Steven Gould’s 7th Sigma (2011) is set in “the Territory,” a stretch of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico that’s been infested by “bugs” — self-replicating, metal-eating machines. Kimble is a 13-year-old street kid, scraping by on his own in the Territory. He finds a new home when aikido master Ruth Monroe arrives to start a new dojo. Because possessing metal in the Territory can be fatal, technology is minimal and it’s become something of a “wild west,” loosely monitored and patrolled. This makes it a rough place to live, but Kimble, with his aikido training and street smarts, is more than up to the task. He gets involved in various adventures — and gradually uncovers the mystery of the region’s harsh transformation.
7th Sigma is an entertaining book, layering genres: it’s science fiction, spy fiction, middle grade/young adult adventure, and western simultaneously. Gould’s prose is straightforward and lightning quick, and the retro-future world-building is convincing. The structure is episodic, each chapter introducing a new problem or adventure, as Kimble develops from a precocious street kid to a model aikido student to something of a super-spy for the Territorial Rangers. Kimble’s quite likeable at first, although he ultimately becomes a little too good to be true, sort of a teenaged James Bond who’s success is never in doubt. But I liked his relationship with Ruth and his breezy, non-confrontational attitude. A fun, fast read.