The SIX – Mark Alpert

If you’re looking for your next techie/sci-fi YA book fix, you’ve found your ideal match.  In short, The Six is about a group of terminally ill teenagers whose lives are “saved” when their minds are downloaded to combat-ready U.S. Army robots. The seventeen-year-old hero, Adam Armstrong, becomes the first human-machine hybrid — a hulking robot called a Pioneer — when his computer-scientist father scans Adam’s brain in such detail that all his memories and personality traits can be transferred to electronic circuits.

Each of the pioneers is terminally ill. Adam is a smart teenage boy with a weird sense of humor. He lived a normal life — played football with his best friends, hosted Super Bowl parties, a big fan of the New York Giants and Kanye West, and programs virtual reality games — until his illness (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) crept upon him leaving him with weak neck muscles, useless thighs, no movement to the left arm, and “an ok” right arm. He has crushes he can never confess feelings to and friends he can never play ball with. He’s heading towards an early grave.

His father, that works for the Army in the Pioneers project, volunteered Adam to be the first in the consciousness transfer between a human and a robot.

The philosophy behind the idea is fascinating:

  • What makes us human? Is it the memories we gather? The thinking process?
  • Would a person still be that same person in another body? Or would they surely and irrevocably change into something else
  • How does someone else’s perception of ourselves challenge the shift?
  • Is this the actual Ghost in the Shell?
    • “But your soul is tied to your memories, right? When your soul is up in heaven with God, you’d still remember your life on earth, wouldn’t you?”
  • Is the transferred person a copy or the original?
    • “My present self is a copy of my past self. My body copied its pattern onto a new set of molecules. And my future self will be a copy of my present. So why should it matter if the copy’s in a body or a machine?”
  • What if the bytes are copied to yet another machine? Is that cloning?

“This isn’t a medical treatment!” The rich girl’s dad jumps out of his seat. “This is murder!”

“I’m very sorry we can’t do more for your children. All we can give you is the chance to preserve a part of them before they die. Maybe the most important part. And in the process, they’d be doing their country a great service.”

The six teenagers who become the Pioneers — Adam, Jenny, Zia, Shannon, Marshall and DeShawn — may have gained extraordinary mental and physical powers, but they remember what it was like to be human.

What I liked about this book

The science is out of this world. I like a well researched book and anything that has to do with robots that kick ass so this one was almost on par with Themis files.

“We tested each program to see how well it could imitate human reasoning and conversational skills. We deleted the less successful programs and allowed the more successful ones to advance to the next stage. Because the AI programs could learn from experience and rewrite their own software code, they started to redesign themselves to become better competitors. After six months, a clear winner emerged. That was Sigma, the first Singularity-level AI system.”

The neurological transfer of information from the human brain into a computer has been the subject of multiple research papers and they are still working on it (or at least creating a silicone based brain structure that would be able to self-organise and create thoughts and access memories in a meaningful fashion). I liked how they “forgot” to erase the “breathe”, “hungry” and “thirsty” neurological functions which are essential to a human being but absolutely useless for a robot.

At the same moment, my system freezes. I can’t open any files, can’t access any data. The revelation of my identity has somehow triggered a new instruction, which is being sent to every one of my circuits: Breathe! But I can’t carry out this command. It’s not included in my list of normal functions. I can’t halt the instruction, and the commands are coming in faster than I can delete them: Breathe! Breathe! BREATHE! In less than a second my system repeats the instruction fifty-five billion times and I receive fifty-five billion error messages. The flood of data rushes through me, overloading my circuits. It feels like I’m choking. I’m unbearably full, bursting with useless signals. To make room for the unending stream of commands and error messages, the system begins to erase my memory. A hundred files are deleted. Then a thousand. Then ten thousand.

What I didn’t like about this book

The age of the protagonists and the love triangle. Is this a YA romance novel or is it an amazing study of the robotic transformation of humans. Remember Terminator? Imagine how awesome this book would have been if the study subjects would have been in their mid twenties or thirties. What if they granted “immortal” life as a robot to an unworthy one? There are endless possibilities available BUT there are also two more books in the series which I have not read and who knows, maybe the author is an amazing pre-cog and already foresaw the need to target something more than teenagers who would have their eyes glaze over at so much science.

From the Author


The Six by Mark Alpert

I’m always looking for new ways to introduce readers to the wonders of science. As an editor at Scientific American, I’ve worked on stories about robots, space travel, subatomic particles, and the birth of the universe. As an author of science thrillers, I’ve written novels about Albert Einstein, quantum computers, cyborg insects and the genetic keys to immortality. And now, with my first Young Adult novel, I’m offering a thriller for readers who are just beginning their scientific education: middle-schoolers who are learning biology and physics for the first time, high-schoolers who are dissecting frogs and investigating the laws of thermodynamics, college and graduate-school students who are wondering if they can pursue careers in programming or engineering or research or teaching. I was a teenager when I fell in love with science, and I got most of my inspiration from fiction, particularly the books written by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert and Michael Crichton. The Six is my attempt to inspire a new generation.

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