November 01, 2013

Robin Wasserman: "Shattered" ("Crashed")

Title: Shattered (previously: Crashed) [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Cold Awakening (2st of 3 books)
Author: Robin Wasserman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2009
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Again: not overly original premise brought to excellence. Strong, imaginative world-building. Well crafted, emotion-conveying prose. Also, you get more action than in the first installment.
Cons: You have to buy the premise, of course (parents willing to shove their kid's brain into a machine and all that). And you have to like the main character despite her past - which, apparently, proved tough to some readers (but not to me).
Will appeal to: Those who aren't afraid to think and speculate.

Blurb: Six months after the crash that killed her, six months after being reborn, Lia has finally accepted her new reality. She is a machine, a mech, and she belongs with her own kind. It's a wild, carefree life, without rules and without fear. Because there's nothing to fear when you have nothing left to lose. But when a voice from her past cries out for revenge, everything changes. Lia is forced to choose between her old life and her new one. Between humans and mechs. Between sacrificing the girl she used to be and saving the boy she used to love. Even if it means he'll hate her forever. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off, like most blurbs, the above one is a bit deceiving - and even a bit senseless. If "the boy she used to love" is the one who got hurt at the end of book 1, it's not like Lia loved him. Not the way the blurb seems to imply. Now, you might think he's Walker instead, but I will spoil this much...neither Walker nor the rest of Lia's old crew are going to make a reappearance in this sequel. (And anyway, they would mean nothing to her at this point). The boy can't be Lia's mech boyfriend from book 1 either, because of the "used to love" part. And whoever he's supposed to be, Lia's choice between "sacrificing the girl she used to be" and "saving the boy she used to love" doesn't make sense at all - it's not like she either does this or that.
The cover progression (pertaining to the first edition) has little sense as well, though I have to admit it can look nice and alluring to those who crave for romance and love triangles. First we have Lia alone...then Lia with, um, Jude I suppose...then, in the third installment, Lia with Jude and Riley. People, this series is not about that. Though there's indeed a love-hate relationship between Lia and one of the boys who is not her partner. And well, yes, the triangle is there...but it's not the kind of triangle you would expect. It's more like Lia is the disturbing force who threatens to tear the two male friends apart. One of them trusts her, the other does not - and there are further dynamics at work there.
At the end of book 1, after an unexpected tragedy, Lia has finally embraced her life as a mech, though she still feels a connection with her org past her new friends seem to have dismissed - especially those for whom being a mech means a better existence than the one they used to have. The first chapters of Shattered deal with Lia and said friends trying to test their own boundaries and to trick their computer brains into feeling things like pain or fear. Which, to me, is the most fascinating part of this installment. (BTW - some reviewers on Goodreads were repulsed by the "dangerous activities in order to feel alive". But I don't see how this book can send a bad message, since we are talking about characters who basically can't get hurt. Does anyone blame superheroes for being a dangerous role model because of their flying and fighting?). Anyway, for those who'd rather have some action, here it is as well. Lia and fellow mech Riley find themselves in the middle of a bioterrorist attack to a corporate town, of which Lia will end up being the prime suspect. From here, all hell breaks loose - though I wouldn't say there's non-stop action. Guilt and lies come into play a lot, from almost every part, Lia included. There is heartbreak - of the mech kind, but this doesn't make it less real - and betrayal; there are enemies and unexpected allies; and Lia's dysfunctional family is not forgotten (particularly her sister Zo, who will make for some surprising chapters). The dystopian-post apocalyptic angle is furtherly explored, and again, it doesn't leave anything to be desired. [...]

Let me spend a couple of words about the cast of characters too. Because they can be mechs, but Wasserman manages to infuse them with plenty of flesh and blood - which may sound self-contradictory but really it's not. Even those at the farthest end of the "org" spectrum are fairly tridimensional and complex, more so than the "human" ones. This doesn't mean they are likeable...but this is not the point. Or maybe it is, because IRL people are not necessarily likeable - quite the contrary more than often. So these mechs end up being more real and representative of your average person than most human characters other books feed you.
Mechs can't die, but it doesn't mean they can't be threatened. A cult leader who was mentioned in book 1 joins forces with someone from Lia's past, and they are bent on reducing the mechs to thing status - besides making sure that no more of them are made. But it's not that simple to discern friend from foe. Also, Lia refuses to agree with Jude about orgs being enemies no matter what. Though retaining her peculiar traits, like stubborness, she is definitely growing as a character, while her mech friends seem to have settled into a kind of routine, as if their non-tarnishable bodies would prevent their minds from adapting to a new thought course. Funny - it's like Lia has truly come alive right now that she's not a real person anymore, while she was more or less an empty shell before.
As stated above, mechs don't die, since their bodies are replaceable and their minds are, essentially, computers - so they only have to upload their new "content" on a server at the end of the day, and all their memories up to that point will be downloaded into the new body when necessary. (This causes Lia to speculate about the possible new version of herself being "a copy of a copy", since her original brain has already been downloaded into her computer head. She goes as far as wondering if the virtual memory in storage is self-aware, but - unlike in the Jenna Fox Chronicles - the issue isn't really addressed or explored further. Then again, this is probably not the point here: Wasserman's approach has more to do with what defines humanity than with the wrongs of science...up to this second installment, that is). Anyway, the new "I" will be a different person, in what she/he has lost everything that happened between her/his latest file-saving procedure and the download. At the end of the book, this issue will be not only addressed, but hugely underlined, and will result in a different kind of tragedy - the loss of the self and its integrity. Not to mention, make room for well-intentioned, but dangerous lies from a friend of the download recipient.
Beyond all the technical jargon and enigmatic references I managed to dot this review with, you have a good story here. A significant theme. A strong character. And even romance, though an unusual one. Again, go for it. If you are the sci-fi /introspective type, that is :). 

For quotes from this book click here.
For my review of "Frozen"/"Skinned" (first installment in the series) click here.
For my review of "Torn"/"Wired" (third installment in the series) click here.
For more Sci-Fi books click
here.


Repackaged version - cover montage: Frozen-Shattered-Torn

4 comments:

  1. This is one of the most thorough and well thought-out reviews I've read of this novel! Thanks so much for writing it. Lots of interesting points brought up.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! You really made my day :). Also because this series is very dear to me, and my blog was still a bit new back when I wrote this review - so it apparently missed its chance at being read...

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  2. I loved this book and it is good to see someone else gets it! Good review!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Same here of course :).

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