Jimmy Coates is an ordinary 11-year-old, fighting with his sister, grumbling over his homework, until some people turn up at his house and try to take him away. He escapes from them with astonishing ease and goes on the run, performing astonishing feats in a bid to outrun them. He eventually discovers the truth about himself: that he is “only 38% human”; the rest is technology which is to fit him to be an assassin.
The author obviously wants to ring a few alarm bells with this series. A near-future Britain where one Prime Minister has total power and has stamped out any opposition by instituting Neo-Democracy: no-one votes on anything unless the Prime Minister himself wishes it. Meanwhile, the Secret Service is genetically engineering super-assassins, to be brought up as normal children until the age of 18 and then to turn killer. Only sometimes, things start happening too soon…
The first half of the story is the scene-setter: young boy on the run from unknown pursuers, and discovering secrets about himself, such as a tremendous fighting prowess, coupled with invulnerability and an ability to fly helicopters. He is finally captured and the truth is revealed: his “parents” are really Secret Service agents (although presumably married to each other), and he was “created” in an unspecified way 11 years previously from the latest technology to be the perfect killing machine. So far, so tedious. But then it gets a little interesting as young (and he’s only eleven, remember) Jimmy fights against this killer part of himself. He allies himself with Chris Viggo, former Secret Serviceman, and his team: Yannick, a fat but active chef, and a beautiful but able young woman named Saffron Walden. Together, they rescue Jimmy’s sister and friends and attempt to get his parents.
It is all the stuff of superhero adventure comics and not too much else. Jimmy is very close to his 13-year-old sister Georgie, but the situation with his parents is complicated by their difference of opinion on ethics, and a hinted-at former romantic situation between his mother and Viggo which is left unresolved at the end of the book. The obvious question marks are: is Jimmy really “38% human”? What is the rest of him? Is he entirely human with 62% of his body replaced by cybernetic enhancements? Or is he human but with altered DNA? How is it that he is an 11-year-old in many ways, but has the experience and prowess of a fully-trained fighter? Are instantaneous knowledge and physical ability things we can simply download or have implanted in us? Or can we only acquire them through our senses? And if he is invulnerable, why has this not shown up before? Some of these issues clearly admit of some technobabble plot explanation; others, though, seem to have more philosophical implcations. What is a human? How much responsibility do I have if the 62% of me which “isn’t human” is forcing me to kill someone? Questions, I think, worth discussing.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.