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Zero World
Jason M. Hough
Del Rey, Hardcover, $27, 592 pp
Published: August 2015

Jason M. Hough earned heaps of praise for his “Dire Earth” cycle, which focused around an alien plague that killed most of Earth’s population, except for those near a space elevator located in Darwin, Australia.

He’s fulfilled that promise with his new offering, Zero World, a futuristic techno-thriller about a secret agent caught between parallel universes.

Peter Casman is the perfect assassin. Brutal, efficient and unable to remember his jobs after they are completed. Genetically enhanced and programmed to forget his last job with the recitation of a Queensryche lyric, he has only a fat wad of cash and beer bottles in his fridge to remind him of what he did.

And how many people he has killed.

While recovering from his latest case and getting ready for a vacation in South America, Casman is summoned for a last minute job, recovering the black box from a salvaged spaceship, lost for a dozen years.

But the job quickly takes a strange turn as he is ordered to assassinate the rest of his salvage crew and launch into space in pursuit of Alice, a missing member of the original crew — his orders to eliminate her, with extreme prejudice.

“This will be the most interesting mission you’ll ever forget,” Caswell’s handler Monique tells him.

The new mission takes Casman to a parallel universe, a “zero world.” It turns out that Earth is a focal point of the multiverse, with countless parallel worlds mirroring out from it.

This parallel planet, Gartien, is similar to Earth, albeit with a band of destruction stretching around the globe and across most of Europe, and the language is close enough to be understandable (with a few idiomatic idiosyncrasies). The technology, however is a couple centuries behind Casman’s world, and the fear is that after her crew discovered Gartien, Alice returned to use her knowledge of Earth technology to become rich by patenting inventions.

Casman has to infiltrate, assassinate and escape from Gartien before reverting and losing his memory of the mission. Or how to return.

In the meantime, Gartien is embroiled in a Cold War. Melni is an agent from the South, seeking to discover the source of Alice’s inventions, which benefit the North. Her and Casman’s missions intersect in a mind-bendy, timey-wimey sort of way, which Hough describes as James Bond meets Inception.

Not a bad description actually. Indeed, some of the explanations of the multiverse get as confusing as Inception. But that’s a small quibble.

Along the way, the pair team up and discover deeper layers to the mystery behind Gartien and its place in the universe, as well as darker truths about Caswell’s past, building to an explosive conclusion leading into a sequel.

The sequel part actually surprised me. The eBook has a hefty sampling from Hough’s debut, The Darwin Elevator, tacked onto the end, so I was kind of shocked when I turned the page and it was done.

No matter, I’m looking forward to Caswell and Melni’s further adventures in the multiverse. ~~ Michael Senft

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