Sometimes putting hours of creativity, sweat, and tears into writing a screenplay isn’t actually the hardest part of a writer’s job: it’s getting their story off the page and into production. Every year a slew of great screenplays are hoovered into the film industry, only to land in what’s known as “development hell,” a purgatory state between acquisition and actual filming where they can languish for years—or forever. Screenplays end up stalled for a wide variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the quality of the work or the uniqueness of the idea.
Enter Adaptive Studios and their genius idea: they find these “abandoned” screenplays, acquire them, and hire incredible writers to turn them into novels, thus saving great stories from being lost to history. One of the first titles to get this treatment is The Silence of Six, by E.C. Myers—and if it’s any indication of what’s to come from Adaptive’s innovative strategy, readers everywhere should be very excited.
Hooked from page one
The Silence of Six doesn’t waste time. Protagonist Max Stein is a teenaged former “hacktivist,” working to distance himself from both his best friend, Evan, and the hacker life. While attending a presidential debate being hosted by his high school and streamed live on the internet, Max is surprised to get a text from Evan containing a mysterious string of characters and symbols. Then the debate’s video feed is hacked and a masked member of the Anonymous-like hacker group known as Dramatis Personai appears on screen—and Max is stunned to recognize him as Evan. Evan asks the candidates, “What is the silence of the six, and what are you going to do about it?” and then commits suicide live onscreen. Max is quickly identified as a person of interest in the case and has to go on the run, seeking answers and allies in unexpected places.
And that’s all within the first 20 pages. The Silence of the Six hits the gas right away, and doesn’t let up.
To say that the story moves quickly is an understatement; without sacrificing clarity or nice little character moments that make the world feel lived-in and the players feel real, Myers keeps Max and the reader on the move from the moment the Secret Service shuts down the debate auditorium until the final page. Because Myers has imagined Max as a smart, thoughtful kid with a surprising amount of experience under his belt, the story remains coherent and the action razor-sharp despite its breathless pace. Even more importantly, Myers knows action and twists shouldn’t exist for their own sake—every chase, near-escape, and sudden revelation serves the story, either advancing Max’s cause or frustrating it in meaningful ways.
The book centers on Evan’s question: What is the silence of six? Myers expertly teases out the answer over the course of the book. Evan has left Max a trail of digital breadcrumbs, but in the service of security these clues are encrypted, hidden, and protected (once you’re hooked, check out a prequel story by Myers, SOS, that expands Evan’s story). But the locations, passwords, and other solutions to Evan’s clues are all grounded in the friendships he had with the heroes, which include genius hacker Penny and her younger sister, Risse, who operate as a single entity in the hacking world known as DoubleThink. Max’s confusion and jealousy over friends he didn’t even know Evan had is touching, and the fact that Evan drew from both relationships to generate clues about his plan is a smart bit of plotting that forces Penny and Max to work together.
Myers crafts a trio of heroes and a raft of supporting characters who feel like incredibly smart but very real teenagers. Max, Penny, and Risse are on their own for most of the story, entirely reliant on their hacking and social engineering skills to both survive and solve the mystery. Their banter, behavior, and reactions to things are legit; Myers sprinkles in some slang and youthful abbreviation but doesn’t go overboard. Max, in particular, is well-shaded—he’s a genius with a conscience, and he’s a little rusty and unprepared, making mistakes early on that make perfect sense for anyone who’s on the run, terrified, and confused. By the end of the story, you’re rooting for these kids not merely because they’re clearly on the side of truth and justice, but because you wish you got to hang out with between classes.
Hacking and hacking culture are the sort of things a lot of writers get wrong—very wrong. Myers understands hacking is more than coding; it’s about understanding how things work and learning how to subvert that for your own needs. It’s about knowing secrets—which is why it’s the perfect choice for our heroes to be hackers in a story centering on a tremendous secret that involves murder, government surveillance and oppression, and corporate skullduggery. Myers gets the details right and has the ideal balance between wonky explanations for things like “Man in the Middle attacks” and a more streamlined and simplified way of conveying what hackers can do.
He couples all this goodness with a mystery that really hits home when all is revealed. Literally anyone who has a computer, a phone, or a tablet will feel the danger lying at the center of the story. The risks Max and Penny take in their efforts to make Evan’s suicide meaningful are made vital and absolutely necessary once you understand what’s really going on. Getting to that understanding is a lot of fun—and to think, we almost didn’t get to take the ride.
Read more about Adaptive Studios here.