Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee was intriguing to me. It’s science fiction, and its central focus is a sport. I love science fiction, and I also love sports. I picked it up from the library immediately purely based on the brief description of it being sci-fi with a sports arena. Well, I didn’t even think about it, but the title has “boxer” in it and so I should have expected boxing. I don’t like boxing–I just don’t see the appeal of watching people beat each other up–so my expectations went down. Lee would have to really write a great book to keep me hooked. In short, she did. There are SPOILERS in what follows.
The first thing that sold me was the frantic pace of the action in the book. The fight scenes are truly spectacularly done, as boxing in zero gravity sounds pretty intense and strategic. I liked that Lee came up with different broad styles for how people fought, and then used announcers to highlight these different styles for different fights. This was balanced with a look at the realities of having to sign contracts and try to move up in a sport as the main character, Carr “The Raptor” Luka, had to balance all of these things.
But that still wouldn’t have been enough to grab me. Sure, far-future sports could be interesting, but it needed more. Well, Lee had more to give. The book offered mere hints of a broader conflict shaping in the solar system, but these hints were put forward in such a way as to maintain interest in how “normal” citizens could live amid the tensions. More importantly, however, was the aspect of bioethics that Lee introduced into the book.
Luka, unknown to himself, has been genetically enhanced beyond the legal limits. In other words, he is not allowed to be a zeroboxer, or be in any sport, due to his enhancements. He finds this out when the criminal who worked with his mom to do this for/to him turns up as his popularity increases, and he must internally struggle with whether to turn himself in or keep going under a falsified genetic profile. He must also decide whether to share this with Risha, his Brandhelm–adviser/marketer. I appreciated the thought involved in these moral quandaries, and it added dimension to the novel that, had it not been there, would have been merely okay.
The biggest flaws in the book are intertwined. There are several pretty explicit scenes which I felt were pretty unnecessary and a little out of place in a book largely marketed for teens. The book speaks frankly and not infrequently of sex and would rate an “R” if it were a film. Given that “R” ratings are for 17+, it seems out of place in a young adult novel. The second issue is that these same scenes are written awkwardly. There’s a frankness in the language that makes it feel forced. It’s hard to describe, but the stilted feel of it takes away from the plot just as much as the unnecessarily explicit scenes.
Overall, Zeroboxer was an adrenaline-filled ride with more thoughtful moments than one might expect from the premise. It was a truly promising debut. I look forward to more from the author.
+Intense, frenetic action in the ring
+Interweaves bioethics into the text in compelling fashion
+Decent twists and turns
+Potential for more
-Quite explicit at times
-Strangely literal/stilted when speaking of sex
-Only glimpses of the universe offered
J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!