“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” ― Mark Twain
Title: Zero Hour
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Ernest just turned thirty. It’s time for retirement, freedom from the tedious drudgery of his job as a data clerk. Time to explore parts of the city he’s never seen before, and hopefully meet some actual people. And at the end of the month? Time to die.
Will runs the counter at the historic coffee shop, and when he talks, he sounds just like an old-time data feed. Tongues are for talking, and Will’s got plenty to say. He’s nothing like anyone Ernest has ever met—though unfortunately that’s not saying much, since most of Ernest’s interaction to date has been with his artificial intelligence, L0U15E.
Ernest wants to believe Will’s radical notions, but what if Will is just working some angle to take advantage of him? Although he’s old enough to qualify for the senior discount at the VR Palace, Ernest finds his interactions with Will leave him feeling painfully naive.
Review: Ernest lives in a time and place where being human means being something more like drone than man, which is one of the things that makes this Jordan Castillo Price dystopian adventure hit a little too close to possibility. After all, who doesn’t have a love affair with the technology that makes our lives simpler and comes close to doing all of our thinking for us?
Zero Hour is set in a time when a clone’s best friend is his artificial life form—or so he thinks. It’s a place where coming into being means being created in a lab, and being born means leaving one’s POD at the age of thirty, then having exactly thirty days to enjoy this new life, something Ernest tries to do very much in earnest before death claims him and his soul is demagnetized. Ernest lives in an age when a man learns by watching old-time video feeds what it used to mean to be us before evolution made him homo consummatus, a breed of man that doesn’t need to swallow food or drink to survive, a breed which has been brainwashed into believing that once they reach their third decade, the count backward from thirty days brings them each one step closer to their natural demise.
Indoctrination presents itself as the truth that keeps people in line, keeps them from questioning but which is merely propaganda used to control the population in a future where those who’ve discovered the fiction in the facts are considered heretics and are marked for death. Ernest has bought into that fiction in every way; he’s had no reason not to. Ernest is so utterly naïve in his trust of the Deaconists, those who make the rules and manipulate society, that it’s both terrifying and frustrating to experience his resignation toward his own death, even when Will, the man Ernest meets in a coffee shop and who peaks his curiosity, begins planting the first seeds of doubt in Ernest’s mind. He truly is an innocent and is altogether childlike when he leaves his POD, Lou15e, for the first time. Louise is the only companion he’s ever had in all of his thirty years, so when technology eventually betrays him, watching Ernest struggle through that betrayal made him all the more endearing, especially as he learns to trust in himself.
Will is Ernest’s awakening in every way, from teaching him how to drink and eat, to teaching him about the simple pleasures of touching and kissing and sex, to helping Ernest find the hope that his feelings for Will are worth fighting and living for. Zero Hour isn’t a genre romance, in the strictest sense, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a love story here. There is, and I found myself falling in love with both Ernest and Will as they fought against all the seemingly insurmountable odds against them being together.
Jordan Castillo Price, in her own uniquely enticing way, has created a dark world where humanity has been bred out of humans and technology has become the replacement for human interaction, until people are little more than cogs in a greater machination where aging has no value to society. Zero Hour has a great sci-fi plot, rich and layered world building, supporting characters who were all important to the overall success of the storyline, and plenty of danger and suspense thrown in to keep the action flowing from one chapter to the next. This book is a bit different than others I’ve read from JCP, but I loved and recommend it just the same.
You can buy Zero Hour here: