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Zero World by Jason M. Hough
Edited by Michael Braff
Review by Jon Guenther
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553391268
Date: 11 August 2015 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Jason Hough's Zero World is an action-packed story about Peter Caswell, a cold and calculating secret operative whose lethal skills are enhanced by biotech. Caswell shouldn't be mistaken for a cyborg in the style of a Terminator machine, for example, but more like a human that has an implant giving him near super-human abilities of endurance and strength, just to name a couple.

In this story, Caswell is sent by his handler to investigate the recovery of a ship that had disappeared many years before and returned filled with dead crew members, all murdered but one who is missing. Of course, the natural expectation is that things go very wrong from that point and they most certainly do.

I found Zero World a straight-up sci-fi action thriller but I had pretty mixed feelings about it by the time I'd finished. To Mr. Hough's credit, the book has a decent pace throughout and the mechanics of what earns books the title of "page-turner" were there... mostly. I sense the author has a great affinity and some natural ability for this type of fiction, but there were times I felt a lack of polish. The action scenes were descriptive and powerful, and the dialog kept things interesting.

The characters were well-rounded and pretty consistent; there weren't sudden gross shifts in personality you can sometimes see in novels like this where characters act in bizarre ways contrary to what's established earlier. I could definitely empathize with Caswell but I also, in some regards, wished that the character of Alia Valix, a.k.a. Alice Vale, had gotten more stage time, particularly in lieu of the fact she was a major antagonist throughout the story.

The really difficult part of liking Zero World more, however, came from the weak structure. There were scenes and passages that contained a long, plodding narrative at points, and on that count the book could have probably had some parts excised without any loss of story value. I think this was due in part to the fact some of the action scenes were really pointless, and other scenes involved information dumps disguised as character interaction through dialog. There were also promises of things to be revealed (e.g., a character would say something along the lines of "I'll get to that in a minute") but then they never materialized. At the end of this, it's always difficult to pin these things down with certainty since the reality is things can change between an advanced reading copy and the finished product. In any case, I definitely found some convoluted plot points and structural difficulties that left me scratching my head. I also found some chapter-to-chapter inconsistencies in the alternate world where the better part of the novel is set.

For die-hard fans of the author, I should note the last 125 pages of the book included a novella titled The Dire Earth, a prequel story to Mr. Hough's The Darwin Elevator, which I will forgo reviewing here.

Overall, I would say Zero World is a fun and at times even campy sci-fi adventure, but from the viewpoint of a recommendation I would merely say "it's not bad and it's not great." It was okay.

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