Sent To Me By Doubleday In Exchange For An Honest Review
12.07.2018 / DoubleDay (Penguin) / Sci-Fi / Hardback / 352pp / 9780857525550
Target Audience: Readers who enjoy techno-fear novels that explores the manipulative tendencies of social media and big data companies. High stakes thriller with plenty of edge and insights into the very near future of the age of the internet.
When a teenager is shot dead after chasing a criminal in the street, investigating journalist Cynthia Bonsant is led to the popular social media platform Freemee, a competitor to Facebook whose lifestyle app claims to give you everything you need to succeed in life.
But there is someone who warns against its evils: Zero, the world’s most-wanted activist, known for exposing the toxic truths behind social media giants and their pursuit of total control.
As Cynthia gets closer to unravelling the evil mastermind behind the Freemee site, she herself becomes a target. But in this world of hidden cameras, data glasses and hyper-smart phones there is nowhere to hide…
In my time as a reader I have read many techno-thriller novels (many focused on the internet) but Zero was my first data-thriller outing . Zero is a hugely relevant, tense and sensationalist novel that explores vastly important themes involving the philosophical, sociological and moral consequences of our countless technological advances. Zero is a fictional expose based on the overall reality of our current vulnerability when it comes to personal information and our decision to use software to replace common sense. It is almost scary how insightful Marc Elsberg is when it comes to our very near future and I was amazed by his vivid and challenging perspective of where social media and data sharing may end up in the coming years.
Marc Elsberg has written a techno-sci-fi novel to rival Black Mirror and Dave Eggers but I have to be honest and say that I found this a hard read. Elsberg has almost written as it would appear on TV with scenes jumping around from place to place and a central but not lead character who ties all the events together. I am not saying that it is a bad approach, I think ME did a top job weaving all the key plot-lines together but I did struggle with the pacing and story hopping.
The main character, Cyn, was a good presence in the novel but apart from the third act, which was the best by a mile, she was a pair of eyes to watch events unfold. Hacker collective Zero and their antics were a really cool part of events and I enjoyed their influence within the story, a rebel unit who’s intentions are unclear and are manipulated by everyone to fit their needs. Freemee was also a superbly chilling entity that exists within the story and I did have my jaw-dropped a few times throughout by the scary thought that companies like this may come to life down the line. Taking our data, making us surrender free will and lose touch with common sense in exchange for a more productive lifestyle.
Marc Elsberg has explored some fantastic ideas but I felt the execution was too aimless and spread out for me to be able to focus properly. Looking back after finishing, I could see what ME was trying to achieve and it was a smart way to deliver the story but when I was in the middle of it I found it straining. The story is strong though and I was impressed by the amount of ground ME covered. From Zero getting to the president, a kid fearlessly chasing after a hardened criminal to his death to sociological experiments and multiple investigations into a company with sinister attributes, there is a lot to offer here. Just be warned that the first two acts may challenge you as they did me.
Marc Elsberg’s writing is intriguing, fierce and smart but weighed down in over explanation. Outright monologues that overreach their point and frustrated myself a bit too much. All this said, I do feel ME is treading new ground and I would like to think he has opened a door for other writers to continue this idea. I do hope this is book one of a series because I was left with questions and I would like to see certain elements of the story like Zero fleshed out even more. But the ending works well to leave us with food for thought too so that might just be ME’s intention. I do recommend Zero to everyone as it is applicable to our modern society, just be warned that it might get a bit heavy.
About Marc Elsberg
Marc Elsberg is a former creative director in advertising. ZERO is his second thriller which was a bestseller in Germany where it was first published. Its terrifying scenario of the dangers of social media, surveillance and data theft is all too real. His first global thriller BLACKOUT was also published worldwide. Marc Elsberg lives in Vienna, Austria.