Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig
Five hackers are forced to work for the government and get drawn into a dangerous conspiracy involving a malicious artificial intelligence. Mr. Robot and Person of Interest have shown that this premise can be done well – shine even. I picked up Zer0es after reminding myself how much I like Chuck Wendig’s writing with Aftermath. I’ve also read and enjoyed Double Dead and Blackbirds. Chuck Wendig writes strong, difficult to like characters that tend to grow on you (or die or both). He writes a no nonsense in your face fast paced narrative.
The five hackers are diverse both in talent and background. Old and young, men and women, multiple races, multiple body types. The author definitely starts from stereotypes for both the types of hackers and the characters. The characters get fleshed out fairly well. There’s a definite Breakfast Club vibe as the characters bounce off of each other. The pacing as the team is assembled by an FBI suit is thriller appropriate and never really slogs. There’s a parallel team being assembled by a significantly more sinister character that maintains an ominous tension.
The problems crop up in the technology side of the techno-thriller. Sitting in front of a computer is difficult to make both realistic and exciting and it’s easy to lose both in the process. Wendig uses plenty of good terminology, but then inevitably falls back to bad TV-tropes. Technology is introduced that would be more at home in a far future sci-fi than in the ambiguous present day, and this is done for no apparent reason. The conspiracy driving the plot is flatly evil in a “humanity good; technology bad” sort of way. I had to remind myself I wasn’t reading Michael Crichton. The final resolution of the climax seems like it could have been accomplished remotely without putting anyone into harms way, because … hackers.
Ultimately Zer0es fails as the near future sci-fi it was trying to be, but the world this novel sets up involves the start of a technology driven zombie apocalypse, which I think is squarely in Wendig’s wheelhouse. While I don’t enthusiastically recommend this book, I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws and look forward to future volumes.