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Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

A review by Nalini Haynes

Chance is working on the love of his life, a Plymouth Duster (I thought a duster was a coat like in the Dresden Files but no, it’s a car). Some footballers and their dad haul him out from under the car and beat the crap out of him because Chance outed the footballers as rapists. Some allegedly-government people offer a get-out-of-jail-free card that will also help him escape the football fans who want to kill him and rape his family.

Aleena wants to help freedom fighters in the middle east so she’s using her computer access in a prestigious job in the United States to enable uber-fast hacking. But she’s caught too. Similar deal on the table.

Wade is a cipherpunk, an older hacker obsessed with privacy who’s determined to out the government-types denying ordinary citizens privacy. Although he lives practically off the grid with escape routes and boobytraps, he’s caught.

And so it goes for each of the Zeroes, 6 hackers with backstories, each with a secret or family they desperately want to protect, giving the government leverage to control them.

The government, in the form of Hollis Cooper, an agent who is also being controlled by puppet masters higher up the food chain, moves the hackers to the Hunting Lodge, a base where groups or ‘pods’ of hackers are held for a year each while they work on top-secret programs. (New collective noun?)

The Zeroes are instructed to hack an Iran nuclear stronghold. This is the one point of the plot I felt was fuzzy: how did hacking something in Iran free Frankenstein’s monster in the US? Never mind, the rest of the story is rockin’ and rollin’ and awesome because there is a Frankenstein’s monster called Typhon with many references to and explanations of mythology.

Cue a story that is part Matrix and part Inception, complete with ‘splodey bits, fan services in the form of pop culture references and even hints of romance.

In The End of All Things, John Scalzi is a bit preachy about equity and diversity. So many times during Zeroes I wanted to say “Scalzi. THIS. This is how it’s done,” because Wendig was inclusive but understated. He uses alternate gender pronouns without explanation; meaning is derived from the text. He has kick-ass chicks and comments about rape culture and all the things, he presents them in such a way that the characters and not the author is offering comment and judgement. In short, Wendig does not preach while hitting the bullseye every time.

Did I mention that Zeroes comes in a sexy hardcover? Not enough SF and fantasy books in Australia are available in hardcover. Both the dustjacket and the hardcover are nicely done, making the artefact even more of a collector’s item.

The end of the story will cause great debate in fannish circles as to what actually happened. I’m torn between wanting more in the form of a sequel and wanting Chuck Wendig to remain silent on his intent to encourage Deep Thought and much debate. A great plot, not necessarily likeable characters growing on me, and a delicious finish. I highly recommend Zeroes. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

ISBN: 9780062351555
ISBN 10: 0062351559
Format: hardcover, 432 pages
Imprint: Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
BISAC1: FICTION / Thrillers / Technological
BISAC2: FICTION / Thrillers / Political

Zeroes dustjacket

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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