Metal-eating artificial life forms called “bugs,” the old Wild West made new again, and the practicing of Zen and aikido mark 7th Sigma, Steven Gould’s latest novel, as something special. It’s a unique page-turning adventure that parallels Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Kim, but rather than being set in colonial India during the Afghan wars like Kipling’s book, it is set in a not-so-distant future in the soutwestern United States, in an area called the Territory. It’s an engrossing coming-of-age story of friendship, survival, the hardships of frontier life and economics, and the terror of living life around the deadly and evolving alien bugs.
7th Sigma is not being promoted as a YA novel, and there is some violence and there are some swear words in it, but I’d say it’s a novel that both young adult readers and adult science fiction fans will definitely enjoy reading. While 7th Sigma shares the fast-moving pace of Jumper (also by Gould) and has likable characters in it like that novel, 7th Sigma is very different from Gould’s prior work in many ways.
For one thing, it’s a modern-day Western novel. I have never been a huge fan of Westerns, though I loved watching them on the television and in movie theaters, but my father liked reading them very much. Still, I have also never given them much of a chance to impress me, and if the best of them is anything like how Steven Gould depicts the Territory in 7th Sigma, then I have been missing out on reading some really great literature.
The aspect of the novel that immediately appealed to me was the cover, which depicts one of cool-looking but deadly metal-eating bugs, and the idea of trying to still have technology in the Territory without using metal. The bugs reproduce by budding off and then dividing, similar to amoebas. If one of them gets accidently stepped on, the other bugs anywhere close swarm over the offending person (or animal) and borrow into one side of it and out the other, with gruesome and fatal consequences. The bugs’ kryptonite is water, and the greater abundance of water elsewhere in the United States seems to be the only thing that’s stopped their further spread. They also go after people with metal pins or pacemakers in their bodies, or if they have metal earrings, belt buckles, etc., on them.
In the second half of the novel, one of the Texas Rangers who has befriended Kim and has kept his secret that he is a runaway helps him in getting his GED, learning to control his anger issues through Zen meditation, and becoming an undercover drug agent. This novel, like Jumper before it, begs to be made into a movie. I’m sure it’d be an awesome one if it is transformed to the Big Screen.
7th Sigma combines the best of two genres, science fiction novels and Westerns. The story of Kimble’s hardships living on the streets after he runs away from an abusive father and his finding a true home with his aikido sensei (teacher) Ruth Monroe makes this latest Steven Gould novel an excellent read for young adult readers on up. Reading about how they face the adversities of life in a setting that is virtually the same as depicted in Westerns, but without metal even for six-guns and rifles, is fascinating. (If you’re curious, instead, the inhabitants make use of disposable cardboard rifles that fire gravel or ceramics, and ceramic crossbows.) If you’re looking for a great, fast-paced read, and you love Westerns, science fiction, or both, 7th Sigma by Steven Gould will rock your world!