Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shadows, by John Saul. Bantam Books, 1992

Josh MacCallum is ten years old and having a hard time. He lives in a small California desert town with his single mother and baby sister, is a genius, and has just been skipped forward in school a second time,  making him two years younger than his classmates. Friendless, he is bullied constantly. It’s no real surprise when, in a fit of anger, he cuts his wrists. His panicked mother agrees to look into The Academy, a school for gifted youngsters affiliated with a university. Despite her reservations, the school seems to fit Josh’s needs, as well as being offered at no cost. For the first time Josh starts to make friends and is actually in a group of his peers. Things look happy.

But things start going wrong quickly- students are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Mysterious sounds are heard at night. And the ‘special seminar’ that Josh and his new best friend, Amy, are invited to join is downright creepy.  It’s supposed to be about artificial intelligence, but it really seems to be more about how living brains work. The head of the Academy, Dr. Engersol, seems all too bent on isolating brains from body.

It’s really hard to write about this book without giving huge spoilers. Suffice it to say that what Josh uncovers is a truly skin crawling situation, that bad things happen to good people, and that it’s reasonably well written. The book was written 20 years ago and features computers and how they are interconnected, so one must remember what the state of computer technology was like back then to realize how freaky some of the things that happen in the book must have seemed to readers back then- there was no World Wide Web and modems connected your computer directly to another computer through the phone lines, not routing through a server. Some of the story is predictable, but there are surprises, particularly an unhappy twist at the end. 


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