Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Books: "Going Zero" By Anthony McCarten

Going Zero

By Anthony McCarten

Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers; hardcover, 304 pages; $30.00; available today, Tuesday, April 11th

Anthony McCarten is a four-time Oscar nominee, a New Zealand-born screenwriter, playwright, and novelist known for his work on The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, The Two Popes, and Bohemian Rhapsody. He also has two shows on Broadway, "A Beautiful Noise," about the life and career of Neil Diamond, and "The Collaborartion," on the collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michele Basquiat.

McCarten is one of the most in-demand writer-producers today, and he has written this intense, fast-paced novel, Going Zero, which has been honored as an Amazon Best Book of April. 

Going Zero focuses on one of the biggest threats to humanity in the twenty-first century, and that is surveillance. This technothriller focuses on ten Americans who have been carefully selected to Beta test a ground-breaking piece of spyware. Tech-wunderkind Cy Baxter, in collaboration with the CIA, pioneered FUSION, which can track anyone on Earth.'

The million-dollar question is: does it work? Each of the ten participants is given two hours to "Go Zero," essentially to go off-grid and disappear, and then thirty days to elude the highly sophisticated Capture Teams sent to find them. 

Any "Zero" that is able to beat FUSION will receive $3 million. If Cy's system prevails, he wins a $90 billion-dollar government contract to revolutionize surveillance forever. However, one of the contestants may have been underestimated.

Kaitlyn Day is an unassuming Boston librarian who harbors some secrets. Her stakes far exceed money, and more personal than can be imagined. Kaitlyn needs to win as badly as Cy needs to realize his own ambitions. They have no choice but to finish the game and when the timer hits zero, there will only be one winner.

In this excerpt, which details the start of Kaitlyn's recruitment seven days before "going zero," McCarten writes: "The full-length mirror in the lobby, there to lend a sense of light and space to the cramped entrance hall, is spotted with age, the corrosive grime picking at the silvering like a scab. Still, it works well enough for the rent-controlled residents - teachers, low-level civil servants, the owner of a bakery, and a half a dozen retirees just grateful that the elevator works most of the time. They can pause and check themselves before going out, take one final glance to make sure skirt hems aren't snagged in stockings, files are done up, chins bear no toothpaste, hair isn't hysterical, toilet paper isn't clinging to shoes before they stumble into the street to be judged by their fellow citizens.

It's useful for the end of the day, too. As the residents shake off the chill of the windy streets, loosen their coats, and empty their mailboxes, it's the old mirror that will give them a first look at the damage the day has done.

The woman who has just come in glances at it reflexively. Here's what the mirror shows: midthirties; black hair in a bob; big glasses that became fashionable again last year; long, wide-fit trousers with sneakers; and, under her good late-spring last-season coat, a stiffly ironed black blouse with a swirling floral plant. She looks a lot like what she is - a librarian, or someone's idea of the same. Bookish in her buttoned-up-ness, but independent-minded in the details: a huge pendant necklace, jangly earrings, a signet on her pinky. Could be on her way to a church bake sale, or to a #Resist event, impossible to say.

She unlocks her mailbox, pulls out a handful of envelopes, presses the little door closed until she hears the snap of the latch, which is when she sees that the mailbox label is slightly askew, so she squares it.



The K is important. Not the full Kaitlyn. Just that single initial to identify her: call it Single Woman Trick 273. Comes right after walking home with your keys (weaponized) in your hand. Write Kaitlyn Day on the mailbox or directory, and you're asking for trouble; every passing creep now knows there's a single woman in the building and could start hanging around just to see of she needs saving, mocking, following, fucking, killing.

She sorts the mail over the recycling bin. Junk. Junk. Junk. Bill. Junk. Bill. And then...Oh my God. It's here. It's actually here.

The envelope has Department of Homeland Security printed on it. There's even a frigging seal on the back; she thought that kind of thing went out with the Tudors. Inside, however, shitty goverment-grade paper where she had expected wedding-invite quality. Still, an invitation nonetheless.

Going Zero Beta Test, it reads across the top of the single sheet. That part is bold and underlined.

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