In this novel by former TV writer Moss (The Rosenberg Espionage Case, 1999, etc.), a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome exposes a devastating corporate-technology secret.
Alex attends Mason Middle School, where he finds it a struggle not to cause occasional disruptions. Then, one day, an experimental, educational computer program, developed by the creators of Calliope—the “world’s most powerful super-computer”—causes him and other kids with special needs to have fits. After a monitor explodes during a test run, Alex sees what he thinks are “fruit flies” whenever he passes a Calliope screen. Concerned for his health, his mother takes him to Calliope headquarters for additional testing. But while they’re there, she appears to be hypnotized by Calliope tech, leaving Alex in the hands of the company’s scientists. Luckily, his classmate Sara Cohen is concerned about his school absences and tracks him down. Later, when the teens join a group of renegade bookstore owners and fight against supercomputer “Sophie,” they stumble upon a greater issue. Kids who cause trouble go to Calliope “Wellness Camp”; and soon Alex and Sara are shuffled into the re-education program. Moss, who wrote for such TV shows as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and She-Ra: Princess of Power, employs a first-person voice that’s very close to that of the narrator of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The author’s attentiveness to technical details brings to mind Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011), although the dystopia in this novel is more fascist in tone. The story’s overall pace is fast and focused. However, it might have been better if Moss slowed things down during certain important scenes, as when Alex and Sara witness a murder. The surplus of side characters can be confusing, particularly during the final battle. Still, readers will likely be too engaged with the plot to be overly concerned.
A well-plotted story that gives a voice to an offbeat protagonist.