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Going Zero


Going Zero

In his latest novel, GOING ZERO, Anthony McCarten goes to great lengths to scare the dickens out of us by exploring the issue of privacy --- and the fact that any notion that it still exists is archaic --- in this brave new world of technology that surrounds us almost everywhere we go.

Billionaire tech mogul Cy Baxter has a brilliant idea for the future. His technology will enable the law enforcement agencies of our country to stop crime almost before it happens. The only downside? In order for it to work, the government --- in concert with his tech company, Fusion --- will be able to monitor virtually our every move, every conversation, every action.

To prove how all-encompassing and successful Cy’s program is, Fusion enlists 10 people who must disappear for 30 days. If they cannot be found by Fusion in that time, they will win three million dollars. But he’s positive there will be no winners --- except his company. His program is that good. And his win, should he prove successful, is worth 90 billion dollars to him and Fusion.

Enter Kaitlyn Day. She's a librarian and one of the 10 people who will be given a two-hour head start to disappear before Fusion starts tracking them all down. She's a nobody, with an unimportant job and a small apartment. She should be easy to grab, right? So what happens when she outlasts all the other contestants?

"This thrilling and compelling book effectively highlights the fact that privacy --- the word and the concept --- is disappearing daily from our lives."

The novel works incredibly effectively on many levels. There is the interplay between Cy, his partner and longtime girlfriend Erika Coogan, and their team. There are the representatives from the CIA, the government agency they are partnering with for this enterprise, should it prove successful. And then there is Kaitlyn Day.

You just have to root for a librarian. Even if there are things we don't know about her and that remain a mystery for over two-thirds of the book, she’s an unassuming librarian with a quiet, book-filled life. We do wonder about her, though. McCarten provides clues that there is more to her than we might think. Who is this guy Warren she keeps talking to? What motivated her to enter this contest? How does she know how to evade pursuit so effectively? And perhaps most perplexing, why does she show her face at the very start of the contest instead of hiding it?

The methods of locating the contestants are almost unbelievable to us lay people. When we realize how they work, they are, indeed, frightening. Fusion's proprietary software can recognize people not only from CCTV and their gaits, but also from their cell phones, their use of social media, their car's software, and more. There is even the (real) ability to use the camera and microphones on smart TVs and other electronics to spy on people and locate them. There are literally few places in America to hide in this modern world of 5G cell service and security cameras on every street corner. Yet this librarian is somehow managing to avoid being found.

The story changes direction in the last half of the book, and we soon realize that more is at stake than just a contest, even more than the $90 billion prize. And for the woman trying to outfox Cy, there is a lot more at stake than just the three million dollars she stands to win. Furthermore, we come to realize that some puzzling actions she took at the start of the contest do make sense now that we know more.

McCarten does what good authors do --- he shows us that the characters we think we know at the start of the novel are not really who we believe them to be. Appearances are deceiving, and his deception is superbly conceived and executed. He displays an incredible ability to throw curveballs and knuckleballs at the reader, yet he makes sure that the entire plot, including those tricky pitches, make perfect logical sense once the twists are revealed.

McCarten also educates us, and by the end, there is no question about whom we are rooting for. And as many novels demonstrate the power and control that social media and AI technology have over every aspect of our lives and our privacy --- or lack thereof --- we will think twice about what we post when we sign into Facebook or Instagram. Who is watching our feed, where is that information going, and how will it be used against us? And why, when we search on Google for a product, do similar items show up on our social media feeds?

As we learn, data about people is extremely valuable, and we often blithely give it away without a second thought. However, keeping information private and staying off the grid seem almost impossible according to those attempting to do that in this gripping, unique and fascinating read. Once we start learning the truths that are concealed at the start of the story, the real game begins, with those in power seemingly having all the control. But even the mouse can escape from the cat. And the powerful ending leaves us appreciating all the mice who manage to do so.

This thrilling and compelling book effectively highlights the fact that privacy --- the word and the concept --- is disappearing daily from our lives. If the government of a given country wishes to know every aspect of an individual's life, it has or will soon have the power to do so. And though we are all aware of the potential disappearance of privacy, the problem is rarely, if ever, a headline maker. It often seems that we just don't care. And there goes democracy.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on April 28, 2023

Going Zero
by Anthony McCarten

  • Publication Date: April 9, 2024
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0063227061
  • ISBN-13: 9780063227064