Zero Sum Game

Zero Sum Game (Cas Russell, #1)Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cas is a super hero. Actually, she’s a super antihero. Her super power is that she is unbelievably (literally) good at math. She knows all the formulas, constants, algorithms, axioms, and whatnot necessary to compute, well, pretty much anything faster than a supercomputer. Combined with her uncanny observational skills and her ability to judge relative distances, atmospheric pressure, wind speeds and directions, and any other pertinent variable, along with her impressive physical strength and apparently superhuman reflexes, she’s close to unstoppable. You really don’t want to annoy her or get in her way because she’ll kill you stone dead without a second thought or a moment of remorse. Like I said, she’s an antihero, so screwed up she makes Batman look psychologically well-adjusted. Cas is the protagonist of this story.

On the other side of the narrative equation is an organization that wants to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, it’s operating under the standard rationalization used by dictators, religious cults and ideologues throughout history: the ends justify the means. They also have a superpower. It’s mind control. They can make you believe whatever they want, which means you’ll do what they want, almost like a puppet on strings. It even works on Cas, although she does have more resistance than most people. The one person who does seem to be immune is her not-friend and ally Rio. Like Cas, he’s a psychopath, but as an added bonus to his uncharming pesonality, he’s also a sadist. The secret organization bent on improving the world wants to recruit him, which is how Cas gets involved. It’s a clever bit of plotting, but we don’t need to go into that for a short book review.

It’s difficult for me to come up with a single star rating for this book. There are parts that I think are brilliant. The story is interesting. The pacing is excellent. The prose is fine. There are no obvious flaws with the editing. But then there are the characters. Since this is a superhero kind of story, you can’t expect them to be believable, but they are comprehensible. They have distinct personalities and understandable motivations (more or less), and yet I found them lacking. The thing is, I like to have good guys in my fiction, at least one character I can like and relate to. It doesn’t have to be the protagonist, and they don’t have to be capital G good. Actually, it’s better if they have flaws and shortcomings and things they are striving to overcome or improve. But they need to have some redeeming qualities, and the main characters in this story really don’t have any. At least the major players don’t. An action story is like a sporting event in which two (or more) players compete, and the reader is supposed to root for one of them to prevail over the other. But in this story, I couldn’t pick a side. Since the story is told in first person from Cas’s point of view, I knew more about her than than the others, but I didn’t feel any sympathy for her. She abounds with negative personality traits. The only positive thing about her that I could see is that she isn’t worse. I certainly didn’t like her. Her primary motivations are self-preservation and revenge. Unlike her opponents, she doesn’t really have an ultimate goal or idea she’s fighting for. As far as the outcome of the fictional narrative went, I didn’t much care which side prevailed.

The Goodreads rating system is based on how much you enjoy the book, and I can’t say I really enjoyed this one. It’s a well-written, action-packed tale with lots of ass kicking, but it doesn’t have much of what I normally look for in a book. There are no endearing, admirable, or even likable characters. It’s not witty or insightful. There is no theme with real-world relevance, a tone I could relate to, or a compelling mood. This may be a great book for readers who like lots of “action,” but I’m not motivated to read any more stories with these characters.

View all my reviews

About Dave

A reader and writer of speculative fiction. See my website for more information on me and my writing.

Posted on September 17, 2019, in Book Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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