3 out of 4 stars
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Superhighway explores an idea that many of us have probably entertained at some point or another: what if you had all the power of the internet at your fingertips? After all, so much of our lives are online in this day and age. Imagine the ways you could change the world if you had the ability to manipulate all that data with a single thought. You could destroy your enemies by removing their identities from the face of the planet, have unfettered access to government secrets and the personal data of private citizens the world over, or steal billions of dollars in the blink of an eye.
For 18-year-old Alex Fine, everything I described has just become his new reality. This is a story that begins at the end, opening on a tropical island following our protagonist as he staggers, starving and concussed, from the front steps of a luxurious mansion onto a pristine private beach. The rest of the book is told in flashback as Alex ruefully recalls the series of tumultuous events that have led him to this very point. Eighteen years ago, he was abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of a Los Angeles orphanage. It was there, not long after the orphanage got its first computer lab, that he discovered his amazing superpower. In the process of fixing a loose network cable, Alex accidentally wound up transporting his body and consciousness into the digital web. Suddenly, he was in the internet, with the ability to travel to any location in the world via the myriad linked pathways of cyberspace. To his astonishment, he also found he could access, download, or manipulate any kind of data stored online.
To say that Alex was like a kid in a candy store is an understatement. My favorite aspect of the novel was Fayman's portrayal of the protagonist's joy and thrill upon discovering his incredible talents. The premise of the story is also a fascinating one, filled with the potential for meaningful discussion, especially on the moral and ethical implications behind Alex’s powers. Not surprisingly, after seeing the plight of the world’s unfortunate and downtrodden, his first thought was to plunder from the rich and give to poor like some modern-day Robin Hood. But of course, what kid could resist also taking a slice of the pie for himself? Despite his good intentions, Alex makes quite a few blunders along the way, letting his own lofty ambitions and self-righteousness disrupt his logical thinking. In a sense, he felt like a genuine character to me, even if he wasn’t always an admirable one.
I also really enjoyed the writing. Fayman’s prose was clean and descriptive, even if the dialogue did come across as a little clunky at times when his characters spoke with unnatural stiffness and used awkward phrasing. But whenever he wrote about technology or computer science, you could tell the author was in his element. Some of his descriptions were even downright beautiful and elegant, such as the sections detailing the culture-rich streets of Amsterdam, the luscious hills of Southern California, or the dreamy seascapes of the Caribbean. However, I do have to mention the handful of typos and grammatical mistakes scattered throughout the novel, which makes me think further edits and polishing may be necessary, but overall these errors did not detract much from my enjoyment.
My only other criticism has to do with the pacing. The start of the book was admittedly slow to take off, due to all the information required to establish the protagonist and the story’s premise. Alex’s adventures were also frequently interrupted by distractions, such as his constant quests for food to replenish himself after every trip inside the digital web. After the second or third time, this process of detailing every item of food he consumed became rather tiresome. Speaking of repetition, I also felt that Alex’s treatment of women negatively impacted the story. While it’s easy to see how a teenage boy with raging hormones might have a weakness for pretty girls, it irked me to see how he continued to objectify every woman he met.
That said, Alex did strike me as a genuinely flawed character with a real personality and real problems. Yes, he made a lot of poor decisions, and yes, there were moments where I found myself frustrated with his actions. Still, ultimately he owned up to his mistakes and expressed remorse for the people he wronged. All of this made me see value in Superhighway as an honest and intimate coming-of-age story that will no doubt resonate with young adults, though I also believe it'll have enough crossover appeal to interest readers of all ages.
Because of all the reasons stated above, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Overall, Superhighway was an entertaining read, and the revelations in the final chapters along with the nail-biting cliffhanger at the end made me want to grab the sequel right away! This is a novel I would recommend to fans of science fiction, especially if you enjoy a technological element to go with the adventure and thrills.
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