Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publisher’s Blurb: 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. Calling themselves “the Zeroes,” they must spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, at a secret complex known only as “the Lodge.”
… North Korea is like the crazy little brother that keeps kicking over the neighbor’s potted plants and dropping flaming bags of dog shit on their doorstep. You protect them because they’re your brother, but in private you drag them over the coals for acting like such an epic asshole. (p. 274)
I came to Chuck Wendig through the Miriam Black series. Miriam is one of my very favorite urban fantasy protagonists with her dark secret power which has driven her to a life of self-sabotage which makes most of us look sane and normal.
None of the characters on Zer0es come even close to being as interesting. Not even the AI called Typhon.
And while I enjoyed Zer0es as the perfect mind candy getaway, the story of five disparate hackers forced to make the choice between prison or hacking for a unknown government project read like a Michael Crichton thriller without all the horrifying deathly side effects.
I really wanted to like this book on a level other than a Lord of the Flies-esque survival of the best hackers against each other, conspiracy minded players with a cult like belief they’re on the righteous side, and a terrifying Ai which could have come from any wetware scenario.
The writing is smart, and often times thrilling. And as I said farther up, it’s a great afternoon read. But for me, it read like “been there, read that.” That’s not Wendig’s fault, I’ve probably been reading voraciously longer than he’s known how to string words together.
There are other books written by Wendig which interest me. I’m looking forward to catching up on Miriam Black. Zer0es just sort of missed the mark for me.
Title: The Armored Saint
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher’s Blurb: In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Her wounds sang out with every movement, but it was an old song to her now, sung so many times that she knew the words by heart. She was good at hurting. (p 186)
Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is more than just a coming of age story. It’s about family, right and wrong, identity and, love. Heloise may only be 16 but she is badass in so many ways, and has become a character I want to know better.
Set in a medieval village ruled by a heavy-handed religious government called the Order, The Armored Saint is the story of Heloise, a teenager who questions everything she’s been taught. And you know how dictator governments hate that, especially in women.
Myke Cole wrote Heloise for me. For the woman who questioned things and didn’t understand why she was treated so harshly. Only Heloise is surrounded by those who love her, and while conflicted about her questioning, protect her from being hunted down and killed by the Order.
Wizardry is not allowed. Period. Wizardry opens the portals for demons to crawl through. Anyone who’s different gets killed. Including, and especially, the mentally ill. The man, Churic, normally quiet and described as “simple,” has a fit one day. Frothing at the mouth, purple skinned, eye bugging fit. Which is seized upon as evil by the Order. And the neighboring village, Heloise’s village is called upon to Knit Churic’s village.
Knitting is an horrific ritual, forcing those from one village to kill their friends in a neighboring village. But it is in the Knitting that Heloise feels the power of all those questions, and the shoddy answers rise. Her rebelliousness leaps out, putting her own village in danger, especially her father. But she can’t help herself, what’s been going on is wrong, and evil, and she won’t stand for it any longer.
She may be 16, and small in stature, but girl is fierce. And I love that Myke Cole wrote her to be the conflicted, flawed, insecure, brave hero she is. She resonates through my very being and, I imagine, everyone who has ever questioned the status quo and been shunted aside. Heloise is for those of us who want to be brave, but aren’t sure how. She leads the way by living her truth, confusing as that may be. She does it out of love. And Cole shows in this brutal story that it is love which wins. Whether he intended to or not, that’s what I got.
Heloise’s village hides her from the Order, and she comes out swinging. The neighbor who hides her builds war-engines for the Emperor to be used by his most fanatical officers in the army. They are giant man-shaped machines, powered by seethestone, driven by men to grind everyone in their path to so much pulp. (And while seethestone has a perfectly acceptable scientific method for working behind it, it seems a lot like magic to me.)
It is Heloise, broken and battered, and unwilling to give up the fight for those who have died at the hands of the Order who uses a war-engine to its most brutal advantage. She is doing it for those she loved who died brutally, for those who could die brutally, and for herself. Because, this shit will no longer stand.
In just over 200 pages, Heloise drives us through a paradigm shift. From submissive to the Order, to mad as hell and refusing to put up with anyone’s nonsense anymore, she stands for what she believes in. Which, of course, is in direct opposition to what the Order orders her to believe in.
Battered and bruised, Heloise becomes the sainted one who will lead the rest into battle. At least, that’s what her neighbors tell her. “No,” she says, “I’m not the hero you’re looking for. I’m not brave or strong or anything. I’m broken and hurting, and scared by the brutality I’ve been witness to, and have committed. You’ve got the wrong girl.”
The rest of the story comes in the next two books, and I am so looking forward to following Heloise on her quest, standing by her side as I continue to heal from my own brokenness and find ways to say, “This shit will not stand,” in my own life.
Thank you Myke Cole, for this book and the books to come. And thank you for Heloise, the hero we all need in this time and place.
Title: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Author: Mary Roach
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture Publisher’s Blurb: “What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.
This could also be titled Mary Roach Travels the World in Search of an Answer Which Doesn’t Exist. The book starts in India with Roach trailing a doctor collecting anecdotes about reincarnation in search of proof that reincarnation actually exists. It ends in a hospital at University of Virginia with a tablet computer mounted to the ceiling facing away from the operating table beneath it. The researchers hope to prove out of body experiences by having a subject astral project and tell what’s on the computer screen.
Inbetween she travels to England to take classes to learn to be a psychic, gets a cold reading from someone, and discusses spiritualism along the lines of The Witch of Lime Street. Roach’s snobbish tone arrives at the same place we all do, there is no scientific proof for what happens after we die.
Believers gonna believe, skeptics gonna question; ain’t none of us got a lock an answer which makes universal sense. And while I didn’t mind the process Roach used to satisfy (or not) her curiosity, I did mind that while asking her questions, she was not so openly mocking those who believed in something with no proof. That’s why it’s called faith, Mary, it can’t be proven.
My own reading, and conversations, have led me to the same conclusion many have, there may be something bigger than all of us at work (something I choose to believe in), but there’s no definitive answer to what happens next. In the end, it isn’t what one believes or doesn’t, it’s how one behaves in the present that matters. Chances are we won’t know what happens next even as it’s happening.
So good for Mary Roach for getting to go interesting places to ask questions about an interesting topic. If only she’d been willing to set aside her preconceptions for the duration.