Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Insignia (Insignia, #1)

Goodreads Summary:
More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

My Review:  (NOTE: I've been struggling to write a review of this book for days. Not going to happen in any kind of traditional sense of a review. The review is basically my rambling, stream-of-consciousness  thoughts spawned by this book. If you want to avoid that, short review: Good book for boys who don't like to read- if you're not looking for that, take a pass on this book. Catch up on your TBR pile instead- there were plenty of really good books released this year that you should be reading instead.)

First, you could get really drunk playing the "Insignia Drinking Game".  
  1. Every time you spot a character in Insignia that's really a Harry Potter character in disguise, take a drink.
  2. When you see a Harry Potter story element in Insignia (like having different "houses"), take a drink.
  3. Any time an Insignia character uses something scientific or some computer program to solve  a problem instead of magic (like in H.P.), take a drink .
On second thought, so much in Insignia is like Harry Potter that a drinking game is not a good idea. Maybe replace "take a drink" with "Eat an Oreo". (Buy at least 2 bags) Clip from the movie "Beerfest" as your warning against doing an "Insignia Drinking Game". (Clip has some NSFW elements- brief nudity. Although it looks like they tried to block most of it out. Be warned)

My comparison of Insignia to Harry Potter is not necessarily a criticism. If you break a story down into its elements, all stories are derivative. Remember taking literature courses about plot types? Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self, etc. The theory by Arthur Quiller Crouch states that there are really only 7 Basic Plots in literature- so nothing is truly original at that level. Which is why I focus on characters because I think creating interesting characters is key to making a book good and at least seem "original" and unique. Well, considering it's a drinking  game rule- take a drink/eat and Oreo when you spot a H.P. character in this book- it goes without saying that these characters seemed like recycled H.P. characters- there's even a Professor Snape, really. Really. The most original thing about the main character, Tom, is that he has acne at the beginning of the book. Don't remember the last time I've seen that in a YA book. Here's my big problem with the book, near the end of the book this song started popping into my head:

Hate the song; hate the movie. If you're now scratching your head, wondering what I'm talking about. You're lucky- it means you've never seen Top Gun and for that I envy you. But the association of Top Gun and Insignia does make sense. In essence, these two things are a good example of plot driven vehicles. It's common in plot oriented books to have characters that are more archetypes than individuals. In other words, it's more important that something happens (plot driven) than to understand why it happens (character driven). In plot driven movies and books, characters don't need to be unique and interesting- what's interesting is the stuff that's happening... a fight scene, car chase, etc. Characters exist to do these things (get into fights, drive the car) and nothing else. I guess on this level, the book does work- it was a fast, basically enjoyable read.

If you haven't seen the movie Top Gun, you don't need to. Here's "Everything You Need to Know About Top Gun" as told by Quentin Tarantino. A 3 minute summary and analysis of Top Gun- major warning about language, though:

Overall Rating: 3 stars
Genre Rating: 3 stars (I don't think this was a standout as genre fiction either. It's a very readable book that's also kind of forgettable.)

S.J. Kincaid's Blog
S.J. Kincaid on Twitter

Insignia (Insignia, #1)


  1. The first thing I thought of when I started reading this review was the song "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals. It was the gambler father that did it.

    1. I love that song. I know that I just wrote the review, but if you had commented in a week from now about the gambler father, I would have been thinking, "Huh?" The details in this book are kind of fading out of my memory super quickly- I think because it's too much like other books. Eventually- and soon- this book will be a footnote in my brain, "Sci-Fi Harry Potter".

  2. I loved how you reviewed this one. I probably won't be reading Insignia, it doesn't sound like my type of read. And I've never seen Top Gun either, I probably won't after this. :)
    But if I do read Insignia for some odd reason, I'll be doing the "Eat an Oreo Game". :)

    1. If I read the sequel, I definitely will be doing the "Oreo" Eating Game instead. I'm kind of boring- I don't drink. Given a choice, if I'm going to consume a whole bunch of calories, I'd rather drink a chocolate shake rather than a bottlle of wine or a couple of Pina Coladas. Oh, and please don't see "Top Gun". It's actually worse than it sounds.

      I hope I haven't given anyone a too negative impression of this book. If I was still a teacher, I'd be recommending this book left and right to boys. Especially reluctant readers. If I was a librarian- school or otherwise- I'd be ordering multiple copies of this book and pushing it. But I do think it's more a boy-type book and life's too short and our TBR piles too large.

  3. Hi! I tagged in this post

  4. Sounds like unless I have a wish to be very very very drunk I'll be giving this a miss! Have you heard of Midnight for Charlie Bone? Very similar idea and I would avoid unless you're in a Harry Potter mood.

    Yay though! Fellow hater of Top Gun! I thought I was alone!


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