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Prodigy    by Dave Kalstein order for
by Dave Kalstein
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Welcome to Stansbury School in the year 2036, where students (otherwise known as specimens) at the most elite prep school in the nation receive the best education an unlimited amount of money can buy. Established in 2009 by a group of educators who claimed to have been fed up with the pernicious control and power of the nation's teachers' unions, Stansbury enshrines its very carefully chosen and exactingly managed students in a 125-story building located in the desert on the outskirts of the California megalopolis, San Angeles.

The academic experience at Stansbury, however, is not exactly turning out to be the Utopian ideal that the founders had intended. Students' lives are dominated by daily drug regimens (prescribed for intellectual, emotional, and physical enhancement), rigidly programmed (and scrupulously monitored) schedules, an ultra-technological environment of diversions and surveillance (in which secrets are nearly impossible), and intense competition for academic excellence. But those aspects of life at Stansbury are not the most immediate problems. Instead the mastermind of a criminal conspiracy, a person with much at stake, working behind the scenes - ostensibly to guarantee the school's future and financial security (in spite of growing pressures from certain covert anti-Stansbury forces) - is premeditating and orchestrating the murders of eight people (all of whom have very important connections to Stansbury's past, present, and future) and - at the same time - is devising a complex plot to frame an innocent student for the crimes.

Dave Kalstein's debut novel Prodigy proceeds, with the foregoing as the framework for the plot, and quickly proves itself to be a very troubling and entertaining (?) novel. Kalstein generously explains the genesis of his Stansbury tale: 'I have always been amazed and a little shocked at just how driven teenagers are today: how they are essentially coached / taught / medicated / engineered to be Harvard students from their first day out of the womb. My book centers on the question: What price are we willing to pay for the perfect child? Do the ends justify the means?'

Momentarily setting the author's rhetorical questions aside, any reading of Prodigy discloses that the novel is, in fact, a carefully crafted story of corruption, betrayal, and murder. On another level, though, as suggested by the author's comments and questions, this compelling novel - a provocative descendant of Thomas More's Utopia, J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange - is a unique piece of social science fiction that gives readers a disturbing vision of science and society in the not too distant future.

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