Review: Dune is What Theaters Were Made For

Dune producers are fighting to keep the movie a theatrical release, report  says | TechRadar

A Brief Background to Those Other Dune Films

I, like many teens of the 80s, were first exposed to Dune through the divisive David Lynch directed vehicle. Through it, I ended up reading many of the books that the movie was based on. To this day I am still enthralled by the world building and history that was incredibly complex to my teenage mind at the time. I still have a fondness for the Lynch version of Dune, even for the extended television edit that Lynch refused to have his name attached to(the infamous Alan Smithee cut). The movie certainly has some merits, but it also deserves much of its criticisms for odd deviations from the source material.

Over the years since then, the SyFy Channel made a more book accurate version of the Dune novel and to varying degrees, it worked, but also fell short because of the limitations of a television budget. Also in those years, internet fan editors have made various versions of the David Lynch film using deleted scenes and re-editing footage from the extended and theatrical cut to more closely resemble Lynch’s original ideas for the film. While some do improve, it was still not definitive.

In 2017, it was announced that Denis Villeneuve would tackle Dune. Villeneuve is no stranger to more cerebral science fiction. He had previously directed Blade Runner 2049 and The Arrival, both big budget science fiction films but with not only cerebral themes, but an arthouse feel. Nevertheless, Dune is still a daunting book to tackle. It is incredibly dense in lore and universe building. There are countless characters, thousands of years of history, political wranglings, and plots within plots. All that is just in the first book.

Dune 2021

In the very opening of of the film, it is obvious that this is meant to be a two-part movie as the title card clearly states Dune Part One. There is an opening narration laying out the situation for the planet Arrakis. For hundreds of years, Arrakis had been ruled by an empire that is there to exploit the planet’s only resource, the spice Melange. The spice can prolong life, has psychic mind altering properties, and is key to the abilities of the Guild Navigators to traverse between the stars safely. It is only found on Arrakis, which is also referred to as Dune. The natives of Arrakis, the Fremen are an exploited people, and have been waging an eternal guerilla war against their colonizers. Arrakis is the fiefdom of House Harkonnen, a cruel and oppressive house, from the heavy industrial planet of Geidi Prime. But that rulership abruptly comes to an end and they suddenly leave.

On Planet Caladan, home to House Atreides, Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto, suffers from recurring dreams of a mysterious woman in the desert. The noble house is now given the fiefdom of Arrakis in the stead of the Harkonnens. But no one believes to be a benevolent gesture but a trap. Yet to disobey an imperial order would be…well, not good.

Meanwhile, Paul is beginning to awaken to powers that have been passed on and taught to him from Lady Jessica, his mother and member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, an order that for generations have not only been manipulating houses of powers behind the scenes, but their bloodlines as well. Her having a son was against the order of the sisterhood and may have thrown their entire breeding manipulations into turmoil. The sisterhood also manipulates religion for its own means. Bene Gesserit lay down messianic rumors about the Atreides, in particular, Lady Jessica and Paul.

Denis Villeneuve drops you into a universe that is incredibly immersive. There are not many great scenes of exposition about the universe, other than the planet of Arrakis itself and the Fremen. We, as the audience, are along with the ride. For non-book readers, there may be a perception of little explanation on certain things that there should be. Book readers will spot Mentats and Suk doctors. But if you are not familiar with the source material you may not get a full sense of who these people are or their particular talents. We get some exposition on the Bene Gesserit, and they are both mysterious in appearance and incredibly intimidating. In one way, that adds to the immersive quality. But for some it may be a bit overwhelming, with definitely lingering questions. But we don’t need an explanation that there is such a thing as an Atreides hand signals, but we are shown that detail. We don’t need an explanation of the Bene Gesserit Voice, but a simple demonstration is enough for us to understand. In a sense this is film that definitely shows more than it tells. For better or worse, it adds to that sense of immersion, as if you were dropped into a foreign country without knowing the language. You may feel lost, but the discovery is the beauty of it.

If you are interested in Dune lore and history, Quinn’s Ideas on YouTube is an excellent resource for everything Dune.

Hans Zimmer is on hand to provide a score that may well be one of his best scores ever. I admit to not being one of his biggest fans. But it is clear, like Villeneuve, he has a passion for Dune. It is atmospheric much of the time and unsettling when it needs to be for scenes of tension. Zimmer actually passed on scoring Tenet for long time collaborator, Christopher Nolan to do the score for Dune.

Timothée Chalamet as Paul, may seem poorly developed. But Paul is a character that is being molded by the desert and we won’t see his full character arc until part two. Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica stands out as a not just a mother but as a woman of power within the Atreides house even if she is not married to the Duke. Oscar Isaac as Leto is a commanding presence as the Duke but still carries genuine warmth as Paul’s father. Jason Mamoa brings his unique personality as Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the gruff Gurney Halleck. Possibly the one actor having the most fun is Stellan Skaarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, a role that even bookwise was pure villainy. He brings about cold menace and in some scenes seems to play homage to Marlon Brando’s portrayal of the mad Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Unfortunately, we do not get enough of Zendaya as Chani. Story-wise she will have a larger role to play in the second half of the story. That is certainly something to look forward to.

Frank Herbert’s novel was written in the 60s and was reflective of its time. Even so, the themes he addressed in the book, mass murder of indigenous people, colonialism, the exploitation of resources, and the manipulation of the masses through religious superstition, still ring true for our time. One can’t help but think of Afghanistan’s history against colonialism compared to the Fremen’s eternal insurgency against the Empire. Arrakis has the most precious substance in the universe and a huge empire is willing to wage war and oppress a people to exploit that resource. In the 60s it was a metaphor for oil. It still is in a way. Of course it is not a one to one parallel. Cynics may look at this as a standard hero’s journey, or even as a lone (or white) saviour trope, especially with the messianic lore. But remember, these messianic beliefs were seeded. Paul knows this and is willing to take advantage of it. Hardly something heroic. All other adaptations have ignore this aspect.

Let’s be honest. Dune is not a perfect novel, and neither is the movie. At times the book seemed more enthralled with it’s universe building and lore than of character. Some of the characterizations, particularly the behavior of the villains can come across as cliched. And the movie does fall into those same trappings at times. The disadvantage for the movie is that it is still only part one, whereas the book is complete. If you are interested in the rest of Paul’s journey, you’ll have to refer to the source material or wait until Part Two comes out. And considering the games that Warner Brothers have played with undermining its box-office to boost their HBO-Max subscriptions, we have no guarantee of that yet. With that being said, this is the best interpretation of the book. There could have been less scenes of Paul’s visions, at times it felt a little repetitious.

Dune, as a the book, remains one of the most important works of science fiction literature. In my opinion, Denis Villeneuve has crafted one of the finest science fiction films in a generation. Dune is definitely not a typical science fiction action film. It is a work of art that has action in it. And the action scenes are filled with not just CG and explosions but close-quarter combat of hundreds of troops. It’s not a CG fest of spaceships zipping around in dogfights, it’s dirty gritty knifework, making the action feel genuine. Among those hundreds of troops are the Saudakar, the blades of the Emperor. We are shown their planet of Salusa Secundus where these feared troops genuinely come across as intimidating.

But, of course, the big spectacle that Dune may be best known for is the desert mouse — just kidding. It’s of course the giant sandworms of Arrakis. We’ve already seen them in the trailers, but the scale of these creatures is truly intimidating as they are outright forces of nature that can wreck destruction in their wake. Yet, they are also very much a part of the planet, sometimes seen in the distance. But when they strike, they are feasome.

Villeneuve really takes his time in showing us this universe. Almost every exterior shot is epic in scope, detailing large vistas and landscapes showing enormous scale. It is visually stunning. Make no mistake about it, the universe of Dune created by Frank Herbert is epic in scope. Visually, it is a feast for the eyes. Much of the effects are practical and shooting was filmed on locations such as Jordan and Norway. The Director of Photography, Greg Fraser, is no stranger to big projects, as he has shot Rogue One and The Mandalorian. His compositions and shots of the desert landscapes are stark contrasts to the lush watery shores of Caladan. You almost feel the dust and heat of Arrakis pressing down on you.

Dune: Part One is what movie theaters were made for. If you can, see it on the largest screen possible (if you feel safe during the Age of Covid, that is), such as an Imax theater, or a Dolby Cinema, or XD with a big sound system. I saw it at a screening in a medium sized theater, and felt like I was there in Arrakis. I will definitely be seeing it again in Imax. Let the film take you in for the two and a half hour runtime. Sure, you can watch it day and date on HBO-Max, but you would be doing yourself a disservice. Unless you are incredibly wealthy with an actual movie theater in your home, the experience does not compare to seeing this on the big screen.

Final Score: 9/10

Venom: Let There be Carnage is Gooey Trash

Venom: Let There Be Carnage' Movie Review - Full Circle Cinema

Low Brow and Low Tier

I’m not super familiar with the Venom character in the comics nor have I ever been particularly drawn to it. Sure, that doesn’t belay the fact that Venom is an extremely popular character in Marvel Comics and that its first film (if we ignore Spider-Man 3) was a surprise hit.

The first one was mildly entertaining and had some funny bits. The sequel, Venom: Let There be Carnage continues in that vein. It’s entertaining, has some funny bits. But ultimately it’s dumb, silly, and it’s trash. It’s basically what comic book movies used to be but just better made. It fall short of the mindless cinematic fun of the last few Godzilla films.

When Let There be Carnage begins, we are introduced to a young Cletus Kassady who is voiced by Woody Harrelson, but played by another actor. He and the girl he loves, Francis, are residents of St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children (yes, that really is the name). Frances is being taken away to the Ravencroft Institute because her “mutation” is getting worse. This makes Kassady sad and will later motivate what he does for the rest of the film.

We skip forward to the present to the present day as we see Eddie Brock has not improved himself since the last outing and is engaging in perpetual bickering with his symbiote. He is still an out of work journalist, and not even a very good ne at that. He’s given the opportunity to interview death row inmate Cletus Kassady, a supposedly dangerous serial killer, for no other reason than Cletus asked for him, not because he’s any good. Detective Milligan, of the SFPD thinks, that it would help reveal the location of other bodies. Brock needs the work hoping he can sell the story somewhere, and obviously Cletus is using Eddie to code headlines and quotes as a message to his old flame, who he doesn’t even know is even alive.

There are indeed clues as to where the notorious killer buried other bodies, and in true Hollywood fashion, they are hidden in plain sight for everyone to see. Except it is Venom who is able to piece the clues together, thus allowing Eddie to take the glory. Who these other victims are, and why they were killed, we are not told. Conveniently, after bodies are discovered, the governor lifts the moratorium on the death penalty and good ole Cletus is on a fast track to execution. This upsets him mightily for in a subsequent interview with Eddie, Cletus takes a bite out of Eddie, drawing blood. Yeah, you saw in in the trailer “I have tasted blood before, and that is not it.” So in a sort of reverse vampirism, Cletus has a bit of the symbiote in him. Just as he is near death, the symbiote manifests in him and becomes…CARNAGE. Prison wackiness ensues, including the ability for all the prisoners to just leave their cells for whatever reason. Bodies pie up in a bloodless PG-13 rampage of violence.

Meanwhile, Eddie and Venom’s bickering gets to comical levels as Venom throws Eddie’s things out the window, including his TV, telling him to get out. All the while Eddie saying, this is my home. Yeah, this is the major breakup scene in the movie usually between married couples.

But we know how this goes. Boy meets symbiote, boy and symbiote break up, boy and symbiote gets back together. There is a scene of Venom, in his natural form, going to a costumed rave where people just love his “outfit” and accept him for who he is. The icing on this particular metaphorical cake comes when Venom goes up to the entertainment’s mic and proclaims his “I don’t need that man in my life” moment. And there is much rejoicing.

Kassady makes a deal with the Carnage symbiote. He wants to find his old lover and Carnage wants to kill Venom. They figure it’s a win win situation. They easily find Frances and free her from the institute, not without leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, however. In a PG-13 version of Natural Born Killers, they gleefully make out while killing people.

This could be quite a deadly trio, except that Frances’s “mutation” is a deafening shriek. In fact, that is her character in Marvel comics. But for the symbiotes, loud sounds and fire are their weaknesses. So not exactly a match made in heaven.

There is little to fault the actors. They are simply doing their best with the thin material that they are given. Tom Hardy is a likeable enough Eddie Broke, but Eddie himself is not very smart or good at anything he does. I think Woody Harrelson’s performance as Kassady works only because he pulls his crazy Woody act which we have all seen many times before. The biggest tragedy was the wasted character of Frances “Shriek” Barrison as portrayed by Oscar nominated Naomi Harris. Much of her character is relegated to just being in her cell making menacing eyes at her captors. Michelle Williams as Eddie’s ex girlfriend is given even less of a significant role other than damsel in distress, who really should have been killed several times over if you can believe the villains. Seriously, my favorite character is the corner store owner, Mrs. Chen, played by Peggy Lu. She has some actually funny lines and displays more authentic personality than the rest of the characters.

As with a majority of comic book movies, the last act of the film is an indulgent all you can eat buffet of CGI and loud noise. It is handled as well as could be expected, but also as badly as can be expected. It is many times dark, confusing and extended longer than it needs to be.

The best reason to watch this, unfortunately, is to see the mid-credits scene which made the whole 90 minute runtime worth it as it is a significant twist to…well, everything. But other than that, the movie is a fun romp that is an easy 90 minute distraction for a matinee or rental. The plot is thin, and relies on too many unfunny lines. We really get no sense of any real characters, especially Cletus Kassady who is supposedly some notorious serial killer, but his back story is only given to us in a cartoon form.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Review: Godzilla Vs. Kong with Spoilers

Godzilla vs. Kong Unveils New Logo | CBR

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

This is a spoiler review. Come on, it’s giant monsters fighting each other, y’all really don’t care about plot and writing, do you?

Growing up in a certain era with late night Creature Features on the weekends, monster movies, especially Godzilla movies were a mainstay of my childhood. Watching the old 60s films were fun and fed a childhood glee of just watching giant monster wreck cities and each other other. And in an age of a world pandemic, Godzilla Vs Kong was not only a heaping dose of nostalgia, it may have defibrillated the theater industry.

There is a basic plot that is just there as an excuse to go from one monstrous action sequence to another. Kong, decades after the events of Skull Island is in a biodome with a holographic dome to simulate a natural sky. He’s just too smart to be fooled by it. He has a bond with a mute little girl who is the only survivor of of the island tribe seen in Kong of Skull Island.

Meanwhile, Godzilla has attacked an Apex cybernetics facility for no reason. Well, there are, but that is revealed later. Monarch which is the super not-secret organization studying the Titans does not know the reason. Madison (once again played by Millie Bobby Brown), the young character from King of the Monsters, has a suspicion that Apex is hiding something from the public. She gets her information from listening to a conspiracy podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry) who claims to be on the inside of Apex. In the light of the whole Q’Anon phenomenon, this comes across as more silly than it was meant to be. But hey, this was supposed to come out a year ago, then Covid happened. She decides to track down this mysterious podcaster with a friend (Julian Dennison) in tow who really serves no purpose other than to panic a lot.

And amidst this, Apex and Monarch seemingly have a plan to relocate Kong to the natural habitat of his ancestors, the Hollow Earth. Yeah, science is pretty much out the window in this series. But as they are transporting Kong on a giant cargo ship. Godzilla senses the presence of another Alpha Titan, you know, sorta like in Highlander. So Godzilla attacks, they fight. And it as a spectacular protracted fight that destroys almost an entire fleet of ships. And honestly, cannons against Godzilla never works but stupid humans will do stupid things.

It soon becomes apparent which humans we should care about. Certainly not the daughter of Apex CEO who just wanted to dump Ong in the water and bug out. She didn’t even want to stick around for the fight. Plus she is overly arrogant and has a secret agenda as corporate CEO daughters are want to do in the genre. When she and the gang make it inside the hollow earth area, her agenda becomes apparently. It being clear is another thing. as it makes no sense.

Meanwhile, Madison and her own Scooby Gang break into the wrecked Apex facility way more easier than is possible and end up on an underground high speed travelling, I don’t know what to call it, thingy that takes them all the way from Florida to Hong Kong. And when they get there, they discover Apex’s big secret, which really isn’t that much of a secret if you’ve been following the movie. All right, it’s a Mecha-Godzilla. It’s somehow hooked up to the decapitated heads of Ghidorah (Kevin) from King of the Monsters. And it’s “pilot” is named Ren Serizawa who is supposedly the son of Professor Serizawa from the last two movies. Yeah, whatever.

In the hollow earth, Kong is having a blast destroying other monsters that get in his way, and he eventually finds himself in a throne room, where he gets to make himself at home. It turns out that all along, Apex wanted to access the hollow earth to get some kind of energy source to power up Mecha-Godzilla for the purpose of destroying Godzilla.

Godzilla makes his way to Hong Kong. There can be only one, after all. While there he senses Kong and the energy. So get this, he uses his atomic breath to drill right into the hollow earth, so Kong climbs up/down to Hong Kong. Big monster fight. Hong Kong undergoes Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel proportions of destruction. Mecha-Godzilla shows up. More monsters fighting.

So it may sound like I’m bashing the film for its silliness, but that silliness serves its purpose to get from one giant set piece to another. Godzilla Vs Kong delivers on the spectacle of giant titans battling it out. And unlike the last two Godzilla films, much of the fights take place during the day or well lit. Hong Kong’s skyline and neon light office building provide the perfect backdrop for the battles.

Whatever plot there is is a paper thin one with science that is beyond dubious. And there are enough plot holes to drive a truck through. Yet, just like the 60s era of Godzilla wilms and childhood nostalgia, I did not care. It was glorious trash on a scale that is the perfect cure for nearly a year of lockdown. It was as if they took the cheesy story and premise of the 60 era films and fed injected the steroids known as modern special effects and big budget into it. The special effects are top-notch with every punch and bite seemingly having some impact to them. Not only that, there is some actual noticeable fight choreography to the action scenes with the surroundings not only serving as backdrops but as weapons as well. Godzilla vs. Kong is due out on home media formats of DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D Blu-Ray (!), and 4k on 6/15/21. Get it in the best format available, which is not streaming, support physical media and crank up the volume.

Final Score

9/10

Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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Catherynne M. Valente’s Hugo nominated novel, Space Opera, tries its best to channel the spirit of Douglas Adams. And it does so well occasionally but in the long run its homages and self aware attempts style trip it up. What could have been a science fiction comedy of absurdities ends up being an uneven mixture short novel that feels like it could have been a novella.

We are not alone. Yes, there are not only other intelligent species out there in the galaxy, they are not sure if humans are sentient. So in order to gain acceptance into the galactic circle of civilized worlds they must prove they are sentient by participating in something called the Metagalactic Grand Prix – a singing competition. The participants must come from a list of acceptable singers that the council has picked. Unfortunately the list is all full of either dead people or people that are incapable of participating. The only one of the list able to compete is washed up glam rock star Dinesh “Decibel” Jones. The act doesn’t have to win, they just don’t have to be last.

Yeah, so the people of earth have to participate in an inter-galactic Eurovision competition. And if Earth finishes last, the human race gets eliminated and evolution is allowed for the future development of other sentient beings. Dinesh is reunited with his one surviving band member Oort St. Ultraviolet. With no real clue on what they have to do and no knowledge about how backstage machinations can take them out even before they reach the stage.

Catherynne M. Valente packs the book with some very colorful prose. And your mileage may vary, I though it was a bit too much flowery prose. You can forget any sort of science in this science fiction setting. You can, however, expect some intriguing aliens with some really bizarre backstories and unique personalities. But yet it does fly in the face of our expectations or even perceptions of reality. I am assuming that this is a conscious choice to be so esoteric and poetic. It has a time travelling Red Panda. Come on, you can’t tell me that’s not different.

Valente’s universe of strange aliens are without a doubt colorful and creative. Some feel almost dreamlike or straight out of a drunken hallucination. Your mileage may vary. Ultimately though it is a silly premise and while it is inventive, it unfortunately feels like a comedy skit that has been dragged on a little too long. Now, looking on the reviews on Goodreads, it is clear that I am in the minority in my opinion. That’s fine. It’s just my opinion and some things I just don’t get into as others. You are free to like whatever you like. And there is definitely much to like about Space Opera. Decibel Jones and Oort St. Ultraviolet are an interesting pair that pair off of each other believably as old bandmates that have since gone their separate ways. The prose is certainly engaging but often left me with the feeling of “what did I just read?”

Space Opera is nominated for the 2019 Hugo award for best novel of 2018. I wish it luck. It is definitely different and an interesting ride.

Final Score: 7/10

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal is the Right Stuff for Alternate History Fans

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It seems a lot of alternate history science fiction novels revolve around a major turning point in history. The most popular one is of Germany winning World War II as in Phillip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle and SS-GB. Harry Turtledove has an entire series based on the South winning the Civil War unofficially called The Southern Victory Series. Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternate history in The Calculating Stars is not just one turning point, but several. The first is that Dewey would defeat Truman and become President of the United States, second that the US would be ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race.

Emma York is a former WASP, who flew with many perilous missions in WWII, and brilliant mathematician. She and her husband, Nathaniel, witness the meteorite impact and survive the subsequent shock wave. Since Nathaniel is literally a rocket scientist he is semi drafted into services to help at the local Air Force base.

This sets the timeline for the most drastic change in history. In 1952, a meteorite crashes into the Eastern coast of the United states and destroys much of the east coast, including Washington D.C. It sets up an environmental change that will eventually render the earth nearly uninhabitable. It is decided that the current space program be accelerated to colonize space, first the moon and eventually Mars.

In the hands of other writers, it may be natural to come up with grand ideas and scope of chronicling the race to space and tell a heroic struggle to not only survive the changing climate but to also do the impossible things such as reaching the moon. Mary Robinette Kowal chooses to make this a much more personal story. It is what makes this novel so unique and relatable.

This is all told through the point of view of Emma as she navigates through this invigorated space program and the issues of the era, mainly the sexism that stands in the way of not only her, but others women in participating in the space program beyond being number crunching computers.

After what was meant to be a PR appearance on the 50’s era show, Mister Wizard, Emma gets dubbed with the nickname of The Lady Astronaut. Thus would begin an unwanted focus on Emma and the role women will have in the fledgling space program. You would think it’s a no-brainer as do the women in the book. To colonize space, you are going to need women. But it is is still the mid-50s and not only is the idea of women’s lib not existent, but it is even predating the major civil rights movement. And Emma not only suffers from the upbringing of the time with the haunting refrain of  her mother’s “What will people think?” to her own issues of anxiety.

Emma feels she and many other friends, most of whom are former WASP themselves are fully qualified. It of course should come as no surprise that women will eventually get the chance to join the program. In fact there are few real surprises in the book, but the joy is the road trip to the final destination.

The characters come across as genuine and, yes, at times you may feel frustrated on behalf of Emma and a reluctance to assert herself as you know she can. But then you realize we are reflecting back on an long ago era of thought. And also that she definitely has anxiety problems.

Yet as an exercise in alternate history it also is an exercise in real history, of the WASPs that flew with honor and in sometimes dangerous conditions during World War II and the almost greenlit real female astronaut program of the era.

Unfortunately the end of the book, though not really ending in a cliffhanger left me wanting more. Fortunately there is a second half of the story called The Fated Sky, additionally there are several short stories and novellas that tie into the story of the Lady Astronaut series. The Lady Astronaut of Mars, though it was published first, is a Emma’s reflection on her past as an 80 year old who helped colonize Mars.

Not only is the book an excellent read, but it’s an excellent listen. The author also serves the narrator for the Audible.com exclusive production. It is not often that an author can pull off such an excellent job of voice performance (only Neil Gaiman seems to come to mind at the moment), but Mary Robinette Kowal is used to performing. She happens to also be a puppeteer.

I highly recommend The Calculating Stars.

Review: Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

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It is actually quite rare to watch a movie or television show get the portrayal of hackers right. They are often shown typing away in seeming random on a DOS screen and instantly creating worms and viruses with just a few simple keystrokes. Or they are breaking into international banks and government systems with ease. I suppose if they showed that it was actually a tedious task it would not look good on screen .

Chuck Wendig’s Zeroes seems to strike a good middle ground. It approaches hacking more realistically and not just the breaking onto security systems, but stealing credit cards, trolling, and just plain old research.

Zeroes (or Zer0es) is a deceptive novel. It starts off rather innocuous enough. We are introduced chapter by chapter to a cast of misfit hackers, and internet trolls. The opening of the book rounds up our cast of five characters as government forces arrest them one by one.  They are each offered a deal, work for the government or go up the river. To some of them, it would also mean hurting loved ones or putting them in danger as one has been helping with the Arab Spring.

What follows would normally play out as a dirty dozen scenario. Do the job, stay out of jail. We get the interaction and banter between a group of individuals that really have no reason to like each other. There is a rivalry with another cell of hackers (really only one guy) at the same compound that they are held, called the Hunting Lodge. It ends up uniting them, actually.

A good percentage of the book, almost half of it, involves “pen tests,” penetration tests into targets just to see how deep they can go. Their progress is monitored and logged and supposedly they are graded at how well they do at their probes. It will turn out that they were doing more hrm than they thuoght they were doing. I am remonded of Ender’s Game where the simulations were not simulations.

Yet they are still basically in a prison and one that is not covered by any sort of penal regulations. So, of course, we have a motley crew of sadistic guards who are bored watching a bunch of loser nerds typing at computers and just want an excuse to toss someone into sensory deprivation tank for a day.

Halfway through the book, things hit the fan. It begins to occur that theses tests are not merely tests and bad things are beginning to happen around the world. At the core of it is an enigma that keeps popping up. Typhon. Who or what exactly is it? And just like that, what started off as a sort of techno-thriller, becomes a science fiction adventure with elements of  horror to it.

There is enough action sequences for a Hollywood blockbuster and times it feels like this was written originally as a movie or even a big budget HBO or Netflix mini-series.

Wendig writes his does not introduce any particularly new science to the genre, and whatever complicated concepts there are, he explains everything without talking down to the audience or making info dumps.

But what really moves the book is its cast of characters. Each one of them has a personal history and a personality that comes though in the novel and we do root for our main cast even the Reagan, the internet troll. Wendig has a lot of experience with internet trolls if you follow him on Twitter, an he surprisingly, does not fully demonize her.

In the end, these five not particularly talented misfits have to combine their moderate skills to save the world. Really, they have to save the world.

The book does tease at sequel at the end that has yet to appear. Invasive which takes place in the same world is not a direct sequel. But what we get is a fun ride with a fun and motley cast of characters.

Recommended