A Review of: Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, by P. W. Singer & August Cole

In general, I liked this novel, a lot. It was face paced, packed with action, and had some interesting, and unexpected twists. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what was going to happen, or how things would end… but just read, and was along for the ride. 

Overall though I can say, I had a really hard time with writing a review. I liked it, and enjoyed it; but after nearly two weeks passing since I finished reading it – I still can’t feel like it left enough of an impression to write anything beyond “I liked it.” I guess that in itself indicates that it was a bit flat overall, despite enjoying it. More on that in the ‘meh’ below. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*** mild spoilers ahead***

The plus:

I liked that it was not hard to visualize any of it being real. And in our near future. The detailing of the technology is clear, and concise – with enough data (without feeling like an info dump) to really get a clear vision of what’s being used, and how. (it also never felt far fetched – but only days away in the real world. More likely a scenario of it’s already here, we just don’t know about it, yet.) [Which is the point of the book’s use of footnotes; see below.]

The scenarios that are presented are easy to imagine happening today. From the technology, to the way Agent Keegan is picked and used as a scapegoat/ influencer with the robot. How she is used as a tool from within her agency job, as well as by forces from outside it. She is in a compromising position, and walking a fine line of doing her job, doing it well, getting positive results, all while keeping her job. 

The meh:

I felt like the story line regarding Agent Keegans’s husband, kid, and family turmoil didn’t fit very well in the story overall – like it was being used to ‘humanize’ her more, give her more layers of depth in her character. But it felt more distracting that anything, like it didn’t really being in the story – except for where it used as a tool to do things like have her husband sympathize with the anti-technology terrorists, go to a protest, taking the child, and thus allowing the AI robot to swoop in and be anthropomorphized, (caring) and save the kid when things inevitably go sideways. They were a clunky tool to make examples of what the robot can do. In my opinion. Sure – maybe necessary… but not done well. Overall that part of the story couple easily be removed and make if more focused on the … story. No distractions. Not to mention – this story thread did not get any resolution. They fight, have friction, distance, Agent Keegan clearly wants a divorce. Husband seems to want out too. But all they do is raise hackles a each other. At the end, they haven’t talked, haven’t made a plan, haven’t fixed the relationship, nor severed it. They hug and seem happy? NOPE. There was no closure , no resolution, no answers. 

Another plot thread with no resolution, not really – is Agent Keegan’s tie to this criminal action in her youthful past. Not to mention, in a day and age they’re proposing that everything is tracked, and known – that something like getting hired at the FBI – most likely comes with a highly in-depth background check – that this remained unknown? THAT seems implausible. They’ve demonstrated in the book the technology is there, and easily used. But somehow nobody knows the one little thing that could cause her to lose her job/got to prison for crime? Weak [lack of] planning in the plot there. 

That said, the 80-million footnotes to link details of the story to ‘real world’ examples of sources for the ‘science fiction’ of it all – showing how it’s not really science fiction, but perhaps happening now and we just don’t realize it (or are much closer to these scenarios as actual reality as we know it) – were disruptive, annoying, and not useful. Yes, we get it, it’s here. Why not add a blurb at the end, explaining such, instead of interrupting the story throughout? 

Additionally, I felt like I was reading a story that was written ‘to be made into a film’; not a novel. Between style of writing, along with pacing, and the kind of ‘generic’, ‘formulaic’ way it’s put together – gave it a twinge of flatness for reading as ‘book’. Not to mention, times to numerous to count – of violating one of my massive pet peeves – the usage of the word ‘beat.’ A ‘beat’, is a word used for indicating in scripts, to Actors, to know to put a pause on their dictation. Not a word in normal grammar to be used. People don’t know. Drives me insane – when used as a word, in books, and filmed media. It isn’t meant to be SAID. So, 600 negative points for using it that much, and as such. Boo! 

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