Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Zer0es by Chuck WendigZeroes by Chuck Wendig
Published by HarperCollins on August 18th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Political, Science Fiction, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as "the Lodge," where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves "the Zeroes."But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist's head spin. And soon they're not just trying to serve their time, they're also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they'll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of "progress."

Cross Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother with The Matrix, add a dash of I, Robot and you’ll have the plot of Zeroes. The scariest part of this book is how absolutely plausible the scenario is. Perhaps the technology isn’t quite ready yet, but with NSA spying, Citizens United, and all the other craziness going on in our government over the last couple of presidencies, it’s not really all that far-fetched to think about the kind of shadowy conspiracies that could be happening behind the scenes. Which is why I usually avoid this type of book. Our world is getting dystopian enough in real life, I don’t need it in my fiction too.

Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t recommend this book to folks who disagree with that need. Written in Wendig’s signature third person present, this book vibrates with intensity. Which is hard to do when half of it involves the main characters sitting around in front of computers. Far less technical than Doctorow’s Little Brother, you won’t need to know much about computers here.

I’ll be honest — this is no Miriam Black book. None of the characters here have Miriam’s dark anti-heroic charisma. These are just regular, flawed, unextraordinary people. The “Anonymous-style rabble rouser” is a loser hick whose best tricks are all social engineering and who’s exposing rapists in order to make up for high school inaction that resulted in a girl’s suicide. The “Arab spring hactivist” acts self-righteous because her hacking skills are being used as political leverage for the oppressed. (Not that she’s wrong, just that she gets annoying about it.) The old school cipherpunk is a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist and doomsday “prepper”.

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the “black hat hacker”, who was just trying to buy his mom a house when the SWAT team burst in and arrested him. Sure, he was purchasing it with the ill-gotten gains of a credit card skimming scam, but since he was the most Leverage-like of a crew which has been compared to the Leverage team, I might be a little prejudiced. I always liked Hardison the best. (Just a note: this book is, in my opinion, only by the barest of margins comparable to Leverage. They seem almost totally different in both character and operation to me.)

I liked the troll the least. I will always like the trolls the least. Wendig does a good job of humanizing her with her own checkered past, and she does have a redemption arc of her own. But she’s also the worst kind of mean girl — humiliating and tearing down other people to make herself feel better. She even uses the old troll victim-blaming logic: if they didn’t want their secrets being found, they shouldn’t be stupid enough to have them in the first place. The sick sense of superiority is palpable.

I always feel like if the characters are real enough for me to dislike, then the author has done their job. None of the characters in this novel are heroes. They are ordinary people, with skills that anyone could learn, whose bad choices lead them almost by accident to discover a conspiracy. They step up to fight the conspiracy not out of any real heroism, but more out of self-preservation. Most of them aren’t even particularly likable, but they don’t have to be. In the end, it doesn’t matter why they stepped up — only that they did. Ordinary people, people who were convinced they were screw ups or criminals or just lesser in every way, who took a breath, grabbed hold of their courage, and fought back.

With the Hugo awards being announced the night prior to my writing this, the lesson becomes more powerful. Little people, ordinary people — screw ups and rejects and weirdos, like we all think that we are — when we join together, we can make a difference. We can save the world.

four-stars

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam MaggsThe Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Published by Quirk Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: General, Humor, Personal & Practical Guides, Popular Culture, Reference, Social Science
Pages: 208
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes, including:• How to make nerdy friends• How to rock awesome cosplay• How to write fanfic with feels• How to defeat Internet trolls• How to attend your first conAnd more! Plus, insightful interviews with fangirl faves, like Jane Espenson, Erin Morgenstern, Kate Beaton, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Vandervoort, Beth Revis, Kate Leth, and many others.

Geekdom has been both horrible and wonderful for geek girls lately, as the culture shifts from the white, cis, het, male norm to something a lot more inclusive. We’re not there yet, but with the help of the internet, fandom is becoming a far more inclusive place than it was fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago. This nonfiction volume would be a great guide for teens, parents of teens, and other fans who are new to fanfic, conventions, cosplay, or other aspects of geek hood. You can absorb most of this information by osmosis by just being on Tumblr for a year or so, but in the absence of that kind of time, this is a wonderful introduction to all things geek.

If you’re a super seasoned pro, you may not need this guide, but you might love it anyway for it’s feminist essays, gorgeous illustrations, and lists of definitions and recommendations. The author’s love for all things geek definitely shines through, so check it out for her boundless enthusiasm if for nothing else.

four-stars

Review: Infinity Bell by Devon Monk

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Infinity Bell by Devon MonkInfinity Bell by Devon Monk
Published by Penguin on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Science Fiction, Urban
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Return to national bestselling author Devon Monk's heartpounding House Immortal series, where eleven powerful Houses control the world and all its resources. But now, the treaty between them has been broken, and no one—not even the immortal galvanized—is safe....Matilda Case isn’t normal. Normal people aren’t stitched together, inhumanly strong, and ageless, as she and the other galvanized are. Normal people’s bodies don’t hold the secret to immortality—something the powerful Houses will kill to possess. And normal people don’t know that they’re going to die in a few days.Matilda’s fight to protect the people she loves triggered a chaotic war between the Houses and shattered the world’s peace. On the run, she must find a way to stop the repeat of the ancient time experiment that gifted her and the other galvanized with immortality. Because this time, it will destroy her and everything she holds dear.Caught in a cat-and-mouse game of lies, betrayal, and unseen foes, Matilda must fight to save the world from utter destruction. But time itself is her enemy, and every second brings her one step closer to disaster....

I love this series. I apparently forgot to do a review of the first book in the series, House Immortal. Oops. Suffice to say that Monk is one of my favorite writers, since her Allie Beckstrom series. If you’d like a bit of a preview to this author’s work, I recommend her short fiction collection, A Cup of Normal. It’s quite good, only $4.99 in ebook, and you’ll see a very early version of House Immortal’s heroine, Matilda Case. Note that the story is no longer canon, but it’s interesting to me to see the changes that happened between then and now.

This world is a futuristic steampunk Frankenstein story with time travel. The world has suffered an apocalypse and is now controlled by feudalistic Houses, to which everyone must owe a fealty. Each House controls a different world resource: technology, healing, farming, etc. The Houses, of course, play their own politics and none of them are headed by very nice people: kidnapping, blackmail, and backstabbing are typical and expected.

The immortals of the story are a group of undying Frankenstein’s monster types, each having survived the explosive apocalypse generations before, each enslaved to a House by their own choice, to save the now underground and previously defeated House Brown from complete extermination. All of them except our heroine, Matilda Case. View Spoiler » This process is wanted desperately by the heads of most of the Houses, as who doesn’t wish to live forever?

This series is unique and wonderful and if you don’t mind that anguished feeling of reaching the end of the book and there still being mysteries unsolved, then you will love this one*. (*Series is not complete.) Monk is the Grand High Poobah of the Victory-Only-Makes-Things-More-Complicated Writers’ Association. She did it in the Beckstrom series and practice has only improved her skill. As soon as our heroes have achieved the victory they supposedly wanted, things get turned completely on their head and an entirely new set of problems arise.

This is a world we’ve never seen with supernaturals that aren’t cliche.  A story fraught with action, adventure, and tight with tension, a heroine you can root for, and Monk’s signature victory with a plot twist ending, makes this a can’t miss series. You won’t regret reading this one.

four-half-stars

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Published by Macmillan on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Historical
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

I don’t typically write reviews for anything less than a full book, but I kept seeing this one around and I was intrigued. NetGalley only had an excerpt available for review so here we are. The excerpt was roughly the first ~150 pages of the book, so that’s what I’ll be basing my opinions here on.

This book is written in 3rd person, and we have 2 POV characters in this first part. The one with the most time devoted to him is Kell, the Red Ambassador and one of only two people that we know of that can walk across worlds. The second POV is Delilah Bard, who is a pickpocket and thief from Grey London. Despite the discrepancy in the time we have with each of them, I like Delilah much better than Kell. She may be unscrupulous in her ambition, but Kell is careless in both thought and deed. He also seems rather spoiled, to be honest.

In this story, there are 4 Londons located across space and time. Except not all of them are called London, and none of them are much alike at all, except for being generally in the same geographical area in their own worlds. First, is Grey London, which is magic-less and a close approximation (so far) of our own world. The second is Red London, where magic is a tool to be used and things are beautiful. This is where Kell is from. Third is White London, where magic is currency and everything is about having power. Magic is mined from the world like oil in ours and consumed. This drains the world and its inhabitants of color and vitality, which is why this London is White. The fourth London, only whispered about and currently only a memory, is Black London, where magic turned into a weapon of mass destruction and exploded. Black London, if it still exists in Kell’s time, is cut off from the rest, and because of that, taking more than letters from one world to the next is forbidden.

This directive of ‘forbidden’ Kell, of course, ignores as he has a nice side business set up carrying trinkets back and forth to sell on the black market. I told you he was spoiled. This leads to a dangerous artifact — perhaps from Black London — being given to him to deliver as a gift. Because Kell also seems quite stupid, without opening it, he takes the package  across the worlds and is then attacked in his super secret lair, forcing him to run to the one London without magic in order to escape. This is essentially where the excerpt ended.

Now, this book has some solid writing that really sucks you in. The premise is interesting — although I have one beef I will get to in a minute. In even the short excerpt, the characters were vivid enough that you really get to know them, albeit from Kell’s perspective of them. I’m pretty interested to know where Schwab is going with her aspiring pirate, magic coats, and strange magical artifacts.

Am I $12.99 ebook or $23 hard cover interested? Eh. Honestly, I’ll probably wait for a sale. This author is new to me, and while the excerpt was intriguing, it wasn’t rush-right-out-to-read-the-rest-of-the-book material for me.

Which brings me to my beef. WHY is it always London? Mirrored London, in fact. This has been done so many times that it’s practically its own trope. Schwab’s version is a twist, and I’m wondering if there’s a world-building reason for four Londons instead of the usual twin set. I’m also wondering why Kell would refer to them as “London” when only Grey London is really named London and he’s not even from there. Wouldn’t calling them all after the name of his own Red city make more sense to him? I don’t know, maybe there’s a reason for that, too.

I’ll be honest, I am probably being harder on this book then I would have been if I’d gotten to read the whole thing rather than an excerpt. That’s the problem with only getting part of a story. It’s like getting sand in your shoe. It’s not going to hurt you, and the journey to the beach was pleasant, but the grit rubs your feet and irritates to the point where you almost regret going at all.

I’m going to give this book 3 stars for pirates and magic coats and sociopathic white ladies who drink blood. If you have the book budget to spend and you like the elements listed here, give this book a try. I’d personally like to see a review from someone who’s read the whole thing. (There are 15 reviews on Amazon right now with a total score of 4 stars.)

 

three-stars