Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee. ★★★1/2
When Zeroboxer first came out, I passed on it because while it was a sci-fi book, it was also a sports story. And I’m really not into sports.
Then, I read Fonda Lee’s Jade City and developed a burning need to read everything she’s ever written. Turns out, while I may not be into sports stories, I can get on board for one that’s as well written as Zeroboxer.
Carr Luka is rising star in the sport of zeroboxing, an MMA style fighting sport played in zero gravity. At only seventeen, Carr has a chance to win the championship title. However, while Carr may care only about zeroboxing, a lot more starts to ride on him as his fame grows. He becomes a symbol for an Earth that’s feeling outpaced by Mars, and a devastating personal secret will make Carr question everything.
Fonda Lee writes great action scenes, and Zeroboxer gives her plenty of space to show off her skill. It’s faced paced, and I never once contemplating quitting it. In fact, I ended up reading Zeroboxer when I had other things I really should have been doing!
Carr lives on a station on the far side of the moon that’s basically the Vegas of outer space. We don’t see much of it — only bits and pieces, but it feels entirely believable. The overarching political conflict is between Earth and Mars (this bit sort of reminded me of The Expanse). Mars is populated by scientists who genetically modify themselves to better fit the planet. Meanwhile, Earth has strict laws regarding genetic modification, even while its expected that parents provide at least baseline genetic modification for their children’s health. These are some of the deeper issues lying under the surface of Zeroboxer — what are the ethics of genetic modification? Can a person be illegal?
Still, I don’t think Zeroboxer dives as deeply into these issues as it perhaps could have. In part, this is because Carr is focused on zeroboxing and basically lives for his time in the cube. The other major focus to his life is his developing relationship with Risha, his brandhelm. I wasn’t a fan of this romantic subplot. For one, it felt underdeveloped and based on how hot Carr found Risha. For another, doesn’t anyone find it sort of creepy that a twenty-two year old starts dating a seventeen-year old? She insists on waiting until he’s eighteen for them to have sex, but it still felt sort of iffy.
Even if sports stories aren’t my thing and Zeroboxer isn’t as complex as some of Fonda Lee’s later work, Zeroboxer was well enough written that I could enjoy it. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever feel compelled to give it a re-read.