Zero One by Nicholas Nicolaides is a riveting dystopian novel that hits very close to home. Set during the time of a pandemic, lockdown, and blackout, this story will have you zipping through the pages to find out what happens with this wide-ranging cast of characters and situations. As you read, you can't help but place yourself in their shoes, wondering how you would react and what you would do. This author knows how to carve out memorable characters and predicaments, and then follow through with clever plot points. I appreciate the cynical sense of humor throughout the novel--sometimes that's the most natural response to have. Deadly viruses, drones, and isolation are in full force, and if these things bother you, then that's good. This author has done his job.
Nicolaides has crafted a story that you hope will never happen, and so convincingly that you think it could. His writing is intelligent, thought-provoking, but above all, entertaining. You get the feeling he really enjoys writing for an audience, and you won't be disappointed. In fact, you could very well become an instant fan as this is a whopping debut novel. This book is well-paced if not challenging, but so rewarding if you can keep up with everything going on. As in life, this story is sometimes told in snapshots or snippets, but it all dovetails together in a satisfying way. The focus is more on plot than characterization, but that makes it even more realistic. Sometimes you encounter people in your life that you don't know well, or that you meet for only a brief but intense moment, then life moves on to the next thing. If you like techno-thrillers on a global scale, this one is for you. Don't be surprised if you find out a production company has picked it up for development at some point in the future. Fans of Black Mirror will love Zero One by Nicholas Nicolaides.
Zero One is a dystopian sci-fi novel written by Nicholas Nicolaides. Ali is a precocious ten-year-old who wins multiple gaming competitions that gain him entry to the ultimate virtual reality Game, otherwise only accessible to the few wealthiest elite. When his mother locks him out of the Game, Ali devises a desperate plan. As a plethora of players find themselves hooked on the Game, an unforeseen pandemic spreads throughout the planet, causing panic and mass hysteria. The proliferation of the virus results in nation-wide lockdowns and strict government regulations involving the usage of Intelligent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (IUAV)s by law enforcement agencies, allowing them to use lethal force against anyone breaking lockdown protocols without a permit.
A fascinating thrill ride from start to finish, Zero One perfectly encapsulates the environment of the current COVID-19 pandemic and blends it with a pulsating narrative and sci-fi elements inspired by the likes of I, Robot and 1984. A rich, dense, and unsentimental portrayal of the ramifications of the dependence on unsupervised technology, Nicholas Nicolaides's sci-fi epic feels as ambitious as it seems grounded in reality. There are many characters as Nicholas Nicolaides tells the story seamlessly through a multiple POV narrative and never lets it get bogged down by the number of factions or the sheer scale of the story. I think Zero One is a thrilling page-turner that any sci-fi reader would enjoy.
Reedsy Discovery 5 Stars
Zero One by Nicholas Nicolaides is an exciting and intriguing debut novel that focuses on a virus that is quickly turning the world into chaos. I found this to be a story that I could not put down, and its relevance to the tumultuous times we are living in now was uncanny and mystifying!
This book completely encapsulates the fear and anxiety that permeates the very fabric of society when a virus like this is out of control across the world. And it’s not just fear of the virus itself. In this novel, people that went to the hospital after contracting the illness never came back. Did they die? Were they being experimented on by the government? What is actually going on? Can the media and government be trusted to provide accurate information about the virus? I can’t say too much more about the book itself without spoiling anything but just know that I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time!
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the illustrations. The beginning of each chapter featured a black and white illustration and I found them to be so engaging and eerie at the same time. One of my other favorite aspects of the book was the writing itself. It was completely engrossing. The chapters go back and forth between a variety of different characters and I found myself at the end of each chapter excited to see what would happen next and through which personality I would be experiencing the story. The writing for this novel is absolutely top notch and I loved every second of it.
I think that if you are the kind of person that has been made to feel extremely anxious during the pandemic you may want to stay away from this one. Despite it being science fiction, the parallels that can be drawn from this story to the current pandemic the world is experiencing is massive. So, if you are looking for a fun, escapist, beach read-this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a well written, thoughtful, thrilling, eerie, mysterious book that will keep you on the edge of your seat wanting more than I think you will love it, as I did. Neil Gaiman once said that fiction is a way of coping with the world in a way that helps us to understand it and I certainly think this is the case with Zero One. It certainly helped me put things into perspective and watching the characters experience this through this fictional tale actually made me feel as if I am not alone. I highly recommend this book!
Nicolaides’s timely dystopian tech-noir debut paints a sweeping portrait of a society on the brink. An unnamed virus is bringing devastation around the globe. Law enforcement drones, programmed for public safety, have begun killing people whose elevated temperatures mark them as ill and therefore dangerous. Amid the chaos, the mysterious T.G. management team, whose members are known only by their nationalities, attempts to release the long-awaited next chapter of the VR game called The Game to its fanatical devotees. The Belgian member of T.G. and others are tasked with finding some drones that have gone rogue and learning what happened to them. And ordinary people grieve their losses and struggle to come to terms with the changes in their world.
Readers will be immersed in the setting as they follow a wide variety of characters. Some of them, such as Kimiko Okumura, a young Japanese girl in virus-riddled London, are well crafted; Kimiko’s family tragedy pulls powerfully at the heartstrings. Other characters are lacking that depth, or are only loosely connected to the plot. The Belgian is gratuitously oversexed, and teen gamer Chiaki is a sadly shallow caricature of a child refusing to grow up. As the story shifts from one character and arc to another, momentum frequently stutters, and the abrupt ending leaves many things unresolved.
The novel is overburdened by a staggering amount of detail, but during the times when the narrative is flowing and focused, that detail has the remarkable effect of drawing readers deeply into the story. A fascinating, thought-provoking interplay of various industries and quasifuturistic technologies creates a multidimensional reading experience. The book also has very pleasing aesthetics, with striking illustrations and design elements. Readers looking for a tour of a peculiar future will enjoy falling through Nicolaides’s looking-glass.
Takeaway: This expansive tech-noir novel will reward readers who favor a bird’s-eye view of a dystopian setting and the variety of ordinary lives within it
Great for fans of Charlie Jane Anders’s The City in the Middle of the Night, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.
BookLife Prize - 2020
Plot: A timely tech thriller set during a lockdown during a pandemic, Nicolaides’ debut sets a sprawling international cast loose in a complex, cleverly plotted story concerning the company that has created an immersive VR video game for the superwealthy, and the pressing problem of AI-driven security drones that have decided that infected humans must be killed for the benefit of humanity. The novel surges along, leaping from character to character and thread to thread, tying them all together in surprising ways. Its speed, large cast, short chapters, and detached third-person narration keep the characters remote, and the book's story and perspective shifts often can be hard work to keep up with. At times, the onslaught of ideas and milieus is dazzling, as the author vaults from corporate meetings to crime scenes to gamers at home on their toilet chairs, all with an emphasis on technology and satire. But the occasional chapters written as a samurai epic (without proper nouns for readers to invest in) are more a chore than an atmospheric puzzle.
Prose/Style: Zero One’s wild, twisting plot allows Nicolaides many opportunities to demonstrate an impish wit, and at its best, when it guides readers through its leaps in perspective, the book moves with an off-kilter propulsiveness. In its first third, though, many of the short chapters build to flat endings that don't make clear why the story has followed these particular characters or compellingly connect to the next chapter. The author's satiric impulse at times undercuts the novel's thriller aspects, as when a character takes the time to deliver a monologue about Quentin Tarantino films before cutting off a man's ear. The phrasing often is flat, especially when characters are performing tasks that aren't that interesting, and the book would be better served by a thorough proofreading. The book's relentless attention to breasts, starting in the first chapter, is wearying and dated.
Originality: The situations that Nicolaides crafts, and the solutions to problems that his characters arrive at, are inventive, exciting, and tied to our present moment.
Character Development: Zero One introduces a multitude of characters but takes little time to reveal them to readers or to make them unique and compelling. That means that when the story returns to a character that it left behind a dozen chapters before, readers will have to flip back to recall that character's traits and dilemmas. Many characters, like The Belgian and The Frenchman, don't get real names, which contributes to the feeling that the novel favors archetypes over people. Occasionally, a flash of unique characterization (especially of Okumura and his daughter, or the blind Serguei) suggests a richer, more rewarding approach.
Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
A dystopian novel with impeccable timing, Zero One by Nicholas Nicolaides is a story about a mega-corporation that has created a largely successful virtual reality game that is simply known as The Game. Managed by a group composed of members with diverse nationalities, the corporation boasts that the immersive game caters to the privileged class and that the average earnings for top players of The Game surpass those of top Formula 1 drivers. This makes it a darling for its investors and stakeholders. As it faces the problem of a virus outbreak that threatens to decrease their projected targets, the pressing issues of AI-driven drones come to the forefront, as their intelligent, automated minds quickly identify that humanity is safer if the infected are terminated immediately.
Zero One is a fast-paced novel that science fiction fans can devour in one sitting. Its short chapters give you a glimpse of the lives of the major players in The Game as well as those of its creators. You then get an idea of how their lives are intertwined as VR players, and how they are trying to survive the airborne virus and the drones on a witch hunt for suspected virus carriers. You might find it overwhelming to get invested in multiple characters, as their backstories along with tech ideas and the fusion of real and virtual scenes are a bit challenging to keep up with. But Nicholas Nicolaides masterfully creates a conclusion where everything meets at a certain point. A novel that reads like it is the offspring of 1984 and Ready Player One, Zero One will give you a feel of a possible future that could happen involving a pandemic and virtual reality.