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on July 29, 2011 :
Review by: Doc Finch on July 29,2011
When an austic girl, Dana, is taken into a hospital following a school fight and X-reys show a piece of metal in her brain, even though there are no visible scars on her head, it sets into motion a journey which will have a worldwide impact. This new novel by Manda Benson, a sci-fi thriller, has a lot of travel involved: from Coventry, England, to Scotland and to the outer islands of the Hebrides. There are even some memorable excursions along the River Styx in a Virtual Realith world, where she meets a three-headed dog named Cerberus.
The journey begins when Dana escapes from the hospital but is shortly thereafter captured by Jananin, who calls herself Dana's "mother", but may not be. Jananin begins to fill in Dana's history with her version of how she and her siblings came to have autistic traits and odd capabilities. Dana's ability, or skill, is that she is linked mentally to any form of electronic control system, especially computers. It includes having Global Positioning System data as a constant companion and being able to transmit into other systems, along with other useful skills. Jananin also builds a strong case against a man named Ivo Pilgrennon, whom she blames for stealing her scientific work and perverting it for his personal benefit.
Using Dana's GPS skills, they drive north to Inverness, then across to the headlands leading to the Hebrides, where there is a beacon luring Dana and her siblings to Pilgrennon's island hidaway. It is an interesting trip, as the author's careful descriptions take the reader for an armchair tour of northern Scotland and the rugged coast on the North Atlantic. By this time Jananin has prepared Dana for her destiny and drops her off at the islands ferry to find Pilgrennon and kill him.
Dana does find Pilgrennon but his death is not accomplished so easily. After her first VR trip, hearing Pilgrennon's story, and seeing two more of her siblings, she suspects there is a threat much greater than him. She begins to believe that Cereberus is a super-computer, a self-aware artificial intelligence that may be working for the government, or setting up a self-defense screen that is dangterous to anyone who encounters it. When Jananin also joins them on the island, new alliances are formed, then broken, then re-formed. Ivor Pilgrennon, Jananin and Dana find themselves guarding against one another, then joing to defeat a new enemy, then another. They find themselves fighting off government aircraft, then plotting against one another as they move step-by-step to eliminate the real threat.
A lot of dust is raised and blood lost in the ongoing skirmishes, and the action is almost non-stop, but discussions and opinions find room to be aired, with some good points highlighted on medical ethics, boundries in research, and a well written comparison of Dana and Pandora of the famous box.
There is a sweeping and action filled climax, complete with an air battle that is unique in my experience. But Dana's world comes out changed. I would not be the least bit surprised to see a sequel to this fast moving, thought provoking novel. After all, not all the siblings were accounted for.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
Noor A Jahangir
on July 06, 2011 :
Pilgrennon's Beacon is the bleak tale of an autistic child, whose disability was exploited before she was even born. Now Dana is trying to come to terms with the fact that her organic brain is meshed with a computer processor able to communicate with anything giving off a signal, from radio to Bluetooth. Afraid of being lobotomised by curious doctors she goes on the run, only to be kidnapped by a katana wielding sociopath claiming to be her biological mother, pressing her to help locate the mad scientist who stuck the thing in her head. But all is not as it seems.
Think Jonny Mnemonic crossed with the Railway Children and you're a third of the way there. The main themes seems to be about ethics in science and about humanity losing what it means to be human, whilst machines becoming more sentient.
This is a well written, thought provoking piece, with unexpected plot twists that sustain interest throughout the novel. The author has also thoughtfully included deleted scenes at the end for those who want to go a little deeper. My only criticism is that the action scenes are a little rushed, but overall a very decent read.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
L. A. Wright
on April 24, 2011 :
“Freak” It is a word Dana hears often at school. But what is it that makes Abigail consistently go out of her way to bully and hurt her. Using her ability to make technology work for her just by thought, she finally finds sanctuary in Pauline and Graeme’s rambling home. Her brother Cale ignores her as is his wont but she knows he understands and cares about her. He too is autistic, and she has to suppose that this difference in her is what draws Abigail’s ire.
Because of the constant bullying at school she hates it, and it extremely uncomfortable going. To make it even worse this time she has closed herself in the bathroom, and when Abigail finally gets in, a tremendous fight breaks out. Dana holds her own and actually smashes Abigail’s nose in the process, but as she falls backwards, she loses her balances and smashes her head on the porcelain. The next thing she remembers it being in the hospital having x-rays taken of her head. She is not afraid of the hospital, the machines and their interface’s sooth her, but when the x-rays show a piece of metal in her head, all of a sudden her life begins to change.
Trying to get away, feeling for the first time like the freak she is, she sneaks out of the hospital only to be found by a woman who claims to know about her, named Jananin. She knows about her abilities, and actually claims to be her mother. Convincing Dana that she can help her, she tells Dana stories about her own past. She also gives Dana a rendition of how she came to be. Ivor Pilgrennon features heavily in the story, and as the tale continues, Jananin includes her own plans to use Dana to destroy him.
As Dana is drawn into the scheme and finds Ivor, she finds him to be everything that is opposite of what Jananine suggests. Not wanting Ivor to know of her duplicity she nevertheless hangs around and finds a comfort that she has been missing. Ivor has realized the damage he caused in his youth and is doing what he could to reverse the damage.
Using Jananine’s computer Dana finds an interesting game called Cerberus to keep her occupied while on Igor’s island. Somehow, this game is the center of everything that is wrong in the country and once Cerberus realizes Dana is somehow able to react in ways it does not understand she then becomes a threat to its existence. Now not only is Dana in jeopardy but everything and everyone she holds dear is no longer safe. She has become the Pandora of modern times and released an evil, which is unrelenting. Can she stop it before it is too late? She is unable to undo what she has done. Will she be able to stop the consequences? Can Jananine and Igor come together in time to help Dana before it is too late?
In Pilgrennon’s Beacon, by Manda Benson we meet an unusual cast of characters. Dana is a young girl, autistic in nature but with extra abilities added through early experimentation by Pilgrennon. She is a product of some genetic splicing as well as the plate being added, which gives her the capability to speak with computers of all kinds. She can work with cell phones, GPSs, and Satellites to name a few. It is interesting to watch the interaction. This also brings her added attention, which at her age in school makes her a freak. This too weighs heavily on her. She is drawn into a life unlike anything she has ever known, and she has to change her concept of reality.
Igor Pilgrennon and Jananine are like an old married couple who hate each other, and yet also find they must work together to save the world from a technological menace. They are a great foil and bring a balance to the story.
This is a fun and fast-paced story, and if you or your child enjoy science fiction, it will be right up your alley. Well written, the characters are strong, and it is easy to visualize the scenes as they progress. This would make an interesting book for a reading group with many things to discuss.
This book was received as a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own based off my reading and understanding of the information.
(reviewed long after purchase)