This was my first “hacker” book, although I feel like I should have started these a long time ago considering I work in IT security, and it was also my first book by Chuck Wendig. I’d heard of him and seen his books, but always forgot to look into them, getting distracted with loads of other books to add to my list (it’s probably a real thing – like biblio-ADHD or something). I actually found his blog, started reading it and loved his writing style, so I finally grabbed up his book and read it.
I would describe Chuck’s writing style in this book as quick paced and rough-edged, in a good way. I read it almost like a noir-style novel, where things are happening quickly, and you’re digging your way through the dirt to find out who’s behind the government conspiracy.
The novel starts out with five rough and tumble, too-smart-to-get-caught-until-they-do individuals, who are gathered in by some unnamed government agency and are given an ultimatum: give the agency a year of their lives to work on a project, or go to jail for a long time. They all have questionable paths they know would lead them to prison for years, so they all agree. They’re taken to a compound in the woods, with no access to the outside world, only computers set up for running pen tests against certain companies (pen tests are penetration tests – basically you see if you can infiltrate a company’s network).
At first, things seem to be going alright. They’re tested initially to see if they’re up to snuff, and then they’re given a final project. These five individuals start to figure out that something isn’t right. There’s a connection to all these companies they’re tested on and something more sinister is going on with this compound, and they’re going to do whatever they can, to find out exactly what that is (cue the conspiracy music).
The book, throughout it’s 400 pages keeps you guessing. You can figure there’s something not right and these five heroes, or Zer0es, as they call themselves, are going to figure it out, but what the actual scenario ends up being, left me guessing until the end. It was definitely original and the last 100 pages kept me flipping pages until the end, wanting to know how it ends.
Being someone who actually works in IT security, I’ve already turned paranoid about our ever growing digital world, and the idea that we have to connect everything to the internet, even our refrigerators, so this novel, as unrealistic as it may be, still makes you think about our dependency on the internet and all that is connected.
This is a fun book that I’d definitely recommend, even if you’re not into computers or the IT world. Wendig writes the book to keep you entertained and not bogged down with technical mumbo jumbo.
One last thing. I really liked Wendig’s descriptions of people. Here’s a couple of examples that popped up early in the book that had me chuckling. Right away, on page one, he starts to describe one of the questionable government characters as “…the old cinder block with the caterpillar eyebrows…” or “Derkins looks like the love child of a freight train & bank safe.”
Wendig’s lack of fear for making a main character “unlikable” is also commendable. For instance, one of the protagonists, Reagan, is one of the five Zer0es, and throughout the book, every time she’d open her mouth, I’d find myself saying “shut up Reagan” out loud. She was rude and obnoxious but admittedly very cunning and you knew deep down there was a softer side to her. Each of these five characters are layered with history and depth, and you got to peel through those layers throughout the book which I enjoyed.
I’ll definitely be putting more Wendig books on my list of “to-reads”.