In Scotson’s (Planets Falling: Earth and Mars Saga, 2014) imaginative dystopian sci-fi novel, a young boy is taken out of a troubled childhood to train as an elite soldier.
A seemingly omniscient governing power called the Collective sends juveniles to train as special forces operatives on “Old 89,” an island in an undisclosed location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Franky Robinson is but one of a small crew of 10-year-old kids who have been selected on account of their broken family lives and potential. Each boy is implanted with a chip behind his ear and given a tailor-made tablet device that uses artificial intelligence to develop an individual’s skill set. Franky has been earmarked as a future leader, and his tablet, nicknamed Yellowcake, is programmed accordingly. Without question, the boys comply with the daily duties—a brutal regimen of martial arts and weapons training—set by the sinister Collective. But when Yellowcake begins contacting Franky via his thoughts, the boy’s regimented life on Old 89 begins to fall apart. Yellowcake allows Franky to access classified information about the Collective by entering a virtual world that resembles a beach. Franky learns of the Collective’s lethal treatment of dissidents and also of a rebellion led by escaped trainees. Further afield, humankind is on the brink of World War III. It is left to Franky to distinguish truth from lie and lead his comrades accordingly. Can he trust Yellowcake or is she another aspect of the Collective’s deception? The constant state of instability and unknowingness is what fuels this intriguing novel. Furthermore, Scotson’s idea of the development and implications of new technologies is nothing short of ingenious. Language is witty and suitably clipped: “Air support is like having a big hammer, which is useful if the nail is big but can lead to a sore thumb if the job is delicate.” At times, dialogue lacks a natural cadence, but that detracts little from this well-conceived page-turner.
Part Matrix, part Lord of the Flies, and thoroughly engaging in its own right.