'Cause you're hot then you're cold, you're yes then you're no, you're in then you're out, you're up then you're down.

—Katy Perry, ‘Hot N Cold’

Brian Sanderson's YA science fiction Bildungsroman takes us into the life of Spensa (‘Spin’) as she grows from talking the talk to walking the walk in the Defiant Defense Force, journeying on the way through an exploration of identity, free will, and programming – of the social sort and otherwise.

The one word that springs to mind is ‘unsubtle’. Spin's naïveté manifests, as Katy Perry might have described, with massive swings in attitude – defiant, then crying in a corner, then grateful for a reprieve, then yelling at her colleagues and superiors. Her struggle against society is framed by the irrationally vindictive actions of adults around her that seem designed only to telegraph how evil those adults are. These are, in the end, of thematic relevance, but one wishes they did not have to be quite so obnoxious.

On a different note, I came upon this book (believe it or not I don't normally go poking around YA bookshelves) through a reference to M-Bot, a chirpy amnesiac AI with a mysterious history. Indeed, Sanderson's pitch for the book places great emphasis on it:

Spensa … longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can … persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

M-Bot is likeable and endearing character, with a hearty sense of humour without being abrasive – a version of Skippy from Columbus Day, but executed well. Yet despite these strengths, I can't help but feel somewhat cheated by Sanderson's pitch. Aside from perhaps a few short passages (which even then relate more to Spin's story than M-Bot's), there is precious little discussion of M-Bot and his ‘soul’.