Zero Bomb by MT Hill
I would like to thank Lydia from Titan Books for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Titan
Published – Out Now
Price - £8.99 paperback
The near future. Following the death of his daughter Martha, Remi flees the north of England for London. Here he tries to rebuild his life as a cycle courier, delivering subversive documents under the nose of an all-seeing state.
But when a driverless car attempts to run him over, Remi soon discovers that his old life will not let him move on so easily. Someone is leaving coded messages for Remi across the city, and they seem to suggest that Martha is not dead at all.
Unsure what to believe, and increasingly unable to trust his memory, Remi is slowly drawn imto the web of a dangerous radical whose ‘70’s sci-fi novel is now a manifesto for direct action against automation, technology and England itself.
The deal? Remi can see Martha again – if he joins the cause.
What we fear always has an impact on our decision making. I won’t drive in snow after a relatively minor bump when I as a teenager. A fear of the future though could be said to be one of science fiction’s hallmarks. It’s a perfect way fo exploring the choices we may make and what are the consequences of them be it AI in novels such as Everything About You or I Still Dream or artificial life in classics such as Frankenstein. In this endlessly depressing part of the 21st century there is a lot to be afraid for and where this may take us is looking increasingly uncertain. In M.T. Hill’s impressive novel Zero Bomb we are given an unsettling tale of self-deceptions and how our fears for our loved ones can also destroy us.
This is a novel in five parts and each part starts to make you questions what you were told before. The first part we meet Remi a french immigrant who married a woman from the UK and had a little girl called Martha. The Brexit happened, then Universal Basic Income was rejected by referendum and mass automation is starting to change the working life. Tragedy however strikes and Remi finds himself burying his daughter after a house fire; the shock of this event makes him run away from his wife and we are shown his decline into a homeless drug addict and then his re-invention as a eternally focused rigidly scheduled cycle courier delivering to a punishing schedule. But then a driverless car tries to run at him; an escape on the underground them gives him a Wi-Fi signal to seek a message and it appears Martha may not be dead after all. Remi has attracted the attention of a group keen to change the world and they think after his experiences he would be perfect. A mechanical fox, an elderly SF writer and her assistants are trying to take a stand initially Remi wants to stay on his bike hidden in plain sight from the world but slowly he starts to see a road to redeem himself and potentially even see his daughter once again if she didn’t die.
What follows Remi’s initial encounter involves very credible extracts of a 1980’s SF novel (that never existed) telling a family of how the machines are trying to rule us; plus, far future police and government reports telling us about the impact of Remi’s actions. There is also a look at what happens when Remi’s new team start to make an impact. Each on their own is extremely good writing – Hill makes each section stand on its own two feet and can easily adopt writing styles to suit the elements of the story from urban thriller to rural co-op. Remi’s tale of loss and his struggle to be better than he thinks is heartrending and we really fear for him as he gets swept up in this shadow gme across unknown elements. While later we see a much younger character working on a farm who is finds herself selling artificial limbs on the black market to hospitals trying to find her place in a very weird world. I loved the unusual images we see such as a fox with mechanical legs; fields growing arms and legs all give us a sense of a world on the edge of a great change in how we work with or fear technology. Hill gives us a sense that in the future there are potential acts that despite the user’s instance that no one is harmed will have a huge impact on way of life.
he brilliance though is in how Hill slots these disparate pieces together to create a larger tale that starts to make you question not just what you’re being told but also our takes on the characters, that we have seen. Slowly we see that fears for the future and our families can make us capable of the worst possible actions and that fears can be exploited and used to serve the purpose of others. There is a theme of what right one generation gets to decide the fate of the next and often that in a time of Brexit and various changes to welfare systems the advantages that the past had are felt not ones we want to share to the future as it is viewed as basically character building.
As you can guess it’s a novel where I don’t want to give too much away but that I really did find this a startlingly good piece of science fiction. Hill merges that anxiety many of us feel about where we are as a country and creates a worse nightmare and imagines us making even worse choices to protect ourselves. It questions our tendency to make decisions for the next generation without their input and at the same time gives the reader a disconcerting walk through characters’ view of themselves and how others eventually see them. A combination of SF thriller and a haunting warning about the future that I think those who enjoy their science fiction with political bite and moral complexity many should find very appealing.