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Zer0es
Chuck Wendig
HarperCollins, Hardcover, $25.99, 432 pp
Published: August 2015

Thanks to his new Star Wars novel, Aftermath, Chuck Wendig is one of the hottest properties in sci-fi.

So it’s convenient that his latest original novel, Zer0es, has just hit stores as well. Fans of the taut, action-packed and snarky prose he brought to the Star Wars universe will appreciate this cyberthriller. And those who are already familiar with his style from his “Miriam Black” horror series already know what to expect.

Zer0es follows five hackers brought together by a shadowy government organization to work their cryptographic mojo for the CIA. 

The five couldn’t be more different: DeAndre — a cybercriminal from South Central who used his hacking skills to escape the ghetto and skim credit card information. Aleena — an Arab-American activist using her skills to promote Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Reagan — an online troll hiding the pain of her own past through cruel pranks for the LULZ.  Wade — an aging hippie prepper, living off the grid, with his weapon stockpiles, out of fear of the growing surveillance state.  And Chance — an amateur “Anonymous” hacker who exposed a high-school rape club, atoning for an earlier sin.

The five are brought together by Agent Hollis Copper at “The Lodge,” a remote, high-security complex in the Appalachians, in order to avoid prison sentences. Dubbing themselves “The Zeroes” they practice their skills hacking assorted corporations at the government’s behest.

Soon they find themselves running into breadcrumbs and hints —cryptic messages embedded in their hacking targets, lists of missing persons, all pointing to some mysterious entity called Typhon. After hacking into an Iranian AI system and calling a drone strike on the computer, they realize that Typhon has some connection to American surveillance systems, and everything goes to Hell when they succeed in hacking into Typhon’s secrets.

Turns out it is a self-aware surveillance program that has tricked the Zeroes into bringing it online. And Typhon’s reach extends far beyond the cyberworld, with organic interfaces allowing it to tap into human brains in a sort of hive mind. These human workers, called the Bestowed, help spread Typhon’s power, harvesting more to join its group mind.

Soon the Zeroes are on the run, with a jacked-in assassin called the Compiler chasing them across the country. In the meantime, Typhon is tracking their every move from smartphones, security cameras, any device connected to the Internet, attempting to bring the five under its control, or, failing that, to destroy them.

Like much of Wendig’s work, there is an action-movie excitement to Zer0es. The story packs a wallop, and the present tense injects plenty of urgency. And movie fans will recognize plenty of homages, from the Compiler’s Terminator-like pursuit of the Zeroes to Typhon’s Matrix-style interface. Heck, there were even glimpses of Richard Pryor in Superman III in Zer0es.

While I was familiar with Wendig’s passionate and profane blogging at terribleminds.com, I had never read one of his novels before Zer0es. Now, along with Star Wars: Aftermath, he has made me a fan of his fiction.  And with Blackbirds, the first in his “Miriam Black” series getting a shiny re-release today (Sept. 15), I’ve got plenty more to satisfy my craving for snarky, profane and action-packed fun. ~~ Michael Senft

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