Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: Game Changer by Douglas E. Richards

The new trite in technothrillers?

Game Changer is a near-future science thriller, as brilliant neuroscientist Rachel Howard and Secret Service agent Kevin Quinn rush to stop a madman intent on using a game-changing technology to his own evil ends.

The book is well-paced, filled with narrow escapes and numerous twists.  While the general theme – the good and bad of messing with people’s memory – comes through from the very beginning, Richards provides an early twist that caught me off-guard and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  If there is a downside on pacing and plot flow, it’s that these general reversals of position become a bit repetitious, i.e., the good guys think they have everything in hand until we find that the villain is still a step ahead, over and over.  One or two fewer reversals would have worked for me.

Douglas Richards is a master at blurring the line between cutting-edge scientific research and suspenseful fiction, which is always a winner with me.  Nothing increases the pucker factor like not knowing whether I need to be on guard now…or if I can sleep tonight.  But I was also reminded that this technique achieves its full impact only if the reader knows something of the relevant science, and in this case, I was not aware of some of the specific neuroscience developments he was building upon.  So, as strange as this may sound, I got an even greater appreciation for the book by reading the author’s note at the end and checking some of the references.  If you are a techno-geek like me, I recommend it.

Perhaps I am reading too much in this genre, however, as I am becoming somewhat tired of heroes who are so atypical as to be more unreal than the technology that is supposed to be at the center of the suspense.  Take neuroscientist Rachel Howard.  Being a neuroscientist is somewhat distinctive by itself.  Then take the fact that she is so brilliant that she is by all accounts years ahead of her peers – yes, years – but is still humble and personable.  I realize that no one wants to read about the exploits of their neighborhood tax accountant, but a story with a few characters that weren’t super-geniuses or beyond world-class athletes or super-secret spooks might be nice.  Six-sigma personalities have become the new trite of technothrillers.

Even taking into account these minor peeves, which are probably mostly unique to me, I still found Game Changer a completely fascinating read, making me wonder anew which of the many variants of this game-changing technology we will see in our future.  Because, it will be one of them.