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Friday, April 1, 2016

"Bluescreen: Mirador Book 1" by Dan Wells (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Dan Wells' Website Here 

OVERVIEW: Los Angeles in 2050 is a city of open doors, as long as you have the right connections. One of those connections is a djinni—a smart device implanted right in a person’s head. In a world where virtually everyone is online twenty-four hours a day, this connection is like oxygen—and a world like that presents plenty of opportunities for someone who knows how to manipulate it.

Marisa Carneseca is one of those people. She might spend her days in Mirador, the small, vibrant LA neighborhood where her family owns a restaurant, but she lives on the net—going to school, playing games, hanging out, or doing things of more questionable legality with her friends Sahara and Anja. And it’s Anja who first gets her hands on Bluescreen—a virtual drug that plugs right into a person’s djinni and delivers a massive, non-chemical, completely safe high. But in this city, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and Mari and her friends soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that is much bigger than they ever suspected.

FORMAT: Bluescreen is the first novel in the Mirador series. It is a YA dystopian, science fiction, cyberpunk novel that has both action and a mystery. It is told from the third person point of view.

Bluescreen stands at 352 pages. It was released February 16, 2016 by Balzer & Bray.

ANALYSIS: We, as a society, have this fascination with the thought that someday, we will be glued to our computer/tablets/Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This theory is so popular that it seems to be the newest trend in science fiction.

Not that it is new, but just like Hunger Games style writing, the science fiction world is now obsessed with a dystopian world where everyone lives and breathes in a virtual reality world, as opposed to getting up and living in the real world. Bluescreen, the first novel in a new series by Dan Wells, attempts to jump on this trend.

Before even exploring Bluescreen, it should be said that it isn't a novel for everyone. While the novel has elements of mystery and action involved, there is a lot of focus on the gaming world. Even the first few chapters of the book start out with the reader thrust into a virtual gaming world (a first person shooter game). Gamers and some action lovers will enjoy these scenes with the virtual reality game, but there are many that may believe it is pointless and boggles down the pacing of the novel.

I, personally, didn't feel either way for the gaming scenes. They do play a slight role later in the book, but I could have done with or without them. People who aren't as thrilled with the gaming world, or those who have no real knowledge of it may find these gaming scenes and the constant use of technical terms boring and even confusing. But, the book's target audience is probably teenage gamers, so it works for its target audience.

It does help that, while the gaming elements are incorporated into the novel, the world that is developed isn't solely dependent upon the virtual reality world. People still go out to clubs, dance, enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Some cyberpunk novels try to portray a world where no one leaves their home, no one interacts outside of the 'net', and I struggle to see how that would happen.  

One of the things I enjoyed about Bluescreen was, for the most part, it painted a fairly accurate picture of what a futuristic world might look like if society continued the way it does. Sometimes dystopian novels try too hard to create a dull, depressing world. In the effort to create this type of world, elements are left out and it is difficult for readers to envision that type of world really happening.

Bluescreen's future I could picture happening. It got so realistic and thought-provoking that it almost made me uncomfortable because there were elements that were just so true, you could see how in several years (20, 30 or more), the Bluescreen reality would be the world we lived in.

There is one thing I want to note. The novel takes place 34 years in the future. I think it is a bit of a stretch to think all of this will happen in 34 years. The actual year isn't too important to the novel, but it was a minor detail that caught my eye.  I just really don't see the world being so virtual reality focused, people walking around with data ports in their heads, and machine-like body parts being created within the next 34 years.

Another strong aspect of Bluescreen that I really enjoyed was the mystery element. It isn't an overly complex mystery and there were certain aspects that I could have guessed right away, but it was enough to keep me reading. The rather fast-paced style of the book also made it bearable. I could easy read several chapters without realizing it.

Even though Bluescreen is a strong YA cyberpunk novel, it isn't without its faults. First, the characters and how they were portrayed. The secondary characters – Sahara and Anja frustrated me. One – Anja – is an uber rich teenager who came across as very stuck up, oblivious to the world around her, and just annoying. Sahara wasn't much better. She has this mysterious past that isn't really revealed, but she is like the Kardashian of the novel. She has reality TV show bots flying around her broadcasting everything 24/7 and she is always dressed to perfection.

It would have been okay with an either or situation. Either having this uber rich character or a self-absorbed Kardashian teen, but to have both in one novel made it a bit frustrating. I would have really liked to see the main character have a more realistic support system friend wise.

The secondary characters weren't the only ones that could be a bit frustrating. The main character, Marisa, was overly frustrating to me. She seemed to believe she lived in a world that because she was a hacker and good at gaming, she was above any type of consequences or rules. At times she came across as super self-absorbed, which wasn't a good trait for someone who lived in a large family, and a bit condescending. Considering Marisa's family wasn't super rich or famous, she tended to act like she was above everyone else in the world and better than them.

Marisa's character changed a little bit towards the end, but it wasn't enough to win me over. If anything, I think the characters and their personality traits are probably the weakest part of this novel.

Another weakness of Bluescreen was the pacing of the action. While the book was a quick read, the pacing of the action was a bit uneven. The first half of the novel was filled with world building, virtual reality/technology building and descriptions, and setting up the entire situation for the big mystery at the end. At times it did feel as if focus was placed on something pointless – running around a virtual reality game or something similar – when it could have been devoted to something more important.

The pacing of the novel does pick up after the half way point, but it almost felt like too much was crammed into the end. It would have been nice to have information/plot pacing come across a bit more even.

Despite the few flaws in Bluescreen, I found it extremely enjoyable. It is obvious that it isn't a book for everyone and there are plenty of things for people to not like (frustrating characters, overuse of virtual reality gaming, the use of random Spanish words), but for the right person it will be a worthwhile read.

I would highly recommend Bluescreen to anyone looking to try out cyberpunk, as it is a light version of it and it has plenty of other elements – mystery and action – to keep people entertained. I will certainly be following this series to see where it goes.


Yamile said...

I wish the reviewer would elaborate on what she means by "random Spanish words..."

Cindy said...

I would gladly elaborate on it. There were entire conversations where the main character who is Hispanic would randomly shove in Spanish words. There was no definition of the word, no context for it. It seemed very forced in a way that was like 'look this character is Hispanic and is a minority'.

Don't get me wrong, I am sure it happens, but there would be entire scenes where the main character spoke fluently and then when she was around other characters she shoved in the Spanish words.

I can find examples if you want, but I'd have to find the book.

The best example I can think of (this is not from the book) would be a character saying -

"I need to do my homework. Where is my libro?". Now in the previous scenes said character always called it a book, but now.. because she's with her friends she's calling it a libro because she's Hispanic.

If I had to guess, the biggest reason for this was because the character came across very whitewashed. If she hadn't been spouting out random Spanish, she read as a very standard white female character. The use of random Spanish helped convey (poorly) that the character was Hispanic.

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