I first heard about Zeroes when I signed up for Goodreads earlier this year. The most surprising thing about that sentence is that I didn’t already have a Goodreads account. The book showed up on my suggested reads list, and I bought it a couple of months ago and didn’t read it until this week, which is my normal book reading behaviour right now. Zeroes is a collaboration from three Sydney-based authors, Scott Westerfeld (who is also a New Yorker, and is married to Justine Larbalestier who hails from Sydney), Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. I’m always fascinated by collaborative books, because aside from having an editor and an agent, writing a novel – at least before you manage to sell it – seems like such a solitary process.
Zeroes is about a group of teenagers in a small town in California who simply put, have superpowers, but it’s much more complicated than that. We all know the Spider-Man mantra, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”, but in Zeroes, the great power isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Yes there’s the burden of doing the right thing, but how do you learn to control your power? One of the Zeroes (that’s what they call themselves) Ethan, aka Scam, learned that the hard way, when he let his other voice take over and insult all his friends. The six Zeroes, all with differing powers that I’m not going to go through, all have things they’d rather were kept secret, and somehow The Voice knows their greatest secrets, even though Ethan doesn’t.
The best thing about Zeroes is that it’s not a superhero story. Yes, it’s a story about people who have powers, but the stakes are small, which is what makes it work. Listening to the first of many Talking TV podcasts with this week, Mo Ryan said that the conflict in Jessica Jones meant more than in The Avengers, because the stakes were personal. Our story begins when Ethan gets himself into trouble, and Kelsie, another teenager with powers happens to be in the same location and sees her dad getting into trouble. Kelsie doesn’t know about the rest of the group yet, and they don’t figure her out for a while either. In the process of a crime being committed, Ethan gets himself using The Voice on camera, and he’s arrested by the police.
The gang gets back together when Ethan calls Nate, whose codename is Bellweather, but everyone calls him ‘Glorious Leader’ behind his back. It’s my opinion at this point that Nate is the true villain of the piece, but we haven’t gotten far enough in this story to know whether or not that’s true just yet. Thibault, Riley and Chizara all assist in getting Ethan out of his precarious circumstances, but Ethan has managed to get himself in a lot of trouble in a mere four hours. The rest of the novel is about the gang getting (back, except for Kelsie) together, all working towards a common goal where the stakes are low on the whole ‘saving the world’ front, but high for both Kelsie and Ethan. This isn’t the origin story for these people, and the only person who is new to the group is Kelsie, so it’s not an Avengers type situation.
Thinking about it some more, Zeroes most closely resembles Westerfeld’s lesser-known (than Uglies) Midnighters trilogy, which I highly recommend. Or Isobelle Carmody’s The Gathering. It’s not a perfect novel – the first in a series always has some groundwork to do, but it’s a great collaboration between three authors, and I’m really excited to read more.