/ Cory Doctorow / 4 pm Tue, Sep 29 2015
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  • Zeroes: it sucks to be a teen, even with powers

    Zeroes: it sucks to be a teen, even with powers

    Scott Westerfeld's YA canon is huge and varied, from the Uglies books to the excellent vampire parasitology book Peeps to the dieselpunk Clankers trilogy, and the new one, Zeroes, breaks new ground still: it's a collaboration with Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti about teens with powers.

    The Zeroes' powers aren't quite the sort we're used to seeing in, say, X-Men or Teen Titans. These kids -- all born in the year 2000, and maybe it was something about all those zeroes that made the difference? -- have powers that revolve around the attention, affection, and influence of other people.

    There's Flicker, born blind, but able to see through other peoples' eyes.

    There's Crash, an electrosensitive whose agony in the presence of electronic equipment presents a nearly irresistible temptation to lash out with her power to short them out, fuse them, render them inoperable forever.

    There's Scam, who has a Voice that speaks whatever words will get him what he wants -- even things he couldn't possible know and often promptly forgets (this power began before he even learned to speak, and he acquired speech by listening to himself speak whatever words served to get him what he desired as an infant).

    Then there's Anon, whom no one can remember as soon as they stop talking to him. Literally snuffed out of their attention -- as if he'd never been there. This is great for sneaking around, not so good for making lasting friendships.

    Finally, there's Bellwether, whom the others all call "Fearless Leader" (behind his back), who can rally everyone to a cause, weld them into a team, make them more than the sum of their parts. He's ambitious.

    They all live in a dead-end college town in California, and the action starts when Scam -- who is on the outs with the rest of them -- successfully cons a ride off the bagman for a drug-syndicate from the club district and finds himself on the run with a huge duffelbag of dirty cash. He stays up all night and goes to the bank the next morning to hide it in a safe-deposit box when the bank is held up at gunpoint. He tries his powers on a masked gunman, only to find that the Voice has triggered a shootout between the robbers that leeaves one of them dead.

    So begins the story, a classic "We're getting the band back together" tale with adventure, gunplay, social drama, friendship, betrayal, and a new, wild talent whose life they have inadvertently ruined. It's an absolute romp, poised between the emo-stuff of adolescence and a fantastic, rigorous extrapolation of how all these novel, fascinating powers work together.

    Better still: it's first in a series.

    For the record, this is unrelated to Chuck Wendig's new novel Zeroes, though that's great too.

    Zeroes [Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti/Simon Pulse]

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