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Mad Skills by Walter Greatshell
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielson
Review by Steve Sawicki
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441020126
Date: 28 December 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Maddy Grant was in a car accident and was unconscious for fourteen months. The accident leaves her with limited functioning both physically and mentally. She ends up at the Braintree Institute where scientists are suggesting a radical, new procedure of computerizing her brain in order to restore her. Her parents agree and Maddy undergoes the procedure. Maddy awakens to find herself better than normal--much better. Her mind works faster, she is, in many ways, brilliant, and her physical abilities seem to be enhanced. She also appears to have skills that enable her to serve as a spy and assassin. She is moved to the community of Harmony where she discovers a friend she thought dead and another she thought severely disabled. Both are now like her. There is only one thing she wants--out. But to get that she has to uncover who she is and why she is first.

This is, essentially, an idea book. It is the idea of the mind being computerized that drives the plot and the movement. Sure there is some characterization and description of setting and the pacing is established in a way that matches the development of the story, but it is the idea that is here to wow you in its many manifestations and consequences.

Maddy's change from inquisitive, shy, adolescent girl to computerized, zombie puppet is less about what that does to her and more about how it is done, the technology behind it and the real world ramifications that surround it. This is not to say the book is not interesting just that there are parts that are pretty contrived and which could be explained away as the puppeteers being in total control but since it's not I am going to think that this wasn't the case and it's just a situation where the idea controlled the writing.

The other thing that struck me about this book was that it seems to be trying to straddle the adult/young adult sub-category line. Parts definitely read like a young adult novel while others don't. Regardless of this, and of the above issues, I found the book interesting and easy to read. It is fairly fast paced, the technological concepts which underlie the novel do provide some sense of wonder and Greatshell does a good job in figuring out how all of the common place issues would impact this new technology--in positive as well as negative ways.

I would conditionally recommend it and would suggest you read a few pages from the middle before diving in just to make sure this is the kind of book you want to invest your time in. On the other hand there is no better investment to make than in a book so go to it and take a chance.

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