Zer0es, Chuck Wendig
Hackers are headline news. If it isn’t the Chinese waging cyber war on the US, infidelity websites are being unraveled and their users’ data laid bare. But this is only half the story. Beneath the hacks and the security breaches is a whole other world that your standard Facebook mother who loves sharing baby photos knows nothing about.
Chuck Wendig’s Zer0es floods this world with light and gives it a science fiction uppercut that knocks the reader spark-out. Protagonists Chance Dalton—people hacker—DeAndre Mitchell—hacker fantastic—Aleena Kattan—hacktivist—Reagan Stolper—super troll—and Wade Earthman—cyberpunk—are rounded up by the government and put to work, tasked with dismantling companies and countries from an isolated lodge with its own torture chamber. Little do they know that they’re actually working for an artificial intelligence that soon turns out to be not so artificial after all.
Zer0es is a horrifying piece of science fiction that will leave the reader skull-scratching often—not because of confusion, but because Wendig’s visceral imagery leaves a physical mark, an impressive feat considering the novel’s focus on the digital realm. The characters all feel ‘real’ too, from the man-with-a-past Dalton to the many-cracks-a-minute Stolper, giving Zer0es a terribly sharp edge that cuts several ways almost every page. A few characters do have similar backstories (FBI man Hollis Copper also ‘has a past’), but such repetition is barely noticeable. A brief un-spoiling word on the not-quite-AI Typhon: this is where the horror comes from. Enough said.
Wendig’s novel is equally strong in the background. The hackers and their world feel realistic, despite the fact that (hopefully) a lot of liberties have been taken. The chances of a group of hackers bringing down an airplane are pretty remote, right? Right?! Wendig’s research was thorough, and it’s expertly played throughout the novel, giving the story a grounded feel even as drones blow their targets sky high and a blackout leaves New York without power for weeks. Even the NSA and other featured US agencies talk to the talk. If cyber warfare isn’t like this, it should be.
Zer0es is a wotisit for the smartphone generation. It rocks, rolls and frightens perfectly, and even leaves room for a sequel. Superb.