Read an Excerpt From MJ Wassmer’s Zero Stars, Do Not Recommend


We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Zero Stars, Do Not Recommend, a satirical science fiction novel by MJ Wassmer—publishing with Sourcebooks Landmark on August 6th.

Professional underachiever Dan Foster is finally taking a vacation. Sure, his life has been average at best, and yeah, he’s never quite lived up to his potential. But after a few Miller Lites in paradise with his girlfriend, Mara, things are starting to look up.

Then the sun explodes.

With the island resort suddenly plunged into darkness (he really should’ve sprung for the travel insurance), Dan’s holiday goes from bad to worse when elite guests stage a coup and commandeer supplies. As temperatures drop and class tensions rise, revolution begins to brew on the island, and Dan accidentally becomes a beacon of hope for the surviving vacationers. But when one six-person plane is discovered that could get them back to the mainland, Dan realizes he has a choice to make.

Does he escape the island with Mara? Or does he stay and fight to become the most unlikely hero of the end of the world?


Bang, bang, bang.

Oh, God. The door. Dan distinctly remembered placing the DO NOT DISTURB placard on the handle before succumbing to his blackout. Maybe it’d stop. Maybe if he just rolled over, nuzzled his head into this…ooh, newly discovered pillow divot, very nice… maybe whatever it was would go awa—

Bang, bang, bang.

“Dan! Dan, it’s Alan Ferris. From next door. We’ve got a situation out here, partner.”

Mara was stirring now, groaning. Dan liked Alan very much, but he hated everyone before a certain hour, and—he poked open one eye—it wasn’t even light out. Who bangs on someone’s door before the—

Oh.

Right.

He begrudgingly spun from under the covers and into a pair of resort-branded slippers. The room continued to spin after he stopped. He slammed his eyes shut and clutched the mattress for dear life. A hangover. That’s perfect. Just once, Dan said to God, can I not experience the consequences of my own actions.

“Ugh,” Mara said, now fully awake. “Why do you smell like sushi.”

Dan sniffed his pits. “Took a dip last night.”

“Last night? After we went to bed?”

“Yeah, I—”

Bang, bang, bang.

“Dan! It’s Alan! The guy from the bar last night. The one you opened up to about how you’ve been feeling kind of—”

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Zero Stars, Do Not Recommend

Zero Stars, Do Not Recommend

MJ Wassmer

In a flash, Dan rolled across the bed, over Mara’s legs, and unlatched the door. Yup, there was Alan. Handsome as ever, clear eyes. He stood beside his partner, Charles, a chubby, pale man in a bright Hawaiian shirt and yellow shorts cuffed at the thigh. It was comforting to know that, without the sun, Charles’s wardrobe existed as a source of light.

Alan looked Dan over. “Oh. You’re not dressed.”

“He is not,” Charles said, each syllable basted in Southern twang. He had a softness about him, like a favorite armchair come to life.

Mara, wrapped in a robe, joined Dan at the door.

“Hello.” She smiled. How did her hellos always sound so kind? Her voice was warm like it was preheated overnight.

“Why, hello,” Charles said.

“This is Alan,” Dan said, his voice a tire atop gravel. “And this—”

“I’m Charles Ferris, an absolute pleasure.” Charles stuck out his hand, Dan and Mara took it.

“I’m Mara. Nice to meet you, Alan and Charles.”

Charles waved his hand. “Oh, we know you, Ms. Tropic of C Lira two-piece in Mama Africa print.”

Dan didn’t know what any of those words meant when strung together in that particular order, but Mara was astonished.

A devilish grin spilled over Charles’s face. “I’m a big fan of her stuff.”

“It’s all so cute!” Mara said. “But so—”

Expensive!” they said together.

“I wasn’t even sure if I should splurge on it, Charles, but I haven’t taken a vacation in so long, and I just loved the, you know, twist rope, so I thought—”

“What time is it?” Dan asked Alan.

“Just after seven.”

This personally offended Dan. “Okay. Wow. I don’t discuss bikinis until at least eight, so if you fellas don’t mind.” He began to shut the door, but Alan’s forearm didn’t budge.

“Dan, there’s a situation.” His eyes did that serious thing again, and Charles quieted down too, looked at his boat shoes like, Oh, right, we’re not here to chat swimwear.

“Yeah,” Dan said. “The sun. I remember.”

“Building A took all the food overnight.”

“What?” Mara said.

Yeah. What? Dan stepped outside in his boxers, between Alan and Charles, and peered over the railing at Building A. There was a crowd gathered just past the pools—he hesitated to call it a mob, but it hummed with the collective unease characteristic of mobs—and it was growing by the second. Armed guards stood at the entrances of Building A’s breezeways, pistols strapped at their waists, shaking their heads, holding out their palms.

Not only is there a security force, there’s an armed security force?

Alan joined Dan at the railing. “Must’ve been after we went to bed. Charles and I were looking for grub this morning—a lot of people were—and there’s nothing. The fuckers paid off the guards and most of the staff members. Stole all the supplies from the restaurants, the main kitchen, the bars. Infirmary. Pallets of shit. They’ve got it all.”

“We’re sure?” Dan asked.

“Julio told us. I guess they couldn’t buy him.”

Three doors down, a sweaty man in a cabana hat hurriedly exited his room, his rolling suitcase skipping along the cement walkway. Where was he possibly planning to go?

Alan shook his head. “People are panicked.”

Dan hugged himself and squeezed back inside. It was already cooler than yesterday. Not cold, not yet, but low sixties?

Christ, it was really happening.

“They paid the guards?” Mara asked. She tossed Dan a T-shirt from his suitcase and then a pair of sweatpants he wore around the house when he didn’t care what he looked like. Mara called them his fart pants.

“Well, you know they’ve got deep pockets over there,” Charles said, having invited himself in. “We sat next to a couple from Building A at dinner the other night, right, Alan? And she had a Chanel bag. The Maxi Flap. Oh, and it was real, I could tell. But she got it with the tweed? Like, if you have five grand to spend on a bag like that, you’re really gonna get tweed, honey?”

Guests in Building A—they didn’t even call them guests, they called them visitants—could afford Chanel Maxi Flaps in tweed or silk or mongoose skin or any other type of fabric, because Building A was designed for upper society. They also enjoyed upgraded amenities, an exclusive restaurant named after some Aztec goddess, a premier cigar lounge, butler service, first choice of cabanas on the shoreline. Their balconies were larger, their drinks stronger, and rumor had it their elevators were faster, the bastards. Simon Cowell was supposedly staying in Building A. Dan hadn’t seen him, but a drunk man at the Sola swim-up bar swore that he had. Said his boobs weren’t as big as they appeared on TV.

By the time Dan, Mara, and their neighbors joined the crowd amassing outside Building A, tensions were rising. Tiki torches plucked from the beach were lit and shaking overhead. Empty airplane bottles of liquor shattered against the stucco. Residents of Buildings B and C shouted up at the balconies, demanded explanation, breakfast. Guards pointed their pistols into the crowd now, which marked the first time Dan had ever been in the sights of a gun without Nerf printed on the side.

Mara became part of the resistance almost instantly, chanting, “Dude, dude, where’s our food?” which was kind of catchy, and Charles soon joined. As they forced their way toward the center of the increasingly irritated crowd, Dan spotted a familiar figure and grabbed his shoulder. Julio. The kid had a lousy memory for good tippers, but maybe he could do something about all this.

“Julio! What the hell’s going on?” Dan’s question was almost completely drowned out.

“They took the food!” Julio replied, and Dan wasn’t sure what else he was expecting. Where was Brody? Had he really lost control of everything this quickly? And big picture here: If their small Bahamian island had already collapsed into anarchy, what did that mean for back home?

Memphis would burn.

Mara tossed a hair tie at Building A, like that would do anything but get hair in her eyes, and then she turned to Julio. “How’d they do it?”

“The resort has a series of underground tunnels for workers!” he said. “The bastards paid off the guards, most of the staff and transported the supplies underground overnight!” He spit on the ground, which was so tightly packed with sandaled feet that Dan was sure it never reached cement.

Mara said, “Tunnels?” and then she lost her balance when a man brandishing a luggage rack above his head bumped into them. Dan steadied her. A few other unbribed staff members weaved through the mob—Dan was officially calling it that, a mob—and were conversing with Julio now, and one of them held a megaphone in his hand. Julio nodded and turned back.

“We need someone to address the crowd!”

Okay, Dan thought. Go ahead.

Alan and Charles reappeared. Alan pointed Julio toward a wrought-iron table. “Get up there and demand they release the fucking food!”

Julio nodded. He wrung his wrist. He was sweating, but not from body heat. He looked faint.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Charles said. He leaned in and whispered to Dan. “If I don’t eat by eight, I am a zombie.”

Julio pushed the megaphone into Alan’s chest. “I can’t! I have… terrible stage fright! My heart starts pounding and I get lightheaded, and my throat clogs up!”

This was Brody Sheridan’s job. Where was he?

Alan shrugged, like, fuck it, but as he climbed onto the table, Charles seized his collar and yanked him back into the masses.

“Honey, I love you, but you ain’t the man for this.” Charles squeezed Alan’s shoulder and turned to Mara. “He’ll get hot-headed. Cuss. If he had negotiated with Patty Hearst’s captors, honey, her head would’ve come home in a Kroger sack. Come on, Alan, you know it.”

Alan’s face conveyed that yes, he knew it. He held the mega-phone out to Charles, who pushed it away.

“Oh, hell no. Uh-uh.”

Mara snatched the megaphone, and now it was against Dan’s chest.

“Danny should do it,” she said, and she smiled at him in that way that made him believe he could do anything. And for the briefest of seconds he thought, Yeah, you know, I kicked ass in my public speaking course in college, and that was a lot more pressure because the topic was wage gaps in the public sector and the room was full of women’s studies majors. Maybe I could—

He shook free of her gaze and put his hands up. “I can’t. I’m not—I’m not the guy.”

“He was a political science major,” Mara said to Alan and Charles. “And he writes so well. It’s his talent. You should hear him talk when he’s drunk. He can talk.”

“Oh, I know,” Alan said. He nodded at Dan, and Charles smiled, and Dan felt the group come to a consensus without him, and his hangover was suddenly worse. He wanted to go back to his room and draw the shades, sleep this whole nightmare away.

Draw the shades from what?

“Time to be the guy,” Alan said, and he hoisted Dan onto the wrought-iron table as effortlessly as he would a kitten.

The mob saw Dan, megaphone in hand, and there was a hush. The last thrown chair landed somewhere with a clatter. Then came applause, Dan’s heart keeping pace with each clap.

You stupid assholes, he thought. I just happened to be standing near the table.

He raised the megaphone to his lips—why was it so heavy?—but before he pressed the button, the crowd did an about-face. Brody Sheridan had appeared on one of the top balconies of Building A, had a megaphone of his own, and was shirtless for some reason. People booed, others hissed—Dan had never heard people hiss in real life—before Brody was able to calm them down.

“Wow,” Brody said, and his tone was way too sarcastic right off the bat. “Angry much?”

It was impressive, really. Brody might’ve said the single worst thing you can say to a hungry group of people whose star had blown up less than twenty-four hours ago. The guy with the luggage rack hurled it, and then people took off their flip-flops and threw those too. The guards got aggressive with their guns, dimpling the chests of people nearest the breezeway.

This was on the brink of becoming ugly.

Brody and Dan locked eyes for a moment, and Dan glared at him, but then Brody dodged a Yeezy slide. Whoever threw that must’ve been super pissed because those are expensive.

“Okay, okay, whoa. Point made. I just want to, ah, explain everything. First of all, obviously everyone here is gonna have food to eat. I mean, it’s not like we’re douchebags or something. We’re making breakfast right now.”

That probably should’ve been his opener. The guests who still had their flip-flops slid them back on.

“But, like—” He gulped. His Adam’s apple was more of an Adam’s pineapple. “You should know I put Building A in charge. So okay, they’re going to decide how things go from now on. They’re rich, and so obviously they’re supersmart, and we need to make sure their needs are met first, and then—”

The flip-flops again took flight. But something was different this time, Brody had run out of chances. No more stuttering, no more explanations, the crowd wanted blood. Brody dipped out of sight, clearly sensing his head might soon be perched atop something even skinnier than his body.

Dan watched from above as Julio and the other unbought members of the staff, now near the front of the crowd, charged. There was screaming, like the screaming yesterday on the beach, and the mob moved as one, a battering ram against the breezeway of Building A, and Dan snatched Mara’s wrist and pulled her up onto the table to avoid being trampled. A sharp crack pierced the black morning air—Dan had played enough Call of Duty in his time to know it came from a rifle—and the forward march abruptly halted. The screaming changed octaves, from disgust to anguish, and Mara buried her face into Dan’s chest. Dan located the guard who fired the bullet, some big son of a bitch who was immediately insulated by his colleagues. Their faces were stricken, like, oh, shit, what just happened, but their pistols remained rigid.

Dan nearly puked up last night’s rum when he saw that the man who had been shot was dressed in white. Julio. His shirt was now red and becoming redder, and the crowd surfed him backward because forward clearly wasn’t an option. He ended up somewhere by Alan and Charles, and Mara hopped from the table before Dan could stop her, leading a small group who placed Julio in a lounge chair and carried him off.

Dan’s face felt wobbly, his legs were flushed. No, wait. Reverse that. His systems weren’t working, the wires were crossed. He was in bed ten minutes ago. Did he just see a man—a kid—actually get shot? Over breakfast? Yesterday morning Mara was carrying pool towels. Now she was carrying a pool boy with a hole in his chest.

Earth would freeze in a week. Humans wouldn’t make it that long.

Excerpted from Zero Stars, Do Not Recommend, copyright © 2024 by MJ Wassmer.



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