What happens when you force a group of hackers together into one space? The answer is that they begin to learn every secret being hidden from them in plain sight. Chuck Wendig’s techno-thriller Zeroes sees a group of hackers – who have all broken the law somehow – forced into a government funded program to escape being put in prison. They begin to uncover an NSA program that involves a rogue A.I system, and things get pretty interesting from there.
On paper, when reading the book blurb, it’s easy to imagine the story being centred on a group of bland hackers that are indistinguishable from one another. Thankfully, Chuck Wendig did an excellent job making the cast unique and interesting to the point that each of their personalities stands out and adds something to the plot. Even the supporting characters are well thought out and they are able to invoke an emotional response from the reader when they reappear in latter chapters.
I’ve read books that include hacking before and often it’s tricky to present the complexities of hacking to a reader in a way that’s exciting. Many books that I’ve read involving hacking are either too dense in detail or completely implausible to the point it seems the author did no research. Chuck Wendig strikes the perfect balance to where you get some of the technical logistics of hacking, but it’s presented in a way that doesn’t interrupt the enjoyment of the book for those who don’t care for the technical details.
Anyone who follows Chuck Wendig’s blog, or who has read any of his books on writing, knows that he can go off on tangents of wild description. This isn’t a bad thing; on the contrary, it’s one of the things that made me a fan of his. However, when it comes to storytelling, the average reader would appreciate minimal descriptive writing. Chuck Wendig clearly knows what he’s doing, because any use of vivid description is used well within reason and it adds a quirky flair to the narrative. It’s clear that Chuck is self-aware about what he’s writing and is able to adapt his style accordingly.
Zeroes has short chapters throughout and the way they are structured keeps you reading. There’s rarely any slow or dull moments, but the latter half of the book is certainly more satisfying than the first. The first half sees the hackers restricted to a government controlled lodge where they are given tasks and targets to infiltrate using their hacking skills. Eventually, shit hits the fan and the group is forced to leave and hit the road to continue their adventure. The book goes from being a stationary mystery thriller, to an action packed road adventure. The transition is handled nicely.
The main group of hackers are diverse. Aleena Kattan is an activist who stands up for the rights Arabic nations. DeAndre Mitchell is an African American hacker who focuses on ripping peoples financial details. Reagan Stolper is a troll who simply gets pleasure from humiliating people online. Wade Earthman is a retired war vet who possesses old-school hacking techniques; and Chance Dalton is the most unorthodox of them all.
Chance has little hacking experience so has to suffer mockery and pity from some of the other hackers; but his real gift is being able to hack people on a social level. As the anomaly in the team, Chance adds a layer of depth that enhances the story.
Another standout character is Hollis Copper, a government agent working with the NSA to oversee the lodge. As things escalate we see Hollis begin to work with the hackers, assisting them on their journey to take out the rogue A.I. Hollis Copper is clearly a key character in Chuck Wendig lore, as he features in one of Chuck’s more recent book releases Invasive.
Zeroes is a fun, quirky techno-thriller that is ideal no matter what your level of understanding is of hackers. It ticks all the boxes in terms of storytelling and it’s an ideal entry point into sci-fi centered around cyber activity. There are points throughout the story that feel slightly cliche; and oftentimes the group were portrayed as if they were to become some cheesy “super spy” group. But these are small gripes that have no effect on a fundamentally well-crafted story.
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