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'Zeroes' Gives You The Talented Super-Teens You Didn't Know You Needed

Author Scott Westerfeld chats with MTV News about his new YA trilogy.

If you've not yet made literary acquaintance with the exciting YA stylings of Scott Westerfeld, there's no time like the present because his latest -- "Zeroes," a trilogy-starter co-written with Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti -- is teeming with complicated but talented characters, heart-stopping action sequences, and all the emotions you need for your next book obsession.

See, the story nimbly switches perspectives between a half dozen teens who each have the power to manipulate their surroundings in their own unique ways -- but there's a catch: Every power has a price.

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So says the tagline, and the same holds true for our sometimes very antagonistic protagonists.

One of the most troubled of the group is a girl named Chizara a.k.a. Crash, who has the power to manipulate, well, power and control (and, more importantly, terminate) electrical objects. Which means she's in CHARGE -- OK, bad pun there, but still. The downfall to this gift is that she also feels major pain by the 21st Century's gadget prolificacy.

This exclusive character image of Crash gives a visual of the way she experiences the world.

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Tricky business. And Crash is but one piece of the personality puzzle presented in "Zeroes."

Another guy has a scuzzy second voice that can pluck out what a listener needs to hear at any given moment -- but then it's a vice because who knows what mess the little know-it-all is going to get him into next. Oh, and there's another guy who can disappear like he never existed, which means he's an escape artist like no other, but he's also easily forgotten by everyone who meets him, up to and including his own fam. Frowny face.

These characters are crafted by the same hands that presented the ever-changing (and increasingly awesome) Tally Youngblood in "The Uglies" series, so you just KNOW the fun is only beginning with book one.

MTV News spoke to Westerfeld to flesh out some of the nitty gritty of his new narrative -- which is already getting TV treatment, BTW -- and to talk about how it relates to some of the other stories we've obsessed over from his collection.

MTV: First of all, how did the idea for "Zeroes" take shape?

Scott Westerfeld: Some of my favorite characters are the smart-talking private detectives of "Pulp Fiction," who always know exactly what to say. So, for years I've been thinking about using that as a superpower. That's where the character Scam comes from.

Then, about two years ago, my friend Deb Biancotti and I were discussing how novelists never get to use the social parts of our brain because we work alone -- as opposed to TV writers who work in a group. So, we decided to do a collaboration with our friend Margo, and I brought up my idea for Scam.

This idea of social superpowers which involve influencing other people seemed natural, given that this book itself was a social experiment. We came up with six characters, all with different crowd-based powers, and then we added explosions. Because explosions make everything better.

MTV: Chizara reminded me a little bit of Tally Youngblood as a Special -- was there any Tally inspiration within her?

Westerfeld: By the third "Uglies" book, Tally has developed a pretty good sense of responsibility, while Chizara is the Zeroes' moral center -- the one asking about the real effects of their actions. So yeah, both Chizara and Tally are very good at weighing the importance of the power they've been given.

They also both see the world their own way, despite how others try to manipulate them, which gives them a similar strength. Most importantly, they both have a lot of technology in their lives -- and a seriously ambivalent relationship with it.

MTV: Which of the Zeroes do you think suffers the most for their “talent”?

Westerfeld: Probably Anon. His power shuts off the connection between short-term and long-term memories, so after you take your eyes off him, you forget him. His friends and family have all forgotten he exists, and even his super-powered pals have trouble keeping him in mind. I can't imagine anything lonelier. He's sort of like King Midas: he can take whatever he wants, and live in the fanciest (empty) hotel room in town, but he can't have a normal human friendship.

MTV: A lot of the gifts seem rooted in the varying experiences of teenagedom -- like Flicker only being able to see herself through others’ eyes, Anonymous never feeling understood, and Ethan speaking without thinking. How can that community of personalities help young people accept their own gifts and flaws?

Westerfeld: You learn about yourself by knowing other people, in the same way that travel helps you understand your home town. Without comparing something to its opposite, you don't really ever see its strengths and flaws. So yeah, all the Zeroes can only understand themselves and their powers by looking at the ways that the others have dealt with similar, but different, challenges.

I also think that empathy is the human superpower. Our ability to feel what someone else is feeling is why we can create language, stories, cities, art, and everything else that's cool.

MTV: If you had to choose one of the powers, which would you pick and why?

Westerfeld: Probably Mob's power, the way she can feel the energy of a crowd, and guide it to something better. She'd be the ultimate DJ, which would be fun. Being able to make any party better is the true superpower.

MTV: Obviously, there’s a lot of adaptation potential with this -- do you think this could be the one that finally happens?

Westerfeld: It's optioned for a TV show. Which is OK with me, because I like TV better these days. A season of TV is much more like a novel in scope. Two-hours movies seem so tiny in comparison. I also think that the mix of characters, and the low-key nature of the Zeroes' powers, would be better suited to TV. The Zeroes may not be the kind of heroes we see on the big screen, but they're the kind of people we like to have in our living rooms.

MTV: Speaking of which, a lot of us are eagerly awaiting some news on "The Uglies" adaptation -- are there any updates there?

Westerfeld: Alas, not at the moment. Though "Uglies" too is leaning toward TV. Luckily, we're in a world in which lots of new people are coming in and making good television, Netflix and Apple and Amazon. It seems like someone out there would want an established "property" to ruthlessly exploit.

"Zeroes" hits shelves on Sept. 29.