Peter Samet's debut novel, starring Charlie Nobunaga in four different incarnations, is one of the most interesting science novels I've read in the last decade. Up there with Hugh Howey's WOOL and Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME, Samet's ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME is a fantastic new take on a tried and true science fiction theme. Like the two above-mentioned novels, Samet takes a concept that scientists, engineers, philosophers, and writers have been exploring in depth for the last few decades: in this case, the singularity. What will happen when human consciousness can be imbued upon mechanical parts? What will happen when computers develop a conscience? But ZESP breaks from the trend to provide an entirely new twist on this classic tale. By exploring four different incarnations of the progatonist, Charlie, Samet shows us up close and personal how dangerous - and how thrilling - the singularity event could be.
Charlie Nobunaga, a brilliant young woman dying of cancer, is deceived by a Jude Adler, a woman who appears as a benefactor but quickly turns on Charlie, to devastating effect. Charlie's consciousness is copied - literally - into lines of computer code, and replicated three times. Four versions of Charlie narrate: ZERO, the original creator, weak in body though strong in mind; ECHO, a four-armed individual engaged in a battle to the death against a million other echoes; SHADOW, a slave to a tortured widower, and PRIME, the powerful new incarnation of Charlie Nobunaga, the first physical robot to be given human consciousness. These four replications of Charlie face different evils and temptations. The choices they make and their interactions with each other provide the machinery behind the intrigue and thrill of the novel.
From the big picture questions like "What is consciousness?" to the small details of friendship, love, and curiosity (I loved Charlie's little papier-maiche Replicators) At times deeply philosophical, at others rife with as much suspense as a John Grisham novel, this complex story provides four compelling narratives. At no point does Samet's understanding of his characters seem shallow or trite; cliches are easily dispensed with, and all four versions of Charlie have distinct goals and worldviews.
There are some places where the plot jumped into the range of 'implausible' and where extraordinary leaps were made, in my opinion beyond the bounds of could-be reality. There were others where the plot started moving so quickly I almost couldn't keep up. And the minor romantic subplot, while in some parts endearing and beautiful, at others suffered a little from neglect or perhaps from being forced into the story. But aside from these critiques, I found the novel as a whole to be a thrilling ride, both educating and enlightening. I loved this book every bit as much as I loved Hugh Howey's WOOL, far more than I loved DIVERGENT and Chuck Wendig's UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY. Samet's debut novel is one to read again and again, and the author himself is one to watch. ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME is an indie book that makes me proud to be an indie author.