Saturday, November 28, 2009
THE GENIUS WARS By Catherine Jinks. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2009
It began with Evil Genius, in which orphan Cadel Piggott was being raised to become a criminal matermind. As part of this, he was sent to the sinister Axis Institute in Sydney, where he studied such subjects as Fraud and Disguise and improved his already considerable skills in computer hacking. By the end of the second novel, Genius Squad, he had rebelled against all this and was trying to live a nornal life, though villain Prosper English, who had been responsible for his upbringing, had done everything he could to prevent this.
Genius Wars opens nine months later. Cadel, now fifteen, has settled down with police detective Saul Greeniaus and his wife Fiona, who are hoping to adopt him. Despite his youth, he has begun university and is in contact with some of his friends from the Axis Institute and the Genius Squad, who also want normal lives. Life is pretty good, and he has used his computer hacking skills to make life easier for his best friend, mathematical genius Sonja, who suffers from cerebral palsy. All he wants is to make it possible for her to get around easily in her wheelchair.
But old enemies haven’t forgotten him - and the very things he has done to help his friend may work against him..
This has been a fascinating series. The original premise sounded humorous - and there are certainly some over-the-top ideas, such as Cadel’s friend Gazo, a human stink-bomb who produces a smell that can literally knock people out when he is stressed. And what about brother-sister computer hackers Dorothy and Compton , mostly known as Dot and Com?
But this is not a comedy. Cadel is angry, frustrated and terrified that even knowing him may kill anyone he cares about. The series has, predictably, been compared to Harry Potter, as anything with a young hero is these days. If anything, it’s reminiscent of Artemis Fowl, if you can imagine that young Irish genius as an orphan, being manipulated by nasty guardians rather than supported and protected by his loyal bodyguard and loving family - or, for that matter, Mark Walden’s H.I.V.E. novels.
In any case, teens who liked either of those series should enjoy this one. I’d describe it as borderline SF. It never ceases to amaze me how many different genres this writer has clocked up over the years - SF, fantasy, ghost stories, historical fiction, suspense. She is the writer equivalent of the kind of actor who refuses to be typecast.
There’s no point in reading this book if you haven’t read the others, so if you haven’t, go and get them. You won’t be disappointed.