Book Review: I Am Fire and Air - Immersive YA Sci-Fi

Here’s my book review of the young-adult sci-fi novel I Am Fire and Air: Beyond Good and Evil by William Anthony.

I never made it all the way through a Harry Potter book, and I’m sure that’s my shortcoming. But I did finish this YA thriller, and I’m eager for the next (which the author promises is on the way).

Author William Anthony is a chemist by training and has worked as an engineer on advanced research projects, including some he can’t talk about. His scientific background and his agile inventor’s mind enrich this narrative with the kind of detail geeks consume like snack food.

I Am Fire and Air: Beyond Good and Evil by William Anthony (iamfireandair.com)

Anthony shows himself capable of creating a synthetic world in which the reader who is seeking escape and otherworldly fascination can become totally immersed. His protagonist Javon is a sixteen-year-old, orphaned African-American from South Central Los Angeles. The boy is highly intelligent and sensitive but does not seem outwardly exceptional. However, he does have one stunning talent – he can see the thought patterns of other intelligent beings as animated graphic images suspended in the air around them. For this reason, he was selected by Bowman Sanders Corp. – a government-contractor think tank – to live in a secret underground installation in Malibu while he is trained to become an operative for clandestine missions yet to be disclosed.

Author and real-world techno-geek William Anthony (iamfireandair.com)

Javon is also a leader, even though, as young tyros often do, he underestimates this talent in himself. But when mysterious intruders penetrate the underground fortress, his best chance of survival is to rally his fellow lab rats in response. And these friends of his are also unassumingly exceptional. Ana is an indigenous Amazonian whose rare blood has the power to heal, and she’s also an expert with a blowgun. Another boy cryptically named NX is a super-nerd who never met a government computer network he couldn’t hack – in minutes. Elina is an empathetic girl who holds lengthy conversations with dolphins, including experimental subject Dali (named for the surrealist artist).

Main character Javon is a 16-year-old who can see thoughts as animated colors and shapes (Ryan McGuire, Gratisography.com)

Javon’s cohort must do battle because the human mentors and supervisors in the facility die quickly and horribly when the intruders attack. The Tribe, as the four teens call themselves, must fight their way out of the labyrinthine laboratory. They must navigate cypher locks and secret passages and choking atmospheres. And at every obstacle, they are met with hybrid, intelligent life forms – the miscreants of black-ops research – each of which seems uniquely designed to exploit their weaknesses and destroy them. For example, they must outwit genetically engineered killer mice and an intelligent swarm of airborne nanobots, which are immune to insecticides but not to twists of logic.

Javon and his Tribe are trapped in the underground maze of Bowman Sanders Corp. (Ryan McGuire, Gratisography.com)

As in the classic mythic heroic quest, Javon and his latter-day Argonauts must defeat each opponent by devising a stratagem crafted from the monster’s own programming and weaponry. Their perilous journey is continually surprising, mind bending, and deliciously immersive.

All of the enemies they encounter are products of the lab itself. When the intruders from outside never materialize, Javon begins to wonder whether the Tribe is being subjected to some kind of life-and-death fire drill. What final test could be so crucial and so secret that their teachers had to die?

The book’s subtitle is a reference to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, so young readers will get a dose of philosophy along with all the science and allusions to Greek mythology.

Bright kids will love I Am Fire and Air – probably so much they’ll skip the homework they find all too easy.

Gerald Everett Jones is author of Bonfire of the Vanderbilts (Gabriella Muttone Photography, LaPuerta Books)

Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the new historical novel Bonfire of the Vanderbilts about an art scandal in 1892 Paris. It’s his sixth novel, widely available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.

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