Zero Hour: A Dystopian Adventure

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.

THE BLURB
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.

THE REVIEW

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).

Highly recommended.

 

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

42 comments

  • Well, I really thought the character of Ernest was incredibly well done – he was so sympathetic and (despite those very occasional impulses to physical violence) gentle. The journey he takes through the book is believable, and you just root for him to overcome his lifetime of indoctrination to envision a future for himself with Will.

    Also the world-building was so solid, something I really appreciate about this author’s work, generally. I really enjoyed how the explanation for why death at 30 was inevitable gradually unfolded over the course of the story – much more convincing than the explanation in LR (although, actually in the book, at least, it was 21 and not 30).

    But, I think, therein lies the problem for me. Whenever there were bits even remotely like LR or that touched on similar themes, it kept jarring me out of the story. I would think “Oh, that’s like that scene in LR” or “Oh, that’s better done” or what have you. Completely my issue, I know, but it did keep me from being completely immersed in the story. On the other hand, I read Zero Hour in one sitting, so that has to count for something! The PsyCop series is still my favorite, but I’m glad I read Zero Hour.

    Reply
  • I’d completely forgotten that LR became a tv series. I was really too young to watch the movie – I think my mother must have been out of the room during that scene where Michael York grabs Jenny Agutter’s hand and says “Let’s have sex!” (even now I remember that scene really well – I must have been curious about it!), but I loved it. Like most things, the movie is pretty loosely based on the book – I thought the book was better, but Logan’s Run was also better than the sequel books. Still, I read them over and over as a teenager. The books were written by William Nolan. (The books are all quite short, by the way.) Anyway, I haven’t picked up Zero Hour yet, but I’m going to do so tonight. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Pea
      I can’t believe you remember Michael York telling Jenny Agutter “Let’s have sex”. That’s so funny.

      Well you know that very rarely does a book translate identically on the big screen but I’m happy to know that the movie did bear some resemblance to the first book. I’ll check them out. I think you’ll really like Zero Hour. If you do get it please come back and let us know what you thought of it.

      Reply
  • I loved Zero Hour too, Wave. It reminded me of a cross between the cyberpunk dystopias of William Gibson and the best kind of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but with a big dose of heart. Watching Ernest start to question his indoctrination and fall for Will was a wonderful experience.

    Yes, some of the scenes were violent and occasionally horrifying, but I had great hope for the band of escapees and was definitely uplifted by the whole read.

    Reply
    • Wasn’t Ernest the best hero? I just wanted to hug him. 🙂

      In most post apocalyptic books and movies some of the scenes of destruction are usually horrifying so I was prepared. I loved the way it ended – a new world.

      I hope Jordan isn’t still monitoring this review because I really think she’s brilliant. 🙂

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for the kind words, Wave!

    Whenever I think of Logan’s Run (the movie), I think of this part where Michael York came parading out in a hideous caftan–I found it so hilarious I actually hurt myself laughing. I needed to watch the rest of the movie another time, because I kept bursting into painful titters.

    I’d say this book is probably most like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, between the magnetic propulsion and the disregard for independent thought–but SF is one of those genres that tends to riff a lot on whatever’s gone before.

    The story is complete, there is no continuing series, but the early version of it is still free on jordancastilloprice.com.

    Thank you everyone for the lovely kudos. It makes my day!

    Reply
    • 😆 Hi Jordan
      Thanks for stopping by. A few of the readers who commented here also thought that there were similarities in the plot to Logan’s Run. I think it was the “30 year lease on life and then you die” scenario. However Zero Hour was significantly different in that your characters were mostly non human and the world building was amazing. Great job Jordan.

      Aside from Michael York’s caftan, 🙂 Logan’s Run still remains one of my favourite sci fi movies. 😯 I have never read the Uglies series – I guess that’s something else for me to check out. 🙂

      Someone mentioned that they thought the series was continuing on your site and I just repeated the comment. Guess I’ll have to correct it.

      Glad we could make your day. Have a wonderful weekend!!

      Reply
      • The characters are clones, which doesn’t make them non-human in my mind, but of course everyone can bring their own interpretation to what it means to be human, and what a soul is. That’s a large theme in the story.

        Reply
        • I always thought of clones as being artificially reproduced and not human. But of course you’re right – that’s subject to interpretation. 🙂

          Reading Zero Hour made me pull out my original copy of Logan’s Run with it’s cheesy cover and I’ll watch it on the weekend with Michael York in full regalia. 😮

          Reply
          • HAHA you just got me with the word “regalia.” I ordered it from my library, it should be here next week. I don’t think I’ll laugh quite as hard watching it alone–you know that goofy uncontrollable laughter thing only seems to happen when someone else is annoyed by it–but no doubt I’ll enjoy it nonetheless!

            (And I do find Michael York hot…though it doesn’t make the caftan any less funny.)

            Reply
  • I think I may have mentioned that I absolutely loved this one, Wave and was so curious to see what you thought. what an awesome review! Somebody who read this one before I did told me that it reminds him of 1984 in the most general sense of course. I think all dystopias may have sort of similar feel, but since I never heard of Logan’s run before reading your review, to me this one was pretty unique.

    Reply
    • Sirius
      Thank you.

      The reference to Logan’s Run from some of the readers here and also on Amazon where I just checked, is because of some similarities in the plot – at 30 years old you die and if you don’t show up you’re rounded up and killed. However beyond those similarities the rest of the book is all Jordan, and her characters are what always make her books stand out.

      P.S. 1984 is still a standard that we all use for these types of stories. 🙂

      Reply
      • Thanks for clarifying Wave. I am glad that my first impression of the book is pretty much confirmed :). Do you recommend Logan’s run? It feels like no matter how much I try to get caught up on what I call “cultural gaps” :), there are plenty of awesome books and movies that I will not have time to read and watch in my life time, so I have to try to be even more choosy 🙁

        Reply
        • I loved Logan’s Run the movie but the last time I watched it was a few years ago. I can’t remember if I ever read any of the books.

          This is basically the plot of LR from Amazon:

          If you can stifle the urge to laugh at its pastel unisex costumes and futuristic shopping-mall décor, this extravagant science fiction film from 1976 is still visually fascinating and provocatively entertaining. Set in the year 2274, when ecological disaster has driven civilization to the protection of domed cities, the story revolves around a society that holds a ceremonial death ritual for all citizens who reach the age of 30.

          In a diseaseless city where free sex is encouraged and old age is virtually unknown, Logan (Michael York) is a “sandman,” one who enforces this radical method of population control (but he’s about to turn 30 and he doesn’t want to die). Escaping from the domed city via a network of underground passages, Logan is joined by another “runner” named Jessica (Jenny Agutter), while his former sandman partner (Richard Jordan) is determined to terminate Logan’s rebellion. Using a variety of splendid matte paintings and miniatures, Logan’s Run earned a special Oscar for visual effects (images of a long-abandoned Washington, D.C., are particularly impressive), and in addition to fine performances by Jordan and Peter Ustinov, the film features ’70s poster babe Farrah Fawcett in a cheesy supporting role. Jerry Goldsmith’s semi-electronic score is still one of the prolific composer’s best, and Logan’s Run remains an interesting example of ’70s sci-fi that preceded Star Wars by less than a year.

          The stories became a tv series.

          I think you would like the movie if you really like sci fi. Pea, one of the readers who commented, is a fan of the books and she has all of them I believe, so they must be very good.

          Reply

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