Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski
Publisher: 47 North
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Pandora Lynch lives in Alaska with her single dad, an online therapist for Silicon Valley’s brightest and squirreliest. Homeschooled by computer and a self-taught hacker, Pandora is about to enter high school to learn how to be normal. That’s the plan at least.

NorCal runaway George Jedson is a hacker too—one who leaves the systems he attacks working better than before. After being scooped up by a social media giant, will George go legit—or pull off the biggest hack ever? Not even his therapist knows for sure, but maybe the headshrinker’s daughter…

After meeting in cyberspace, the two young hackers combine their passions to conceive a brainchild named BUZZ. Can this baby AI learn to behave, or will it be like its parents and think outside the box?

With a hilarious and deeply empathetic narrative voice, this elegiac and unapologetically irreverent novel is both humorous and tragic without ever taking itself too seriously.

This novel reminded me of a combination of movie inspirations from the Kingsman: The Secret Service, Thanos from the Marvel Universe and I, Robot. The author took real life events that I clearly recall and cleverly and deviously wove them into a disturbingly fascinating ‘what-if’ scenario that is scarily plausible. Not probable, but plausible.

The story focuses on one main character, Pandora, who, through the author’s descriptions, gave me the impression that she looked like a young Linda Moulton Howe, an American investigative journalist I once saw on an episode of Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. That’s the image that came to mind and it stuck with me throughout the story. There is a secondary character, George, who is pivotal player for most of the tale, and Pandora’s dad, Roger. The other influence in Pandora’s life is her grandmother, Gladys. Those handful of people carry the plot and character development to various degrees.

It’s told in third person point of view from mostly Pandora’s side of things, but George’s perspective is told as well. It was interesting to see the author introduce readers to the main characters individually and slowly pull the strings that brought them all together in unexpected ways.

I saw George get built up, then torn down by an unlikely means. Even when you know the downside of something, doesn’t mean it won’t still happen; even when you say no, something happens to make you say ‘yes’. Those are the kinds of mind games that goes on during the course of the book and some made me pause and think while others I wanted to deny and yet quite a few, like I mentioned earlier, reminded me of movie plots and characters I’ve seen before but in no way are copied in the telling of this tale. It’s all unique, and when the direction of the program that George and Pandora starts to gel, fans of the science fiction genre will probably guess where it’s going, but not how it’s going to end. The thing about George’s character that I questioned was his ‘voice’. Supposedly he was a teenager, but as the story continued, I didn’t ‘hear’ the voice of a teenager, no matter how smart he was, he was still supposed to be a kid. He eventually sounded like a fully grown adult, and that kind of threw me.

I looked up the genre of this book because I had a difficult time trying to choose which ones Buzz Kill fell under. One had humor listed. I did not find this book humorous. Maybe some of the dialogue was cute, and the pop culture references made it relevant and interesting, but at no time was I tempted to grin, laugh out loud or chuckle. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt more anxious and worried as the story rolled out. I guess that’s called, suspense. The format is not laid out in a typical storytelling format, it took me a good portion of the book’s beginning chapters to get into the author’s rhythm and style.

What ultimately happens fits perfectly into conspiracy theories I’ve heard bandied about over the last ten years or so. Thing is, with all the advances in technology lately, Pandora and George’s thinking and ideas aren’t out of the realm of possibility. I think that’s why this book is effective. It’s not a horror story, but it easily could be.

Buzz Kill isn’t what I was expecting. Nor is it the type of book I typically read. Honestly, I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while; I think it’s because I felt I had to be in a certain ‘mood’ to read it. Guess today was that day as I read all 400+ pages in one sitting. There were times I felt overwhelmed from all the computer tech talk and theories and explanations, and underwhelmed with the ending. I expected it to be more impactful, more emotional or at least a bit more realistic considering the mess the prologue alluded to. I mean, the writing itself was well-done, the family dynamics between Pandora, her dad and grandmother were the easiest parts of the book to read, and I think that’s one of the things that kept me turning the pages. I liked Pandora’s character and I really appreciated her relationship with her grandmother and the reasons why she gave her the Furby. I even liked finding out about the true giver of the blue flowers. The book has its good moments.

Buzz Kill was interesting, thought-provoking, and I think more on point now with regards to the advances in artificial intelligence than when the book was first written. That’s the theme that can easily jump from science fiction to science fact. In both scenarios, I agree with the sentiment of the book – it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and be careful for what you wish for because you may not like the end result. That’s my takeaway from reading this novel. As a cautionary tale, I think this book is well worth reading.

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