In the first round of the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC), my team sampled 30 works of self-published sci-fi before settling on three favorites to advance to the Semifinal round. Now, we receive the three favorites of two of the ten other judging teams, as we continue whittling down the 300 entries to a group of just seven finalists. And I started those six new semifinalists by reading R. M. Olson’s Zero Day Threat.
Zero Day Threat is a classic heist novel in a sci-fi setting. A ragtag bunch of specialists—each exceptional in their field, but for various reasons finding themselves on the wrong side of the law—seek a score that could change all of their lives. The only problem is that said score is closely guarded by one of the most feared crime bosses in the System, and it will take every ounce of skill they have, along with plenty of luck, just to make it out alive.
One of the drawbacks of competition judging is that you don’t get to pick your own books, and sometimes you get a book that just isn’t quite in your wheelhouse. I don’t like a lot of action, and the mouthy-but-brilliant pilot with a drinking problem—a character who gets a plurality of perspective sections in the ensemble cast—isn’t an archetype that tends to grab me. So Zero Day Threat started with an uphill climb and was going to have to bring something special to grab me.
And while the storytelling was competent in every respect, it never hit that next level to really pull me in. The prose was smooth and largely invisible, telling the story in a way that won’t satisfy prose aficionados but will work perfectly for fans of the windowpane style. The characters were perhaps my biggest complaint, but they weren’t much of one. Every member of the ensemble had an excuse for being there and a reason to act as they did. The problem was not poor characterization, but rather trying to do too much in a short space. At barely 250 pages, Zero Day Threat wasn’t quite long enough to really generate interest in an ensemble cast. But it does open a longer series, so for readers that need time and exposure to attach themselves to a larger cast, there will be opportunities.
The heist itself offers plenty of twists and turns and unexpected obstacles, sprinkled with some revelations that change the way the characters see their goals and their fellows. Again, if you enjoy a book with new dangers around every turn, Zero Day Threat will give you what you want. But for me, I want to be drawn in by either an attachment to the characters, their cause, or the intricacy of the proposed heist. And I didn’t quite connect on any of the three points, with too little time to attach to the characters, a cause whose long-term effects were opaque and whose short-term effects were just about freeing the characters from difficult situations, and a plot that hit more on action than cleverness.
But though I will not be continuing to the sequel, I did appreciate an ending that both wrapped up this novel while expertly setting up the next. Those who are reading Zero Day Threat as a standalone will have closure, but the book closes with hints about long-term consequences that make it hard not to dive straight into the second book. Walking the series-starter line between adequate closure and compelling sequel hook is a difficult task, and Zero Day Threat conquered it with aplomb.
Recommended if you like: action-heavy heist novels.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published and No Ifs Ands Or Buts, as well as having an Author Who Uses Initials and arguably an Antihero (are we counting the hard-drinking loner out for themselves? Because that sounds right to me).
Overall rating: 11 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC Score: 5.5/10 for my personal score. We will await results from the other judges before announcing an official team score.