Books like Zero Bomb prove how radically we are going to have to rethink our concept of a dystopian landscape post-Brexit, post-Trump, and post-the nationalist fervour of a broken Europe.
M. T. Hill’s novel is not overtly political, it is not directly *about* these pressing aspects dominating every aspect of early 21st century life, but they lend a dark pallor over Hill’s prose throughout his wildly unusual tale. Zero Bomb is about, chiefly, how our consumption of technology, our wilful consummation with a million black boxes, could very well lead to not just our totalitarian domination but our literal end as a functioning species. Hill’s book is about who we may end up as as much as who we are.
He structures Zero Bomb across three very different yet connected sections, some of which play directly with the formula of how he tells his story. The first section introduces Remi, a family man who suffers an intense psychological breakdown, goes off the grid, leaving behind the mother of his sadly deceased daughter, and ends up becoming a courier for underground cultural and philosophical material in a future Britain where ideas are at a premium in a government system which sounds ‘uber-Tory’, closer perhaps to the British state of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, which of course took a significant cue, as Hill does, from the visionary George Orwell.
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Zero Bomb ends up very much, as a consequence, about grief, as we are subsumed into Remi’s story and his life as he struggles with automated cars with a life of their own, and engages in skirmishes with a strange, mechanical fox which in an elliptical sense mirrors his own psychology. Hill’s prose is urban and bleak, often melancholy, and frequently ahead of the curve you sense in the visualisation of a cold, hard to salvage Britain of our near future which has given itself completely to technological dominance at the expense of any human feeling. Where Remi ends up, and how he manages to cope with his grief, directly leads to the second section of the book.
This is where Zero Bomb really takes a turn because Hill takes the daring risk of abandoning Remi directly and the rabbit hole he goes down in order to completely change style, moving into a different, more descriptive stiff prose as he writes a book within a book, fictional sci-fi novel ‘The Cold Veil’, a tome playing an important part in both Remi’s story and that of who the third chapter focuses on… which we won’t spoil. It certainly changes the style and tone again and Hill veers closer to something akin to Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men in the world filled with moral grey areas and desperate people intentionally living off the grid that he depicts.
Though at times a little distancing and remote, Zero Bomb is packed with inventive ideas, haunting prose and worrying conclusions about our future entanglement of democratic politics and developing technology. You wouldn’t want to live in the world Remi experiences here, the world Hill vividly paints, and nor you sense would the author – a talent absolutely worth marking out as a voice in dystopian science-fiction with something quite tragically profound to say.
Zero Bomb is available from Titan Books from Monday 19th March.