One moment, 15-year-old Madeline "Maddy" Grant is enjoying a fun house ride with her stepbrother-to-be, Ben Blevin. The next, an accident occurs, and thus ends life as she knows it. The accident knocks Maddy out and she spends months in a vegetative state in some kind of hospital, drifting between strange dreams and semi-awareness of people talking around her. It all seems so strange. Then she wakes up and is told that Ben is dead. And she's had an implant that is supposed to help her survive. Yet it's not just any implant; it's a computer implant. It's some kind of device that will turn her into a superhuman. Maddy spends her recuperation adjusting to this implant that is in her brain, which turns her into a mega genius. She's able to disassemble then reassemble a computer, zip right through books so fast that the pages cut her fingers, and zero in on what people are hiding from her simply from reading their body language. It's so huge and so scary; Maddy is freaked out and emotionally torn by the whole thing. She's confused, scared and not sure of whom she is anymore . . . and it's all because of what the implant is doing to her. And making her do. The doctors tell her the implant is for her own benefit, to help her to survive, but after she murders someone without emotion, second thought or hesitation, she's beginning to think differently.
That maybe the implant isn't so innocent. The doctors are not so innocent. The whole operation is not so innocent.
Maybe it's meant to turn her into a cold-blooded killer.
But in the war of human versus machine, who wins?
Mad Skills by Walter Greatshell is a gripping, on-the-edge-of-my-seat novel that was hard to put down. This story took me through an action-packed, scientific and shocking adventure of just how far some scientists feel they have the right to go when playing God. Switching peoples' identities and programming them with the implant to satisfy their own agendas was a scary idea to explore in this story. The story made me wonder if this kind of thing would actually happen. In fact, it is already happening. While I was reading this book, I came across an article on a science-based Web site of how doctors and scientists are putting computer implants into the brains of stroke victims to help them communicate with computers. You can only imagine how far that kind of technology would go should it fall into the wrong hands.
They say you should not judge a book by its cover, but I say "Don't judge a book by its Prologue." For me, the Prologue was "meh" and I didn't really get into the story. But it was the first chapter of this novel that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go until the very end. In my view, the Prologue should have been the Epilogue, but the story as a whole still works.
A writer once asked what the difference was between science fiction and fantasy. This writer was told, "The science." Essentially, a science fiction novel puts emphasis on the scientific aspect of the story, and Greatshell has definitely met that requirement here. There's nothing in the story that would confuse someone unaccustomed to scientific terms, but I was still entranced over how Maddy skillfully puts together a bomb based on items in Ben's van or performs microsurgery on herself in the dark. She brings MacGyver to shame in some parts of the story: "She opened the cola, drank some, and gently pushed the unopened roll of candy inside. Then she took apart the pen and stuck its hollow shaft into the bottle, joining them with a gasket of duct tape. Into the end of the pen she loaded small mirror fragments, jamming the largest one in the opening so its point stuck out like a sharp blade. Then she taped the bottle to her right forearm so it was concealed within her sleeve.""(Page 138) Here is how she uses this weapon: "Before he could react, she jammed the razor tip pen into his jugular and squeezed the soda bottle as hard as she could. The pressure ruptured the soggy candy wrapper, exposing the bicarbonate in the mints and causing an explosive release of carbon dioxide, which spurted like a geyser up the plastic tube and into the man's bloodstream - shooting the mirror fragments straight to his heart." (Page 139) The author does not skimp when it comes to covering the scientific variables in this story; he really knows his stuff and exactly what he is talking about as Maddy throws around scientific projections and uses physics in fighting her opponents.
Another thing this story had a lot of was violence. The amount of violence had me squirming in my seat, especially the scene where an ax comes down on one man's head. The violence is not gory, though I thought it was a tiny bit overdone. It seemed like everywhere Maddy went, death and destruction followed.
Overall, however, I enjoyed reading this novel. It's likely going to be one of those books I'll often refer back to or read again just for the action and excitement in such a well-written story.
Unconscious for fourteen months after a debilitating accident, Maddy Grant awakens at the Braintree Institute, where scientists have successfully implanted her with a radical technology designed to correct her brain injury. But Maddy is more than cured. Her intellect has been enhanced to process information faster than a computer-an ability that's sending her emotions into overdrive.
To monitor her condition, the institute sends Maddy to the nearby village of Harmony, where she will be free to interact with the community. But Braintree's scientists are not only monitoring her behavior, they're modifying it, reprogramming her personality to become someone else.