Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

37534869Zero Sum Game is a sci-fi thriller and the first book in the Russell’s Attic series. It follows Cas Russell, a mercenary whose superpower is based on mathematics.

I think this is the kind of story that would work perfectly as a movie. It’s fast-paced and full of action, fight scenes and unpredictable twists – just the kind of thing I’d like to see on a screen. Someone please adapt this, I need to see it.
As a book, it’s not exactly my kind of thing, but I liked it anyway.

I’m not sure sci-fi thrillers are a genre that appeals to me, but I can’t deny that I was really invested in the characters even when I wasn’t finding the plot interesting. If you like this genre and you’re interested in a story with magical mathematics and a diverse cast, I really recommend this. I decided to read this story because I want to read most books in which the main characters are women who are in some way scientists – and I ended up really liking Cas and the descriptions of her mathematical abilities, but the main reason this book worked for me were the character dynamics.

I loved Cas Russell’s narration. Hotheaded, antisocial, not as rational as she think she is, flawed, one-woman army Cas Russel. I love her. And she’s not too powerful for the story (reading about a character who solves things only with their superpowers would be boring), since the villain’s power ends up being literal mind control.
I also really liked the side characters:

  • Rio was my favorite of the side characters. I never would have thought I would like a character who is basically a really religious psychopath, but he was a really entertaining one.
  • Arthur Tresting is a black PI, probably the most normal person in the group and would ordinarily be the sanest person in the room. Since sane people are easier to manipulate for the villain, that isn’t always true.
  • Checker is the hacker. He collaborates with Arthur, is very good as disappearing, and has a sense of humor that often includes annoying others. I loved the humor in this book (another aspect that, again, would translate really well on a screen). Checker uses a wheelchair.

I loved them individually, but I loved them even more as a group. Powerful people working together against someone who’s worse and reluctant friendships are some of my favorite things to read about.

Another thing I really liked were the questions this book raised about ethics and free will. I would have liked to see more of that.

While I did really like the characters and their interactions, I wasn’t always invested in the plot. I think mind control makes the plot less interesting – when the villain can make everyone act like they want, there’s an excuse for really unwise decisions that isn’t only “because we needed a plot”, but it doesn’t make those decisions any wiser. It doesn’t leave that much space for interesting character growth. Mind control also seems to make for a somewhat unsatisfying ending, but I can’t explain without spoilers.

My rating: ★★★½