Jeff Norton, Meta Wars and Author Talks

Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN: 9781408314593
Published: 2/8/2012

I was lucky enough in the last week to witness author Jeff Norton talking about his book series Meta Wars with two schools and I can honestly say that they were some of the best author talks I’ve ever been to.

I first came across the first in the Meta Wars series, Fight for the Future, almost two years ago. I was reading it as part of a reading challenge and what struck me about it at the time was that it was a highly unusual set-up. If you haven’t read the series before the book follows Jonah, who lives in a world not too far into the future where most people spend as much time living a vitual life as they do a real physical life. Everything is done online, from meeting friends to school to work, and with the loss of affordable oil real physical life has changed beyond measure. It’s against this background that Jonah finds out that his father, who died suddenly, was not the man he thought he was and that Jonah’s world is just about to to be tipped upside down permanently.

Like I said, it’s an unusual book. With characters spending most of their time living in a virtual world it’s easy to see the parallels with today’s life and it’s social networking, rpg-ing and Minecraft-ing. Norton explained that this is sort of head-down behaviour was what first inspired the Metawars series; that when he looked about, all he could see were people with eyes down, glued to their phones and utterly oblivious to everyone and everything around them. It’s this sort of behaviour he explained that got him thinking more widely, and from here Meta Wars was born.

As his talk went on, it became clear that Norton has an awful lot of new and unusual thinking behind his novels. Not only do we have a book that tackles the rights and wrongs of virtual vs. real worlds, we have a novel that has, as Norton explained, a lot to do with the idea of peak oil. When was the last time you could say that an author came to a school and talked about economics with a bunch of 9-11 year olds and they were interested?! I absolutely adore it when authors don’t mince words with their audience or dumb their ideas down because ‘they’re just children’. It never fails to amaze me what children are capable of grasping and Norton’s talk clearly captured the interest of a sizeable number of his audience, economics and technology and all.

Since reading the first in the Meta Wars series (Fight the Future)I have come across a grand total of one, yes ONE, book that comes even close to touching on the things that Norton does. It’s futuristic, it’s a high tech thriller (‘sick!’ said one boy in the audience) but it’s real appeal is that you can so easily see events in the book happening in our world. When you look at mega companies like Google, Amazon, Apple etc and you look at the fierce competition between the Guardians and the Millenniuls, it’s all too easy to see how one could become the other. Jonah’s virtual world is different to ours but at the same time it’s oh so similar, with it’s avatars and our own digital profiles on Facebook and Twitter. Norton has been really very clever and the fact that I now know what sort of things inspired the book in the first place makes this and even more fascinating series to watch unfold.

To finish, Norton said that his main aim is to get kids into trouble. He wants to be responsible for writing the book that gets you yelled at by your parents for reading into the wee hours when you should have been sleeping. He wants to be the writer that got you reading under the duvet. I’m not so sure about that personally, but I will certainly be revisiting Meta Wars sometime soon. I think I might just learn something.

All in all it was a brilliant talk, hugely informative and left you looking again at technology and the world we live in. It was certainly one of the most intelligent I’ve seen and I can only ahve respect for an author who doesn’t dumb down big theories for his young audience. He was utterly lovely to meet, very patient with my constant chatter and blather, and if you ever get the chance to meet him I highly recommend you do so. Genuinely fantastic!

Thank you to the two schools (you know who you are) who invited me to watch. Find Jeff Norton’s Meta Wars series here.

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