Title: Zero Hour: A Dystopian Adventure
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Cover Artist: P.L. Nunn
Publisher: JCP Books
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 81,890 words/240 pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Review Summary: An incredibly complex dystopian adventure that’s reminiscent of one of my favourite science fiction movies, Logan’s Run.
Ernest just turned thirty. It’s time for retirement, freedom from the tedious drudgery of his job as a data clerk. Time to explore parts of the city he’s never seen before, and hopefully meet some actual people. And at the end of the month? Time to die.
Will runs the counter at the historic coffee shop, and when he talks, he sounds just like an old-time data feed. Tongues are for talking, and Will’s got plenty to say. He’s nothing like anyone Ernest has ever met—though unfortunately that’s not saying much, since most of Ernest’s interaction to date has been with his artificial intelligence, L0U15E.
Ernest wants to believe Will’s radical notions, but what if Will is just working some angle to take advantage of him? Although he’s old enough to qualify for the senior discount at the VR Palace, Ernest finds his interactions with Will leave him feeling painfully naive.
Could one being change the world in which he lived?
Ernest was looking forward to retirement. In his world everyone was created for a specific purpose and given a number identical to others who looked like them, and his lifetime job was that of a data clerk which was what most C754s were assigned because they were smart, but the job was tedious. To leave his job behind as he explored his very limited world for the first time was something he was longing to do. For an entire month until he reached 30 years of age he would be able to do exactly what he wanted, and on his 30th birthday he would make the journey to Reclaim where all good artificial creations go for their eternal rest.
Ernest had never tasted life or anything else for that matter, since his nutrients were fed through a shunt in his arm. He was naive and innocent and his worldview consisted of his AI (artificial intelligence) and constant companion LoUI5E (or Louise) who took care of him and ran his POD (Personal Overland Device). Everything he knows is information fed to him by Louise, but was her programming true or a bunch of propaganda?
The first person Ernest met on day 1 of his retirement was Will – a man or homo sapiens, not an AI or holo – who managed the coffee bar in the historic district which was the stuff of dreams for Ernest because everything in that part of the world was forbidden. From some old purged data feeds Ernest only had an inkling about what he would find there and he was anxious to explore. Will introduced him to different experiences including Espresso coffee, and the rush blew him away literally even though he didn’t get the full impact because he didn’t drink it since the coffee was introduced to his body through his shunt. Another experience was something he never thought he would ever hold in his hands, paper books which had been banned for centuries.
Will’s coffee shop was furnished with old time data feeds (newsreels) and videos as well as materials that had long been banned such as vinyl, plastic and fabric. He was very tactile with everyone with whom he came into contact, and when he physically touched Ernest it was another brand new experience for him as he had never been touched by anyone in his life other than his health monitor. Then Will gave him another taste test – a kiss!! To say that Will opened a whole new universe for Ernest would be an understatement. He told Ernest that his death at 30 was not fated as everyone thought, all he had to do was stop plugging in to Louise every night, which he found unbelievable and unacceptable until he was betrayed by the one being he trusted above all.
The world is well constructed and authentic. The hierarchy is set up in such a way that no one (except Will, Ernest and a few others) dared question the information disseminated by the Diaconate and wealthy Deacons who ran everything, from the day an AI was created in a lab to when they were demagnetized or died. Extraordinary attention was paid to eating from Ernest’s perspective because this was something completely alien to him and one aspect of his bodily functions that was the most difficult for him to assimilate as he was revolted by inserting food into his body through his mouth. Love was also a foreign construct as he knew nothing about emotions or sex and when he started to have feelings for Will he had no idea how to interpret them. But Will was his rock and Ernest realized how much he could learn from him as he depended on him more and more in this new environment that was both exciting and scary as he acknowledged that everything he knew about his life was based on lies.
There are lessons to be learned from the book including what happens to the earth when we humans do not treat it with respect. It may sound as if the story is a downer but you couldn’t be more wrong because there is such a sense of optimism throughout even though the conditions were depressing. Ernest’s temperament and influence made the difference. His sense of wonder and strange mixture of bravery and innocence throughout most of the book was probably the best parts of the story for me. He was incredibly sweet and always assumed the best of everyone, but he also knew how to get what he wanted.
In case you’re wondering, Ernest is asexual, neither gay nor straight, but yes, there is sex between him and Will and it was just as I expected. You’ll have to find out by reading the book how Will introduced Ernest to the evils of the flesh. 🙂 I also fell in love with Will, a smart-ass, acerbic, very intelligent man and although he wanted to protect Ernest he had other more basic human motivations and needs.
The book had a lot of highs and lows: The highs – how a small band of disorganized warriors can outwit those who try to control them; love and friendships that rise above self interest; the human (and non human) desire for survival; Ernest’s love for his AI Louise which was heartwarming. The lows: Death and betrayal. Some of the action sequences are violent and one part is stomach churning, so be warned.
Zero Hour is actually the compilation in book form of a serialized story that ran on JCP’s site, with the addition of the wonderful P.L. Nunn cover and several illustrations by Jordan. The story is incredibly imaginative and complex and the characters are flawed and nuanced. They were on the one hand knowledgeable and had a lot of survival skills, but strangely not as advanced technologically as I would have expected in the 24th century, however what was amazing was that, as part of their escape strategy they used 21st century materials that had long been abandoned. The focus of the plot is about government oversight and control in disseminating information and personal control of everyone from the moment you’re born or created until the day you die. If you love science fiction this book is a must read because it explores how societies could be shaped in the future if governments are allowed to create worlds where no one is free – the loss of identity is probably the most horrific probability.
When I finished this review I didn’t feel that I did justice to the story because there’s so much that I had to omit due to spoilers, however I hope it at least gives you a sense of what the book is about. There were a few atypical editing errors in the book but I gave JCP a pass because this was definitely unusual for her and could have resulted from the transfer of the text from one medium to another (website to book).