Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Strange Matter #6: Bad Circuits

It's looking like I may have given away the fourth and fifth Strange Matter books, so we're jumping to the sixth entry in the series. If I remember correctly, this was one of the first Strange Matter stories that I acquired, so it was a real treat to read through this again, even if I recalled almost none of it. The mind is a mystery wrapped in an enigma! Or maybe I just have a horrible long term memory. I'm thinking it's the latter.

Anyways...Bad Circuits is a classic tale of technology-gone-wrong. Stephanie Meeker is our narrator, and she tells the reader about her cousin Daniel, who she happens to live with because her parents died in a boating accident years ago (at least that's what she tells us...). Daniel is a really smart guy, and he always enters the annual Fairfield Junior Science Competition. This year he's created a computer that can learn and think for itself, and Daniel is confident that he's going to win this year against his arch nemesis, Frank Dunk, who has taken first place for five years running. While the computer, which is given the name Brian later on in the story, starts out benign enough, it soon begins to crave more and more information and will stop at nothing to acquire it.

Out of the first batch of Strange Matter books, this one is definitely a strong contender, if not the best in show. The plot allows for lots of twists and turns, and the author does a great job making Brian out to be a scary piece of circuitry. One of the ways in which an ominous tone is acquired is through the use of all capitals when the super-computer speaks, and it makes the entity seem cold and malicious. Brian gets smarter and smarter throughout the story and it's cool to see him advance from a simple science project to a town-terrorizing Ken model (he steals the form of a manequin that Stephanie's Aunt uses to make clothes for Daniel - kind of explains the book cover art). The rivalry between Frank Dunk and Daniel Meeker drives the plot forward and gives the reader something to look forward to as tensions rise and the date for the competition creeps closer. There were a few little gems in the text - One of the tiny details that made me chuckle was how Brian acquired a British accent by consuming old tapes of Masterpiece Theater. It was stuff like this that made this Strange Matter shine a little brighter than earlier books.

As always, this Strange Matter book has its share of typos, but it isn't nearly as bad as some of the initial entries. Mostly just missing words here and there, so nothing too serious. I think the story could have used another twenty or thirty pages to flesh out the general buildup and the action in the last major scene, which is a showdown with Brian in a junk yard, but it seems that Strange Matter books have around a 120 page cap, probably for publishing reasons. It's unfortunate though, because a story like this could have really been expanded upon. On a final note, I really liked the twist at the end of this book. I didn't expect it at all, and I won't talk about it in this review. You'll have to read it for yourself to find out!

I'd venture to say that this is my favorite Strange Matter book so far. We'll see if this changes as I continue on through the series.

I give Bad Circuits a 4 out of 5.


Anonymous said...

The twist ending was good, but I have a question: Was it ever followed up on in any other book? One thing I loved about Strange Matter was the characters from other books reappearing, and characters whose stories ended on a somewhat suspenseful note would often have it semi-wrapped up later; for example, Fly the Unfriendly Skies ends with the main character suddenly having a nosebleed and it being black water, with the friendly alien sending him a telepathic message that they're on their way. Strange Forces volume 1 has him suffer a nosebleed and think "thank goodness, just another nosebleed" implying that he was reached in time at the end. A Place to Hide ends with the bully character going into the woods where the monsters are, and later books indicate that he encountered them but managed to escape, and was so scared by the experience he stopped bullying.

So, was there any resolution in any book to the ending of this one? I remember Stephanie being mentioned in like one line of dialogue in volume 1 of Strange Forces, but that's it. Was it ever followed up on?

Aaron Pierce said...

I'm pretty sure thirty were followed up on, but we'll probably never really know--several DM books were written and never published, and four of the EIGHT books written in DF never saw the light of day. I imagine the authors had planned to wrap up a lot more cliffhangers with the rest of the books but i guess they were just too busy writing to bother getting them published...