Book Review: Quantum Break: Zero State by Cam Rogers
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (April 5, 2016)
Length: 448 pages
Quantum Break: Zero State is the tie-in novel to the action video game developed by Remedy Entertainment, the same folks who also brought us cinematic masterpieces such as Max Payne and Alan Wake. While it’s clearly marketed to fans of the game—and yes, I too did my stint in Quantum Break and consider myself one—I urge you not to write off this book just because you haven’t played it, or because you don’t think a “video game book” would be for you. Often these kinds of books get a bad rap (and goodness knows they deserve it sometimes) but I promise you this one is different.
From the very first page, I was floored by the stellar quality of this novel. I don’t want to sound like a book snob, especially since I consider myself a diehard tie-in junkie, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact this is a book based on a video game. I mean, it’s almost too good to be one? Needless to say, Quantum Break: Zero State surprised the hell out of me. Tie-in novel or not, it can easily stand on its own against any of the more mainstream or popular sci-fi thrillers out there.
The story stars Jack Joyce, a maverick who follows where his feet take him—as long as it’s away from his hometown of Riverport, Massachusetts where six years ago he cut ties with his older brother, the brilliant scientist William Joyce. Will is a genius, but his mind is also very disturbed. Growing up with him as a legal guardian was difficult, after their parents died in an accident when Jack was just a child. Will was withdrawn and consumed by his research, so his younger brother actually ended up being the one to support them both. It got even worse once Jack discovered that Will had secretly taken all the money their parents left them to use on his work after his own funding and research grants ran out, not to mention the massive debts with the local gangs and loan sharks. After years of cleaning up his brother’s messes, Jack finally said enough is enough. He packed up and left Riverport, washing his hands clean of Will and his crazy theories and problems.
But now, an email from Jack’s childhood friend Paul Serene has brought him back. As it turns out, Will’s theories weren’t so crazy after all. As a pioneer and top scientist in the field of chronon technology, Will has been consulting on a top secret project spearheaded by mega-corporation Monarch Solutions at Riverport University. Paul is one of the research leads on the project, and for some reason he wants Jack to come meet him at the Physics building so he can show him something that will change the face of the planet. Curiosity piqued, Jack agrees to go see his friend and thoroughly gets his mind blown when he realizes what is in the lab where Paul brings him. It appears that with Will’s help, Monarch had created a time machine…
You can definitely read this without knowing a single thing about the game, but some background information will probably give more context. In Quantum Break you play Jack, who gains time manipulation powers and uses them to fight the diabolical authorities behind Monarch. The flow of time breaks down and all hell breaks loose, creating all kinds of insane effects with the environment, including time stutters, time stops, time slowing down or speeding up, etc. As well, one of the game’s “hooks” include a live-action component. After each act in the game, an episode of a TV show will play out onscreen letting you see how your gameplay decisions have affected events and other characters in the story. As noted in the book’s foreword, there really is no “canon” version of Quantum Break, since you are going to be making a lot of in-game choices and in doing so create your own version of events. The game is about time travel and branching timelines, so your own playthrough will likely be completely different from another player’s.
This is why the idea behind this book is so brilliant. When I first read its description, I was initially worried that it would be a straight-up novelization—and who would want that, when you have the choice to actually immerse yourself in the cinematic experience that is the game itself? But here’s the cool part: Quantum Break: Zero State isn’t a true novelization because it is actually a combination of what’s in the game along with a lot more stuff that never made it in—think early story concepts, discarded ideas, or other elements that either weren’t used or abandoned because the developers couldn’t make them work for what they had in mind for the final product. It’s like an alternate timeline novel. As a result, you can read this book on its own without having even heard of Quantum Break! And if you have played it, you can also read this without feeling like it’s just a rehash of everything you did in game.
Like I said, the writing is superb and Cam Rogers’ prose is smart, punchy, and electrifying. As Remedy’s game writer and narrative designer, Rogers knows exactly how to capture the suspenseful atmosphere of Quantum Break, following through on the promise of action and thrilling fight scenes. The big theme here is also the time traveling aspect of course, and it is extremely cool, as are the powers that Jack possesses in game which are outstandingly described and utilized here in text. The story was indeed very different from my gameplay experience, but I found the version in this novel to be no less intense and exciting. I even liked that it gave me the chance to know some of the other characters better, most notably Beth Wilder.
Just for a second, forget that this book is based on a game, even if you are a fan of Quantum Break. If you enjoy sci-fi thrillers in general, and the idea of time traveling and superpowers sounds like a good time to you, then you must pick up this book. And if you happened to enjoy the video game too, then that goes double. This was all kinds of awesome, easily one of the best game tie-ins I’ve ever read, and heck, just a great time travel thriller all-around.