Buy Link: Amazon
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Rating: 4.5 stars
Note: This review (and cover) are based on the first edition of this book. It has since been re-released with a new cover, but only minor text revisions, so this review should be reflective of the new version as well.
I picked up this book because I adore the Psy-Cops series and I wanted to find other books by this author (BTW, if you haven’t read Psy-Cops, stop reading this now and immediately go get them. And get all of them because once you read one you will need to read the whole series).
Ok, so this book was so good, but totally not what I was expecting or anything like the other series. The tone and the feel of this story is very unique and had a very “epic journey” vibe to it. All right, before I go too far, let’s start at the beginning…
The story opens with Earnest beginning his first day of retirement. He has turned 30 years old, and over the next 30 days he will rapidly age until he is ready to die, at which point he will turn himself in to Reclaim to have his soul “demagnetized” from his body, his reward for his years of hard work. Now that he is down to his last 30 days, he is free from his job as a programmer and can spend his time out in the world a bit. Earnest is incredibly smart and has always been motivated to learn more about history and things around him, primarily from his feeds in his Personal Overland Device (POD) where he discovers a bit about how people used to live before they evolved into homo consummatus.
Earnest’s first stop is the historic part of town where he enters an old style coffee shop. There he meets the shopkeeper, Will, who intrigues him since he talks and acts so differently than Earnest is accustomed (actually he isn’t really accustomed to talking to almost anyone, given that interpersonal interaction in this world is incredibly limited). Will tempts him with his first coffee (taken by injection through his shunt – real drinkable coffee being way too expensive for his limited remaining credits) and lets him look at his books, which fascinate Earnest. He can’t help but be drawn to return to the shop, but is shocked when Will pleads with him to no longer shunt into his POD for his nutrition and daily care. Will reveals that death at 30 and 30 is not a given, and that people’s nutritional cocktails are automatically altered upon retirement to speed the aging process along.
At first Earnest can not even begin to process all of this. He has been raised since his time at the natal center to believe the Diaconate and the process of Reclaim. The idea that this is untrue is almost impossible for him to imagine, especially as he is so dependent upon his POD for all aspects of his life that he can’t fathom separating himself and not shunting in. But eventually Earnest comes to believe Will and takes the risk to break from his planned life and see what more is out there. He becomes even more convinced once he sees first hand what is really going on at Reclaim and how what he has always believed is nothing like it seems.
Even knowing he must separate from his POD, it is not an easy challenge, even for someone incredibly intelligent like Earnest. His life has been unbelievably sheltered. His POD took care of all his physical needs – nutrition, waste removal, proper sleep, etc. His life was rigidly controlled and his exposure to basic skills was nonexistent. Earnest must learn to drink water, eat food by mouth (something that totally repulses him), climb stairs, urinate, etc. It is interesting to imagine how you would teach someone these things when they have never seen or experienced them before (learning to pee is especially challenging and takes him an hour the first time, hee).
The POD also controlled Earnest’s hormones, filtering out almost all of his testosterone as he was not a worker who required strength or aggression. Not only is he a virgin, but he is totally unaware of any elements of sexual contact until Will shows him a porn feed (according to the Diaconate “tongues are for talking”). His first sexual interaction with Will is sort of shocking to him as he doesn’t really understand what is happening to him or his body. He just knows he can’t get enough of Will and that he enjoys it. As things develop between them and his testosterone starts to come back, their romance gets hotter, but the physical side of things is not the primary focus of the story.
The first part of the book was a tiny bit sluggish for me, but I think that is largely my issues with science fiction/alternate world type stories. I need to understand EVERYTHING right away and that is just not always possible (or good storytelling). In fact, I really appreciated that we learn about what is really going on in real time with Ernest, rather than a giant info dump. But I found myself really reading slowly trying to figure out what was happening and get myself oriented. Once the story moves more into the “escape” phase of things it really took off for me. The scenes in the Diaconate were crazy intense and I loved the road trip/camaraderie feel of the second half of the book.
I really loved the secondary characters in the story and they way they form such a close knit bond between them. My favorite is probably Audrey, the POD mod, and her love of old fashioned idioms (“hold your horses”). I also loved the contrast of Earnest and the other C754 model, Abraham, and how it showed that even though they are genetically identical clones, the two men’s life experiences made them very different.
I hope I am doing this story justice because it was really so good. This book is subtitled “A Dystopian Adventure” and it really is an adventure story, almost as much as a romance. And Earnest was such a great character. So smart in so many ways, but also naive in many others. Watching him develop from this meek person who could barely care for himself into someone strong, brave, and confident was amazing. I also loved Will who was so caring and patient, but also tough and solid and someone you know you can count on. The world building was amazing and richly detailed and the way the story develops is so exciting and unexpected. It was a really interesting mix of science fiction and epic journey. I would high recommend Zero Hour.
Cover Review: Gorgeous yes? P.L. Nunn does such beautiful covers. And the guys look just like described, right down to the shunt in the arm.
Also, just a quick note that there are also some illustrations throughout the book of various scenes done by Price. Very cool!