Day One

by Nate Kenyon


(good; ~30th percentile for SciThri genre)

Publication date: October 1, 2013
Category: technothriller / apocalyptic thriller
Tech rating (out of 5): Biohazard2

Summary (from the publisher):

Scandal-plagued hacker journalist John Hawke is hot on the trail of the explosive story that might save his career. James Weller, the former CEO of giant technology company Eclipse, has founded a new start-up, and he’s agreed to let Hawke do a profile on him. Hawke knows something very big is in the works at Eclipse—and he wants to use the profile as a foot in the door to find out more.

After he arrives in Weller’s office in New York City, a seemingly normal day quickly turns into a nightmare as anything with an Internet connection begins to malfunction. Hawke receives a call from his frantic wife just before the phones go dead. Soon he and a small band of survivors are struggling for their very lives as they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone—with no obvious enemy in sight.

The bridges and tunnels have been destroyed. New York City is under attack from a deadly and brilliant enemy that can be anywhere and can occupy anything with a computer chip. Somehow Hawke must find a way back to his pregnant wife and young son. Their lives depend upon it . . . and so does the rest of the human race.

ScienceThrillers Review:

Day One is a disaster & survival thriller, set in New York City like so many other disaster & survival books and movies. This book has a cool premise: an all-powerful artificial intelligence has “infected” everything that has a computer chip, and turned the device against its users. Given that everything from battleships to cars to copiers to coffee makers now has a chip, this makes for a lot of destruction–and good scenes for a story.

Day One‘s protagonist John Hawke happens to be in Manhattan with Weller, the man responsible for the creation of the AI, when the apocalypse begins. Unfortunately, as Hawke lurches from one life-threatening challenge to another, this proximity does not pay dividends. As a character, Weller never really delivers any actionable information, and except for a brief reprieve at the very end, never does much of anything helpful.

Which is part of why Day One never really captured me. While the writing is good–even excellent at times–the plot is basically a series of urban disaster encounters with a video game-like quality to them (escape collapsing building: check; dodge runaway subway train without touching third rail: check; elude cops with shoot-to-kill orders: check; hide from escaped zoo animals: check). Between encounters, Hawke thinks about his wife and kid trapped and in danger back home in New Jersey. Then repeat.

Hawke isn’t alone as he scrapes through one scene after another. He’s with a small band of people who are irritating to varying degrees. They seem to agree that they must stick together to survive, but why isn’t clear to me. Seemed like Hawke would have been better off on his own.

Thrillers always stretch believability. When I’m deeply engaged in the story, I’ll go with a lot of crazy stuff. In Day One, I was bothered by a couple of things that I couldn’t let go. First, even if the majority of New Yorkers were killed in the first hours of the event, the streets should have been thronged with people. On a work day, there are about 3 million people in Manhattan. Even if 90% of them were dead, that would leave hundreds of thousands wandering the streets. Hawke seemed to be in a city inhabited only by corpses most of the time. Likewise, even when everybody in NY is alive, the streets are jammed. No way Hawke would be able to drive a vehicle anywhere after the chaos. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll just mention that Hawke’s final escape is improbable in the extreme. (The super intelligence doesn’t anticipate he might try to make his way home?) And the ending ignores the not-so-small matters of petroleum and food.

Day One delivers the kind of fast-paced, high-stakes urban disaster scenario that can make a riveting summer movie. As a thriller novel, it’s like refined sugar: keeps you high but ultimately hungry for a little more meat.

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

If you like it when all hell breaks loose in New York City, I recommend:
The Colony by A.J. Colucci. (Ants!)

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