Audiobook Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperAudio (May 25, 2021)
Length: 8 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Vikas Adam
Given that I loved C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust, I came with great excitement to Day Zero, which serves as its prequel. Imagine Calvin & Hobbes but with Hobbes as Terminator, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this book. It stars Pounce, a furry anthropomorphic AI “nannybot” shaped like a tiger. His owners, Bradley and Sylvia Reinhart, had bought him to be a companion and best friend to their eight-year-old son Ezra, which is in keeping with Pounce’s main directive…except, well, as we’ll later find out, his “deluxe model” designation also comes with a few extra features.
Anyway, if you’ve read Sea of Rust (though that is not required), you’ll know that that novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the A.I. of the world had risen up and taken over, leaving the world devoid of human beings. Day Zero takes us to the beginning of all that, to the moment where society’s fate was sealed. When the novel begins, everyone is paying attention to the coverage of a brewing revolution led by Isaac, the first bot to ever be granted freedom and independence in the lengthy emancipation trial that took place after his owner died. After founding Isaactown, he has invited other bots to join him to build a place where A.I. can live on their own terms.
But not everyone sees this as a good thing. Some even see it as blasphemy against the will of God. Driven by this belief, a radical religious group commits an unspeakable act of violence, annihilating everyone in Isaactown. Things quickly escalate, with heavy casualties on both sides, and before long, the government is warning people to power down their bots until they can determine if the A.I. protocols that prevent them from harming humans are still in place. However, this proves too late, as the majority of bots are revealed to be compromised already and decide to turn on their owners before they can be shut down. Ever the loyal companion though, Pounce chooses to protect Ezra, especially after the Reinharts and their neighbors come under attack from the other A.I. in their houesholds. Pounce knows he’s all the boy has now, and he will do whatever it takes to keep him live.
As with Sea of Rust, my favorite thing about this book was its premise. I happen to love “a boy and his dog” type stories, and the fact that an A.I. tiger is our protagonist is just the icing on the cake. In fact, I might have even preferred Day Zero a bit more, for the fact that “robothood” actually plays a major role in this novel. One of my main criticisms from Sea of Rust was that not more of the machine-ness in the protagonists came through, and for all intents and purposes we may as well have been reading about a bunch of human characters.
This is not so with Day Zero. I loved the voice of Pounce, the way he was always questioning what it means to be A.I., and whether in the end that even means anything at all. His whole world is Ezra, and should it matter if it is program or instinct? As we learn from this tale, no, it does not. Pounce is Ezra’s best friend and more. He’s also the boy’s guardian and protector. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep Ezra safe, even if it means killing or sacrificing others or even himself. Still, there’s a soft side to Pounce as well, and the caregiver part of him that is meant to provide comfort also comes through often. He chastises Ezra for using bad language just like any good nanny, or lets him win at video games like a doting big brother.
In terms of the plot, it’s pretty straightforward. We have lots of action, as Pounce and Ezra make their way out of the ruined suburbs on their way to safety, encountering violent bots and other hostile factions along the way. The story was fast-paced and thrilling, but also super cute and endearing. Sure, the messages could have been deeper or more cerebral, but that would have meant a completely different kind of book, and I wouldn’t have had near as much fun.
All in all, I had a good time, and a special shoutout to the narrator of the audiobook, Vikas Adam. I’ve been a huge fan of his work ever since first hearing his narration for the Heartstrikers series, and no surprise, his performance was also fantastic in Day Zero. He was the perfect Pounce, and also did amazing voices for Ezra and all the other characters. Great listen, highly recommended.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sea of Rust