Zero World by Jason M. Hough was a recommended pick by my favorite Independent Bookstore. My husband read it and said I would love it. Then geek goddess Felicia Day couldn’t praise it highly enough and I finally decided to give it a go. Once started, I couldn’t put it down. This book lives up to the buzz it has generated.
In a not to distant future when relatively near space travel has become routine, Archon corporation has developed technology to create the perfect assassin. An implant is put in the head which can release hormones and neurotransmitters at a command allowing an assassin to become super human. The implant, for example, can speed up thought processes, making it seem as though time has slowed and makes for great “bullet time” like action sequences. The implant can enhance senses and allow a person go past the what would be physically allowed for a normal person.
Assassins are under contract and work with a handler. When an assassin accepts a job, the handler activates a code set on a timer in the implant. At the specified time, the implant wipes out everything that has happened since the timer was started, erasing all knowledge of the operation just performed. This memory wipe allows the assassin to continue on with life unburdened by the guilt of having committed murder and whatever other atrocities may have occurred in completing the mission.
Peter Caswell is an excellent assassin, at least his handler tells him so. Due to the memory wipes, each time he heads out it’s as if he has never done it before. To keep himself sharp and ready for any situation he may find himself in Peter does the usual things like train in martial arts and weapons. Since he has no memories to fall back on and help him in future missions he also spends his down time doing what he considers spy training or practice. By chatting up randoms in the airport he picks an assumed identity (a Chinese factory foreman from Shanghai) and then a random location in the world (Patagonia). He buys a ticket and heads off having to come up with a reason for why the assumed identity would be traveling to that part of the world. Peter figures the more he practices immersing himself in an unfamiliar environment with a made up backstory the better he will be able to perform his missions and it seems to have worked so far.
Then comes the mission that his handler promises will be, “the most interesting mission you’ll ever forget. I guarantee it”. What happens from here is an edge of your seat thrill ride as Peter attempts to complete his mission while a counter is ticking down to memory wipe time. Along the way Peter meets Melni, also a kick ass spy but lacking the tech in his head. This is as much her story as it is his as they find themselves working together but with differing goals. Melni is quick thinking, resourceful, and loyal to her cause. Watching the two of them understand the ramifications of the information they learn along the way and how that changes them as people is what makes this a great story with a fascinating setting. This is not grand empire sprawling Space Opera, it is a much smaller focused sci-fi spy thriller with detail oriented world building that makes it feel immediate and real.
Recently I’ve stopped reading book jackets and started reading books with as little information as possible and in this particular case I would urge you to do the same. It makes the twist that kicks off the adventure that much more enjoyable imho. Jason M. Hough is also the author of the trilogy that starts with The Darwin Elevator.