Tag Archive for 'review'

Book Review: ZER0ES by Chuck Wendig

000000Chuck Wendig’s new novel, Zer0es, is more cyber and more thrilling than most cyber thrillers I’ve read. From the very first page, it’s evident that Wendig is either secretly a world-class hacker in his own right, or he’s done so much research that he has become not only comfortable, but fluent in the technical and paranoia-fueled online world that hackers inhabit. Either way, he’s definitely on the NSA’s watchlist — but this book should be on their reading list as well, as Zer0es is an entertaining and timely addition to the subgenre.

The novel focuses on five hackers recruited by the U.S. government, given the opportunity to avoid conviction, jail time, and exposure by committing their services to a top-secret program. Being hackers, they don’t just blindly follow orders, and soon they’re asking questions and digging much deeper than anyone ever expected them to, and coming up with shocking and frightening answers.

With the fantastic TV series Leverage named as one of the novel’s touchstones, it’s not too surprising that each of the hacker main characters has a specific role to play: social engineer, cyber criminal, hacktivist, internet troll, cipherpunk. Their situations and backgrounds may remind some readers of recent news headlines; Chance Dalton’s situation clearly recalls the Steubenville High School rape case, while Aleena Kattan’s political agenda is inspired by Anonymous’ involvement in the Arab Spring. But just as Leverage‘s Parker is more than a thief, Wendig fleshes out his characters beyond their stereotypes, often subverting your expectations of who they really are, what motivates them, and what they’ll do next. By the end of the novel, you become invested in and care for even the most unlikable characters, which is both satisfying and unfortunate in a book with a startlingly high body count.

Striking a balance between not-so-riveting computer time and real world action is challenging in stories like this, but Wendig handles it deftly, and the novel is incredibly fast-paced. A big revelation, twist, or cliffhanger seems to hit readers every few pages. I am not often moved to swear at books or authors while reading, especially when I’m having so much fun, but many a chapter ended with me muttering, “Jesus Christ, Chuck.” This book is bloody and gruesome and too compelling to put down. You just have to wait for your pulse to slow, shake your head, and keep turning the pages.

The book also isn’t burdened by techsposition, a tendency to include too much computer jargon and explaining every scintillating facet of their technological exploits. But there’s enough for non-technical readers to follow along, and plenty for those who know a bit more. A lot of the hacking in the book is more than realistic — it’s actually real in the world today, and if Wendig’s representation of how easy it is to hack your social network accounts or even your car doesn’t creep you out sufficiently, you’d better start Googling. So much of the technology in the first half of the book is so accurate, by the time Wendig starts pulling out the slightly less believable black boxes, most readers will be happy to accept them as well-earned creative license and move on.

However, that same contemporary, convincing portrayal of computers and hacking may also work against the book as the plot progresses and takes a decidedly science fictional turn that strains credibility. Despite the shift in tone and shaken expectations, I was happy to ride it out to the end. Perhaps more disturbing is the possibility that Wendig is right about this secret government program too, since everything else is right on the mark. If he soon disappears under mysterious circumstances, we’ll have our answer.

Although the prologue/epilogue of “Chapter 0″ fell flat for me, they’re short enough to simply ignore. Overall, Zer0es is a terrific success: an exciting, scary, and often funny novel that offers fresh insights into what it means and what it’s like to be a hacker. It now has a place among my favorite books featuring hacking, and it has certainly raised the bar for those that follow.


Zer0es by Chuck Wendig is out today from Harper Voyager. My review is based on the uncorrected advance reader’s edition.


book recommendation: Now That You’re Here

In a parallel universe, the classic bad boy falls for the class science geek.

One minute Danny was running from the cops, and the next, he jolted awake in an unfamiliar body–his own, but different. Somehow, he’s crossed into a parallel universe. Now his friends are his enemies, his parents are long dead, and studious Eevee is not the mysterious femme fatale he once kissed back home. Then again, this Eevee–a girl who’d rather land an internship at NASA than a date to the prom–may be his only hope of getting home.

Eevee tells herself she’s only helping him in the name of quantum physics, but there’s something undeniably fascinating about this boy from another dimension . . . a boy who makes her question who she is, and who she might be in another place and time.

I consider myself something of a connoisseur of stories about parallel universes. I’ve been a fan of multiple worlds since the Spock-with-a-beard episode of the original Star Trek, and I never tire of seeing the idea explored in television, films, and of course books. It seems like the last decade has enjoyed a kind of alternate-universe Renaissance; the idea of visiting other universes has gone from a niche concept like the old show Sliders in the 1990s to a mainstream popular culture phenomenon. That’s good news for aficionados like me who can’t get enough of these tales, but the flip side is that we’ve kind of seen everything by now. Or have we?

One of the joys of multiverse stories is that there are as many variations on the topic as there are (potentially) other worlds out there. The key to making these stories unique, entertaining, and moving is to focus on the characters who live them — and that’s where Amy K. Nichols’ debut YA novel, Now That You’re Here, shines. Main characters Eevee Solomon and Danny Ogden (who alternate chapters throughout the book), and a host of secondary characters including Eevee’s best friend Warren, are believable, sympathetic, and engaging. You need a compelling cast to ground a book like this in reality — take your pick of which — and whisk the reader along through the inevitable exposition. One of the trickiest parts of any book dealing with theoretical quantum physics is conveying it to readers, and Nichols manages that delicate balance well.

Rather than dwelling on the complex science that might make multiple worlds — and travel between them — possible, Nichols emphasizes the complexity of people: What makes us who we are, and the relationships that bind us together. What’s most important is how Danny’s jump from his universe to Eevee’s affects them both. Their stories intersect and parallel each other in surprising, fascinating ways; Danny loses his universe, a dystopian surveillance state, and in turn shakes up Eevee’s world, allowing her to realize just how controlled her own life has been. This book also celebrates geeks and how intelligence, curiosity, and compassion can empower teens to accomplish profound things — all with a bit of wit, humor, and romance.

From its literally explosive start, Now That You’re Here hooks the reader and pulls them into Eevee’s world right along with Danny. The mystery of how Danny exchanged places with his other self is explained (mostly) in a satisfying, and to me entirely fresh way, and the sensible and clever steps Eevee, Danny, and Warren take to unravel it and devise a solution to send him home is thrilling. But it’s the personal questions they ask of themselves and each other, and the answers they find together, that provides the real substance of the novel.

If you’re new to books about parallel universes, Now That You’re Here is the perfect place to launch your adventure across multiple worlds. And if you think you’ve seen it all, you’re wrong; though this book necessarily treads on some familiar ground, you haven’t met anyone like Eevee and Danny — or their other selves — yet. Fans of books like Parallel by Lauren Miller, Through to You by Emily Hainsworth, and Planesrunner by Ian McDonald shouldn’t miss this exciting take on the multiverse. I’m already looking forward to While You Were Gone, the second book in the Duplexity duology, in which we see what the alternate Eevee and Danny are up to in Danny’s parallel world. Brilliant, right?

Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols is now available from Knopf Books for Young Readers. While You Were Gone (Duplexity #2) will follow in 2015.

This post originally appeared at The League of Extraordinary Writers.


embarrassingly late review of the original nexus 7

I’ve been promising to write up my thoughts on the original Google Nexus 7 tablet since it was released last July, but it always took a backseat to blogging about other things. With the Nexus 7 Mark II coming out this week, this post is as outdated as it could be, but I like to finish what I start (this post has been in draft form for at least six months). And if you’re considering getting the new Nexus 7, some of this may still be relevant.

The Nexus… From Star Trek VII

So when the original Nexus 7 was announced, I had been considering the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 as a birthday present to myself, primarily for use as a non-proprietary eReader. The prices and specifications were roughly equal for a picky but not-obsessive media consumer like me, but the Nexus 7 had a few other things going for it:

  • It was a Google device running the latest version of Google’s Android OS, with the promise of superior support and not needing to wait long for future updates.
  • The Nexus 7 was designed in partnership with Asus, which had produced my very first netbook (and perhaps the first true netbook), the Asus 7, which I was very happy with. I think I wrote a couple of novels on little Zim. (What? Don’t you name your devices?)
  • The Nexus 7 uses a standard micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer vs. a proprietary port for the Samsung.
  • The Nexus 7 had a slightly higher screen resolution, which was important since I intended to read on it.

Continue reading ’embarrassingly late review of the original nexus 7′


Book review: Tempest by Julie Cross

Tempest by Julie Cross
St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: January 17, 2012
Review copy: NetGalley

I’ve been looking forward to reading Tempest ever since I saw its striking cover and read the synopsis. I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, but the more such stories I encounter, the harder it is for them to impress me. After a while, they all seem somewhat familiar—which makes it even more important to focus on the characters and relationships. Fortunately, Julie Cross manages both to create sympathetic, interesting characters and offer a surprisingly fresh take on time travel.

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another review of “My Father’s Eyes”

Sybil's Garage #7Seamus Sweeney reviewed Sybil’s Garage No. 7 for SF Site, with some complimentary remarks on my story, “My Father’s Eyes”:

This was one of the most moving, and in an unforced way original, stories in the collection–my joint favourite with M.K. Hobson’s “Kid Despair in Love.”

Overall he seems to like the rest of the issue quite a bit:

Sybil’s Garage achieves a satisfyingly universal appeal, and an extremely high degree of literary quality… it is pretty wonderful stuff—beautifully produced, and never dull. The stories are a mix of slipstream, near-future, horror, comedy horror, mythic and pseudo-mythic—eschewing anything as vulgar or misleading as a neat straightjacket of genre.

You can check out the full review here and pick up a copy of Sybil’s Garage No. 7 at Senses Five Press.