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In this war, there are only two outcomes: victory or madness.
All around us, there's a hidden war being fought. One side wants to control our minds to create utopia, and the other is fighting for us to be miserable if we chose. It's being fought with state-of-the-art technology in the nano, in us. Our bodies. Our brains. And if any of the lose, it could mean madness for them.
BZRK, written by Michael Grant (husband of K. A. Applegate, co-author of Animorphs, Everworld, and Remnants and author of Gone) is a (ostensibly) Young Adult series about a group of freedom fighters fighting against the Armstrong twins in a micro-war to save human free will. Teenagers Noah and Sadie are recruited after both are dragged into the war after family tragedies and they find themselves in a high-tech conspiracy where there's even doubt on whether or not the good guys are all that good.
- All Asians Are Alike: Lampshaded with Nijinsky, a Chinese-American. See the below conversation in Deadpan Snarker.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Vincent, who despite his anhedonia is explicitly stated in the book to be, well, not asexual.
- And I Must Scream:
Bug Man had a fantasy: he wanted to take one of Vincent's biots alive and haul it out into the macro. Keep it alive and play with it for a while. As Vincent went slowly mad.
- Anti-Hero: Vincent, who killed a woman in the first chapter in which he appeared, which did nothing to reassure the reader that the side of the biotic twitchers was the 'good' side, which leads to...
- Apologises a Lot: Tony, the boy that Sadie goes to the football game with at the beginning of the novel.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: In a way, with the deformed Armstrong twins, who are very much not good. Played straight with Stone, who was described as handsome and had too short a scene to be anything other than neutral or good.
- Big Damn Heroes: Caligula when he runs in on the scene where Sadie and Noah are receiving their biots. Wilkes, when she saves Vincent from having his biots killed in Anya's body.
- Black and Grey Morality: The Armstrong Gift Corporation is pretty evil, but BZRK (the good guys) pretty much do anything in order to defeat them.
- Blue Eyes: Noah has been described as having a pair of very brilliant ones. His blue eyes fulfill Types 1, 2, and 3, based on which point you're on at the story.
But of course it was those eyes that drew you in. Where had he gotten eyes that blue? They looked unnatural. Like someone wearing tinted contact lenses ... You wouldn't know whether you were looking into profound depths or maybe just into a very crazy place.
- Body Horror: Lots of gruesome descriptions, and also the Armstrong twins are described as grotesque and they share one eyeball. The general body horror is noted by Sadie, who is greatly disturbed by what Noah might have seen in her body while looking through the eyes of his biots.
- Ophelia gets both feet blown off in an explosion at the end of the novel.
- Brainwashed: Anya and Jessica, who were both programmed by Vincent and Bug Man, respectively, to "love" them. Vincent so he can get access to Anya's technology, Bug Man for selfish reasons. Vincent at least tries not to take advantage of Anya.
Anya: And whether or not it's real, Vincent, whether it's my true desires or something you've done to me, in the end, there's no difference.
Vincent: There is to me.
- Cain and Abel: Averted. Stone is wistfully envious of Sadie's freedom but is not resentful in any way.
- Coup De Grace: Caligula tells Sadie to shoot the man she accidentally shot in the balls. When she refuses, he shoots the man in the head.
- Deadpan Snarker: Nijinksy. More snarker than deadpan.
Lebowski: Tell me your name.
Nijinsky: Santino Corleone.
Lebowski: That's very cute. Funny, you don't look Italian.
Nijinsky: You're very observant.
Lebowski: (smacks him with a club) What are you, Chinese? Korean?
Nijinsky: I thought I was Italian.
- and this:
Vincent: Jin, take my hand.
Nijinsky: Oh, how I've waited for this moment.
- Don't Make Me Destroy You: Caligula to Anya.
Caligula: Now, listen to me, whoever the hell you are. Vincent over there doesn't want me to kill you. But if I have the slightest trouble with you -- any trouble at all -- I will ignore young Vincent and shoot you.
- Downer Ending: BZRK fails their objective to protect the president. Ophelia has her legs blown off and has apparently gone mad. Vincent loses a biot and falls into a depression. At least everyone is alive, more or less.
- Eye Scream: The best way for a biot in get into the brain is through the the eyeball, so not only do we get lots of eerie descriptions of eyes, but eye violence later such as jamming fingers into someone's eyeball.
- Faux Yay: Nijinsky and Vincent. Gotta keep the bad guys off their scent, after all.
- Feel No Pleasure: Oh, Vincent.
- Flesh Versus Steel: Biots versus nanos.
- Foil: Wilkes and Ophelia, Vincent and Nijinsky.
- Friends with Benefits: Wilkes and Renfield.
- Groin Attack: Sadie accidentally shoots a man in the crotch. Caligula mercy kills.
- Gross Up Close-Up: Depiction-wise. The "meat" is not a beautiful place.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Lear, who is mentioned and deferred to, but does not appear once throughout the entire first book.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Possibly Vincent and Nijinsky. Especially when they're arguing about whether to send Keats and Plath in on a direct attack on the Twins. Vincent addresses Nijinsky by the name Shane, which some might move up to Ho Yay. YMMV though.
- I Can Change My Beloved: Anya to Vincent, in a way.
- If I Wanted You Dead...: Vincent to Sadie when he's in her bathroom.
Vincent: [with a pen blade up against Sadie's heart] If I were here to kill you, you'd be long dead by now.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Caligula. In the first two pages he's introduced, he shoots a man in the forehead, follows it up by shooting another man in the windpipe, and then mercy kills another man without looking in his direction.
- Initiation Ceremony: Noah's is particularly distressing.
- Just in Time: Caligula, in the disaster that happens when Sadie and Noah are receiving their biots. Renfield is dead and Vincent has a gun to his head. Caligula appears with a pistol and an axe and offs three people in quick succession to save Vincent, Sadie, and Noah.
- Lady Swears-a-Lot: A minor character, Little Cora, according to Noah.
- Madness Mantra: Noah's brother Alex in the first chapter. He is handcuffed to keep from moving, and repeats "nano nano nano" over and over ... until he gets to "berserk berserk berserk". It's chilling to the reader and only gets worse when the reader realizes that if any of the twitchers' biots die, this is what they become.
- Meaningful Name: The whole point of their noms de guerre'.
- Mercy Kill: When Vincent is about to have his biots killed, he requests that Caligula kill him rather than allow him to go mad.
Vincent: Madness or death. Make it death.
- He gets better.
- Mind Control Conspiracy: The whole premise.
- Naked First Impression: When Vincent first meets Sadie, she's in the bathtub. He does not realize this until Sadie points this out, leading to this whole scene being a Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Nom De Guerre: Everyone on the biot side has one, named after famous figures who descended into madness or were mad to begin with; Plath, Keats, Nijinsky, Vincent, Wilkes, Ophelia, Renfield, Caligula, and Lear. We do, however, know most of the twitchers' real names during their point of views (with the exception of Ophelia, Caligula, Lear, and other minor characters such as Dr. Pound). Bug Man's real name is given as well, and the reader learns of Alex Cotton's real name before his identity as Kerouac is revealed.
- Off with His Head: Caligula chops Renfield's head off in four blows in order to keep the biots from being discovered. However, Renfield is already dead when it happens.
- Opium Den: The China Bone where Burnofsky goes.
- Patricide: The Armstrong Twins mention smothering their father to death with a pillow.
- Puppeteer Parasite: The nano machines.
- Reverse Mole: Dietrich, as Nijinsky finds out. Much to his delight.
- Rich Bitch: Subverted and lampshaded with Sadie.
- Straight Gay: Nijinsky. Aside from the fact he's a Sharp-Dressed Man, there's no real indication (with the exception of his name, which most readers would not have picked up anyway) that he's gay until later in the novel.
- Also, possibly Ophelia. Though in the first book, it's not explicitly stated. However, she does say, "I don't hit on boys," in response to Wilkes asking whether she's hit on Vincent. A few pages later, when they are discussing what comes after death, Wilkes says, "A bunch of hot guy virgins ... A couple girls, too, maybe, just because life is short and try everything, right?" which Ophelia pointedly ignores.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty cynical. Neither side is wholly good.
- Theme Naming: The biotic twichers name themselves after famous people in history who went mad. It's meant to remind them that their only outcomes are victory or madness.
- The Stoic: Vincent, countered by pleasure-seeking Nijinksy. Vincent suffers from anhedonia, and cannot feel pleasure.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Wilkes and Ophelia, respectively, who are foils.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: When the events of the book actually take place is never really said, but apart from the nanomachines everything is pretty much exactly the same as present day. There are casual references to modern pop culture (the Saw series of movies, for one) and things like Starbucks, but none of the mentioned heads of state match up with their current real-life counterparts, either.
- Twofer Token Minority: Nijinsky is Asian and gay.
- Uptown Girl: In a way. Sadie is wealthy, but Noah is a poor British boy. There is less focus on their financial aspects, but that might only be because they have bigger fish to fry.
- When She Smiles: Ophelia. According to Sadie, she has a smile that lights up the room.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: Vincent to Sadie and Noah.
Vincent: I need both of you to trust me. I don't meant that I'd like you to trust me. I mean that I need you to trust me. For that reason, I will never lie to you. If you were ever to catch me in a lie, you would never fully trust me again. So I will never lie.
Caligula: Don't accidentally shoot me. I will resent it.