Zero World by Jason M. Hough

What you’ll find in a Hough book is a sprawling, sometimes meandering, tour de force of action, everyman characters, and very big ideas. While sometimes it works better than other times, it is always an entertaining ride. With Zero World, we have a 007 fantastical set up (don’t worry, no volcano lairs to be found here) mixed with Bourne Identity mystery. Use of those parallels isn’t coincidental: Hough’s books are very cinematic in a Michael Bay type of bombastic, over-the-top zeal. It’s popcorn sci fi at its best – accessible and fun. Just don’t take the ‘sci’ in the ‘fi’ too seriously and enjoy the ride.

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Story: Superspy of the future, Peter Caswell is highly enhanced and gets the jobs done. But always with a catch: his memories of the deeds are erased (reset) after each job, leaving him with a pardonable conscience. When a space mission goes wrong, Peter is sent into space to investigate and minimize damages. What he finds, however, is a route to a ‘mirror Earth’ that is both very similar (geographically) but very different (societally) – the only true parallel is that they speak English . He has a mission – to assassinate a woman giving highly advanced earth technology to the mirror planet. He’ll meet up with a female spy from the mirror planet who also has an interest in the target – and together they will uncover a universe-wide plot.

As with the Dire Earth cycle, Zero World starts very small and then by the end of the book, explodes into a huge conspiracy. Littered along the way are little mysteries as to what’s really going on but what we find out in book one will likely still be the tip of the iceberg as the plot progresses.

Hough turns even the most unique snowflake into likable anti-heroes; they may be annoying but you can’t help but love them like you would a puppy who blissfully urinates on your kitchen floor. The characters make mistakes, they may not figure things out quickly, but you still want to see their relationships progress. The male characters are usually more interesting – women too often fall into nun or whore category, and love interests are typically a little too perfect and pretty. But then, who wants to see James Bond flirting with a 45 year old frumpy cat lady?

There are whole areas that could have been excised or written with more brevity to keep pace going. Zero World is tighter than the Darwin Elevator books but it would still be nice to see his writing streamlined even more. These books have the vastness of a hard sci fi but none of the depth; as such, the action scenes could use less description and characters lose a lot of the frequent, ‘oh, I’m a spy/assassin but if I don’t think about what I do too carefully, the killing doesn’t matter” bit.

Zero World is definitely an enjoyable piece, fluffy/fun and doesn’t cause a brain hemorrhage despite the concepts of dimensional travel. Don’t take it too seriously – this is a Summer movie blockbuster type book that is very cinematic and diverting. It’s not Asimov and has no pretensions otherwise. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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