Anti-heroine & Action in the Cas Russell Series by S. L. Huang

The series so far (2020) consists of Zero Sum Game #1, Null Set #2, Critical Point #3

Pages: 336, 312 and 368

Genre: thriller/mystery type of book with some science fiction aspects, mostly in people with ‘superpowers’ (used for more bad than good)

It’s truly going into the pile (in my head) of favourite books.

Synopsis

For the first book as to not spoil anything;

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

My thoughts

Rating out of five: five stars, four stars, four stars

I was looking for a character like Cas when I started this series, which I think is the clue to liking it. What you’re dealing with is mob/cartel level of action and bloodbath, where the side characters are everything from cops turned ‘personal investigators’ to trained assassins and sharpshooters. Not to mention the whole ‘evil organization’ thing going on, which turns out to actually have a whole epic scheme going on. The bad reviews I’ve seen has made me angry in that they’re mostly people who hate the cold calculated voice that Cas brings to this, but surely they’re warned that this isn’t some young adult book and that she’s grown up with this level of violence, even as the lack of knowledge of her background becomes a bigger and bigger plot point.

Cas is deadly, supernaturally so, with some question-marks at the end of that remark. The more science fiction and supervillains with powers parts comes through in the second and third book more, but I liked it. The math parts I expected to be bad from the synopsis, but they were an interesting part of her abilities, and plays a good role in the books. As the math lover I am, I would’ve wanted even more of it, but it’s like drizzled in there so that it can be ignored by those who would want to. It adds a bit of magic, almost.

The level of action, the mystery of Cas’ past, the level of gray area of morality (turning completely black at some points), the bad guys with a conscience – it all really made me love this series. The ‘superpowers’ are original, the writing funny in a dry way. It has everything I was looking for in a fast-paced, but exciting read. But then I do love the character of Rio as well, the emotionless being he seems to be. I mean who can’t be interested after a sentence like this –

“Ms. Russell,” said Dawna delicately, “I am not sure you are fully aware of Mr. Sonrio’s skills. His ability to be effective—it borders on the unrealistic. He has destroyed entire governments. Leveled armies. Found and obliterated terrorist cells the intelligence agencies of several continents were chasing their tails trying to pursue. He has altered the course of nations. A lone man.” Her voice was calm, factual, and very serious. Huh. So that was what Rio did in his spare time. I’d had no idea he was that impressive. I’m not going to lie: I was jealous.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch | Review

Pages: 340

Genre: Science fiction, thriller

 

Synopsis

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: four stars

fire

This is a thriller, playing on a scenario that has always haunted me of trying to find your way back home. Still it’s difficult to recommend or talk about this book without spoiling it. So I’m just going to say reading this book is like watching a movie in the way it’s written and even if the book is called “dark matter” the physics parts of it isn’t something you need to know or be interested in to enjoy it. If the synopsis sounds interesting and you are in to read about some kidnapping and weird and absurd, out of the ordinary things, this is a good book. If you are in the mood to question your existence and life, this book didn’t really feel that deep.

 

SPOILERS BELOW

So we have our main character Jason Dessen being kidnapped by famous scientist Jason Dessen who have managed to find a way to send him to his alternative universe, so that they can switch lives and places. Multiple universes exist btw. It’s a really shitty plan, first of all, especially for one who’s supposed to be a genius. It was also obvious pretty early on what had happened, that he was kidnapped by himself.

The visuals I got from this book, of a person running down corridors trying to find his home world and getting nowhere was so satisfying and creepy. The “uncanny valley” feeling of meeting a world that’s similiar to your own, but small details doesn’t match up until you realize it’s not yours is horrifying. My own nightmare would be trying to escape and find that your surroundings are endless and not-changing, you’re stuck in a pattern or world. This book reflects that very well. Another thing that’s taken straight out of my nightmares is the part where Jason Dessen slowly comes to terms with being in another universe in the first place and others trying to get him commited to an psychiatric ward by force. With all the worlds and scenarios Jason meets, like his family dying in front of him in this apocalyptic world of illness, I had to like this book. Even if it’s a bit of every cliche movie thrown in a pot and crossing fingers that it will be fast-paced enough for the reader not to question it.

Still, this book also feels like a smart stupid TV show, that tries to appear brilliant until you dig deeper. To be fair, I am interested in physics, but have never looked deeply into the multiple universe theory. This book is not reality bending, question inducing, it does not make me think deeply about my existence or life like it tries to market itself as. But it’s still fun & horrifying, it’s absurd and action-filled. 

Especially towards the end it becomes apparent that not every question is going to be asked or answered, that the action has taken priority over pondering about what this means about the universe and worlds, even though most of the versions of Jason Dessen are scientists. As Jason Dessen the main character meets the other versions of Jason Dessen, a few moral questions are brought up in who should be able to get back to the wife and if it’s unmoral to kill each other. They have varying views on that. But the time-limit created by the action and the versions hunting each other doesn’t give possiblities to dive into things like who the “real Jason Dessen” is and what that means. Or really the fact that the famous real physics scientist version of him chose to kidnap “our” Jason and why. All the other versions of Jason doesn’t seem as alive and three-dimensional, when at least some of them shouldn’t really be that much different.

I really wanted to know what happened to the nurse after she left. I was happy for her when she found out Jason’s mission wouldn’t get her anywhere safe. So I felt some connection to the characters, even though I found myself liking Jason less and less throughout the book. I felt that all the alternative world-hopping could’ve changed him more and been a good way for character development, but in the end I don’t get what changed and how he found the right universe. The sole focus of getting back to his family is understandable, but also boring after a while.

What I was feeling reading this book: excited about the action and absurd parts, sometimes seeing my own nightmares played out