cover image Zero World

Zero World

Jason Hough. Del Rey, $27 (592p) ISBN 978-0-553-39126-8

This massive brick of a science fiction thriller smashes The Bourne Identity together with The End of Eternity to create a thrilling action rampage that confirms Hough (the Dire Earth Cycle) as an important new voice in genre fiction. Peter Caswell, a cybernetically enhanced assassin from a futuristic Earth, and Melni Tavan, a deep-cover operative from a strange incarnation of the 1950s, are two deeply complicated and conflicted spies. Neither can complete their objectives without the other, and their superiors—and enemies—have hidden and often competing motives and plans. Melni and Peter frequently take turns narrating the story, allowing Hough to show off his prodigious linguistic imagination. Melni is a wonderful and nuanced character with precisely defined speech patterns, displaying a marvelous attention to detail, which reflects Hough’s worldbuilding. Peter’s narration, in contrast, occasionally feels stilted and artificial—perhaps appropriate for a cyborg—but that’s hardly enough to distract from Hough’s otherwise immersive prose. Both protagonists are racial minorities in their respective times and places, which influences but never overwhelms the suspense story. Hough’s longtime fans will be especially pleased that the bonus content includes “The Dire Earth,” a prequel novella to his debut, The Darwin Elevator. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Aug.)