"That's what I love about VR programs—how you can use them to build a virtual world that's way better than ordinary reality," says Adam, whose muscular dystrophy gives him a good reason to escape his body.
Soon, however, virtual reality becomes reality. When Sigma, a malevolent artificial intelligence, infects military equipment, the United States Army recruits Adam and five other terminally ill teens for the Pioneer Project: the transfer of their minds into robots and weapons. Alpert's exploration of neuromorphic electronics raises interesting questions about ethics, technology, and human nature, but the book's excessive exposition makes the possibilities more vivid than their executions. Except for Adam's poignant rebirth as "a low-maintenance robot instead of a high-maintenance human, "the teens' personalities are more "accessed" than developed. Third-person chapters written as military memos, logs, or transcripts reveal key plot points so briefly that their cumulative impact is camouflaged. The Pioneers' sudden circumvention of a programming obstacle is almost too useful, creating a literal deus ex machina. Sigma is a frustrating villain; his explanation of his motives seems to cancel them out, and his appearance in the epilogue creates a twist too abrupt to be logical. However, a haunting ending scene will leave readers pondering the line between progress and loss.
A thought-provoking clash between humanity and machinery, not without a few bugs. (author's note) (Science fiction. 12-16)