Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Charisma, by Steven Barnes

CharismaI've always enjoyed Steven Barnes' work, since his early days with Streetlethal. I picked up a copy of Charisma at the library, and enjoyed reading it, too. I wonder, however, why in the world it's classified under science fiction. Have they just gotten into the habit of classifying an author in a certain category, and anything else he/she writes just gets thrown in, as well? The only thing remotely science fictional is the underlying idea in the plot - a group of at-risk preschoolers is exposed (via hypnosis?) to the brain patterns of a very successful black soldier/businessman/statesman, Marcus Alexander. Over the years, they are monitored to see if this imprinting increases their success in school and life. Everything else about this story is pretty mundane. I mean, it could have been about a ritalin replacement drug for hyperactive kids, and the rest of the story would have worked fine with a few minor mods.

That said, it was a pretty good book. I got engaged quite quickly with the main characters, a boy who is part of the experimental group named Patrick, and Renny Sand, a reporter who begins to uncover the true story behind his idol, again, Marcus Alexander. If you read the synopsis in the book jacket, you know more about what's going on behind the scenes in the novel than any of the characters, and sometimes wonder how they could be so dense as not to suspect anything about the sinister forces opposing them.

Barnes always seems to have a pretty heavy martial arts emphasis in his stories somewhere, and this one has a lot of philosophy from Musashi's Five Rings. There's some good stuff in here, albeit brief, about sharpshooting competitions. Barnes tells a good tale, with interesting heroes and villains throughout, only using a few stereotypes for his throwaway bad guys.

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