It’s World War III. But don’t worry! There are no casualties in S.J. Kincaid’s Insignia, because it’s all being fought off-world with drones, and even the folks who control the machines do so from the safety of Earth. The general public views the conflict more as a sporting event than anything else. Most importantly, in this vision of the future, there are still Klondike bars.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on Rinsai Rossetti’s 'The Girl with Borrowed Wings.'
As many of the natural resources on our planet have been depleted, the war is about gaining control of the rest of the solar system. The two sides are commonly referred to as the Indo-Americans and the Russo-Chinese, though everyone knows that it’s not really a war among nations—it’s a war between corporations. The largest corporations in the world have everything going for them: every politician is on the payroll, every news outlet is a subsidiary, and due to some sketchy patents, they even have a monopoly on food and water—all food and all water.
On the side of the little people—though we don’t know it yet, and neither does he—is Tom Raines. At first glance, he doesn’t seem particularly impressive: he’s uneducated, short, malnourished, has terrible acne and is only 14 years old. But he’s also a brilliant gamer; always looks at challenges from a multitude of strategic angles; is amazingly, impressively stubborn and determined; and is completely willing to be vicious when the situation calls for it.
Much of it is familiar. Like Ender’s Game, Insignia is about the military using teens to wage war, and depicts the friendships and rivalries that come out of it. Like Brain Jack and Feed, it deals with the advantages and dangers of attaching our brains to computers, and more specifically like Feed, it suggests that our reliance on technology could be making us less able to think and create, rather than more. Like the Harry Potter books and Divergent, the plebes are divided into divisions that fit their fighting styles: Alexander, Genghis, Hannibal, Napoleon and Machiavelli,* and like Jennifer Government, it imagines a frighteningly possible future in which corporations rule the world.
Is it perfect? No. The worldbuilding is done primarily via info dump, some of the plotting is suspect, and while the writing is mostly competent, it’s still wobbly in parts. Is it rambunctious, exciting, funny and sneakily thoughtful? Yes! It’s enormously fun, a page-turner-and-a-half,** and it’s yet another reason to be thrilled about the resurgence of sci-fi in the YA realm. I’m already dying for a sequel.
*Tom! What are you thinking? Don’t crush on a girl from the Machiavelli division! Even if she’s hot! Especially if she’s hot!
**I fully admit it: after staying up far too late to read the first half, I only made it two hours at work before pulling Ye Olde Cough Cough I Think I’m Coming Down With Something So I’d Better Go Home (But Really I Just Want To Finish My Book) routine.***
***My boss? Is a saint. She’s also a reader, so she understands these things.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.