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 into a model aikido student to something of a super-spy for the Territorial Rangers. Kimble’s quite likable, although he ultimately becomes a little too good to be true, a teenaged James Bond whose success is never in doubt. But I liked his relationship with Ruth and his breezy, non-confrontational attitude. A fun, fast read.