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Data Pilots

Data Pilots by [Wall, W.H.]4 Stars

Data Pilots takes the classic “secret level” lore from video games – finding the secret level grants the player an elite, secret status – and uses it to transport the hero, Tom Howard, into a world where his brain is seamlessly integrated into an exclusive development playground. Neuralverse is an open-source database environment set aside for a few privileged thinkers where literally anything they can think of is rendered in immersive virtual reality.

Tom is something of a prodigy. He’s able to master Neuralverse controls almost immediately, makes a basic UI change and is rewarded with praise from the best data pilots in the system. He also discovers the darker side, full of hackers and profiteers. What he does with his power can either secure or topple this virtual world, and he doesn’t know who to trust.

A lot of this story hearkens back to the early days of the cyberpunk genre, like the integration of computing with the human brain, visualizing computerized data as an immersive experience, even holodecks. The author uses a lot of ideas from the past and blends them all together to build this world. I enjoyed the way that music takes an important role in the story, but can’t say too much – you’ll have to read it to find out. There’s also a neat time dilation in the Neuralverse. Since everything happens at the speed of thought, four hours spent on one project inside is more like four minutes in the real world.

Tom comes across as almost too talented, even for a teen prodigy. Everything is easy for him, and he masters complex skills in a very short time. Most (but not all) obstacles provide more than a moment’s annoyance. His skill earns him great praise from the other data pilots in the system. However, Tom does have humanizing flaws that he must overcome. He has a selective memory and does things like ignoring EULA notices as well as disregarding advice to keep his overworked brain from exhaustion.

My biggest problem with the book is that the author kills any suspense or tension built up during a scene by disclosing the bad guys’ identity and intent. The book is full of, “unbeknownst to Tom…” and “Little did he know…” moments that telegraph a critical plot twist long before it happens. The book needs some editing tweaks. The most common problem is putting dialogue from two or more speakers on the same line, without a paragraph break. In some scenes, it’s difficult to tell exactly who is speaking since it all runs together.

Data Pilots is a fast-paced novel for younger readers, immersing them into a race-against-time climax to unlock memories and data in order to protect a unique, collaborative environment from destruction. I’d suggest this for ages 12-18 because I think teen readers will find a lot to like here, especially if they are also interested in programming and designing virtual worlds.

Pages: 130 | ASIN: B01MSI7LL1

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Game Over

Game Over (A Series of Ends Book 1)4 StarsGame Over begins inside a virtual world created by Sybil, an AI that rules over the virtual world of Elysium. Ekko Everlasting spawns into what seems to be a video game, armed and ready to fight, although he has no memory of who he is or why he’s there. He knows only his name and his innate ability to survive in a kill-or-be-killed environment. This skill helps him win his first match in No-Life, the most popular game in Elysium.

Flush from his win and mobbed by fans, he’s saved from an imposing cyberman—and potential deletion—by Ridley Scott, who tells him that Ekko is an important asset to the resistance. Ridley and his boss Dadgar recruit Ekko for their mission to find the central core of the Sybil system and free what’s left of humanity on Earth. Dadgar tells Ekko that Elysium was created to solve humanity’s problems, including illness and death, so millions of people were uploaded into the system. If humans in Elysium don’t live up to Sybil’s standards, embodied by the No-Life game, they are reprogrammed or deleted by the cybermen. Deletion brings death in the real world.

There’s a lot to like in this novel. The stakes are as high as they get: life or death for not only Ekko but humanity itself. The games he plays, No-Life, Myth and Magic, and The Test, bring the kind of exciting combat and split-second decision making that will keep you on the edge of your seat. His adversaries and allies are experts at the game, and the scenarios Sybil pits them against are both elegant and deadly.

There’s also a throwback to the “choose your own adventure” books that were popular in the late 1970’s and 80’s. At several points in the story, readers are given a choice for Ekko’s next action, and the wrong choice can lead to the words: Game Over! If you follow the right choices, it leads to a surprising conclusion with an interesting twist on Ekko’s mission—and his identity. His journey through the different levels of the game reveals the lengths that the elite will go in their quest for power. In this case, literal power measured in watts instead of mere credits.

A few things didn’t go over well. Every scene that ends with a choice of adventure has an obvious “opt out” spoiler, so it’s too easy to avoid the “game over” choice. I was also a little confused about the cyberman, Naraku Carbon. The author gives him an entire chapter and backstory, but after that chapter, he vanishes completely. His only contributions to Ekko’s story were brief encounters that could have been fulfilled by any anonymous security drone.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy gaming, tense action scenes, and life or death adventure. Though it borrows a few concepts from popular movies like Battle Royale and The Matrix, Game Over offers an interesting take on what might happen if life really is a simulation.

Pages: 268 | ASIN: B01KNJ8WB6

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