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Jimmy Coates: Killer

Style: Average

Attitude: Take Care

In Brief: Genetically-engineered assassin child

Cover of Jimmy Coates: Killer

Author: Joe Craig

Series: Jimmy Coates

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published in: 2005

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Near Future

Setting: London

Genres:  AdventureFamilyFriendshipSciFiThought-provoking


Characters:

  • Jimmy Coates is an 11-year-old boy who runs away from strange men who want to take him and his family away. He is helped by his friend Felix Muzbeke.
  • Georgie is Jimmy's feisty 13-year-old sister, who is helped by her friend Eva.
  • Chris Viggo is the only credible threat to the despotic Prime Minister who controls the whole country via his neo-democracy.

Synopsis:

Jimmy Coates is an ordinary 11-year-old, fighting with his sister, grumbling over his homework, until some people turn up at his house and try to take him away. He escapes from them with astonishing ease and goes on the run, performing astonishing feats in a bid to outrun them. He eventually discovers the truth about himself: that he's “only 38% human”; the rest is technology which is to fit him to be an assassin. He fights against his conditioning and joins forces with the leader of the Opposition, Chris Viggo.

Notes:

The author obviously wants to ring a few alarm bells with this series. A near-future Britain where one Prime Minister has total power and has stamped out any opposition by instituting Neo-Democracy: no-one votes on anything unless the Prime Minister himself wishes it. Meanwhile, the Secret Service is genetically engineering super-assassins, to be brought up as normal children until the age of 18 and then to turn killer. Only sometimes, things start happening too soon...

The first half of the story is the scene-setter: young boy on the run from unknown pursuers, and discovering secrets about himself, such as a tremendous fighting prowess, coupled with invulnerability and a Matrix-like ability to fly helicopters. But it's all a big set piece because he is finally captured and the truth is revealed: his “parents” are really Secret Service agents (although presumably married to each other) and he was “created” in an unspecified way 11 years previously from the latest technology to be the perfect killing machine.

So far, so tedious. But then it gets a little interesting as young (and he's only eleven, remember) Jimmy fights against this killer part of himself, physically holding back the coup de grĂ¢ce. He allies himself instead with Chris Viggo, former Secret Serviceman, and his team: Yannick, a fat but active chef, and a beautiful but able young woman named Saffron Walden (!) Together, they rescue Jimmy's sister and friends and attempt to get his parents.

It's all the stuff of superhero adventure comics with some interesting set pieces including a helicopter chase down the Thames and a car chase along the track of the Northern Line. And not too much else. Jimmy's very close to his 13-year-old sister Georgie, but the situation with his parents is complicated by their difference of opinion on the ethics of the matter, and a hinted-at former romantic situation between his mother and Viggo which is left unresolved at the end of the book.

The obvious question marks are: is Jimmy “38% human” as the book has it? In which case, what's the rest of him? Or is he entirely human with 62% of his body replaced by cybernetic enhancements? Or is he human but with altered DNA? How is it that he is an 11-year-old in many ways, but has the experience and prowess of a fully-trained fighter? Is instantaneous knowledge, and physical ability, something we can simply download or have implanted in us? Or is it something we can only acquire through our senses? And if he is invulnerable, why has this not shown up before? Some of these issues clearly admit of some technobabble plot explanation; others, though, seem to have more philosophical implcations. What is a human? How much responsibility do we have if the 62% of me which “isn't human” is forcing me to kill someone? Questions, I think, worth discussing.

Themes:

  • Genetic manipulation
  • Having control over ones own actions
  • Totalitarian government

The target's face was familiar. Christopher Viggo. A thorn in Hollingdale's side. When Viggo got the chance, he spoke passionately in public, campaigning for old freedoms — “out-of-date freedoms” Miss Bennett called them. He kept popping up to ask the Prime Minister awkward questions in front of the press. But Viggo was becoming more than just an embarrassment. Miss Bennett said that he was dangerous now that he had started gathering support, threatening to put together an opposition. There hadn't been an opposition for years. What was the point when you couldn't vote for it?

Saturday 20th August 2005