Smasher by Scott Bly is a technological thriller for the middle-grade reader. The premise is that at some point in the future, the wealthy businessman, Gramercy Foxx, seeks to enslave the human race by distributing a computer virus modified to affect humans as well. When in place, it will subject everyone to his will. Geneva, a robotic girl uses her ability to manipulate atomic particles to travel back to the past to find twelve-year-old Charlie, the one person who may be able to stop the virus. Charlie, despite some initial reluctance and troubles in his own time (also at some point in the future), travels with her and works to learn enough about computers to harness his training with the Hum, a mystical force that also affects computers and people to stop the would-be tyrant.
Bly uses his knowledge of computer programming to craft a tense tale, and it is easy to cheer the heroes on as they fight for freedom. Geneva teaches Charlie about both computers and some rudiments of physics, both of which are vital to defeating the villain.
Geneva and Charlie are up against stiff odds, both in Foxx’s time and, though this is only hinted at, back in Charlie’s own time. Gramercy Foxx is a merciless foe who, though he presents a good public face is not about to let two children stop him and will resort to startling levels of violence to get what he wants, particularly from Geneva. Only friendship, perseverance, and a certain amount of luck see the protagonists through the difficulties. Bly also uses his story to muse on the nature of free will and on the relationship between humans, technology, and belief: “How free are we if we can be programmed?” “Can we be programmed and what is the nature of the programming?” are both questions that come up frequently–Foxx, after all, is getting his own way quite consistently even before he starts using his virus, in part because of people’s choice to use technology over face-to-face contact.
Character development here takes second place to plot. Bly uses shorthand to demonstrate the characters’ qualities. Charlie is first seen running from bullies and being taunted for his orphan status. He chooses to trust Geneva quickly after she rescues him from the bullies and their friendship afterward is near instant. Similarly, Gramercy Foxx is presented as cold, calculating, and hateful from the get-go. The little explanation given for his decision to dominate the human race is slight and late in the book, and even that relies on him starting out wrong.
The Hum, which is a mystical force integral both to Charlie’s and Gramercy’s plans is never fully explained. It is something like the Force of Star Wars fame, but not purely life-generated as it depends also on belief and at least in part on love. It can also be programmed and combined with standard computers to make a computer virus suitable for infecting humans. One either accepts this or not, just as one either excepts or rejects other slightly otherworldly events. Bly gets full points for incorporating the non-quantifiable into Smasher, but the ultimate mix could have been smoother.
The question of whether or not a given reader will enjoy Smasher depends on what it is he or she wants. A reader looking for character development will find it only adequate. Someone looking for a straight thriller with a dash o technology and a bit of philosophical musing will find Smasher a fine read.
Expected publication: March 25th 2014
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
ISBN: 0545141184 (ISBN13: 9780545141185)