The Six

The Six

The Six was first published in 2015 and is Mark Alpert’s debut young adult novel. The story focuses on six terminally ill children as they are offered an opportunity to change their fate. Although the novel reads as though it is the first part of a series, at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Adam Armstrong only has a few months left to live. Over ten years his muscular dystrophy has slowly robbed him of his mobility and he soon will enter the final stages of the condition. Although he is resigned to death, his father has been working tirelessly to find a way to save his son. He has finally had a breakthrough. Using AI technology, he has found a way to transfer Adam’s consciousness into a robot body.

Joining the Pioneer Project, Adam becomes the first of six teenagers to have his consciousness transferred into a robot. The copy is permanent and irreversible and Adam soon discovers the ethical issues of his new situation. Although the Pioneer Project has saved his memories and personality, he is now confined to a hulking robot form and contracted to use it in the service of the American military. His life will never be the same again.

To make matters worse, a threat to world security has arisen. A rogue AI that identifies itself as Sigma has taken control of a Russian military base and has control of enough nuclear weapons to destroy half of the world. Only the Pioneers have a chance to defeat him but time is short. Not only must they learn how to control their robot bodies but they also need to learn how to work together as a unit. If they fail, the world is doomed…

Before I begin, I should note that I am writing this review based on an advanced copy that I received from Netgalley. In light of this, I’m aware that it may not be exactly the same as the version that has since been released to buy. Please bear that in mind as you read the rest of this post.

I’ll freely admit that I was attracted to this novel on the strength of both its eye-grabbing cover and Amazon blurb. The idea of transferring a human consciousness into a robot is far from unique but I was intrigued about the concept of offering this as a choice to a terminally ill teenager. It adds a whole new level of ethical debate to the concept. Not only is the reader made to question what it is that makes someone a human being but also if its ethically right to put this decision to someone as desperate as Adam. While it might initially seem a no-brainer, it becomes more complex when you consider all of the downsides of his new state.

While Adam and the other Pioneers will live, it won’t be in the sense of a human being. They will be copied into computer circuitry. It’s more like being a computerised clone than having your brain transferred into a new vessel. The Pioneer robots are also not human in any way. They only have sensors in their hands, view the world through a camera mounted in a turret and are described as being large and clunky, somewhat like a cross between Robbie the Robot and a Dalek. They’ll never live ordinary lives or have children. They have essentially been handed a double-edged sword, given the choice between dying or living forever as a teenager trapped within a military weapon. This is a lot of food for though.

While the novel does touch upon all of these ethical dilemmas, it never really analyses them in any depth. As a philosopher, I did find this to be a little bit irksome. There was so much scope for debate here, particularly between Adam and his religious mother, but it just wasn’t that kind of story. It’s clear that Alpert’s primary interest was in the science behind the Pioneer Project. If you’re a fan of hard science, you’re really in for a treat with this story. Alpert went to great length to explain all of the theory behind the process, presenting it in a way that was easy for the reader to understand. Although sometimes it felt as though he went a little overboard in his explanations, especially early in the novel, it was still fascinating. I’m not really a science-minded person but the technology behind his story all seemed plausible, even if it was a leap beyond what is currently possible.

The story itself was very well written and kept up a decent pace throughout. The story was split roughly into three parts with the first focusing on Adam’s life leading up to the transfer, the second with the team going through their basic trained and the third with them finally facing off against Sigma. Although the second part of the novel was a little padded around the middle, the novel still flowed nicely from one event to the other and was a gripping read throughout. I found it very easy to get into this story and the book was incredibly hard to put down. Sigma was a very intimidating villain – intelligent but utterly void of human compassion – and his unpredictability kept me on the edge of my seat.

There were only really two gripes that I had with the actual plot. The first was the inclusion of a love triangle. This never really affected anything within the novel. Adam liked three girls though never really showed any real preference to any of them. I think that the story leans towards the fact that Shannon is his one and only but there is no real tension or sense that Adam needs to choose between his “potential mates” (Sigma’s words, not mine). While I appreciated that the love triangle was downplayed, it made it all the more clear that it was unnecessary. It felt really tagged on to the plot and I don’t think the novel would have suffered at all if it was cut.

My other issue was the cliffhanger. Up until this, I actually thought that this book was a stand-alone story and so it completely caught me off guard. The ending of this novel takes the form of an email, not unlike the final chapter of The Maze Runner, and it just felt cheap. Without it, the novel wrapped up very nicely but the cliffhanger was nothing more than reader bait. Really, I don’t know why authors feel the need to employ such tricks. The novel was good enough to make me want to read more, I didn’t need to be emotionally blackmailed into picking up the next book.

Part of the real draw of this book was its characters. All of the Pioneers were really well fleshed out and possessed noticeably different personalities. It was interesting to see how each of them adapted to their new situation as not all of them were as pleased with it as others. While DeShawn saw it as a new lease of life, Jenny grew increasingly depressed and withdrawn. The novel didn’t entirely explore the background of every character but the flashes that it gave us were enough to make me want to learn more. I really want to find out about Zia’s past and her relationship with General Hawke and discover just what Marshall found when he accessed his emotion files that made him freak out. I really hope that Alpert reveals more in the next instalment.

Adam was a really strong protagonist, brave and reliable yet still filled with doubt and the occasional selfish thought. Alpert captures his teenage voice excellently, making him feel like a real person. I loved the way that Alpert presented his muscular dystrophy with such honesty, showing how resigned he was to his lingering death and how he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter when he realised that his childhood friends were drawing away from him. I only wish that it had spent more time developing the relationship with his parents. While we did experience the extreme reaction of his mother, I would have liked to have seen more of him spending time with his father after his transfer. Unfortunately, the two of the barely interacted after the first part of the story.

There is a lot more that I could say about this novel but this review is starting to get long so I guess I’ll just summarise. The Six is a great science-fiction story – fast paced and full of action. Although it does skirt around the philosophical issues that it raises, it’s packed full of enough hard science to delight any computer geek. The characters are very strong and the story left me wanting more. I can’t wait to return to this series in a future review.

The Six can be purchased as a Hardback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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