Eluding Most Powerful Forces of Government in Action-Packed Technothriller

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Going Zero by Anthony McCarten

What’s it About?

Contestants have two hours to hide from a revolutionary new spyware. Only one clever librarian stands a chance of winning.

If the wildly entertaining and imaginative Going Zero (Harper) by Anthony McCarten doesn’t frighten you into considering the likelihood of living in an authoritarian state where every single individual is continually under surveillance, the realization you may already be there certainly will. This intriguing thriller is set in present-day America dominated by ubiquitous advanced spyware, demonstrating the prescience of George Orwell’s 1984.

The novel is arresting, thought-provoking and eerily visionary given a spate of recent news items reporting on sophisticated tracking systems as well as domestic spying on citizenry. Suddenly the imaginary world of science fiction or James Bond styled gadgetry has become a horrifying reality.

Tech Monitor and Tech News World, among other publications, reported that Microsoft researchers have developed a not-yet-available new AI application called VALL-E capable of synthesizing personalized speech after a brief 3 second recording of a speaker. While this voice model is intended for practical, benign usage such as text-to-speech applications, the potential for malicious or criminal misuse is enormous.

The Washington Times had reported a day earlier on the FBI revelation the bureau “uses the CIA and National Security Agency to probe the private lives of Americans without a warrant in its updated (in 2021) rulebook”. These probes, known as “assessments” may involve surveillance without court orders against persons who have not been accused of any crimes.

Contestants Have Two Hours to Disappear

In Going Zero, ten carefully screened applicants have been chosen to participate to beta test a revolutionary new spyware called FUSION. Pioneering tech wizard Cy Baxter, the founder and CEO of WorldShare, has collaboratively developed with the CIA this next phase in surveillance as a powerful security tool to be used as a crime deterrent internationally and domestically. He ambitiously boasts FUSION can track anyone on earth, but this supposition requires proof. At stake is a ninety-billion dollar government contract to be awarded to WorldShare Corporation.

The selected participants — or “Zeroes” — have received their instructions. They have an unspecified amount of time to prepare to “Go Zero” — that is, to vanish and remain off-grid for thirty days and elude capture by highly trained Capture Teams who will use the most sophisticated technology to find them. The prize at stake is three million dollars for any Zero who can beat the FUSION system. Upon notification the game is on; the participants have only two hours to disappear.

One contestant is an anomaly. Kaitlyn Day is a not particularly tech savvy Boston librarian, ordinary in appearance, mid-30’s single woman with a medical history of some mental health issues. Baxter reckons she will be the first to be captured. What no one realizes is she has her own reasons for winning this bizarre competition and money is not the primary motivator.

Baxter is elated when the first three contestants are easily found within a couple of days and the remainder identified and captured well within the 30 day timeframe, with the glaring exception being Kaitlyn. The stakes are high with Baxter’s personal reputation and an astronomical payoff at stake. This CEO can be ruthless and the question becomes what won’t he do to ensure this uncannily clever librarian will be brought in on time.

Privacy, Security & Technological Advances

Going Zero held me captive and I was unable to put it down until I finished reading it and subsequently became lost in thought about its implications. The book begs questions from its readers. Have we become like the fabled frog lulled into a quiet death by being placed in a pan of ever increasing hot water? Have the advances in technology ostensibly made life easier while simultaneously sacrificing anonymity and privacy?

GPS (Global Positioning System), ubiquitous in newer vehicles and on smartphones, eliminates the need to master map reading and route planning when traveling. The pinging of GPS tracked cellphones helped rescue people trapped under rubble after the major earthquake in Haiti a decade ago. However, this remarkably useful geolocation and tracking technology is owned by the US government and controlled by the US Space Force with primary applications for use by space agencies, the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as civilians.

How many personally targeted ads pop-up on social media or on any device you may be using after browsing? Cameras are everywhere! Smart phones and equally intelligent voice assistant home devices and televisions can simplify our lives by saving time, making our homes cozier, more secure and energy efficient. Anthony McCarten both entertains and alarms us by warning all of these beneficial devices can be used to observe and track us.

Will it be possible for technology to remain the servant rather than becoming the master? The days of being able to change your identity and disappear are over. If nothing else does, your DNA will eventually out you. Genealogists and family history researchers by the millions have embraced the now low cost DNA tests offered by companies such as, MyHeritage and 23andME. Benefits are obvious such as linking long lost or unknown relatives but may also reveal closely guarded family secrets.

An amateur genealogist/determined sleuth friend recently confirmed her grandfather, who vanished decades before her birth, had relocated to another state where he married and had a second family. He then disappeared again, moving to the adjacent state and repeating the process. Divorces and child support were clearly deemed unnecessary and this long-dead man left a trail of broken hearts and scattered half-siblings with a possible genetic pre-disposition for playing the trombone.

Soon To Be Adapted for the Big Screen

I highly recommend this thriller which will soon be adapted by its author for the screen. Going Zero has already been sold to 20 countries. New Zealand native Anthony McCarten is a Hollywood and Broadway writer and producer as well as a successful novelist, playwright and journalist. He has received four Academy Award nominations for his screenwriting for films including Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour and The Theory of Everything, which won two British Academy Film Awards for Outstanding British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Going Zero is clever, intelligent, action-packed, exciting and full of surprises. This novel belongs on top of your TBR list!


About Anthony McCarten:

Anthony McCarten is a New Zealand-born novelist, playwright, journalist, television writer and four-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker. He is best known for writing the biopics The Theory of Everything (2014), Darkest Hour (2017), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and The Two Popes (2019), and producing motion pictures that entertain and inspire through the examination of some of history’s most interesting people. He received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Theory of Everything and The Two Popes, and won two BAFTA awards for the former. Notably, the first three of these films won consecutive Oscars in the Best Actor category (for Eddie Redmayne, Gary Oldman and Rami Malik). Bohemian Rhapsody is the second highest grossing box-office drama of all time, after Titanic. His non-fiction work, Darkest Hour, was a Number 1 Sunday Times Bestseller. He lives in London.

Going Zero by Anthony McCarten

Publish Date: 4/11/2023

Genre: Fiction, Thrillers

Author: Anthony McCarten

Page Count: 300 pages

Publisher: Harper

ISBN: 9780063227071

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