Can a teenage hacker change the fate of the universe?
Or will a nanite-wielding assassin reach him first?
Seventeen year-old genius Zakari Sharp has never stood on the surface of a planet, never seen a sun-streaked sky. He lives on a corporate-owned mining facility at the edge of the solar system, with a mute alien for a guardian and brainwashed, muscle-bound ex-convicts for company. The day his father vanished was so long ago that Zak thought he would never hear from him again.
Zak was wrong.
Now, chased off-station by a cabal of mythical assassins, Zak and his best friend Liz embark on a harrowing journey across the galaxy, to find his father’s hiding place and learn the universe-shaking discovery that hides with him. But their enemies will stop at nothing to steal the secret themselves.
Song and Signal by M.E. Patterson concerns itself with the life of a young hacker, Zakari Sharp and his journey to alter the fate of the universe. But that’s not why this story is interesting. I’ve read a lot of “coming of age” tales that don’t actually get what that phrase means, but M.E. Patterson really nails it—this story was fast paced and full of interesting characters.
The story starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the end—especially for a YA leaning text, M.E. Patterson really paced this well—it was fast enough to keep me reading, but not overwhelming. Though Zak seems to be the typical “destined to save the universe” hero, he really doesn’t come across that way—he’s a kid that’s struggling to find his place in a universe that is increasingly intolerant and hostile, add that to his own personal issues, and you get one confused, young character. But that was the great part about Zak—he doesn’t have all the answers, he relies on his friends for help, and sometimes, he makes bad decisions and has to live with the consequences.
What really drew me into the story was how personal it all felt—even when we were getting inside the heads of an antagonist (because the perspectives shift a few times) we really get a sense of the struggle and frustrations they all go through. It’s really humanizing and quite haunting at times; I definitely feel the story was stronger for it (and it didn’t feel forced or unnatural to shift the perspective to another character, either). I also found the sci-fi setting really worked well for this story—and that the technology and terms were used well throughout the novel. Everything blended together rather seamlessly to create a really strong sense of what the universe and the places within it are like—and how the technology is used by the people within this world.
Another great thing about this story? The fact that the main love interest, Liz, isn’t a simpering, whining, little girl. Liz is tough—and frequently proves it. Liz has been bailing Zak out of his trouble for years, and that doesn’t change in this book, which was great—it was nice to see the hero get bailed out by his love interest for a change, and not the other way around (though Zak does have a few opportunities to redeem himself). Though I found her to be well-balanced as a whole, it was great to watch Liz’s priorities change throughout the novel—where once her life seemed so set in stone, it’s really fun to watch her be conflicted about the path her life will eventually take.
The only thing I think it suffered from was having too many “antagonist-type” characters. It was hard to know which character we were supposed to be focusing our ire on, when there were so many. Some readers might like this confliction, I prefer to have, if not a clearly defined “bad-guy” then at least a little more build up for some of the extras. But this is a relatively small complaint about an otherwise engaging and often heartbreaking story.
If you are interested in space-themed, sci-fi, with hackers, then this is for you. Though some of this story could be considered YA, I definitely think it would be quite violent for younger teens—though it would be perfect for mature teens and adults.