Monday, September 3, 2012

REVIEW: Cyberfreak Debt / Stuart Wilson

TITLE: Kyle Vs. Leila (formerly titled Cyberfreak Debt)
AUTHOR: Stuart Wilson
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle ebook), Amazon UK (Kindle ebook), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

Recommended for fans of comic book adventures such as the TV show X-Men: Evolution.

Science Fiction—Young Adult

Cyberfreak Debt takes place in a comic book type of universe in which teenagers attend an underground school at the Directorate of Metanormal Defense to learn how to battle supernatural dangers (vampires, ghosts, etc). Nanobots, virtual reality, holograms, and other high-tech gadgets are commonplace. Familiar territory for readers of comics like the X-Men series. This universe is a sci-fi/fantasy blend, with paranormal happenings given “scientific” explanations. None of these explanations are drawn out, though—there’s hardly any techno-babble.

This book is relatively fast-paced, with plenty of exciting action scenes and lingering mysteries. The story pulls back every so often to ruminate on the thoughts of the main character, Kyle, as he deals with the changes in his life, the death of his parents, and his relationships with his friends.

Third person limited. The story alternates between Kyle’s point of view and that of Leila, a girl who attacks the Directorate early in the story and is imprisoned in a virtual world.

14-year-old Kyle Rivers, left paralyzed after an accident that killed his parents, is given an offer he can’t refuse: join the Directorate of Metanormal Defense and walk again. Via high-tech nanobots that work specifically with his DNA, Kyle not only regains use of his legs, but develops super-speed and the ability to read people’s danger levels.

Along with his wacky best friend, Ollie, Kyle attends the DMD’s training program, hoping to one day become an agent who protects humans from dangers such as vampires and poltergeists. Not long after their arrival, a teenage girl called Leila, whose father had been killed by one of the DMD’s agents, attacks the compound. Leila is captured and placed in a virtual reality prison, where she must face demons generated by the minds of the other prisoners in order to survive and possibly escape.

Cyberfreak Debt alternates between Kyle’s story and Leila’s chapter by chapter, with each chapter opening with an ominous countdown to “cyberdome activation.” The cyberdome causes the real and the virtual clash, sometimes bringing Kyle into the virtual world, sometimes sending Leila into the real one and bringing to life that which is imagined. This causes both realize that something nefarious is going on at the DMD, and they must put aside their differences to figure out who is behind the cyberdome activations, and what their motivations are. Is it Agent Magnolia, the creepy, dangerous man who seems to radiate evil? Is it Director-General Pratt, the goofy man in charge and Kyle’s legal guardian? Professor Brownstein, the caffeine-addicted scientist behind most of the DMD’s technology? Someone else entirely?

Meanwhile, Kyle adjusts to life at the DMD—attending classes, dealing with bullies, joking around with Ollie. Every so often, he is prone to bouts of melancholy as he recalls his parents’ tragic death, and he gradually learns to take control of his mind and not allow his doubts and frustrations to overwhelm him. Courageous, diligent, and good-natured, he is an immediately likable protagonist who is easy to sympathize with, the kind of kid we all like to root for. He sparks with hero potential, following his do-the-right-thing instincts in a manner that is genuine and unpretentious.

Leila, on the other hand, is an arrogant, tough-talking spitfire. She is, in many ways, the opposite of Kyle. Whereas Kyle does his best not to dwell on his parents’ deaths, Leila fixates on avenging her father. She is a fascinating character to watch, one whose violent tendencies make her unpredictable. Both Kyle and Leila interact with a Japanese boy called Ahn, an odd little Buddhist who rattles off nuggets of wisdom in humorously broken English.

Wilson’s snappy and witty writing makes Cyberfreak Debt crackle with energy. Between the zingy dialogue and the vibrant action scenes interlaced with sound effects (Raka-taka-taka! Kabloom!), this book and its characters practically explode from the page. It’s as though he’s allowed his vivid imagination to run wild, creating a story that is dynamic and a tad surreal. He uses the virtual world and the cyberdome activations to illustrate the idea that runs through the whole book—you are what you imagine yourself as. 

And yet he also takes the time to develop the characters, sometimes stepping back from the action to draw out poignant scenes that add a level of emotional depth to the story. Kyle isn’t just a hero-in-training—he’s also a kid coping with tragedy. Ollie isn’t just the plucky best friend—he uses his jokes to cover his insecurities. And Leila, bitter and hostile, teeters on the edge of villainy.

But for the most part, Cyberfreak Debt is pure fun—thrilling, humorous, and rather ridiculous at times. Among other things, Wilson throws in Nazi clown cowboys, an eating contest ending in copious flatulence, and more than a few jabs at the Twilight series (“Vampires do not sparkle!”). Through the twists and turns of the plot, vividly imagined settings, and the lively character interactions, this book grabs you from the beginning and refuses to let go.

There are a handful of small errors and typos, but nothing distracting.

Heads up for American readers—Cyberfreak Debt uses British conventions.

This book contains comic book type violence (explosions, gunshots, etc.), but nothing gruesome or graphic. The content is appropriate for a young audience.

[from’s author page]

Stuart Wilson was born in Manchester and comes from a family with a recessive werewolf gene, meaning no one ever changes form, but they do all growl a bit. He likes writing with a quill pen set on fire, giving him a few minutes writing time before he has to stop to battle the flames. The work which survives these constant bouts is now available on amazon and in all good book stores (with computers in them where you can access amazon). Enjoy…

Follow him on Twitter 


COMING SOON: An Interview with Stuart Wilson

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