catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 10 :: 2009.05.08 — 2009.05.22


Evil Genius series is conscious techno-fiction

Genius Squad (2008) is the second volume in Australian author Catherine Jinks’ Evil Genius series. Genius Squad continues the adventures of fifteen-year-old brilliant systems analyst Cadel Piggot that began in Evil Genius (2007). In this young adult novel, Piggot is trying to find a new, honest path for himself, but the most interesting thing he can find to do, since geniuses bore easily, necessitates deceiving the only two adults he trusts. Detective Saul Greeniaus and social worker Fiona Currey, the adults he trusts, are responsible for Cadel’s protection as he waits to testify in Prosper English’s trial.

So when Cadel is given an opportunity to leave his foster parents and bullying foster brother in order to join a group home, he takes it. However, this is not a conventional group home. Clearview House is a front for the Genius Squad, a group of very intelligent teenagers, who, under the leadership of several adults, are employed by the American billionaire Rex Austin in order to avenge his son’s death. The Genius Squad, unknown to Greeniaus and Currey, is responsible to take down GenoME as it opens its first Australian office, since Austin suspects them in the death of his son. Cadel takes the opportunity, but mostly because he wants to be able to spend more time with his friend Sonja, a math genius, quadriplegic, member of the squad. He also wants to have something to do, and his ability to understand systems and use computers is a boon to the project.

However, just when the Genius Squad is about to get their break, Prosper English escapes from jail and kidnaps Cadel and Sonia. The pair are rescued by Detective Greeniaus, and though English escapes a second time, the story ends happily with Greeniaus and Currey’s engagement announcement and Cadel’s acceptance of their offer to adopt him once they marry. The third volume of the series, Genius War, will follow soon.

Genius Squad is kept in the science fiction section at the library, but this is not a suitable categorization. The fact that teenagers can do advanced math in their head or hack into government computer software is not science fiction. If anything, this is “techno-fiction,” since the story utilizes known or easily imagined ways of using computers. There is little technological speculation, no new scientific principles, and no contradiction of the laws of nature within the story. The primary science fiction in this novel is that one adult could supervise seven troubled teenagers in a small computer lab for hours on end without discipline problems.

This is an adventure novel. Cadel dresses in a disguise. He makes a Pop Tart blowtorch. He hooks up an old PalmPilot to a gaming system to send an S.O.S. message to his friends. And the world is fun to imagine-computer misfits living together in an old house with a “War Room” (jacked-up computer lab) in the basement, hidden by a fake pantry. There’s car theft and chloroform and abuse of the handicapped.

Yes, abuse, and this is what makes English such a despicable character. The most interesting and unique aspect of this book, I believe, is the character Sonja. Sonja cannot speak without help from her Dyna Vox, nor can she care for herself physically in any way. But Cadel is her friend, and when others call him her boyfriend, he does not cringe or act embarrassed. It is rare characters with such challenging disabilities appear in young adult fiction. But Jinks gives us Sonja-a loving, smart, stubborn young woman. And Cadel cares about her, enough to endanger his own life and demonstrate true compassion. Whether Genius Squad is considered science fiction or adventure, readers will be struck by the unique relationship of Cadel and Sonja. Perhaps, in the real future, Jinks will write Genius Pair.

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