Thursday, July 14, 2011

STORM: The Infinity Code

STORM: The Infinity Code is the first book of a series by author E.L. Young, an editor at New Scientist magazine, based in Sydney, Australia. STORM is a group of young teens who meet at their school in London, who want to make the world a better place. The book primarily follows 14-year-old British teen inventor Will Knight as he discovers the group and gets involved with it. He is reluctant at first, but their first action--saving a plane whose GPS has gone out after a major solar flare, trying to land at Heathrow when the ILS (instrument landing system) was knocked out--makes him a believer in the group.

The founder of the group, Andrew Minkel, made his mark in computer software. He's rich--200 million rich, although which currency isn't mentioned---and wants to do something to make the world a better place. That's when he founded STORM. The acronym stands for Science and Technology to Over-Rule Misery. His genius in computers comes in handy. He had made his first million by age 10, and is pretty much independent throughout the whole book (in classic juvenile/youth fiction mode). The wealth is very useful to fund the group's activities.

Another member of the group is Russian-born Caspian Baraban, son of a famous physicist named Vassily Baraban, who is now based in London. Caspian, despite his youth (everyone is apparently 14 in the book), is a brilliant astrophysicist. His actions spur a lot of the events in the book. He and Andrew have gone to school for eight years, although they aren't necessarily close friends---more like science geeks who bonded over science. (It is more likely that Andrew, Will, and Gaia would form friendships with each other.)

The other member of the group is Gaia. She's a brilliant girl whose real passion is chemistry, and as we'll see, making things go boom---often with household chemicals. She is blessed with a photographic memory, and that along with her talents also makes the group's actions a success.

Will's inventions are introduced right off the bat; his first one, Rapid Ascent, is basically one of those modern gadgets you see in movies that fires off a grappling hook so spies can climb walls---but it really works. In fact, Will's inventions are all based on real-world inventions and cutting-edge science, not surprising considering the author's interest in real science, and mentioned briefly in a illustrated section at the back of the book.

They all bring their personality foibles: Will's father died a few years ago, and his mother, born in Russia, went back there 'to find herself', leaving him to fend for himself in the care of her artist friend Natalia. He is the kid in all his classes except chemistry, where Gaia is better than him. He knows Russian and is interested in cricket, having a cricket bat and ball which were used in actual games by famous players. Andrew's money has gone to his head to an extent, and he is a bit world-weary but also acts like a fully grown adult---actually, much like classic juvenile series characters the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, or the meddling kids from Scooby-Doo---but he has the demonstrated wealth that the Hardys and Mystery, Inc., don't...which allows them to go places and do things ordinary 14-year-olds can't. Gaia tends to keep to herself about her family; her mother died and her father, an expatriate Italian, drinks heavily. Caspian's father has recently gone missing, his mother is frantic, and he's retreated into himself.

The story is contemporary, set across the backdrop of the modern, unified Europe. It's a fascinating look at a continent and its societies I know geographically but don't necessarily fully understand. NASA has just launched a deep-space probe. In true spy fiction fashion, MI-6 is in the background, and we learn about the launch of a secret space station, thanks to Andrew's hacking skills.

This is an all-around excellent read; I enjoyed this introduction to the group and look forward to catching up on the rest of the series. I feel it compares favorably to Tom Swift/Tom Swift Jr, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Scooby-Doo and Mystery, Inc,. and the Three Investigators series. I grew up on these series and still enjoy them, despite their warts. It is also reminiscent of James Bond and Young James Bond, the short-lived Christopher Cool series, "Mission: Impossible", and the Alex Rider series. E. L. Young has managed to take the best of these series and make them into a good, technologically and scientifically accurate, fast-paced adventure. The book is very cinematic, and would make a good film.

I recommend this book if you are interested in these sorts of things!

Gordon Long

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