By S.J. Kincaid
Published by Hot Key Books
ISBN 978-147140000 1
Teenager Tom Raines lives with his wastrel dad, who spends most of his time in casinos, dragging Tom behind him as he moves from city to city. The only pleasure Tom gets out of his fairly miserable existence is gaming. He skips logging on to his virtual school much too often, choosing instead to play VR games online and challenge other players. Luckily for him, there's no one to keep tabs on just how much time he's spending in virtual reality.
S. J. Kincaid's Insignia is set in a future where the West is at war with the mighty Russo-Chinese Alliance. The great physicist Albert Einstein once said: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." The weapons in Kincaid's third-world-war plot are unmanned drones battling for supremacy in the skies high above earth while, down on the ground, soldiers with screens placed in front of them, as if playing a computer game, control the drones and battle ships. But this isn't a game. It's war.
The novel begins slowly, with the focus on the likeable Tom and his family situation. This draws the reader into the ambitious plot debut author Kincaid has up her sleeve.
Tom doesn't know it, but someone is watching him, and his skills have been noted by the highest authorities. Out of the blue, he is approached by the military, which needs skilled young gamers like Tom to help in the war effort.
Kincaid is a persuasive writer, and readers will have no trouble buying into her slightly over-the-top storyline. She establishes both the character of Tom and the world-at-war scenario with great conviction.
Tom jumps at the chance to do something with his life, and is whisked off to the Pentagonal Spire, a kind of Hogwarts for teen military recruits, to begin his Intrasolar Forces training.
What follows may be a little predictable but by that point the reader is well and truly hooked.
Keeping the focus on Tom stops the high-energy plot spinning out of control, as he locks horns with a skilled rival called Medusa, and seeks to uncover a traitor at Intrasolar Command.
This is a complex, but quality piece of fiction. It's a long read, but the strong action and believable characterisation keep it all in top gear to the end.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com