Review: “Genius: The Game” by Leopoldo Gout

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” In some ways, he is correct. It is the imagination of a person that depends on their success in life, and the change they bring to the world. Whether they be an artist, a poet, a tinker, or even your average handsome book critic on the Internet, creativity gives us ambition. Ambition guides us, and ideas drive us to make things.

Imagine being a bright, intelligent and very creative teenager, and you’re given the opportunity of a lifetime to compete in a game. This isn’t like chess or football, but a competition between bright individuals, and the winner will be given everything at their fingertips to change the world.

That is the basic premise of Leopoldo Gout’s “Genius: The Game”, the first entry into his “Genius” series to come out this year. I’ll be honest and say I hadn’t heard of this guy beforehand nor have I ever seen any of his films, but I have to admit this guy’s got a talent in literature, especially smart young adult literature.

So what’s the story? Well like I said up above, the novel is about a competition set up by Indian visionary and CEO of Ondscan named Kirian Biswas, who has selected two-hundred teenagers from across the world to showcase their brilliance. “Genius: The Game” follows three online friends that run a forum, who have found themselves in the Game.

We have Rex Huerta, a Mexican-American sixteen year-old who’s amazing at programming and wants to find his missing hacktivist older brother. How does he plan to do this? By cheating into being in the Game and gaining access to a quantum computer so he can run WALKABOUT, a new program he’s coded that is able to find anyone via global surveillance and digital footprints.

Next is Cai, a Chinese sixteen year-old who is secretly a notorious hacktivist called Painted Wolf. When she isn’t sneaking through ventilation shafts and taping evidence of corruption in Beijing, or working her way past China’s infamous Great Firewall to post her evidence on the World Wide Web, she’s leaving herself wondering why her father is involved with not only a dirty Chinese politician, but possibly Kirian’s Game.

And last is Tunde Omi, an African fourteen year-old tinker who is self-taught in engineering and uses his skills to help his small village become thriving. However, he is forced into the Game after a local warlord wants him to use him to build a weapon.

However, their problems may have to wait, as the Game may be more than friendly competition, and may change the world into a revolution. What is Kirian’s plan, how will it work, and how will their actions change things in the modern era?

The first thing to notice when you dive in is the style of the novel. If you remember my review of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s “Illuminae”, you’d recall how I much I loved its use of illustrations and analysis in narrative. “Genius: The Game” does the same thing such as including surveillance photos Painted Wolf takes on her hidden body cams, blueprint drawings Tunde makes in his head when it comes to how machines work, and especially computer coding for Rex. It’s a good combination of showing and telling that defines each of their personalities.

Then there’s Rex, Tunde, and Painted Wolf themselves. I’ll start off by saying all three of them are what makes this book so enjoyable. We’ve got a Chinese hacktivist who’s trying to keep a digital façade, a Hispanic programmer that wants to reconnect with his brother again, and an African engineer that wants to protect his people and build things for life and not destruction. Man, Gout really knows how to make his main characters memorable, doesn’t he?

I could honestly read these three encyclopedias all day and not get bored. The way Painted Wolf, Rex and Tunde talk and work off each other online and IRL gives you a sense of intelligence without feeling excluded just because their smart teenagers. Speaking of which, here’s another great addition “Genius: The Game” does for the young adult genre: it doesn’t just make our protagonists sound intelligent, it shows they’re intelligent.

I’ve noticed recently in so many novels and short stories that many writers try to make their characters sound smart, but not act smart. It doesn’t feel like Leopoldo Gout is just trying to make his book seem intellectual just because a fictional person says a seven-syllable word every few sentences. He actually shows how these people think, yet he doesn’t make them seem like robots. Our three main characters are teenagers, and act like it while keeping a level mindset. There are scenes where they hang out together with other contestants, and joke with each other like they’re doing a class research project. The story itself is very good as well, it’s exciting, compact and knows how to be dramatic while mixing in teenage comedy. Sadly…that’s until you reach the final chapter and realize it’s not over.

My main problem with “Genius: The Game” is that it feels very short for being part of a series. Don’t get me wrong: the build-up and the pacing all the way to the end of the Game is excellent, but there’s not enough of a resolution to warrant for the book to end. We’re given questions but not enough answers, and the cliffhanger just pisses everyone off. We know there’s something larger going to happen later in the series, but there has to be some kind of resolution. Even “An Ember in the Ashes”, a book I reviewed last week that involved a competition over glory, had a better closing than “Genius: The Game”. We knew what the motives were, what the outcome of subplot threads were, yet there was enough room left for a second story in the future.

 

Also, some of the side characters seem rushed in their characterizations and introductions. Aside from a few teammates such as this fan of Painted Wolf, Rex, and Tunde named Rosa and Kiriam Biswas himself, whose push for revolution and take-downs of corruption is large enough to rival “Mr. Robot”, some of the side characters seem one-dimensional. It’s not that they’re uninteresting, but I’ve read plenty of books where even the smallest of side characters are on par with the protagonist(s).

Still, I thought this book was…good.

Much like the author(s) of “Illuminae”, Leopoldo Gout makes you feel smarter with each chapter of his book you read, makes you more critical of your life and things that are in and out of your control. In my opinion, “Genius: The Game” is a novel that is poignant, smart without complication for teenagers, and lives up to its name in more ways than one. Granted it isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s for anyone who wants to read something engaging, fun, and full of so much terminology.

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