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Literature / Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits

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The third book by David Wong (Jason Pargin) and the first not in his John Dies at the End series.

The book takes place 20 Minutes into the Future and features a young woman named Zoey Ashe, whose Millionaire Playboy father just passed away. Now Zoey, who lived in a trailer park and had nothing to do with her father, is on the run from all sorts of superpowered thugs who want to kidnap her because she is apparently the key to her fathers vault.

A sequel, titled Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, was released on October 13, 2020, with a third book Zoey Is Too Drunk For This Dystopia, releasing October 31, 2023.

Provides examples of:

  • Above the Influence: Armando resists Zoey's advances at first.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: It seems like the sword Wu gives to Armando is one. In reality Armando just uses his Raiden implants for the first time.
  • Abusive Parents: Zoey doesn't have a good record with father figures. Her mom seems genuinely kind, if a bit oblivious.
    • Zoey's biological father knocked up her mom up and vanished, laying eyes on Zoey exactly twice before dying. He then left her an inheritance that served as a lightning rod for every thug and villain Tabula Rasa could scrape together.
    • Zoey has a burn on her shoulder from when one of her stepfathers held her down to an electric stove and turned it on. She still has nightmares about him.
    • Another stepdad found an excuse to barge in on her whenever she was indecent. She makes it clear that it was much about making her uncomfortable as it was about seeing her body.
    • Will mentions that his father used to beat him with a metal chain for offences such as wearing a badly-pressed shirt.
  • Action Girl: Vixxxen seems to be one for the League of Badass.
  • Action Survivor: Zoey doesn't know how to fight. But she's really good at running away, and, failing that, exploiting her enemy's weaknesses to buy herself time.
  • Admiring the Abomination / Distracted by the Sexy: the first thing Zoey does when she sees a video of Molech? Check out his abs.
  • A God Am I: MOLECH specifically says he has the powers of a god and plans to destroy two places of worship to taunt people who believe in gods.
  • The Alcoholic: Will, which Zoey points out on multiple occasions.
    Zoey: I'm making fun of your alcoholism cause it's the only thing I know about you.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed. Zoey's mom is definitely into bad boys, and this has been directly responsible for most of Zoey's childhood trauma. All three of her stepdads were cruel to her, but she still has nightmares about the one who held her to an electric stove and turned it on, leaving her with a distinctive "rainbow scar" on one shoulder; she refuses to wear tank tops to keep it hidden. Additionally, a major plot point is her mom being oblivious to the malice of one of Molech's goons, letting him drive her to an isolated area for the express purpose of getting leverage against Zoey.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Mentioned by Andre in reference to Arthur's hologram that answers the door.
  • The Alleged Car: Zoey starts the book owning an old Toyota with a broken heater that someone (heavily implied to be Echo) can easily hack into and control remotely.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Zoey sustains some very nasty injuries during her final fight with Molech. She ends up needing six hours of surgery and finishes the book bedridden and needing a nurse to help her to the bathroom as she slowly recovers.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Zoey's mother insists on her taking cranberry pills to avoid getting a UTI even though there is a good chance Zoey is going to her death.... and works as a stripper at a Zombie-themed topless bar.
  • Angry White Man: Molech's personality, role and motivation. He does admire black people, but only because he believes slavery made them tougher than white people, which raises questions about his Token Black Friend Scott.
  • Artificial Limbs: Common among the Raiden-enhanced supersoldiers. The serial killer stalking Zoey gives himself an artificial jaw, later.
  • Artistic License – Law: Tabula Rasa has no local government and thus effectively no laws. Why things like torture, mass murder, and sex trafficking are never pursued by Utah state or US federal law enforcement is never explained.
    • In the final scene, it’s speculated by Will that it’s because the city is full of wealthy political donors and that the federal government is not feeling quick to expose to its enemies that most of their weapons are useless in the face of the modern anti-weapon technology that’s available in the city’s black market. However, he also figures that the government can’t remain uninvolved forever.
  • Attack the Mouth: Inverted. Just because you can bite through metal doesn't mean you should, Hyena. He cuts up the insides of his mouth every time he does.
  • Atrocious Alias: The serial killer hunting Zoey constantly renames himself. None of the names are particularly cool or threatening.
  • Author Tract: The novel opens on Zoey being inconvenienced by Stench Machine's reaction to a hologram. From that point on, the novel drives home the point that technology that feeds on humanity's baser instincts—from Blink's glorification of torture to Raiden literally killing people overeager to use it—will always make civilization worse, and trusting in more tech and money to fix those issues is far more likely to cause more problems than answers. Will even gives a "Reason You Suck" Speech about Tabula Rasa as a whole toward the end of the novel lampshading the idea. In real life, Pargin has frequently criticised tech companies whose products have visibly undermined democracy or otherwise made the world worse out of a misguided believe that more money and tech would undo the damage.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: One of Arthur's cars is an old Bugatti that still has an internal combustion engine that is high-powered enough to violate energy laws—Armando points out that driving it around the block would result in a $500 ticket. Exaggerated when Wu winds up driving it and the whole car explodes the first time we see it used.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Three of them in quick succession right in the beginning, where the narrator uses sinister, post-apocalyptic sounding terms to describe Zoey's routine, which are just normal things like the Wendy's drive thru and chili, to establish that this future isn't too far off from now.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Subverted. Tabula Ra$a is completely devoid of government, but nearly every member of the public has a recording device of some kind.
  • Big Eater: Andre seems to be one.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The Suits and their deceased boss Arthur are not good people, having dabbled in sex trafficking, allowing the city to fall into decay while they live like kings and Arthur conceived Zoey with a 16-year-old stripper when he was in his 30s. That being said, they have the potential to make things better under Zoey's management, while Molech's gang are terrorists in the truest sense of the word.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The Hyena.
  • Boring, but Practical: Arthur has a whole garage full of fancy cars. The two vehicles that get the most use are an armored sedan that's ugly but safe and a box truck covered with high definition screens that let it impersonate any vehicle of roughly that shape.
    • Subverted in that the sedan proves instrumental in The Mole kidnapping Zoey.
  • Brick Joke: During the Hyena's viewpoint chapter, he debates whether he wants to be called, "the Hyena," because he seems to remember something about female hyenas having penises and giving birth through them and is concerned that might muddle the meaning of the moniker. The first thing out of Zoe's mouth when she learns she's being chased by a guy calling himself "the Hyena," is, "Does he give birth through his penis?"
  • The Butler Did It: Played for Laughs when Malech's mole turns out to be Gary the gardener, a character described as so unremarkable and forgettable that people who have known him for years have no memory of him and who has not been mentioned by the book at all before The Reveal.
  • Cat Apult: Inverted. Andre's Fire and Ice outfit uses stray cats for armor, knowing that no Blink diva will take a shot at him that requires killing an adorable kitten.
  • The Chessmaster: Will Blackwater but Zoey helps with the grand finale
  • Cool Car: The Bugatti. The mobile command station probably also counts.
    Zoey: Is that an expensive one?
    Armando: This is a 2020 Bugatti Chiron. Fifteen hundred horsepower, widely thought to be the apex of the gasoline-powered automobile. Only thirty of them were manufactured. At top speed it gets three miles to the gallon, which means you could get a five-hundred-dollar ticket just for being caught driving it today."
    Zoey: Looks pretty cool.
    Armando: This, Zoey, is a twenty-million-dollar car.
    Zoey: Oh. Wow. I bet the insurance is outrageous.
  • Corporate Samurai: Wu
  • Covers Always Lie: The book's blurb on Audible references a group called "The Men in Fancy Suits," and describes a city full of superheroes, painting a picture closer to something along the lines of Soon I Will Be Invincible than the sarcastic Cyberpunk novel it is.
  • Crimefighting with Cash: The origin of the Raiden tech, or at least the reason why Arthur picked up where the military left off. Unfortunately, the technology gets stolen by people who would rather become supervillains instead.
  • Cyberpunk: The novel features cybernetic implants that impart superhuman abilities, constant surveillance, and a casual disregard for human life, all on the backdrop of an Anarcho-Capitalist Wretched Hive.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's a David Wong novel so every single character, hero, villain, and even the narrator counts, but special mention goes to protagonist Zoey, who can't go a single page without a sarcastic one-liner.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Echo starts the book condescending and rude to Zoey, but after seeing that she's both overwhelmed and very capable, she starts warming up to her.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Arthur and the Suits have done a lot of bad things, and the narrative does not let you forget it.
    • Zoey's and Arthur's ages (22 and 58, respectively) are revealed early on. Zoey's mother's age isn't revealed until more than halfway through: 38. Meaning Arthur knocked her up when he was 36 and she was 16.
  • Disgusting Public Toilet: Mentioned twice by Echo, first the bathroom in the mold room, second the public bathrooms at Arthur's memorial. It's possible that Echo is just a bit of a germaphobe.
  • The Ditz: Zoey's mother is genuinely kind but doesn't have a lick of sense.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Will gives Zoey a talk about the history of Tabula Rasa and the principles behind it that is essentially a "Reason You Suck" Speech for the whole city. He gives special attention to Arthur's belief that enough money and technology can solve all of the city's social ills, and how naive an idea that turned out to be. In real life, Pargin has frequently criticised tech billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg for espousing the same view while their products visibly make the world worse.
  • Evil Gloating: Played with when the Hyena catches up to Zoey in Livingston's mansion. He tries. But Zoey's not having it, and shouts over him until he gives up and charges her.
  • Expy: Will Blackwater's personality and appearance seems more than a little influenced by Don Draper.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: Molech and his goons hate anyone who isn't superhuman.
  • Foreshadowing: Everyone in Blink's obsessive need to tape everything, and the Hyena's specific need to kill Zoey for an audience after dramatically monologuing (to the point that Armando has time to shoot him while he's trying to get his camera back), foreshadow Molech's biggest weakness: He's a diva.
    • The novel opens on Zoey trying to get Stench Machine down from the roof because he's terrified of a hologram on the lawn. At the climax, Stench Machine's reaction to a holographic Arthur Livingston gives away the ruse.
    • Early on Armando sarcastically jokes that he doubts any of the landscapers or custodians are especially hungry for revenge, unbeknownst to him, at least one of them is...
  • Forgettable Character: Gary the Gardener
  • Friend to All Living Things: Wu. At one point Zoey asks where he is, and is told that he found a spider; he gently took the spider and brought it outside.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Zoey bemoans the fact that she is going to die in Underwear that say 'Shark Week' across the butt.
  • Guile Hero: Will Blackwater is heavy on the guile and light on the hero.
  • Hate Sink: Molech. The guy embodies all the traits of fratbros, MRAs, popular jocks and trust fund manboys, culminating in an entity that's just begging for a punch.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Before his death Arthur was growing to regret the way he made his money, turning to religion and buying the Raiden tech with the intent of making a superhero out of Armando to assuage his conscience. He gets blown to smithereens before he can actually enact his plan.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Zoey has a soliloquy about this towards the end of the novel, tying all of the villains (including her terrifying stepfather and a childhood bully) together under a desire to "feed the monster" with acts of cruelty. She realizes that this is Molech's "juice."
  • Infinite Supplies: The Suits never run out of assets; Zoey even lampshades that a changed plan leaves a brand new car worth about a hundred-thousand dollars parked in the garage, unused. To be fair, Arthur was a billionaire and Livingston Enterprises was richer still, and the difference between a billion dollars and infinite dollars is smaller than it seems.
    • A special mention is the caterpillar, which is able to fabricate complex gadgets made of all sorts of exotic materials without needing reloaded.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Parodied and Played With, twice actually: Wu is ethnically Chinese and was born in California, but plays into Japanese Samurai tropes, seemingly because he thinks it's just cooler, and Echo is assumed to be a genius Chinese computer hacker for the entire book, until she reveals near the end that most of her computer skills are just common sense and she's actually Filipino.
  • Kick the Dog: Just in case you were starting to think that Arthur was a loveable rogue, part of his backstory goes into how he met Will, Budd, and Andre. It involves him sex trafficking underage refugees out of a war zone, then sending one specific teenage girl back to the father that she chose a life of sexual slavery over. The flashback ends with the statement that a dead woman in her early twenties appearing in front of Livingston Tower isn't a particularly unique event.
  • Killed Off for Real: Armando is killed by Molech's goons about halfway through the novel and it sticks.
    • Lampshaded in the second book: in the Afterword, the author addresses people who read it not realizing it was a sequel and tells them that reading the first book will be like a prequel, but warns them not to get attached to any characters that didn't appear in the book they just finished.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Despite her lack of refinement, Zoey is the only character who maintains a sense of compassion for the sake of compassion. In the event of her death, she repeatedly tells the suits to find her cat Stench Machine a good home.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Candi, the stripper hologram at the Livingston Estate.
  • The Man Behind the Man: At the end, Zoey and Will discuss the possibility that an unknown person was most likely using Molech as a frontman as Molech clearly wasn't intelligent enough to have been doing everything on his own. Thus setting up a Sequel Hook.
  • Matter Replicator: The caterpillar seems to be able to make anything with a schematic. This includes magnets and complex electronics. Oh, and it can do this from schematics written in an incomprehensible pidgin programming language cobbled together by two now-dead engineers.
  • The Mole: Gary the Gardener, who, hilariously, had never been described or had any lines until the reveal and had only been mentioned offhandedly in one or two scenes as a background detail. Will notes that his being completely uninteresting was what made him so good at sabotaging the team.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Arthur Livingston.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Molech's henchmen are fanatically loyal to him, doing such things as surgically installing implants that are known to fail catastrophically and prioritizing firing on Molech's enemies over preserving their own lives. Molech insists their dedication is not to him but to "the juice," a sort of chauvinist-supremacist ideology.
  • Never Suicide: Zoey still has nightmares of Jezza, the stepfather who left her with a burn scar from holding her down to an electric stove a decade earlier. He conveniently commits suicide in his prison cell during the events of the novel, shortly after she had mentioned the experience to someone else. Zoey's gut makes her think it wasn't suicide, and a brief conversation with Will reinforces her feelings.
  • New Media Are Evil: The plot is predicated on a near-future platform called Blink where millions of people stream their lives through smart glasses or small cameras. The plot specifically relies on Blink hosting content that includes torture and murder. For comparison, YouTube and Twitch struggle with issues like profanity and exposed nipples.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Armando. After getting the gold update for his implants, he goes into Molech's base alone. While he initially looks like a One-Man Army, he is eventually killed by a stray bullet to the throat. Molech's tech expert is able to download the gold from Armando's dead body, making him and his men virtually unstoppable.
  • Notice This: In-universe, miniature cameras are required to have a visible blue light while recording so that those the camera is pointed at are aware they're being broadcast. This light clues Zoey in to a camera existing a couple of times over the course of the novel.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Will's badass nickname, "the Magician", came about when he made the mistake of fiddling with his stress coin in front of a camera. He hates it.
    Will: I get caught once on camera doing the one coin trick I know...
    • The Suits are also frankly gleeful about reminding him of the time he tripped while demonstrating a fake superweapon and got them all thrown in a war prison and nearly executed.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: It's pointed out several times that "Will Blackwater" is clearly an alias, but his real name is never given.
    • To a lesser degree, Echo and Molech have their real names stated once or twice in the novel and are otherwise referred to by their nicknames.
  • Only Sane Man: Black Scott is one for Molech's group. He didn't choose that nickname.
  • Optional Traffic Laws: There's more than one car chase in the novel, one of which is outside Tabula Rasa's lawlessness. Deconstructed by Will, who talks about how his wife was killed in a car chase that she was uninvolved in, up until one of the cars hit her.
  • Parental Abandonment: Zoey only saw her dad twice. Then the plot started...
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Molech enjoys threatening Zoey with gang-rape when he's not making fun of her weight. His views on black people also make his henchmen cringe a few times.
    • Arthur Livingston might also count. Part of his backstory explicitly involves sex trafficking of refugees that Arthur knows for a fact are underage.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: The Raiden tech implants were stolen with only the Alpha software in them, before the final "Gold" software was uploaded. Thus, each use of the implants carries a serious risk of malfunction, which usually causes the subject to explode.
  • Posthumous Character: Arthur Livingston died a few days before the opening of the novel, but his life and choices shape the entire plot.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Molech, in a nutshell. Cut his dialogue that isn't vulgar threats, assertions of his superiority, or ramblings about "the juice," and he has very little to say.
  • Really Gets Around: Seems to run in the Livingston family.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Molech is fond of delivering these when someone tries to negotiate with him, insisting that he doesn't negotiate; he is the strong, and he takes from the weak, and they have no say in it.
    • Will also delivers one to Zoey about the history and current state of Tabula Rasa toward the end of the novel.
  • Red Baron: All of The Suits have earned unique badass titles: Budd is "The Regulator," Andre is "Black Mountain," Echo is known more by her nickname than her real name (Michelle) and Will is "The Magician." Zoey discovers she's earned one of these herself: Cat Boobs.
    • Parodied with "The Jackal/Hyena/Lion/Piranha" who can't settle on a good alias and ends up constantly changing it, at one point going with "The Bite-Master" when rushed.
  • Red Herring: Once Molech slips that there's a mole among the suits, the book takes pains to point out suspicious behavior among pretty much every member. Echo is the newest member of the group, Will describes a manipulation tactic that perfectly matches a stunt Budd and Andre pulled, and Wu disappears to get rid of a spider right before an important meeting. Once it's revealed that it was Gary the Gardener the entire time, all of these become obvious red herrings.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Molech's mole lets him into the Livingston Estate and is then immediately punched into a fine red mist.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Stench Machine. Andre uses a whole bunch as part of the plan to thwart Molech.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Wong talks about a gun being equipped with "Tactical sites" instead of "sights" and Zoey mentions "dying" her hair, among others (the first edition is riddled throughout with copy errors).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Basically the reason that Tabula Rasa exists.
  • Sex Slave: Arthur Livingston trafficked women from the Orient into America in exchange for their "services".
  • Shout-Out: Shoutouts occur to Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Ring.
    • The plot itself is either a Shout-Out or Whole-Plot Reference to Fallout: New Vegas, with Arthur's lucky coin and the Platinum Chip both being small, round objects hiding that they carry software updates for superweapons currently being held back by buggy drivers.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Lampshaded—Zoey gets grabbed on the upper arm so much she has bruises, and the bruises hurt when she gets grabbed there yet again!
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: One of the many names the Jackal considers is "The Hyena", but he rethinks when he remembers that female hyenas have penises (which is kind of true) and worries that people might think he has weird genitals. Just a few pages later when Will mentions him by that name Zoey's first thought is to wonder if he can give birth through his penis.
  • Teeny Weenie: Zoey and the suits erect a skyscraper in the shape of Molech, complete with micro-dick.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's not specified when the story takes place, but Jaden Smith is a major movie star.
  • Twisted Christmas: The book takes place in the days leading up until Christmas, with holiday decorations everywhere amid the carnage.
  • Sex Signals Death: Armando gets himself shot shortly after giving in and sleeping with Zoey.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Zoey's mother works as a topless waitress.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Zoey's mother is broadcast across the entire city as a way of freaking Zoey out.
  • Skyscraper City: Tabula Ra$a. Even the homeless live in a building that's at least 20 stories tall.
  • Technology Marches On: Just starting to leak in. The all-electric, self-driving cars in the novel are said to have become mainstream starting in 2020. Additionally, the augmented reality glasses that are ubiquitous in the setting seemed like the next technological innovation when the book was being written, but never took off in the real world.
  • Undying Loyalty: Armando is killed by one of Molech's henchmen still firing on him while falling to his death. The goon had more concern for following Molech's orders than his own imminent death.
  • The Unfettered: Molech positively delights in dispensing with any form of civility, preferring to take what he wants by force and to let his victims know that's exactly what he's doing. Threats of graphic violence and sexual assault make up perhaps a quarter of his dialogue.
  • Vice City / Wretched Hive: Tabula Rasa is a place where Social Darwinism is the only law and the death of any random citizen is just good entertainment. Frank Miller would love it.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Molech and his henchmen are all buff and shirtless at all times, even though the novel takes place in December.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When Molech's men are getting killed off, we hear Black Scott try a Face–Heel Turn, but it's never made clear if he got away.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Arthur bought some absurd gadgets and environments for Livingstone Manor, including a room with a bed in the middle of a pool, a ballroom with entirely edible furniture, and having the mansion itself imported from across the country brick by brick. The Suits add to the roster with things like sculpted casino facade, Andre's Fire and Ice outfit (including magnetic cat armor), and the caterpillar fabricator.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Molech's mole survives meeting his employer for about sixty seconds.