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Machine Wars

Review

Machine Wars

Michael Pryor's new novel MACHINE WARS tackles the topic of technological titans overtaking the populace from a safe zone for kids to really get into it. It approaches the subject of Artificial Intelligences rebelling against their human masters without the weighty philosophical questions more akin to The Matrix films. It also introduces robotic human-hunting automatons engaged in street-level skirmishes without all the bloodshed and atomic war we have come to expect from franchises like The Terminator series. MACHINE WARS has all the fun with none of the hard questions.

MACHINE WARS is a novel about Bram, a 14-year old boy who is hunted across "the city" by an evil artificial intelligence (AI) named Ahriman. We are introduced to Bram through his inner monologue as he escapes the clutches of a beastly robotic menace made out of metal junk found in his home. In his scrambling to find footing he relays to the reader that his mother, the computer genius, has prepared him for this eventuality. His mother's creation, a renegade artificial super-intelligence of her own design, escaped right from under her own nose and is intending to enslave the world its own gains. Because of this, Bram is forced to hide in all sorts of dark corners with his best friend, Stella. Ahriman's influence is spread through the internet, entering any device attached to it by wall-plug and eventually Wi-Fi. With his ability to see through his army of inanimate objects around every turn, Bram and Stella are driven to hide in abandoned buildings, sewer tunnels and hedgerows. When internet connections and street corner CCTV cameras can't find Bram and Stella, Ahriman brings machines to life and employs them as mobile enforcers to gather up the children.

Pryor even builds enough momentum 40 pages from the end that I started to believe that there was no way out of Ahriman's grasp.

To keep Bram and Stella company, and at an advantage as they run away from Ahriman, is Bob, a lighthearted artificial intelligence housed inside of a stuffed animal --- a stuffed duck, to be specific. With Bob's assistance undermining Ahriman's influence across the internet and the kids’ laying waste to his robotic foot soldiers, the fight is brought back to the evil AI, at first on the good guy's terms. A series of stressful scenarios follow after the protagonists turn the fight back around. One such event is the meeting of an old woman, a weapons expert friend of Bram's mother, saving the children and Bob from certain doom. They learn after this encounter that their skirmishing with Ahriman's forces has forced his hand, making Ahriman even more dangerous.

At points, Pryor spins a "safely accessible" web of paranoia around the concept of Ahriman's almost omniscient eye. Pryor even builds enough momentum 40 pages from the end that I started to believe that there was no way out of Ahriman's grasp. The last portion of MACHINE WARS is so successful in capturing the feeling of being trapped that I was convinced this author intended to write this book for an older audience.

The story builds and builds suspense and hopelessness for the heroes until the pages in the back get thinner and thinner, leaving this reviewer incredibly nervous to see how things were going to wrap up. The ending of this book will be a thrill for any child or adult unfamiliar with this style of science fiction or the allegory revolving around society's dependency on technology.

Reviewed by Matthew Burbridge on October 1, 2014

Machine Wars
by Michael Pryor

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2014
  • Genres: Young Adult 10+
  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia
  • ISBN-10: 0857982761
  • ISBN-13: 9780857982766