This was the book that I purchased as part of the #buydiversebooks initiative and I finally got around to reading it!
A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Set in the Action-Packed Sports Arena of the Future
A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.
As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.
The Good Bits.
Worldbuilding and Politics
Zeroboxer takes place on a space station, Earth, and Mars. What was great about the novel was the specific details about each place. Everyone in this world’s ancestors originated from Earth, but a subsection went to Mars to colonize and altered the genes. And so in addition to the fantastic descriptions of the settings, there’s also this undercurrent of political unrest. People from Mars have developed something of a feeling of superiority with their altered genetics and technology advances. While some people on Earth have developed racist attitudes towards genetic enhancement popular on Mars and the general conduct of the planet. There is a point where Risha, the love interest, is attacked just for being recognized as Martian.
The sport of Zeroboxing itself is well developed. There were different weight levels, rules of the game, strategy and the commercial edge that’s present in any sport. The protagonist Carr, can’t be an athlete and be done with it. The more popular he becomes, the further entrenched he is in appealing to sponsors and crafting his image. And along with that comes the jealousy of fellow boxers and a bit of ego. Zeroboxer did well with crafting a believable sport that’s easy to imagine and has so many more levels to it than just punching people.
I loved all the politics and conflict around genetic testing. It all felt real. I could picture a world where it’s common place to have your children genetically modified to avoid things like diseases or poor eyesight, etc. And it’s a terrifying thought. But it’s one of those things where at first glance it appears to make sense, but the more you think about it, the more sinister it feels. The divide between people who can afford these packages and those who can’t felt the most real.
I hate to say it, but it was the characters. I loved the world so much, but the characters in it weren’t half as good. As I’m sure you can guess because I barely talked about them in the good bits. The protagonist, Carr Luka, is admirable, but ultimately empty. I suppose that he’s too perfect. Even when he blew up on someone, you knew he would just make up with them later. Whenever he went into a fight I was confident that he would win in the end. When things went wrong he found someway to turn it around. It never quite felt like he was losing even when he was losing.
The love interest, Risha, is even worse. She becomes Carr’s PR and marketing agent and then after knowing him for perhaps a week, they’re both super in love with each other. She’s presented as a tough female character but still needed to be saved and protected by Carr at every turn. They would have a fight, and she would (with no intervention from him) ‘come to her senses’ and forgive him. She has a family, but she never talks about them or tells many stories about her personal life. She doesn’t have any hobbies or personal interests besides working for Carr and being with Carr. She falls flat and their relationship reeks of instalove.
The Last Bite.
If you’re searching for a sci-fi where you’re most interested in the world then I would recommend Zeroboxer. But if you’re more character focused then this perhaps isn’t the best book for you. At the end, I was satisfied with the ways things turned out. It was open-ended, but in a way where I was content to imagine the outcome and didn’t feel like another book was necessary.
I know I mentioned that I purchased this as part of the #buydiversebooks initiative. For those of you wondering about the diversity in this book, all the Martians have black skin, that is described as having a shiny quality to it. Carr Luka is described as having olive skin, but no cultural identity beyond being Canadian (from Toronto!) is mentioned. They are suggestions that he may be biracial but his father isn’t in the picture. He’s also from a low socioeconomic status neighbourhood. The author, Fonda Lee, was born is Calgary, Canada and by purchasing you’re supporting a diverse author.
How important is world building to you in a novel? Between characters and the world, what do you care more about? Let me know in the comments!
Let’s do lunch again next week!