Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant
A young man sits in a room in a mental hospital, occasionally he will utter a few words, including the word berserk, over and over again. His brother, Noah, can’t believe what has happened to him – and so quickly.
A young lady, Sadie, looks at her watch in a stadium as she wonders when the longest date ever will end. In one of the most jaw dropping action scenes I have read in a while, Sadie sits while an airplane crashes onto the field and kills almost everyone in attendance. Sadie survives, but this is the catalyst that changes her life forever.
Noah and Sadie are drawn into an unseen war that is happening everyday right around us. That man you see sitting on the park bench staring into space – he may be a part of it. Those teenagers you think are playing video games – they may be a part of it it. There are two sides to this war. One side is fighting for your freedom; for the right for mankind to think and feel and for each person to make their own decisions. Yes, those rights are messy and we seem to keep screwing everything up by making the wrong decisions – but would you want that right taken away from you? The other side now has the technology to rewire your brain and create a hive mind to create a peaceful society. This war is being fought right in front of you, on the nano level, and the stakes are high.
BZRK by Michael Grant is science fiction at its best; it looks at emerging technologies and makes us think about the implications they may present. We may have the means to create peace, but does the end justify the means? Is freedom something worth fighting for, even when that means that people will continue to make wrong choices?
In this war, there are two competing types of technology: nanobots and biots. Biots are an advance in nanotechnology in that some dna material from the controlling individual are used to grow the biots. The biots then become an extension of the self. When something happens to the biots, its “parent” can slip into madness. Once you sign up for this war, there is no turning back. There is no out. The nano technology presents some good discussion of science as the reader “sees” into parts of the human body on a level that we haven’t before. Humans, it turns out, are their own unique ecosystems teeming with various forms of life that we host. I found this part of the discussion incredibly fascinating.
There are a wide variety of characters in this war, including older teens Noah (who takes the codename Keats) and Sadie (who takes the codename Plath). They both have lost loved ones to the war and are looking for answers – and revenge. In addition to a wide variety of other characters, BZRK has one of the most amazingly fantastic (and creepy) bad guys. Ever. I am not even going to spoil that one for you.
Overall this was an excellent and interesting sci fi thriller that pleases. It is challenging at first to learn some of the lingo unique to this verse (there is a handy guide in the back of the book) and to keep the various characters straight, especially since some of them adopt codenames. Also, since this work contains such a wide variety of characters – some of whom are adults – it shifts in tone and that shift can sometimes take you out of the story for a moment. That shift also makes it harder for the reader to build relationships with any of the characters, but this is not a character driven work. Librarians will also want to be aware that there is some adult content. This read is definitely for older teens as it is a sophisticated and challenging read, but ultimately satisfying.
BZRK has some of the most amazing action scenes and as a thriller it does indeed thrill. It does, however, pose some serious questions along the way that will provide thought for some good discussions regarding science and ethics, free will, etc. One of the underlying conflict themes is that the ends justify the means. BZRK takes some of the same questions that we ask in today’s popular dystopian novels and makes them more real by putting them in the here and the now. It becomes less speculative and more urgent: what if we could use nanotechnology and create a Utopian society, should we? At what cost? And who gets to decide?
BZRK is also an excellent example of the emerging transmedia trend. You don’t just read the book, you can experience it online. There is even an app. You’ll want to explore gobzrk.
Michael Grant is the author of the popular Gone series and fans will not be disappointed. You will also want to recommend this to fans of Michael Crichton and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or readers looking for some good old fashioned science fiction and technological thrillers. This will also be a good readalike for those interested in books about video gaming. And, although it is not dystopian, dystopian fans should like it because it is similar in theme (but lacks some of the character development). Highly recommended.
For a look at my thoughts while reading the book, check out this earlier post.
For more information on transmedia, check out the Digital Shift, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.
Michael Grant discusses BZRK in Wired
Read The Mr.’s Second Opinion
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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