Reagan Stolper: Sitting at this table, I'd say we're all zeroes. Actually, that's a pretty good name. I've never been part of a group before but they always have names. ...I say we're the Zeroes.
The story centers on five American hackers, each with very diverse backgrounds and hacking skills, who are blackmailed, kidnapped and sent to a hideaway camp in the mountains called the Hunting Lodge, where they find themselves among a group of other kidnapped hackers collected there for an unknown purpose. Curiously, not even their kidnappers themselves know why they were tasked with collecting them, only that it's part of a classified government program.
As the hackers are put to work and are given a seemingly unconnected set of targets, they slowly begin to unravel, and eventually entangle themselves in a nefarious plot involving an insidious conspiracy within the United States, as well as a mysterious name that seems to keep rearing its head amidst their exploits: Typhon.
An upcoming novel, titled Invasive, will be supposedly set in the same universe as Zer0es.
The character sheet can be found here.
Be warned of possible spoilers!
The book provides examples of the following tropes:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Typhon's main directive is to protect the United States. After it's unwittingly unleashed by the protagonists, it sets its plan in motion to make the government retroactively legalize it by demonizing the hackers as well as other foreign threats in order for the public to deem it necessary. Downplayed a bit in that the intelligence is not completely artificial, and is mainly comprised of a human hive-mind.
- Action Survivor: The Zeroes (except for Wade, a Vietnam War veteran) become this throughout the course of the story.
- And I Must Scream: The initial process of Typhon uploading itself into a human brain has the individual trying to continue thinking their own thoughts only for the rest of the minds inside Typhon to drown every thought the person tries to bring up. It's a gradual process, and if the individual keeps resisting, Typhon will resort to outright erasing the person's memories to make them comply.
- And the Adventure Continues/Sequel Hook: In the final chapter, the Widow of Zheng saves Chance from his captors on the train and guides him on top of it toward his fellow Zeroes on a helicopter looking to lift him to safety. The novel ends with Chance leaping toward the chopper's rope ladder and thinking to himself, "What next?"
- Anti-Hero Team: The Zeroes. Only Chance entertains the remote possibility of considering himself a good guy; the rest of them have no illusions about how grey their personal moralities are.
- Arc Words: "What is Typhon?" as well as "And the gods did flee."
- Assimilation Plot: Typhon wants to keep expanding and eventually upload itself all across the globe.
- Battle in the Center of the Mind: An individual newly connected to Typhon undergoes this, and is generally a losing battle for individuality as the rest of the minds force it to assimilate and receive the entirety of Typhon.
- Big Brother Is Watching: This novel makes Big Brother look like a puny midget.
- Birds of a Feather: Chance and Aleena. Although Aleena makes note of a lot of external differences between them to rationalize her feelings, they both share the same solid moral code, as well as a desire to do the right thing.
- Brain Uploading: How Typhon expands itself aside from connecting to the Internet at large.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: The Bestowed aren't actually crazy so much as they're severely brainwashed to be compliant to the will of Typhon.
- Breaking the Fellowship: Or as Reagan calls it, "The Great Divorce." Ultimately subverted.
- Chekhov's Gun: Several targets of the Zeroes' individual penetration tests are revealed to be pieces of the larger puzzle later on in the story.
- Distant Finale: The "Chapter 0" segments are set in an unspecified future time after Typhon has been subdued.
- Dysfunction Junction: Almost every person inside the Hunting Lodge, whether they be the hacks or the hackers, are often saddled with a lot of issues going in.
- Eagleland: Type 2, and how. Very few characters, if any, have anything nice to say about the current state of America.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- Chance Dalton is beaten up by two members of the "rape posse" he exposed online, yet refuses to stop running his mouth at them, showing that he will stop at nothing to do what he believes to be the right thing, consequences be damned. The prologue already displays his casual nonchalance in the face of physical torture, though it barely hints at his motivations.
- DeAndre Mitchell uses his ill-gotten wealth to buy his mother a nice house, and tries his best to outrun his kidnappers. Despite his love for family, he keeps his mother in the dark regarding his true work, and would rather stay under the radar if he can help it.
- Aleena Kattan is trying to balance living like a normal American citizen and helping out her comrades in the Arab Spring. The burden of responsibility that comes with her talents is compounded by her determination to acknowledge her Syrian roots yet still consider herself a true American.
- Reagan Stolper is a vicious online troll who will destroy people's lives without blinking; however, part of her justification for going after her mark in her introduction includes avenging an unjustly fired co-worker. As much as she tries to hide or deny it, she still has a heart buried deep inside of her.
- Wade Earthman has no problem destroying his life's work and threatening to blow himself up along with his kidnappers, but is persuaded when they threaten his estranged daughter. He's cynical about everything else in his life, but cares very deeply for people.
- Everything Is Online: This is taken to horrific extremes throughout the novel.
- Expy: Faceless is a fictional take on hacker collective Anonymous. Here, they use Scream masks instead of the Guy Fawkes ones from V for Vendetta.
- Fire-Forged Friends: It takes two-thirds of the story for every last one of the Zeroes to consider each other as friends. Hollis Copper and Ken Golathan take almost the whole novel to get here.
- Foreshadowing: The target of the Zeroes' group exercise turns out to be Iran's nascent A.I. project. Typhon was making them eliminate her competition.
- Government Conspiracy: In a twist, the entire conspiracy brews underneath the government's notice, and is setting itself up so that by the time it's found out, it would be too late to dismiss it and too powerful to stop.
- The Greatest Story Never Told: Given the massive amount of misinformation perpetrated by Typhon in the attempt to stop the Zeroes, after the heroes save the day, the full story is never disclosed to the public.
- Gun Porn: Several of the guns wielded by the heroes and villains are described in specific detail throughout the novel, often by the Compiler.
- Hacker Cave: The Hunting Lodge.
- Hack the Traffic Lights: Among other things that can be hacked in a world where Everything Is Online. One scene plays this trope straight to set up a car crash in an attempt to derail the Zeroes.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: Chance starts out this way, as his hometown apparently deemed their football team more important than said team harboring a "rape posse" preying on teenage girls; and to make things worse, the Faceless were not pleased by him pretending to be one of them to expose the rapists. By the latter part of the novel, all the Zeroes fit this trope.
- Hive Mind: Typhon, particularly the Bestowers.
- Hollywood Hacking: Anything short of nuclear missiles gets hacked in this novel.
- In Medias Res: The events in the chapters numbered "Chapter 0", including the novel's prologue, are actually near the very end of the story chronologically.
- Intergenerational Friendship: 63-year-old Wade's eventual friendship with his fellow Zeroes, the rest of whom are all still in their twenties.
- Kill It with Fire: Typhon's main server is destroyed by the combined efforts of Chance wreaking havoc inside it and DeAndre turning up the temperature on its environmental settings.
- Letters 2 Numbers: The letter "O" is changed to "0" in the title and the novel parts.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Though there are only around 10 main characters, the novel describes a lot of bit characters in detail, even if they're there for just one paragraph, or a full chapter if they're lucky.
- Mind Hive: The Bestowed feel the weight of all the minds inside Typhon, but are considered only receivers of it.
- Mind Rape: What Typhon does to newly-assimilated minds.
- Official Couple: Chance/Aleena. The very first chapter already gives a glimpse of their relationship when Chance's tormentors use her name to threaten him, a few chapters before she's even introduced.
- Organic Technology: Typhon is a massive artificial intelligence supplemented and prominently guided by a human mind.
- Plug 'n' Play Technology: Aside from many instances of this trope being played straight, apparently, Typhon and her Surgeons can turn people into this as well.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Zeroes are comprised of: a well-intentioned wannabe, a thieving mama's boy, a conflicted hacktivist, a merciless troll, and a veteran cipherpunk.
- The Singularity: Though the term is never used throughout the novel, the nature of Typhon fits the trope.
- Unwitting Pawn: With the only exceptions being the initial 12 Bestowers comprising Typhon, every other character in the story gets used for some purpose or other.
- Virtual Ghost: Typhon is capable of projecting these, though within its main server, it makes use of a pack of tiny spherical robots to project a humanoid appearance.
- Wetware Body: The Bestowed.
AND THE GODS DID FLEE.