Charisma, by Steven Barnes

charisma-by-steven-barnes coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Steven Barnes has been around a while, having penned some collaborations with Larry Niven in 1981 and 1982, with Stretlethal, his first solo out (at least according to his web site) being released in 1983. Other books of his I’ve read and enjoyed include Gorgon Child, FireDance, and Blood Brothers. Lately though, it seems he’s been very busy, with numerous book being released over the last few years. You can find reviews on SFReader of his recent novels Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart.

Well versed in martial arts, Barnes characters are often unique and intense individuals caught up in violent struggles. He’s one of the best action/fight writers out there, with a special ability to create characters that are at once strong and vulnerable. His books reflect the abundant energy that Barnes obviously possesses. He also seems fascinated with the concept of the Japanese term Bushido, or The Way of the Warrior; that undeniable Warrior Spirit that pushes some people to the peak of their potential, be it for good or evil. I’ve enjoyed everything of his I’ve read, and Charisma is no exception.

Charisma is, however, a departure from what had up to this point seemed to be his standard fare. It not about the struggles of one or two main characters, but rather about quite a few characters with intertwining fates. Nature versus nurture come to a head here in this interesting exploration of individual development.

In Charisma, a behavioral research laboratory developed a series of treatments to impress a personality template onto the minds of a young children. One of the problems is the person they used to develop the template…. Renny Sand is the reporter seeking redemption and now on the trail of the biggest story of his life. Patrick Emory and his friends are children subjected to the experiment. A host of fully realized minor characters, some with not-so-minor parts, helps bring the story to life.

This is not to say the story is without flaws. The whole personality template imprinting process is a little sketchy, from the ‘mad’ scientists who employ it to the methods used on the children. It seems unlikely that the character flaw in the template that drives much of the plot of the book would have gone undetected. Everything comes together very neatly in the climax — a bit too neatly perhaps, with everyone showing up and playing their appointed roles.

None of this detracts from my basic reaction: this one is a page-turner. The magic of childhood, the gritty reality of growing up, love, honor, ambition, redemption…. You’ll find all that and more here in a book you won’t want to put down.

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