Zero World, by Jason Hough
Published: 18th August 2015
Jason Hough’s Zero World is Mission Impossible on page. It’s a high octane thriller set in the not-too-distant future that sees an assassin murder, brawl and shoot his way through a parallel universe. There are mind-controlled murder weapons, a beautiful punk spy with purple eyes, and scintillating set piece after scintillating set piece.
Protagonist Peter Caswell is the forgetful assassin charged with tracking down and eliminating Alice Vale, who fled a weapons research spaceship with all of Earth’s technological knowhow and escaped into a parallel universe, because, Caswell is told, she wants to play God to the other Earth’s inhabitants, who suffered an extinction event and are in the midst of their own Cold War.
Zero World is unrepentant in its set pieces, with Caswell, who meets up with purple eyed Southern spy Melni Tavan, murdering anyone who gets in his way. He doesn’t pick sides but picks off henchman of both the Northern and Southern factions as he and Tavan, who wants to kidnap Vale so her side can learn of the inventions she has gifted the North, leap from trains, take down airships and beat many a guard to death. It’s at times unbearably brutal, but Hough doesn’t hang around, eager to move on to the next violent escape, and ramp up the body count.
The sheer level of action makes Zero World repetitive at times and the story fails to move forward on numerous occasions. Add to this a transparent twist, over teased too early in the story, and the novel struggles to grip when it isn’t gunning down foes. But a novel twist on the parallel dimension story means that linguistic differences and local food keep the protagonists’ feet grounded when they’re not dismantling hordes of assassins.
The finale promises sequels and reveals a larger plot at play that suggests Hough will move further into spy territory and away from assassins and murder-by-numbers. There are other worlds to explore, offshoots of humanity to kill and different political environments to deconstruct and spy on, so here’s hoping that Hough embraces a bit more of the spy in him, and considers his lust for murder satisfied.