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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet review (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)


Official author website
Order Zero Echo Shadow Prime over HERE (USA) or HERE (UK)



AUTHOR INFORMATION: An unabashed geek, Peter is always searching for intelligence, whether it be artificial, extraterrestrial, or his own. He earned his storytelling chops at USC Film School, learned from the best at Pixar Animation Studios, and edited numerous indie films.

Peter can be reached on Twitter (@petersamet) or through his websites: www.zeroechoshadowprime.com and www.petersamet.com.

FORMAT/INFO: Peter Samet self-published Zero Echo Shadow Prime in 2014. Cover Art by Blacksheep. Cover Design by Mark Landry.

OVERVIEW: I love hunting for indie gems and Zero Echo Shadow Prime (ZESP) definitely qualifies as one. It expertly blends action and serious themes (like transhumanism) into a compelling narrative. If you’ve ever wondered how would it feel to have a digital brain or have your mind uploaded in a robot body, you’ll love ZESP and the answers it provides.


Set in 2045, the story revolves around a young scientific prodigy, Charlotte “Charlie” Nobunaga. She created the world’s first sentient artificial intelligence, her friend and companion Alan (virtual assistant with holographic avatar). When she gets critically ill, her father makes a risky deal with Jude Adler, a villainous CEO of the Rivir corporation. They plan to keep Charlie “alive” by transferring her consciousness into a robot called PRIME and, if the procedure succeeds, euthanize the original Charlie (termed ZERO) who is beyond rescue.

As any self-respecting CEO, Jude Adler has a hidden (and nefarious) agenda. She uses Charlie’s brain scans in her secret projects named ECHO (android and constantly evolving killers trapped in a virtual simulation) and SHADOW (improved version of virtual assistants). People don’t trust corporations and in Samet’s world, we have a Sapien movement, led by charismatic Bob Sapiro, that fights with technology that could replace humans. They play an important role in the story.

So, without getting into details you should discover on your own, ZESP focuses on a woman split into four clones/iterations: a terminally ill human (ZERO), a robot (PRIME), a virtual assistant (SHADOW) and a killer (ECHO). The narrative shifts between them, and, surprisingly, it works. All subplots converge near the end in a satisfying conclusion that gives a chance for the sequel but ties most loose ends. 

Beyond the specifics of ZESP‘s plot, I loved the strong and nuanced cast of female leads,  excellent worldbuilding, and fascinating concepts. Take, for example, SHADOWS - a piece of programming living in smart cells injected into a person’s body. Not only do they have fancy avatars (like Khnum - an Egyptian Deity or Alan Turing), but they can also control a person’s hormones or neural activity. Fancy an adrenaline shot? No problem. More dopamine? Consider it done. 

With Alan, the first sentient AI, we need to consider the ethics of his relationship with Charlie - is it slavery? Is it consensual? Does true consciousness make it/him a living being? If yes, isn’t using him a power abuse? Mind-boggling and thought-provoking stuff. Especially when you focus on other Shadows, including one of Charlie's iterations and their interactions with people.

I related to Charlie’s idealistic personality and her interest in what makes humans human. Instead of feeling repulsed by synthetic copies of herself, she considers them her sisters. She accepts their inhumanity and treats them as her kin. Her intelligence and empathy made her more interesting. I admire strong-willed females with real agency, and Charlie is one of the most memorable ones I read about recently. The story’s villain is also a powerful female with an agenda.

That said, my main complaint concerns Jude Adler’s motivation. It feels shallow. A cliche corporate greed brings nothing new to the table. Sure, Adler is interested in the species' progression, but this thread remained underdeveloped. The Echo storyline felt a little superfluous and slightly confusing, especially at the beginning. I think the author decided to edit a lot of things out of the story to keep it tight. I get it and even appreciate it because it makes the book hard to put down (while leaving you with some lingering questions and an appetite for more).

CONCLUSION: I found the set-up compelling, and the focus on strong female leads refreshing (nowadays we have more of them in fantasy but I’m not so sure about sci-fi). The story finds a perfect balance between breakneck pacing and serious themes. Above all, though, it entertains. 

After finishing ZESP, I checked the author's bibliography but, unfortunately, it’s his only published book. A pity, because I would like more:)


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