this book is that there's a fair bit of technology, but it's explained quite seamlessly as part of the plot. It never feels didactic. I thought that the author did a nice job of explaining things for a non-technical audience, in a way that won't bore more technical readers. Faulkner present a clever look forward at the potential impact of our reliance on technology, but keeps the emphasis solidly on action, rather than reflection. Brain Jack is actually a perfect Cybils shortlist title - a smart, well-written page-turner. (Brain Jack is a 2010 Cybils shortlist title in Fantasy & Science Fiction for Young Adults.)
One side thing that I personally liked about the book is that a big chunk of it is set in San Jose. So we have scenes like:
"Vienna spun out onto San Carlos Street, just about collecting a trio of middle-aged women in a BMW sedan. There were thuds and crashes from underneath as she bounced the vehicle over the light-rail tracks in the center of the road, and the van leaned -- surely on two wheels, Sam thoughts -- as they twisted left onto the roadway heading east." (Page 207)
Again a nice balance. Enough details to set the scene, but not enough to slow down the action.
Brain Jack has, as you might expect from a book about hackers, pleasantly quirky characters. There isn't really time for in-depth character analysis, in the midst of all the action, but I could picture and identify with most of the main players.
With its strong focus on technology and computer networks, Brain Jack is not for all readers. But I think it's an excellent choice for kids who have grown up comfortable with advanced technology. Hackers and gamers, especially, won't want to miss it. Brain Jack's pacing should work well for reluctant and avid teen readers, male and female. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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