Zero Sum Game - Adds up to a Positive Integer

Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) - SL Huang

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 0
bombs: 4
bondage: 2
blasphemy: 1
Stars: 3
Bechdel Test: Pass
Deggan's Rule: Pass
Gay Bechdel Test: Fail

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

I read this about three weeks ago and forgot to do a review. I recollect an action/adventure thriller that was enjoyable enough, but the simple plot and gimmicky use of the heroine's superpower detracted from what could have been a great book. From the cover and some of the marketing verbiage I get the sense that this is supposed to by a cyberpunky sort of story, but it's not set far enough into the future nor has technology progressed enough to start fracturing the definition of humanity. It's set in the very near future in southern California which ticked another of my favorite pet peeve boxes. I've long railed against movies written in Los Angeles about people in Los Angeles that are in turn filmed in Los Angeles. It's a big planet and I think we should explore the rest of it. After reading this book, it turns out books set near Los Angeles where the weather is always so perfect it needn't be mentioned get my gourd as well.

This isn't an Urban Fantasy book. We know this because our spunky heroine doesn't use magic, she uses math. But the way it's presented and used, it might as well be magic. My fellow unix peeps will understand what I'm saying here:
cat ${text} | sed s/math/magic/g
Our heroine is able to not necessarily "bend the rules" of physics, but take advantage of all the improbable loopholes. Conveniently, she's not just smarter but also faster and stronger than most people. And it's so hard being so much smarter and tougher than everyone else, too! As important as "math" is to the main character, the math wasn't developed at all - it just happens as if she were casting a spell or using a relic. Example: she's in a jam, she does "some MATH" and suddenly she's able to do a roundhouse kick through a second-story window from a standing start on the ground. This is not Charles Stross style math, this is Math As Mysticism. I started this book hoping the math would be intense but it's not. The use of the word "vector" is about as technical as it gets:

My leap took me high in an arc above the grimy pavement twenty feet below, a long moment of weightlessness before my shoulder slammed into the concrete wall above Tresting’s window. Time seemed to slow. In hundredths of a second I was going to fall; my margin for error was almost nonexistent. I looked down at the two-story drop below me, equations unspooling in my head, the acceleration of gravity tumbling through every incarnation of every possible assignment of variables, and I flattened my arm against the cinderblocks, forcing friction to delay me the slightest touch. Vector diagrams of normal force and gravitational pull and kinetic friction roared through my senses. Just before gravity won and sucked me into a two-story plunge to the alleyway below, I dropped the SIG.
It outstripped me by the smallest fraction of a second, and as it fell between the bars and the top lip of the wall above the window, I shot out my left foot and came down on it with my entire body weight. The frame of the handgun slammed against the bars on one side and the top lip of the window on the other with all the force a simple machine could harness, and became my very own makeshift crowbar.

The pacing of the book was frenetic; all action all the time. I didn't mind this so much, but I think some more downtime to give the characters some room to grow would have been appropriate. Most of the characters were very stiff, and while pains had been taken to make sure the tropes were uniquely voiced, all of the characters were still the typical cast you'd expect in a thriller. Again, they were all voiced and characterized well enough but I wouldn't call any of these characters especially memorable.

This book was a very quick read, and easy enough to digest. Not especially memorable or amazingly well written, but certainly better than a lot of the swill that's out there. I believe this is the author's first book, and I hope s/he continues to write and improve his/her craft. Not everyone is at the top of their game on their first try, but this is a much better showing than most first books. The book avoids so many of the pitfalls of the genre (like lame love interests) and shows a willingness to try something new which counts for a lot for me. This book was no Th1rte3n, but it wasn't a waste of time either.