March 2, 2016

Special PIE: Review of Fonda Lee’s Debut Novel, ZEROBOXER (Flux 2015), violence, blood, teen freedom…what more could you ask for if you will be a high school senior; you are a high school senior; or you were a high school senior?

ZEROBOXER delivers it all and more. In a future where Earth colonized then lost space – orbital cities, Lunar states, and a Mars free from Earth’s dominion whirl around the sun.

As with all profound societal shifts, humanity keeps its sports and then morphs it to fit the new future. Zeroboxing – boxing in a zero gravity Cube – started on Mars and swept through the rest of the solar system. Earth, as often happens with imperial powers, its best, brightest, and nearly all of its glory bled away, is desperate and war with Mars looms. Carr Luka explodes onto the Terran zeroboxing scene, literally fighting his way to the top with his coach, Uncle Polly by his side. He becomes a star, then a sensation, and finally a Brand, handled by Risha, a woman barely older than he is – who (surprise!) becomes his girlfriend. Then, unexpectedly, he becomes an icon representing all of Earth.

At the height of his career, the secret of his success is forcibly revealed by his mother, his coach, and a shady underworld gene splice dealer. This is a decision that many of the young men and women on Earth today may have to face; making ZEROBOXER both visionary and thought-provoking. Extortion, more victories, and Carr’s growing internal conflict nearly cripple him as he is drawn deeper and more helplessly into an interplanetary conspiracy. He struggles with whether or not to tell his girlfriend the truth about himself, and he doesn’t...

I confess I almost threw the book aside when Risha conveniently, accidentally discovers his secret. It appeared at that moment that the author had dodged the necessity of forcing Carr to resolve his moral dilemma, leaping around the issue like a zeroboxer doing a corner jump. Rolling my eyes, I figured that here was one more novel reinforcing a meme prevalent in “generation Y” that “I’m not responsible! It just happened! It’s not my fault!”

I had to force myself to continue reading.

I am glad I did, because Fonda Lee took on a more important moral dilemma: what do you do when you have to face an impossible situation? It doesn’t matter how you got there, you are stuck in it and you have to move forward; you have to make a sacrifice in order to win free. You have to push through the mess and do the absolute best that you can, no matter the cost.  (Many adults would flat out refuse to lend credence to the number of teens who face impossible situations today. I am not one of them.)

Carr Luka faces his impossible situation finally, at the end of this book and he does the absolute best that he can do. It’s not a perfect solution, but it IS a good one and it depends from Carr’s decision rather than from just letting life roll over him.

This is why I read science fiction, and Lee’s debut novel is subtle, powerful, and will be going into my high school’s library tomorrow morning. If it DOESN’T win a Nebula or a Hugo, then I despair for the field, because this book may very well bring in the young readers we are lacking. I fully expect to see more Fonda Lee books around…in the future.

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