This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Right! We’re running behind schedule! Let’s take a look at Zero-Day, a cyberpunk thriller, Book 1 of The Sommerfeld Experiment series by Al Davidson. Did I not do a book in last year’s SPSFC that was vaguely about the same zero-day weakness thing? Right, this one. Huh, funny old world. Oh well.
So, in this case ‘Zero-Day’ (or possibly ‘Zer0-Day’ with a zero instead of an o) is a futuristic Internet handle and nickname for the main kind-of-antihero protagonist, who is a really quite tall and super good-looking ambidexbrained science experiment animal-hybrid type badass who has lots of sex.
Okay, look. The titular (extremely titular) main character aside, there are actually a lot of really cool ideas in this action-packed cyberpunk romp. Even the mad scientist’s sexy, sexy magnum opus is a great and fun idea for a protagonist, don’t take my cynical mutterings too seriously. The future history is very neat, and the virtual world and its legal separation from the ‘real’ world is fantastic. A little unexplored and underutilised, but I guess this isn’t what Zero-Day was about. The glimpses I got were really intriguing.
What the story was about was Joshua “Zer0-Day”, the only guy who can drive the Maelstrom, a cloaked nanobot delivery drone that can kill people in cool creepy ways and do data stuff, possibly also in cool creepy ways, and is operated by a plugged-in human brain-operator. Or in this case superhuman brain-operator. It takes too much brain to fly it, see, so Josh has to do it and also do sex with hot babes.
For real – aside from Josh’s brief but loving character description, I have no idea what any of the male characters in this story looked like. I’m in no such visual blackout regarding the female characters, because their attributes are all lasciviously tallied up. And their numerous costumes. And the fact that they’re all about as tall as the guys’ chins while wearing high heels. I make fun, but hey, it was entertaining in a cheesy sort of way – and clearly cyberpunk fans get a kick out of it. And who am I to argue with that? I personally found it a bit of a distraction from the story, rather than an enhancement of it. Others may feel differently. Others clearly do.
What’s the point of the story, the main driving point of the plot? I’m not entirely certain – and that’s okay! I know it sounds like a complaint but I actually liked the chaos and … okay, the plot may not have been structured (or unstructured) enough to pull off many intentional twists and surprises, but it still left me guessing. The feds are after Josh and this weapon thing, his old arms trader team turns on him (aside from like one guy who is just sort of arrested and still trying to help him), and he’s running a nightclub and a street gang and like I said the whole virtual side of it is woefully underrepresented although that’s probably good because Ready Player One was kind of awful and we don’t need to go there again.
There felt like there should be a Les-Mis-esque enmity between Farrell and Josh, but … not really? They settled, eventually, into a sort of uneasy alliance or enemy-of-my-enemy sort of thing, but there didn’t seem to be any emerging plot. And like I say, that was a plus to me – the world was chaos and events happened, and Josh did his best to get the job done. Whatever that job might have been. It was all just cool snippets of world-building and set pieces with babes in, which okay, fine … but the ol’ connective tissue seemed a little soggy, you know?
The formatting of the e-book was also pretty bad, just as a heads-up. I’m not sure if it was just the review copy I got, but there were a lot of page numbers and page headers and random breaks scattered through it that made it difficult to read.
In an interesting approach, we get the ‘twist’ right at the start of the book, then we go to “six weeks earlier”. Then most of the story happens, and then at around 85% in Farrell finds out what he (and the readers) found out at the start. That could have been handled more effectively, but I’m not sure how. It was interesting, like I say, but Josh’s identity and genetic makeup and stuff could have been … eh. I guess I didn’t understand the plot value of having it be the 85% antagonist reveal that way. It was fine though.
The Maelstrom was forgotten for quite a while there. Then the story ended.
Right, let’s take a look at the meters!
Joshua totally has the sex. That’s about it. It’s fine. One guiltily-hidden adult magazine underneath a pile of old toys and socks out of a possible actual sex.
There’s some gang executions, some covert ops murders and some neat Maelstrom-related death and destruction. Nothing particularly hair-raising. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
Like I said, there’s some very cool world-building and excellent cyberpunk imagination in this. It was very enjoyable to stumble across, my only complaint is that there could have been more exploration of that stuff. But no, there was negligible WTF to be detected here. It’s a rubber python wearing a hat out of a possible replicant python from Blade Runner with a microscopic serial number etched into its scales.
My Final Verdict
I am clearly not part of the target audience for this book as I’m not a cyberpunk fan as such, and this character-type and subgenre of cyberpunk in particular isn’t for me – but it’s certainly not boring, and like I say it’s very well-received on Amazon and Goodreads so if this is your thing by all means, ignore my grumbling and check this one out! I give it two-and-a-half stars, but I’ll happily round up to three for the sheer scope and creativity of the setting through which Josh drives his cool bike. Sorry.