By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as “the Lodge,” where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves “the Zeroes.”
But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist’s head spin. And soon they’re not just trying to serve their time, they’re also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they’ll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0esis an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of “progress.”
This was my first Wendig novel! I have a copy of Blue Blazes somewhere…
Anyway, I really liked this novel. It gets into the fears many people have about sharing information and being connected on a digital level. I thought the writing was fun and fast paced. The characters (the main 5 hackers) were well developed and had clear motivations. It’s strange to think that artificial intelligence is the villain when it’s such an intangible property.
Let’s start with the characters. Like any team building movie (a la Avengers) there’s plenty of head butting. Mostly coming from the resident “troll,” Reagan, who instantly becomes BFF with a rival hacker to gain access to his perks. (Remember they are all living in a glorified prison.) Chance is easily the most relateable, but I also liked Aleena’s perspective and motivations to help those during the Arab Spring and her family in the U.S.–she’s the most targeted because she’s Muslim and is easy to brand as a terrorist. DeAndre’s motivations to get out of “the hood” are a bit stereotypical–turning to crime to build a better life, but his skills are just as indispensable as the others in the group.
It’s so important to me that the pacing be fast. I don’t have time to go through a bunch of info dump to get to the action. By breaking up the perspectives and having short chapters, the narrative moved much more quickly (this technique works well with all thrillers I’ve come across).
The main villain wasn’t an actual person, but it was artificial intelligence downloaded into people. So creepy! By turning our brains into computers, the AI was able to control a lot the world–media, a bunch of people, governments. The hackers set the AI free unknowingly, and they are the ones who have to stop it. The ending was satisfying because this enemy is almost unstoppable, but the team rallies.
This was a fun read. I recommend it for sci-fi and thriller fans, though the writing is accessible enough to appeal more broadly, if someone is looking for a gateway book.