Part espionage mystery and part action thriller, with a sci-fi twist Zero World emulates what James Bond originally was, before the formula became obsolete in the information age world and post-Bourne cinematic landscape. Caswell even picks up a glamorous partner in the form of Melni, a spy gathering intelligence on the scientist he is targeting, and soon proves to be more than capable of handling herself alongside him.
The intricacies of the differences and similarities to Earth play a large part in the story, least of all why everyone speaks a slight variant of English, and far from merely being a setting gimmick, this is a world with its own distinct history and separate identity, just one that, seemingly inexplicably, happens to look exactly like our own.
As a mercenary with technological enhancements, Caswell has a certain similarity to Richard Morgan’s antihero enforcer Takeshi Kovacs, but he becomes an intriguing character once we see his reaction to killing. Since his mind is wiped after each mission he has no recollection of the lives he has taken, and so his reaction to being required to kill is that of someone who never has. As his guilt and self-loathing increases with every death, you begin to wonder if the memory wipe is a standard procedure or if it’s something only Caswell requires, allowing him to remain sane in the face of what he hates to do while at the same time being all he knows how to do.
Although Caswell’s augmentations and access to advanced weaponry would make him an almost unstoppable opponent in what is to him a technologically backward world, this is balanced by slow deterioration from being unable to eat any of its food, while suspense comes from the countdown constantly ticking before his memory is reverted, meaning that unless he completes his mission he will be stranded on a distant planet with no knowledge of where he is or what’s even happening.
About three quarters of the way through the book suddenly lurches off into a new and unexpected direction, but far from being a jarring departure from everything that came previously it actually serves to streamline the story, providing a single explanation for everything that previously occurred. It’s a bold move, and one that leaves things open to develop further.
ZERO WORLD / AUTHOR: JASON M. HOUGH / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW