Harper Voyager, out August 18
A group of hackers are coerced into helping the government with a secret project, little realising the forces that are ranged against them…
Chuck Wendig has been one of my favourite genre authors ever since reading his debut novel for Angry Robot, Blackbirds, a few years back. The adventures of Miriam Black (and Atlanta Burns, Mookie and the other protagonists about whom he has written) have always had a raw anger and energy to them and I’ve been lucky enough to work on a couple of his books. Each new novel has seen Wendig’s talents become more finely honed, and Zer0es (the 0 in the name isn’t a misprint) is his most focused and best-written book to date.
Like Stephen King, Wendig has the ability to put you inside a character’s head with just a couple of sentences, and that is put to good use here with each member of the Zer0es team (the title the group of hackers give themselves) clearly delineated from the off. They’re an incredibly disparate group – a Vietnam vet who’s never met a conspiracy theory he doesn’t like, a young man whose outing of a group of football-team rapists hasn’t exactly endeared him to his local community, an international activist who’s involved with the Arab Spring, a card scammer who’s more worried his moms will find out what he’s been into than any other repercussion, and a hacker who’s in it for the lulz more than anything else – and we feel as if we know them pretty much straightaway… only for Wendig to pull the rug out periodically with a side to them that fits perfectly with everything he’s portrayed to date but which as readers we don’t see coming. The government agents who involve them in the project are equally well described, with little insights into their lives away from their plot purpose that make them come alive.
Whether the hacking techniques Wendig describes are accurate or not is beside the point: they feel real and while they’re a key part of the plot, there’s plenty of other action propelling the story forward. As Zer0es progresses, a mythological element starts to come into play, before the novel explodes into conflict on a level far beyond what you might expect from the early part. It’s all told in a slightly breathless style that gives you what you need to know and keeps you turning the pages.
Verdict: Zer0es will grab you from the first page for Chuck Wendig’s finest story so far. 9/10