In the tradition of some of science fiction’s finest works, ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME, the debut novel of Peter Samet (@petersamet), weaves serious themes into a fast-paced and enjoyable techno-thriller.
Set in 2045, the story contains multiple arcs but just one protagonist: Charlotte “Charlie” Nobunaga. Not yet twenty, Charlie is a genius who created the world’s first sentient artificial intelligence, her faithful companion Alan. Alan was an ordinary Shadow — think of iPhone’s Siri but much more powerful and interconnected with its host through implanted smart cells; oh, and a full-sized holographic avatar — but now he’s a highly sought after piece of technology in a world that is one potential future of our own.
When Charlie becomes critically ill with the same type of cancer that killed her mother and twin sister, her estranged father enters into a devil’s bargain with Jude Adler, the chief executive of the Rivir Corporation — think Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon rolled into one — and the woman who invented the Shadow. In return for Alan, Adler promises to keep Charlie “alive” by transferring her consciousness into a robot called Charlie PRIME. Once the procedure is complete, the original cancer-stricken Charlie, termed ZERO, will be euthanized.
But Jude Adler wasn’t being completely honest in her dealings and in due course two more Charlies will emerge: ECHO, a sort of evolutionary and warfare simulation; and SHADOW, the first of a planned new line of improved versions of the holographs. Opposing Adler and Rivir is the Sapien Movement, a radical group opposed to technology that replaces what makes humans human.
After a thrilling opening chapter and establishing who the players are, the narrative shifts between the different versions of Charlie, a decision that in lesser hands could have created a confusing muddle. To his credit Mr. Samet does a great job keeping the reader enthralled and he occasionally sprinkles in cross-references to what the “off-screen” Charlies are up to, allowing the story to advance naturally and at a good clip.
The characters in ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME are refreshingly complex, one may even say “human” in their behavior. Just exactly what it is that makes us human is a fairly heavy question the author doesn’t dwell on, but doesn’t shy away from either. There are also plenty of hints that the great, tech-heavy future ahead of us tends to encourage authoritarianism, with those in charge using that technology to better control a populace too often content to play with their toys. For a reader inclined to do so, there is much to ponder.
I greatly enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to more from Mr. Samet. For those interested in learning more about his writing, visit his website.