Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

zero_HR_2About Zer0es

An exhilarating thrill-ride through the underbelly of cyber espionage in the vein of David Ignatius’s The Director and the television series Leverage, CSI: Cyber, and Person of Interest, which follows five iconoclastic hackers who are coerced into serving the U.S. government.

An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Can the hackers escape their federal watchers and confront Typhon and its mysterious creator? And what does the government really want them to do? If they decide to turn the tables, will their own secrets be exposed—and their lives erased like lines of bad code?

Combining the scientific-based, propulsive narrative style of Michael Crichton with the eerie atmosphere and conspiracy themes of The X-Files and the imaginative, speculative edge of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, Zer0es explores our deep-seated fears about government surveillance and hacking in an inventive fast-paced novel sure to earn Chuck Wendig the widespread acclaim he deserves.


About the Author

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter and game designer. He's the author of many published novels, including but not limited to: Blackbirds, The Blue Blazes, and the YA Heartland series. He is co-writer of the short film Pandemic and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. Wendig has contributed over two million words to the game industry. He is also well known for his profane-yet-practical advice to writers, which he dispenses at his blog, terribleminds.com, and through several popular e-books, including The Kick-Ass Writer, published by Writers Digest. He currently lives in the forests of Pennsyltucky with wife, tiny human, and red dog.


My Thoughts

In short, I don't give a damn what NY Daily News says, Zer0es is a sheer f-ing blast and might very well be my favorite novel of the year. Although, I do reserve the right to change this opinion after I finish reading Chuck Wendig's next novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, due out in about two weeks, in which Mr. Wendig gets to play around in the SW universe. And that, my friends, could very well be the book of the decade century. But, for now, let us discuss Zer0es.

In case you can't tell, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Wendig, and whenever his new titles release I make it a point to read/devour them immediately. I love his Miriam Black books, and The Harvest Trilogy, and am looking forward to meeting up with Mookie Pearl again one of these days, preferably with a plate of charcuterie between us. All of this is to say that I might be a bit biased, but I do honestly feel that Zer0es earns each of the five stars I'm giving it.

Also worth noting is that I have very little real-world knowledge of computers, programming, or hacking. Or really how much of anything technologically works beyond the knowledge required to start, shut off, or play video games or watch movies. I care little for the inner workings of these things, and most computer talk bores the hell out of me. I'm probably the last person you want to call for IT help, in other words.

So, is Zer0es technically sound and accurate? I don't have a flipping clue. And I don't care if it is or not. Because what it is is a rock-solid bit of entertainment filled with techno-thriller whizz-bang shenanigans, a terrific amount of wit, and a healthy dose of science-fiction. As far as Wendig's skill in plumbing the dark shadow world of hackers goes, it's good enough for me to escape into and provides enough plausible scary horrors to sink my teeth into. The more fantastical realms that these characters find themselves in as things progress are fun and makes for an action-packed, rapid-fire read -- and frankly I wouldn't have it any other way. This is a great big cinematic summer blockbuster set to prose, and it freaking rocks, man.

To his credit, Wendig casts as our lead, Chance, a guy who is basically a phony. His hacking skills are nill, and he's caught up in a scheme far larger than his limited abilities can cope with. A real underdog, this guy, and it gives me, as a reader, the chance to enjoy the experience alongside him. He's not some uber computer god who can algo his way out of any awful situation. In fact, he gets his ass handed to him more often than not. The real hackers he's surrounded by are the real deal - there's the troll Reagan who gets off on internet shaming her victims and possess snark to spare, DeAndre the credit card scammer, Earthman, who's basically an old-school BBS-version of Edward Snowden, and Aleena, a hacker intent on bringing true democracy to Syria. Each of them are recruited by an FBI agent named Hollis Copper, Mr. Government himself, to become white hat (good guy) hackers in exchange for not spending at least a decade-plus in prison for their various crimes.

Each of these characters have their own quirks, personalities, politics, and culture to bring to the table. Some are fighting for social justice, others for government accountability, and some just for laughs. There's elements of the hacking group Anonymous, coupled with the Arab Spring, fighting back against rape culture and the grotesqueness of the Stubenville events. (Even a bit of obsession with Greek mythology when it comes to the central antagonist, which is just darn cool.) In short, this is a cast of well-defined characters with different skill sets, abilities, and goals. Together, they're a total band of misfits with little in common and even less of a reason to become friends. They spend a lot of time sniping at each other and arguing, yet they somehow mesh well together as each are put through their paces and become a unified team, made stronger by their differences and disparities.

Ultimately, I have very, very few quibbles about Zer0es. I found it to be a complete thrill-ride from start to finish, with little in the way of lag. And kudos to Wendig for taking a topic as dry as coding and hacking and transforming into something that's as equally exhilarating as the violence and mayhem surrounding these characters and their antagonists (which is pretty damn exhilarating, by the way). Now, bring on the 0nes!

Buy Zer0es At Amazon

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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