Saturday, 24 September 2016

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld

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People being born in years ending in zero, particularly those years at the end of a century, are popular in superhero origin stories. Well, at least, it's a major part of a couple of characters' backstories in Warren Ellis' Planetary. It happens again here, with a bunch of teenagers born in the year 2000, who all have superpowers. 

How and why they don't know, nor do we know if this is a worldwide phenomenon, or just something that happened in this one city. The other part of their powers that is fairly innovative is that for most of them, their powers grow stronger the more people are around. Of course, as teenagers, they're not exactly adept at negotiating tricky social situations this might cause, nor about knowing what they want to do with their lives.

Zeroes is fairly solid YA, unobjectionable and interesting, if not challenging. Westerfeld's take on superpowers and their association with crowd energy is interesting, and it is explored in intriguing ways. I haven't seen anything quite like this before. The leader of the group (a group on the verge of fragmenting) can talk so he can convince crowds of anything. One of the young women in the group can destroy electronics, and that gets stronger the more of them she is around. Another is blind but can move her consciousness to other people's eyes. Another can't hold on to people's attention, and the more people there, the more likely they are to not remember that he was ever there.

One, however, has a power that works best one on one - an alternate voice that can talk its way out of almost any situation, or, to be more precise, say exactly what needs to be said to achieve what Evan wants. Mostly, it seems to concern having information about people that seems impossible, or implies telepathy. As the book starts, the Zeroes are barely speaking, Evan having lashed out and destroyed each other member's weak spot, leaving them scattered.

And make no mistake, he's a prick in what feels like a convincing teenage manner. Short-sighted, selfish, and his lack of anything resembling long-term consideration means that what he wants the voice to do is always to solve the immediate problem, no matter how many others it creates. That leads him to a point where he's trying to put a bag of drug money in a safety deposit box as the bank gets robs, then gets him detained in custody, then broken out in a flood of mayhem.

What power can do, and its destructive potential, is the thread that holds this book together. Between Evan and Crash, the young black woman who can take down computer systems (and wants to but refrains), we see the flip sides of destructive power and either responsibility or irresponsibility in its use.

Anonymous has the most tragic story, which includes his own family forgetting he exists after he's admitted to the hospital. He starts to be able to create connections again over the course of the book, though not without difficulties.

I feel like Zeroes doesn't remarkably change the game in any way, but it's fun YA, the characters are engaging enough, and the core ideas are explored fairly well. Most of all, it bops along easily. 

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