The Six by Mark Alpert

the six

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

Adam has less than 6 months to live. Muscular dystrophy has already confined him to a wheelchair and is now whittling away at his ability to breathe. While not happy about it, Adam is resigned to his fate until his father and the government offer him a possible way out: an experimental procedure that will replicate his neural pathways in a machine body. The process will destroy his physical body, so they have only one shot to make it work. If it works, Adam will live and the experiment can be repeated on the other terminal candidates chosen and they will all live on. Salvation does not come cheap, however. The United States government has only financed the project because the world is facing a threat from an artificial intelligence that has infiltrated Russian military computers. Adam and the others are only to be saved if they can become the hybrid human/ computer soldiers that are humanity’s only hope.

As a once philosophy student I loved the philosophy of mind questions that this book raises: Is replicating the mind all there is to making a duplicate of a person or is the body important? Is the resulting duplicate of a person that person, or another person, just with identical memories? Would someone be willing to risk their remaining time on earth, even if it was short, on the chance that we could transfer consciousnesses to machines? If you are a parent with a child reading this book, or a book club, all of these make great discussion points.

This book was mostly action-based, with little character development and sentiment. It is one of those books that really read like an action movie. There are explosions and fights and giant robot death-bots, but very little attention paid to emotion and inner dialogue. In particular, the teens chosen for transfer really get no attention paid to the potential emotional and psychological confusion of suddenly having robot bodies. Coming into the novel, I had hoped this would be the main emphasis of the book: an exploration of the difference between flesh and software based thinking and the experience of humans trying to live inside machines. Instead, these points are dealt with insufficiently and combat scenes begins almost immediately.

The main conflict of the book is the kids hunting down and fighting Sigma, before the rogue AI makes good on its threat to launch missiles at the world’s major cities. The secondary conflict is the six hybrids having to come together as a team. While the main conflict is mostly resolved (with room for a sequel of course), the second is never given its due consideration. There are personality conflicts and some unanswered questions about people’s pasts and attitudes, but then the issue is just dropped because everyone has to go suit up for the finale. The six never get to know each other and form bonds, which brings me to the main flaw in the book:

None of the characters have strong relationships with each other, even Adam with his parents, which I found disappointing. For me, characters only come alive when they are interacting with each other, not just reacting to circumstances. There are no deep emotional bonds formed, so it comes off as a little hollow when the characters are grieving for someone, but the story before does not support that depth of emotion. There is very little dialogue for a book this length, it is mostly descriptions of action sequences. The other teens don’t have deep personalities, just a couple adjectives pinned on and some exaggerated personality quirks. No one reads like a teen just saved from premature death or an adult seeing everything they knew about human consciousness change beneath the relentless march of technology. Everyone is flat, more like a prop than a person.

This would be a great book for teens who like action, sports, and the military. It is fast paced and does present an interesting premise, the characters just weren’t real enough for me. I wanted a book on the complications and ethics of transferring human consciousness into machines that would be very thought provoking and insightful into what makes humans human. Instead I got a fairly standard action novel with a neat science fiction premise.


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