Review: Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Zero World

I didn’t actually read the synopsis of Zero World when I requested a copy for review. I had enjoyed Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth series so much, I figured I’d like anything he wrote. I also hoped this would continue that story. I was wrong on one account and right on the other. Zero World introduces a new story and universe, but it’s just as compelling as Hough’s previous novels.

Peter Caswell is an assassin. He has a switch in his head, that when flipped, allows him to act almost without conscience, knowing that when he completes his assignment, he will be reset, forgetting any atrocities he may have committed. He begins each job as a rookie – remembering only his training and whatever skills he acquires in between.

His latest assignment will be the most interesting one he will ever forget. A lost spaceship has been found. He is sent to investigate and discovers it is full of bodies. But one crew member is missing, as is a landing pod. Caswell’s switch is flipped and he’s sent after her. In a second lander, he follows a preprogrammed course through a wormhole. On the other side he discovers a planet that looks just like Earth – except for the huge scar of craters across the middle. This duplicate planet only looks like Earth, however. Their culture is heavily influenced by this cratered scar which divides the continents into North and South. They speak English, but with market differences. They dress differently, and he cannot stomach any of their food.

Tracking his quarry in this alien landscape is already a test of Caswell’s skill and adaptability. He also has a time limit. He will reset in just fourteen days, six of which will be required for the journey back through the wormhole. If he forgets why he’s there, he may never get home.

This book is divided into four parts. I devoured the first part. Futuristic assassins equipped with techy gadgets set upon intergalactic mysteries? Sign me up. The second part was a little tougher to read. Hough introduces his second principle lead, another spy named Melni Tavan. I liked Melni and through her, formed an appreciation for the thought the author had put into creating the duplicate earth. Everything was just off. A different culture, a different social norm. For instance, women are dominant and men usually wear their hair long. It was like reading a book with 3D glasses. The focus was a little weird.

Eventually, Melni and Caswell run into one another, complicating their respective missions. Then, in the third part, THINGS HAPPEN. The truth of it all is revealed and it’s pretty cool. In the fourth part, Caswell reverts, forgetting everything, and he has to rely on Melni to complete his mission. What he doesn’t realise is that his mission parameters have changed.

Overall, I enjoyed Zero World. It was new and different. Caswell and Melni were extremely likeable characters. I did wonder when Melni was going to properly react to all the killing, but I did enjoy her propensity toward planning. A woman after my own heart. Caswell’s situation came with a lot of build in sympathy, and when he discovered the truth, I was fully invested in how he’d overcome the lie of his existence.

My one issue with Zero World would be with the overwhelming number of action scenes. The book is exciting in that Caswell and Melni are constantly running for their lives. But not a lot of plot elements hinge on these sequences. I got a little bored reading fight scene after fight scene, particularly as the plot is actually fairly simple. The magic lies in the big reveal, which could have come a little sooner, I think.

Still, it’s an entertaining read that introduces a diverse new universe, and while Zero World does work as a standalone novel, there is a lot of story left to tell.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

New York Comic Con 2013

Me auditioning as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

My mission this year at the New York Comicon was to meet Greg Capullo. I failed miserably, in part due to the NYCC mobile app being all but useless and because there were 125,000 people pressed hip to shoulder inside the Javits Center. Navigating the crowd became the featured activity, seconded by finding an empty piece of wall to slump against for a few minutes. Waiting in line for the restroom was the third. But, that’s a convention. The crowds are part and parcel of the experience. If you’re averse to being sandwiched between strangers for longer than a minute or being poked in the eye by someone’s homemade sword, a con isn’t for you. A convention has a lot more to offer than a lethal cocktail of body odour, though. Continue reading “New York Comic Con 2013”

Review: The Plague Forge

The Plague Forge by Jason M. Hough

Best last line, ever. I had to get that out first; it’s an important observation because the last line of this book perfectly illustrates the cyclical nature of the trilogy. The line serves as an explanation (even without the benefit of the epilogue), a conclusion and a beginning. The story is far from over, though the Dire Earth Cycle is definitely complete.

That is a rare thing in speculative fiction; to come upon a satisfactory conclusion. More usually, an end is simply a pause, a chance for the author and reader to take a breath before they launch into the next trilogy. No doubt, this is a pause, too. But the next chapter in this saga will be very different. James M. Hough will not return to tell the same story from a different point of view.

On to the book, itself. The Plague Forge is the last volume in the Dire Earth Cycle and everything is wheeling toward conclusion. The timetable is compressed, again, the window between visits from the Builders the smallest yet, and there seems more to do. Three keys are still to be found, mysteries unraveled and villains dealt with. No one pauses for breath, least of all the reader as the pages seemingly turn themselves.

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Review: The Exodus Towers

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, movable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a deadly plague. The Exodus Towers, book two of the Dire Earth Cycle, begins shortly afterward. There is no rest for the weary! It’s another race against time, the deadline shortened to a pair of years, but the questions are bigger and the puzzles more complex. Is the new space elevator a second chance for humanity, or is it a new kind of cage?

A second colony is established in Brazil, at the base of the new space elevator and, for a while, its business as usual. Every decision is processed by the slow moving machine of the provisional leadership, headed by Dr. Tania Sharma. On the ground, Skyler Luiken resumes his trade: scavenging. In Darwin, Russell Blackfield gnashes his teeth with evil intent and Samantha proves size does matter. Subhumans are still subhuman and the Builders are still inscrutable.

Hough doesn’t tell the same story twice, however. Using established elements, he immediately deepens the mystery, adding a band of Immunes and more deviously altered subhumans. He also plays with fanaticism. It’s not a proper post apocalypse without a couple of religious nutcases, after all. The leader of the new immunes dreams of a new world populated by a superior race (sound familiar?) and, back in Darwin, the leader of the Jacobites is spreading fear and fervor. The second elevator is a problem for Jacobite Grillo; there should be only one Jacob’s Ladder. The colony at the base of the second elevator is a problem for Gabriel and his gang of immunes; the humans clustered within its aura are untested.

One of these men will be dealt with, the other needs to be dealt with. Separately, they keep Skyler and Samantha busy until the Builders arrive, as scheduled.

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Review: The Darwin Elevator

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough has style and substance. The characters are vivid and compelling and the plot features more than just another zombie apocalypse. I was hooked by the end of the first page.

It’s the twenty-third century and Darwin is the last viable city on Earth. Thirty years before, aliens known only as The Builders visited the planet and installed a space elevator on the remote peninsula of northern Australia. As scientists and opportunists flocked to the southern continent, the city grew. Then came the plague: SUBS. Those who did not die a quick and painful death devolved, became sub-human with one key emotion heightened, most usually aggression.

The elevator offers protection from the plague, an aura nine miles in circumference, which is not a lot of room for the remnant population. Darwin is overcrowded, food is a commodity. The population is split into two distinct classes; the refugees penned in by the aura and the Orbitals, residents of a series of stations anchored to the space elevator. The Orbitals rely on Darwin for water and air and Darwin relies on the food from the agricultural platforms. Both rely on scavengers: the few, the brave, the foolhardy. Scavengers venture outside the aura in search of parts, batteries, ammunition and, occasionally, the fate of a loved one.

Continue reading “Review: The Darwin Elevator”