Zero-G by Rob Boffard (book review).

‘Zero-G’ is a brisk SF thriller that essentially transfers the traditional murder-mystery setting from a remote mansion house into a space station, but with a post-apocalyptic twist that helps to raise the stakes sky high. It’s a sequel to Boffard’s 2015 novel ‘Tracer’ and it plays to his proven strengths: believable characters, plenty of action and a certain gritty realism more along the lines of ‘Aliens’ than ‘Star Trek’. Certainly, the female lead character, Riley Hale, owes rather more to Ellen Ripley than she does to Captain Kirk. We might also note that the arch-villains in both stories are female as well, further inverting the usual swashbuckler-in-space trope we’re used to in most Science Fiction stories and films.

The background to the story, developed in ‘Tracer’, is the idea that a nuclear war has essentially wiped humanity off the face of the Earth and people can only survive in an orbiting space station called Outer Earth. Riley Hale is basically a cop, though assigned to a group called the Stompers who maintain peace on-board the space station. Of course, this being a thriller rather than a police procedural, Hale has to break a few of the laws she’s sworn to uphold in pursuit of a higher form of justice.

While this sort of SF thriller isn’t entirely new, it’s a difficult genre cross-over to do well. To Boffard’s credit, his writing is pacy, combining short chapters with multiple viewpoints, ensuring that exposition is kept to a minimum. Instead, the reader leaps about catching snapshots of the events, like the highlights on a rolling news network or perhaps a better analogy is a Michael Bay action movie. This is more fiction as the prototype for a Hollywood summer blockbuster than anything else.

That said, it would be erroneous to imagine the story is completely without scientific merit. Several aspects were worked on in collaboration with real world scientists and that certainly adds to the authenticity of story. So, while the novel is primarily a thriller, the stuff about killer viruses and asteroid catchers makes some sort of sense and because it’s all the more believable, the threat level is that much more intense.

Overall, a good, quick read if you’re looking for something that crosses the ‘Alien’ films with the Jason Bourne thrillers, all set in a post-apocalyptic Wyndham-cum-‘Planet Of The Apes’ world where mankind’s very survival hangs in the balance.

Neale Monks

July 2017

(pub: Orbit/LittleBrown, 2016. 452 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50515-2)

check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.robboffard.com

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