Zero World - Jason M. Hough

Zero World

by Jason M. Hough


Peter Caswell can’t remember where he’s been or what he’s been doing, but in his business, that’s par for the course. Caswell’s discretion isn’t just a professional promise; with the help of the implant at the back of his brainstem, it’s physically guaranteed. With his exploits wiped from his mind, Caswell is freed from the memory--and the responsibility--of every kill.


But when his newest mission sends him off to a mysterious spaceship, he finds himself facing new worlds, strange cultures, and alien politics. And the clock is ticking inexorably towards the moment he’ll forget everything.


Zero World is an entertaining thriller with the added bonus of a few questions worth musing over. Peter’s entire lifestyle hinges upon his lack of accountability. Because he can forget everything, he feels responsible for nothing--after all, he’s not the man who completed the mission. But does freedom from memory really mean freedom from accountability?


With the military espionage, fast action, and graphic violence, the book reminded me strongly of Richard K. Morgan’s Broken Angels, and I’d definitely recommend Zero World to its fans. Like Kovacs, Caswell is often troubled by the morality of his actions, but that never stops him from dealing out swift and decisive death to anyone who gets in his way.  Like Broken Angels, the violence is constant and often sickeningly vivid and the book’s body count is staggering, but there are also long stretches where the characters try to assimilate their new surroundings. Morgan is perhaps rather stronger in worldbuilding--although Hough certainly thought carefully about the future he created, there are a few gaps that niggled like a broken fingernail.

For example, the language thing: English is not “the language” of Earth; it’s not even the dominant language of Earth. And what, we’re supposed to imagine that somehow, other than our worlds, all worlds share a common language, and it’s English? That decision had rather too much anglocentrism for my liking.

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At the same time, I found the overarching plot riveting enough to keep me reading to the end, and there were plenty of twists that I didn’t expect.

Although the idea of culture farming and “information parasites” certainly isn’t unique, I think Hough carried it off well. The basic worldbuilding, which reminded me quite strongly of Pratchett’s Long Earth, was satisfying as well as convenient: it neatly explains the presence of humanoids so similar to us on Earth. I also liked the twist at the end where Caswell turns out not to be human.

(show spoiler)

I can’t say much about the plot without spoilers, but if you’re looking for a fast-paced scifi thriller, especially if you enjoyed Richard K Morgan’s Broken Angels, this book is definitely worth a look.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Random House Publishing Group - Del Rey Spectra, in exchange for my honest review.~~