Version Zero by David Zoon is a high octane drop kick into the dark underbelly of our social media and technology culture. In addition to the shameless corporate malfeasance, there are interesting themes touching on hero worship, toxic hubris, family (dis)approval and the longing heart.
(After reading this article), you’ll want to put down your phone and boot up your Version Zero book discussion. This guide will give you 10 Version Zero book club questions to help you get the conversation going. And if that’s not enough, we’ve also provided the book synopsis and some divisive book reviews.
I like to call this genre “Hacker Fiction”, and if you like it too, then we’ve also got 3 books like Version Zero for you to add to your reading pile.
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Version Zero Synopsis
Version Zero, by David Yoon
Max, a data whiz at the social media company Wren, has gotten a firsthand glimpse of the dark side of big tech. When he questions what his company does with the data they collect, he’s fired…then black-balled across Silicon Valley.
With time on his hands and revenge on his mind, Max and his longtime friend (and secretly the love of his life) Akiko, decide to get even by rebooting the internet. After all, in order to fix things, sometimes you have to break them. But when Max and Akiko join forces with a reclusive tech baron, they learn that breaking things can have unintended–and catastrophic–consequences.
10 Version Zero Book Club Questions
- By labeling people “White Women in Marketing”, and “Asian Browns of Programming”, Yoon is making a pointed dig at the stratified pretend-diversity in high tech culture. Have you or your friends ever worked in a racially stratified culture like that?
- How is Max’s Salvadoran culture important to the story?
- At both the very beginning and the very end of the book, Yoon references a song with the following lyrics. How are the lyrics significant to the storyline?
Going in is easy / Returning is scary
But while it is scary
You may go in / You may pass through
- Does Version Zero make you think differently about your own browsing and social media habits?
- Akiko’s near future narration provides an interesting commentary on our culture, explaining hashtags, phone addiction and the like. Imagine your future self making a commentary on our current technology culture. What might you call-out or need to explain?
- At several key junctures, the book asks “how much money is enough money?” At the beginning of the book, Max figures $4 million would be enough to make his parents proud. At the end of the book, he asks the same question of Cal Peers. Peers responds that it’s not about the number, “It’s about having more than the nearest competitor. It’s about stepping on their necks and holding them down”. Wow! Do you think that our tech Titans really feel that way?
- Max, Akiko, Shane and Brayden were so star struck with Pilot Markham that they never stopped to examine his motives. This naivete resulted in disastrous consequences. Why did they trust him? Or was it simply that the Markham train sped up too fast for them to be able to jump off?
- The Disconnect conference is designed to punk the CEOs into revealing their true selves. Max was hoping that the CEOs would disclose how little they thought of their own userbases. But their disrespect and “evil” go way beyond that. Then Markham ratchets up the adrenaline with his violent reveal. How you feel about the climax? What were you expecting?
- Max is madly, romantically in love with Akiko, but in the end he lets her go, because she chooses Shane. What did you think of Akiko’s choice?
- “I just want to fix the internet”, says Max shortly after meeting Markham. But in the end, he breaks it, just as Markham wished. Was it the right choice?
Selected Version Zero Reviews
“Imagine a world in which the entire Internet is controlled by a handful of shady CEO’s. Oh. Right. Well, imagine someone doing something about it. Imagine a high-speed, edge of your seat adventure with stakes higher than you can measure…an addictive, brain-hacking exploration of the tech-run world we live in, and a rollercoaster so fast it will blow your hair off.”
“This book, set in the very (VERY) near future, poses some serious questions about ethics and modern morality, but it’s written with a great sense of humor and fast-paced action, is incredibly (sometimes horribly) relatable, and leaves the reader guessing.”
“I am obsessed with books about Silicon Valley and tech jobs, super absorbed by stories about controversial data mining and coders. But this book isn’t at all a thriller about the tech industry, it’s just a YA novel about some kids breaking Facebook because it’s evil.”
“Have you ever read a book that so desperately wanted to be the next edgy thriller that everyone’s raving about, but it ended up feeling like that book you picked up at the airport on a layover because you forgot your phone charger and you needed something to do on the flight, but listening to screaming babies was better than reading it?”
(note from the editor on the one above…ouch! But also, I’ve accidentally bought books like at an airport bookstore myself.)
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3 Books Like Version Zero
If you like high octane, then check out our archive of thrillers. And here are three more books to read if you liked Version Zero:
by Neal Stephenson
Really, if you like speculative fiction with a strong hacker ethic, and you can hang in there for 900+ pages, just go ahead and read Stephenson’s full backlist. But Reamde in particular is a good read-alike for Version Zero. It features a wealthy gamer who lives in the backwoods of Idaho. He made his fortune smuggling pot and is laundering his gains through an online multi-player fantasy game.
The book features kidnappings, Chinese government shenanigans, real-life terrorists, fantasy game terrorists, high octane action and an ensemble cast.
by Dave Eggers
If you want more schadenfreude about the evil doings at Google/Facebook, then Eggar’s The Circle is for you. Like Max, the protagonist Mae Holland is also thrilled to be hired at the Circle. Until she learns too much and then the creepy stuff starts happening and she has to decide what’s truly important to her.
Also- I’m simply a fan of Eggars for starting the 826 literacy movement, which provides literacy and creative writing programs for kids.
by Cory Doctorow
17 year old Marcus is quite the programmer. He’s even figured out how to hack his school’s surveillance systems. When a terrorist attack hits San Francisco, Marcus and his friends are caught up in a DHS sweep. He and his friends are so roughly interrogated that it borders on torture before they are finally released. Angered to the core, Marcus leads a teenage rebellion to take back the city (and to get back at the DHS.)
The book is similar to Version Zero not only for the Bay Area setting but also the dystopic themes on personal liberty and institutional overreach. It’s also part of a trilogy, so if you like the first one, you can keep on reading.
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