Ever since I posted about receiving this book to review, a number of weeks back, I’ve been receiving 3-6 search engine hits every day for the phrase “virus games book gl sheerin.” Perhaps there is an internet buzz over this book of which I’m not aware — but the constant sameness of the search phrase makes me wonder about that. Mr Sheerin, is that you?
At any rate, Virus Games is a shortish novella aimed at young readers, particularly boys, in maybe the 9-12 age range. According to the promo material I’ve seen, Sheerin wrote this book to fill two needs: to address the reading gap between boys and girls, and to fill a deficit of young adult books incorporating, or about, technology.
Here’s the back jacket:
Peter Dempsey hates computers. He detests looking at monitors, can barely type with two fingers on a keyboard, and considers his PC 101 class a torture chamber. But when a fateful bolt of lightning gives him the ability to see just who lives and works inside our computers, Peter might have to change his mind.
Peter befriends the “packets” who live in his computer and begins to learn about the secret world alive inside the internet. Packet World isn’t always friendly, though. A new super virus has just been unleashed, and Peter and his packets realize they might be the only ones who can stop the “bullies” from shutting down the Internet, and Packet World, forever!
This story does have a lot of strengths. The plot progresses at a fairly reasonable pace, intersperced with a number of faster-paced dramatic moments. The writing is accessible and — though I’m definitely not part of the target demographic — I wouldn’t hesitate to pass it on to a younger reader.
Probably the best feature of Virus Games is Sheerin’s rendition of “Packet World” — ie, the insides of our computers as seen by the creatures who inhabit them. He writes extremely imaginatively on the subject, creating several types of computer creatures (Packets) and fleshing out their world and their routines. Checkers, Guiders, and Dumpy Packets travel through Tunnels (the internet), hang out in holding areas and crunchers (hard drives and software applications), and, more importantly, help Peter to not only complete his homework assignments, but to save the very internet itself from an extraordinarily malicious virus. The battle scenes between the good Packets and the Bullies (Packets infested with a virus) are actually fairly tense — and fairly brutal.
It’s a cute story. And there’s definitely room for a sequel. I would like to know more about the mysterious and sinister Professor, for one thing.
This is not to say that the book is flawless. I found the premise — a typical, modern, North-American ninth grader with not just a disinterest in but an almost pathological hatred of computers — extremely hard to swallow. I know, I know, I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief. It’s really hard to do in this case, that’s all I’m saying.
Stereotypes also abound. We’ve got the jolly fat kid, the superficial rich folk, the doofus cheerleader sister, the happy but gullible parents, the unloved and therefore evil antagonist . . . and so on. It’s a little hard to swallow, although perhaps much of that is because I’m reading this as an adult.
The last problem, I think, is that the book reads extremely anachronistically. Peter Dempsey has two best friends, Fats and Billy. They bonded over their mutual love of baseball cards. Jenny Dempsey gets a ride to school every day with junior cheerleader Mary Sue. Little details like that add up and make me wonder; except for the computer-related content, Virus Games reads a little like it was written thirty or forty years ago.
But again, this is not to say that the book is all bad. It’s fine. It’s not fantastic literature by any means, but Sheerin has come up with an interesting storyline and the inside-the-computer bits are creative and fun. This could be a good choice for a younger reader, particularly one interested in computers.