Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

I normally don’t review books I didn’t finish reading, but I cannot bring myself to finish this one. Not because it’s bad, per se. I’ve read and reviewed others that I thought were much worse than this. No, I had to put this one down because I simply couldn’t be bothered to care about it. Let me see if I figure out why.

Zer0es is about five hackers who are arrested and forced to work for the government in a secret black ops hacking operation, where they uncover a dangerous secret project called Typhon. Like I said, this is not the worst book I’ve ever read (I think that prize still goes to Lost Gate). For one, Wendig is a master of narrative description. He consistently offers readers tons of deeply evocative sensory details, which at times feel out of place. He also has several instances of good, intriguing technical detail. So, he clearly isn’t a bad writer.

I think what ultimately made this novel fail for me are two invaluable things: characters and structure.

The characters are all different tropes of what we think of when we imagine hackers. This isn’t necessarily a problem, and they each have distinct voices, which makes it easy to tell whose perspective we’re following when the story switches POV (yes, another multiple POV book for me to hate on, sigh). The problem is that they’re not very compelling. They’re tropes, but they’re not much more than that. And worse, the main focus is on the group as a whole rather than a single character, making them even less compelling by virtue of the fact that the chemistry between the group feels forced.

The other major problem is the structure. The narrative is constantly cutting between perspectives (including, you guessed it, several unnecessary perspectives) and inundating the reader with detail, while at the same time withholding details in an attempt to create mystery. This makes for some chaotic transitions and a whole lot of scenes that feel completely unnecessary. Riddle me this: why do we need a barrage of in-depth details of a character’s life, if their only purpose is to die a few pages later?

As a whole, the narrative lacks proper set-up. The characters lack the set-up they deserve, individual scenes and settings aren’t set up in a cohesive way, and the story as a whole (at least the first half) seems confused about what its goals and stakes are. Or, at least, I was.

The sad part is, the book started off on a strong note. The character introduction chapters (up to the point where they are taken in by Hollis Cooper) were interesting and made a solid attempt to set up the characters. Each had its own unique style, and highlighted each characters’ strengths, purpose, and primary conflicts in their lives, some of which implied rather high stakes. Unfortunately the “plot” rips the characters away from these more interesting stories and forces them into… whatever that was. Honestly, I may have been more invested if these introductions were extended into their own short stories, rather than crammed in at the beginning of a novel that doesn’t seem to care about where the characters came from (unless all that happened at the end of the book and I just didn’t get to it).

 

On an unrelated note, I welcome any suggestions for new books to read (especially any with good dialogue). I swear, I don’t hate everything I read, but I think I need to branch out a bit…

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