“Zero World” is a fast furious powder keg of a novel. An ingenious plot makes the story all the more exciting. Jason Hough’s fourth novel, following the winning and immensely readable “Dire Earth” trilogy of last summer , is a great summer read. The story is fresh, fast, interesting and intense and has great science fiction antecedents. Mixing elements of science fiction, “Jason Bourne”, “Total Recall”, assassins and “Star Trek’s” Prime Directive, the novel succeeds on almost every level.
Jason Hough’s main character Peter Caswell is an assassin employed by a corporation known as Archon. His handler is a Monica Pendleton, who Caswell thinks is helping humanity and Archon by eliminating enemies of both. Caswell has a brain implant that speeds up his reflexes and makes him practically a superman. Along with a truly horrible gun, that shoots tiny missiles that explode in a person’s body, Caswell has racked up an impressive list of kills. He is the perfect weapon. However, Caswell does not remember any details of his kills. The implant erase his memory of what he has done.
At home after a mission, Caswell has reverted back to his normal self and is about to go on vacation, when Pendleton contacts him and sends him on a mission. He is to join an investigative squad exploring a returning spaceship which has apparently discovered technology that is a danger to Earth. After accomplishing his mission, Pendleton sends him on a spaceship through a space anomaly to a distant world where he is to stop an escapee from the spaceship gone to ground. He crashlands on the planet.
However, the new world is very similar to Earth. Is Caswell on Earth 2.0? We do not know and before we even can get comfortable with Caswell on the new world, the point of view switches to Melni Tavan, who lives on the mysterious world.
Melni Tavan is a spy for the South working in the North as a journalist. She is trying to find out about Valix, a woman who has come out of nowhere and her eponymous corporation that has incubated a technological revolution in the world jolting the North forward. The Valix Corporation’s ideas and innovations has given the North a leg up while causing consternation with the South. The South wants to stop Valix before its too late. Valix labs have produced microchips, semiconductors and other technological leaps. The Prime Directive is being completely violated. Or is it?
Caswell’s first attempt to assassinate Valix will be a failure, but Valix will reveal important truths about Caswell. It will also alert the North and Valix to his presence, but during his escape, he runs into Tavan, who, with the South, will try to use Caswell to stop Valix.
But we still do not know whether Caswell is on the good team. Making Caswell’s mission harder is that he cannot digest the food on the planet. And without food, his implant, the technological marvel, that makes him a superman is not as effective.
Now the North will be going after Caswell while Tavan and Caswell are going after Valix. There is high tension. Will Caswell be able to survive in his mission to stop Valix or not. All the while Caswell’s implant is also counting down days to when he will revert and will not remember any of the events of the last 30 days. When will that happen? Caswell will have scant time to even know and prepare.
While the action is blossoming, we are learning about the world, Valix and Caswell and what we learn is very surprising. Hidden agendas, secret plots, powerful enemies, great action and memorable characters. Hough takes standard science fiction tropes and gives them a fresh life and verve.
Ultimately, Hough pulls off a complex science fiction thriller keeping the reader guessing about the good guys and the bad guys. The ultimate deception and reveal will be super smart and convincing.
This is a smash hit. Loved it.