Review: Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

(I love this cover. All of the dots
are tiny human heads.)
Title: Brain Jack
Author: Brian Falkner
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 28th, 2010
Page #: 349
ISBN: 0375843663
Acquired: Library

Amazon, Goodreads, Author's Website

Read for Dystopian August 2011 over at Presenting Lenore

From Goodreads:
Another terrifying sci-fi page-turner from the author of The Tomorrow Code!
Las Vegas is gone—destroyed in a terrorist attack. Black Hawk helicopters patrol the skies over New York City. And immersive online gaming is the most dangerous street drug around. In this dystopic near-future, technology has leapt forward once again, and neuro-headsets have replaced computer keyboards. Just slip on a headset, and it’s the Internet at the speed of thought.
For teen hacker Sam Wilson, a headset is a must. But as he becomes familiar with the new technology, he has a terrifying realization. If anything on his computer is vulnerable to a hack, what happens when his mind is linked to the system? Could consciousness itself be hijacked? Before he realizes what’s happened, Sam’s incursion against the world’s largest telecommunications company leads him to the heart of the nation’s cyberdefense network and brings him face to face with a terrifying and unforeseen threat.
Brian Falkner, author of The Tomorrow Code, has created an action-packed and thought-provoking science fiction adventure in which a brilliant young computer hacker fights to prevent the human race from being deleted.
Fans of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and M. T. Anderson’s Feed will love this high-octane techno thriller.
"'Wireless security' is a contradiction in terms. Like 'military intelligence  or 'jumbo shrimp.'" With that quote we are introduced to the risky and intellectually stimulating world of computer hacking through the eyes of one of the best in the business, Sam Wilson.

Brain Jack is one of the few dystopian novels that I’ve read that I can actually see happening in America, or anywhere in the world really. Despite the military influence sprinkled throughout the book it does not appear to be intrusive in people’s lives, nor is there some overarching dictator wringing his hands at the thought of which orphan he can starve next. Society functions just as it does in modern America, but with technological advancements that have yet to happen.

This book is chock full of computer, technology, and programming lingo. For a person who is lucky if she remembers how to put a picture into a comment on a forum, it can get a bit overwhelming at times. That doesn't make it a bad thing though, and I think enhances the reading experience: because I’m not sure where real life ends and technological fantasy begins when it comes to these programs that Sam is writing and using to hack computers, it adds to the creepiness element once the headsets go from useful piece of technology to computer menace. Just how far ahead in time does Sam live? What technology, aside from the neuro-headsets, does he have in his America, or anywhere in the world, really, that we do not in our times?
Sam makes for an interesting character, driven more by his passion for computers than romantic love for another human. Actually, I would have preferred that the one hiccup of romance that was in there be left out, seeing as it just left me more confused as to why it happened in the first place. In fact, assuming that Sam is straight, there are hardly any female characters (read: one) for him to fall in love with. More ladies in computer science, please!
The climax was great and the build-up lasted over one hundred pages, all of exciting action and suspense sequences that reflect just how desperate Sam and his friends are to fix a disastrous situation that they had a part in influencing. It’s quick-paced, and makes you not want to put the book down.
As for the ending, I certainly don’t want to spoil too much for those who haven’t read it, but I will say this: there isn't a civil war being raged in Libya right now because Gaddafi missed an episode of Barney. World problems, and more importantly world leaders, are a bit more complex than the ending makes them out to be. I was also left wondering what happened to some of the characters. They weren't a massive part of the book’s plot, but it would have been nice to know just what happened to them.
Oh yeah, Sam's British friend and co-worker, Dodge. There's not much to say about him, other than how much I loved him and his use of the word "guv'nor." More than once.
Overall, Brain Jack is a fresh take on dystopian books and societies, and is worth picking up for anybody who has taken note of just how fast Apple releases new products. Technology is moving fast, so don’t fall behind. Unless you’re Sam and his friends, that is, and in that case be happy that you did.

Four Stars!
And for the theme song of this piece/ dystopian playlist, I leave you with a nerd favorite that I have recently discovered, “Still Alive” by Jonathan Coulton. A little background, this is the ending song to the Portal game, after one believes that the intelligent computer system that they just destroyed is gone for good… Creepy, huh?

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