About The Six

The Six by Mark Alpert

I’m always looking for new ways to introduce readers to the wonders of science. As an editor at Scientific American, I’ve worked on stories about robots, space travel, subatomic particles, and the birth of the universe. As an author of science thrillers, I’ve written novels about Albert Einstein, quantum computers, cyborg insects and the genetic keys to immortality. And now, with my first Young Adult novel, I’m offering a thriller for readers who are just beginning their scientific education: middle-schoolers who are learning biology and physics for the first time, high-schoolers who are dissecting frogs and investigating the laws of thermodynamics, college and graduate-school students who are wondering if they can pursue careers in programming or engineering or research or teaching. I was a teenager when I fell in love with science, and I got most of my inspiration from fiction, particularly the books written by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert and Michael Crichton. The Six is my attempt to inspire a new generation.

In short, The Six is about a group of terminally ill teenagers whose lives are "saved" when their minds are downloaded to combat-ready U.S. Army robots. The seventeen-year-old hero, Adam Armstrong, becomes the first human-machine hybrid -- a hulking robot called a Pioneer -- when his computer-scientist father scans Adam's brain in such detail that all his memories and personality traits can be transferred to electronic circuits.

The Army pays for the procedure because it needs Adam and the five other Pioneers to fight an artificial intelligence called Sigma, which has gone out of control and taken over a nuclear missile base. The teens train for battle at a secret underground Army outpost, and at the same time they learn how to live inside steel armor and silicon chips instead of flesh and blood. They have to develop their new robotic capabilities without losing their humanity. And they must overcome their differences and work together as a team to confront the ruthless Sigma and its plan to exterminate humanity.

Over the course of this story I’ve included lots of fascinating information about robotics, artificial intelligence, and the workings of the human brain (see The Science Behind the Six). Readers will also get a chance to ponder some intriguing philosophical questions: What defines the self? If a person’s body dies but the contents of his or her mind are copied to a machine, where does the person’s soul go? Do the mind and soul travel together to the machine, or do they diverge? And if the mind inside the machine truly believes it’s identical to the one that formerly occupied the body, is it the same person or a copy?

My favorite part of writing the book, though, was creating the characters. The six teenagers who become the Pioneers -- Adam, Jenny, Zia, Shannon, Marshall and DeShawn -- may have gained extraordinary mental and physical powers, but they remember what it was like to be human. Their joys and sorrows are familiar. In their continuing adventures (I’m already writing the sequel to The Six), they will show that a person doesn’t need a flesh-and-blood body to be human.