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A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Set in the Action-Packed Sports Arena of the Future

A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.

360 pages, Paperback

First published April 8, 2015

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About the author

Fonda Lee

28 books4,332 followers
Fonda Lee is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of the epic Green Bone Saga, beginning with Jade City and continuing in Jade War and Jade Legacy. She is also the author of the acclaimed science fiction novels Zeroboxer, Exo and Cross Fire.

Fonda is as a three-time winner of the Aurora Award (Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award), and a multiple finalist for the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the Oregon Book Award. Her novels have garnered multiple starred reviews, been included on numerous state reading lists, named Junior Library Guild selections, and appeared on Best of Year lists from NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others.

Fonda is a former corporate strategist and black belt martial artist who loves action movies and Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 342 reviews
Profile Image for Fonda Lee.
Author 28 books4,332 followers
January 21, 2014
Zeroboxer is my debut novel, so it's special to me in a "firstborn child" kind of way. It's inspired by my love for science fiction, combat sports, and smart action stories, and influenced by my years of working in the sports industry and seeing firsthand the power of celebrity and marketing. The best part of writing Zeroboxer? Getting to create, envision and write about the sport of zeroboxing! What I wouldn't give to watch one of those matches.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (on hiatus).
1,501 reviews201 followers
April 4, 2022

Another book with the amazing world building that I have come to expect from this author. I loved the idea of mixed martial arts in a zero gravity cube. There were a lot of detailed descriptions of zeroboxing matches and I had to work hard to visualise what was happening in the fights. The book deals with some quite topical contemporary issues but in a futuristic sci-fi environment. The most notable are: genetic modification to enhance performance, appearance and health (today's drug use in sport); inequality in terms of access to these potentially life saving/altering procedures; and racism (between people from Mars and Earth). An enjoyable sporty book.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,376 reviews1,432 followers
November 6, 2016
At first, I thought that Zeroboxer was just Rocky in space, but as the story developed, I realized that it was more than that. Zeroboxer is also an examination of genetic ethics and, like most science fiction, poses some serious 'what if's. What if humanity begins to settle the universe- will they divide themselves into different races depending upon their planet of origins? What if the settlers develop their own system of government- how will humankind negotiate the potentially choppy waters of intergalactic politics? What if humanity could use gene therapy not just to eliminate disease but also to create a sort of super human? Fonda Lee has imagined a future filled with flawed but well-meaning people that feels very similar to our own and is, perhaps, not as far into the future as one may imagine.

The style of boxing in this story incorporates mixed martial arts with the added hiccup of no gravity: "To inflict any bare-handed damage to a person in zero gravity, you had to establish a brace or a point of leverage- preferably a vulnerable part of your opponent's body- to keep them from floating away while you hurt them. Or you had to treat space itself as a weapon, using the infinite angles of movement to strike and rebound, strike and rebound, faster and harder than the other guy." pg 13, ebook. Fans of MMA may enjoy this story more than I did- I don't particularly care for violence but it was never too graphic or more than I could handle.

The colonists who settled on Mars (the Martians) embraced zero gravity sports while the people who stayed behind on Earth (the Terrans) didn't. Luka, the main character in this story, is from Earth and he's part of a group that is trying to popularize the sport on Earth- with mixed success: "I left Mars twenty-five year ago, saying I was going to grow the sport with the Terrans. I was practically laughed off the Red Planet. All the best zeroboxers in the Martian system... you know what they said to me? 'Everyone on the old planet is a planet rat. The most daring and inventive Terrans left generations ago to build Mars and the other settlements. Why would a place with countless gravity-dependent sports want anything different?" pg 27, ebook.

The story becomes even more complicated because the Martians have accepted gene therapy as a way to improve and expand their race, while the Terrans only use it to keep children from developing poor eye sight or asthma. The Martian fighters are so dominant at the sport because not only were they born into a world that encouraged zero gravity sports, but also they were partially engineered to be that way. When the boxers from Earth face the boxers from Mars, it is more than planet vs planet- it is also a match up of nature vs science.

Luka doesn't want to consider the complexities of it all and just wants to fight: "Two guys go into a Cube. They fight. One of them beats the other. How much simpler can it be? People don't have to make it more than it is." pg 176, ebook. Will Luka get his wish?

This book should appeal to fans of Ender's Game or Red Rising (which is a much more adult examination of these themes).
Profile Image for Justine.
1,132 reviews309 followers
May 30, 2016
"You've never been to that place...That place where you know you can't win...but you can decide not to lose."

Carr Luka is a rising star in the sport of zeroboxing, which is essentially a kind of MMA where participants fight in a zero gravity cube instead of a ring. His story is a fairly simple one and we see the rise of the small time fighter as he makes it big. So what makes Zeroboxer a little different then? Because if you're like me, you don't really care at all about sports, but you do want to read a good YA SF book if there is one on offer.

First of all, the world building is very nicely done. In the future Fonda Lee paints in Zeroboxer, only very moderate genetic enhancements are accepted on Earth in order to correct health deficiencies such as asthma or poor eyesight. People who immigrate to Mars, however, undergo a much deeper form of genetic enhancement in order to thrive on that planet. There is a great deal of tension between Terrans and Martians and the physical differences between the two as a result of Martian genetic engineering only serves to emphasize the fact there are fundamental philosophical differences as well. There are two zeroboxing associations, one for Terran fighters, who would have to fit within highly regulated Terran guidelines for moderate genetic corrections only, and one for Martian fighters, where genetic enhancement is unregulated because it is embraced. In the first half of the book Luka is fighting only in his own association, but later on we see the Terran zeroboxers take on the Martian zeroboxers, and the question of genetic enhancements becomes a more central issue.

As Luka's success and popularity increases, so does the pride his home planet has in him. His personal life comes under scrutiny and the fact that his girlfriend and brandhelm, or marketing agent, is half Martian stirs some controversy. He also has to deal with the inevitable changes to his personal life that success brings. But there are also secrets about his life that are revealed that he is completely unprepared to deal with, and that he has to try and cope with essentially on his own.

The book does a very good job of capturing the stress and excitement of an athlete working to reach the pinnacle of success. The romantic sub-plot was surprisingly understated but also important to the story. Risha is a strong and career-oriented woman, supportive of Luka, but also clearly someone he trusts and relies on as well. She never comes off as simply a show piece, and Luka never treats her that way.

Overall, for a debut novel in particular I was pretty impressed. The pacing of the book is spot on and kept me turning the pages right to the end. My only complaint might be that some of the more complex and interesting events that were bound to naturally follow were left to happen at some future point beyond the end of the book. But that's a small complaint. Honestly, Zeroboxer is in some grand company being on the Andre Norton Shortlist for 2015, so to say it holds its own against the other books that I have read so far on that list is pretty high praise.

For those interested, here is the complete Andre Norton Shortlist for 2015:

Profile Image for AziaMinor.
433 reviews54 followers
July 30, 2022
Overall Rating : A+


BOXING. IN SPACE. Who in the world would've thought that this would be a great combination? Fonda Lee that's who.

Amazing doesn't even begin to describe what I read in this book. I felt impassioned by everything that was going on. The rookie boxer trying to be the best he can be, with a heart that just won't quit. His grizzled trainer, looking after him like he was his own son. And the girl from Mars who can look after herself thank you very much, but can find a place with Carr as well. All set in the distant future where the inhabitants of Earth and Mars have a tense truce, only getting along when there competitors are beating the crap out of each other in a Zero-gravity ring.

A surprising amount of political intrigue, all centered around Carr when he finds out his life has been quietly managed since before he was born, and learning just what kind of man he should be.

I literally couldn't put this down. I never expected to be interested in something like this, but you learn something new everyday. I just wish this book was either longer, or a series, but I guess I will happily settle for what we get.
Profile Image for Beth.
3,129 reviews263 followers
February 23, 2015
Fonda Lee sends us on a totally new extreme fighting thrill ride with an endearing romance to boot.

Luka Carr is the up and coming hopeful for the Zeroboxer championship. His talent is unsurpassed. He is assigned a brandhelm, a personal promoter named Risha. The attraction is evident immediately between Luka and Risha and sparks soon fly.

This is a very different world they live in. Mars is colonized. Space stations offer vacation retreats (hence the zero gravity) and old earth is now called Terran. Genetic altering is banned but genetic enhancements (scanning) is encouraged to avoid bad eye sight, genetic illnesses, etc. allowing an individual to obtain modifications that will fix their deficiencies.

Luka’s dream is to become a hero with the Terran cities while his brandhelm, Risha is part Martain. Tension is growing between the Martians and Terran born which doesn’t matter to either Risha or Luka. But as Luka becomes more famous a powerful secret is revealed that could derail not only his hopes for the championship but his totally career and his hopes to become a role model for Terran.

You can’t deny that Zeroboxer is a kick butt fighting storyline but Lee also manages to give us a great romance and side story that will keep you vested till the end. There is also strong supporting characters and a very unique and original plot.

I really enjoyed reading Zeroboxer. The story is told with lots of betrayal, love, friendship and action. Zeroboxer has a little something for everyone, MMA type fighting, scifi/futuristic dyspotia, romance, and action.

I received this ARC copy of Zeroboxer from Flux in exchange for a honest review. This book is set for publication April 8, 2015.

Written by: Fonda Lee
Stand Alone
Age Range: 12 and up
Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: April 8, 2015
Rating: 4 Stars
ISBN-10: 0738743380
ISBN-13: 978-0738743387
Genre: Scifi | dystopia
Find this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reviewed for: http://tometender.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,635 followers
January 2, 2018
This was a wonderful book to start 2018 off with. The short description is that this is sci-fi Rocky with an added kind-of thriller storyline added in. The plot is pretty straight forward. What makes this book so damn good is that the sport of zeroboxing is fleshed out in a really believable way. The way Lee describes it makes it feel every bit as real as MMA or boxing. The world building is simply phenomenal. The characters themselves are also well done and easy to root for.

Profile Image for Jessica.
1,161 reviews80 followers
January 4, 2016
Would you like an extremely quick breakdown of this book? I'll oblige. Zeroboxer is Rocky, in space. Oh yes, my friends. Complete with the craggy, but ultimately lovable coach, and all the related drama. That's not to say that this isn't a good book. I'm simply telling you exactly what to expect. This was most definitely a different kind of Science Fiction than I'm used to, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it.

First off, credit where credit is due. The sport of zeroboxing is so well fleshed out in this story that it isn't even funny. You won't just be reading about Carr's matches, you'll live them. Fonda Lee has not only built a sport, she's built a sport that actually makes sense. I felt the tension, heard the cheers, and watched the blood float around in zero gravity. If nothing else, this book will get you for that very reason. It's hard not to be caught up with the sport, and everything that comes along with it.

Even the world itself is pretty solid, since it's essentially Toronto in the far flung future. Genetic enhancements are the norm. Tattoos are done with an animated liquid. Best of all, travel between Earth and Mars is something that's done often. The one downside here is that the reader is thrown directly into this future without a whole lot of hand holding. While I eventually found my footing, it took me a while to truly associate Carr's life with his futuristic home. If it wasn't for the references to zero gravity boxing, I'd have been much more lost.

Now here's where things get a bit hairy. First off, I wasn't always a huge fan of Carr Luka. Our main character felt a little too perfect. Thus, when things started to turn sour for him, I wasn't really empathetic. I actually wanted him to lose. If just once. It's no fun to root for someone who is nigh unbeatable. Nor is it easy to feel bad when they're injured. My other issue was with how casually the topic of people being genetically enhanced in the womb, and the fact that only bad parents didn't do that, was mentioned and then tossed aside. I understand this was part of the world building, but I needed more. That's a big subject to simply touch on.

Overall, I was fairly impressed with Zeroboxer. I'm not generally a big fan of sports related books or movies, but this one held my interest. The union between boxing and Sci Fi definitely made this a different read than I was expecting, and a rather happy surprise.
Profile Image for The Girl with the Sagittarius Tattoo.
2,128 reviews269 followers
July 18, 2021
I'm laughing at all the reviews calling this "boxing in space." Arm bars and spinning heel kicks do not occur in boxing! #mma #ufc #bjtheprodigypenn4ever

As a Terran, Carr Luka is a star-in-the-making in the combat sport of zeroboxing, a zero gravity form of mixed martial arts where competitors use special shoes that can stick to the walls of a futuristic "octagon." From there, they can launch into their opponents with their hands, feet, elbows and knees. Personally, I think it sounds amazing and I wish this was really a thing!

After winning his first pro bout at the tender age of 15, the people behind the sport decide Carr has the potential to make zeroboxing a premier sport on Earth, the way it is on the moon and Mars. They assign him a "brandhelm" to carefully craft his public persona by negotiating just the right sponsors and booking all the right appearances. Over the next few years, Carr continues to win match after match while falling in love with his brandhelm Risha, who is Martian on her mother's side. Just as he's riding highest on the wave of success, a strange man comes to see him with a terrible secret that can bring it all crashing down.

Okay, honesty time. I only picked up Zeroboxer because Fonda Lee wrote it. She also wrote the Green Bone Saga, which is very possibly my favorite fantasy trilogy. Zeroboxer is a complete departure, as it is squarely Sci-Fi and explores the ethics of genetic tampering in a spacefaring future, while taking us on the journey of a teenaged phenom who will probably peak before he's 20, and realizes the rest is downhill before he's barely lived.

Definitely recommended for the sports-minded reader.
Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,692 followers
February 10, 2017
I don't give a damn about sport.
But, this book is all about a fictional sport called 'zeroboxing' - essentially boxing in zero-gravity. Yeah, it is definitely as cool as it sounds. And this book was definitely cool.

- An incredible, compelling, and fun science-fiction that combines futurism, sports, and intense action.
- It's about zero-gravity boxing, called 'zeroboxing'. Yeah, it's definitely as cool as it sounds.
- Set in future Earth/Terra and Mars, the book has incredible ideas and concepts about where technology will take humankind, and what humanity will look like in the future.
- The action scenes and the zeroboxing were PHENOMENAL; extremely engaging and wonderful to read (or in my case, listen to).
- An all-rounded, bloody good book.

Full review to come.
Profile Image for Lee Kelly.
Author 4 books317 followers
March 28, 2015
This is quite simply one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read.

As a reader, I was totally swept away: I found myself rooting hard for Carr, thought the rich world of the future that Lee imagines -- Mars/Earth tension, Luna, space station "vacation" colonies -- was completely immersive, and I gobbled up the thrilling zeroboxing scenes. But as a writer, I might be even more impressed if that's possible. Fonda Lee has not only built a world in ZEROBOXER, she's created a sport -- from the rules and regulations right down to the fandom feeds. It's such a unique and wonderful debut, and I know I will be thinking about this story for quite a long time. I highly recommend this to anyone -- sci-fi readers, sports lovers, thriller readers -- it's a PHENOMENAL novel.
Profile Image for I.W. Gregorio.
Author 7 books374 followers
February 2, 2015
This book is, I kid you not, the most engrossing sci-fi book I have read in years. It has EVERYTHING - action, complex world building, characters that you feel completely invested in, and even a lovely element of romance.

In some ways it is just as much of a sports movie as it is a sci fi book, but I love how Lee makes the competitive conflict and makes it so, so much more.

Desperately hoping for a sequel...
Profile Image for Lata.
3,591 reviews191 followers
January 18, 2018
3.5 stars. Fast-paced story with believeable fight descriptions in the zeroboxing ring, as well as a credible future that includes space travel, gene modifications for health as well as cosmetic purposes, and interplanetary tensions between Earth and Mars. Carr is a young zeroboxer who is incredibly focused and determined to win a prizefight. He's given a new brandhelm, Risha, who ensure Carr's profile is raised. Carr, of course, falls for her. (I had some problems with the relationship between these two; why did nobody mention how wrong it was for Carr and Risha to have a relationship??) We follow Carr over the course of a year while he trains and fights, and what was an interesting story of a young man with goals he was willing to work for transforms into something deeper and darker when Carr discovers some truths about himself. (And how funny was it to find out part of the story was set in Toronto, and even better, the TTC is still moving people around the city!)
Profile Image for Tammie.
345 reviews580 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
October 19, 2021
DNF @ 20%

It actually pains me that I did not like a book written by Fonda Lee, but I really just was not enjoying this one at all. While Fonda Lee's action/fight scenes are truly spectacular, I just fundamentally hated being in the head of our main character, who is a misogynistic and testosterone-filled teenage boy. I'll give Fonda Lee the benefit of the doubt here (since I know she's perfectly capable of writing nuanced male characters that don't just think of women purely as sexual objects) and say that this choice is deliberate, but it doesn't make me dislike the way Carr describes women any less. All in all, I'm really sad that I did not enjoy this one.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 53 books565 followers
March 7, 2018
This was exactly my thing. More about it in a bit. (IY"H) I am piled under Transcendent 3 stuff, but I want to review it later. Just a few notes -

Note that it is more NA-ish, with a 18yo pro athlete character who is already contemplating things like career and marriage. (This is not a problem!!) It is hard to find NA that is not entirely a romance, and this has a plot about sports and performance enhancement (and a really good one!!). So you might want to check it out if you're interested in something like that. Note that the protag is very straight.

* Ownvoices on sports too, the author is a martial artist (AND IT SHOWS)
* Racially mixed protagonist
* Lower-class and/or poor characters
* FIGHTING IN SPACE (ok, technically on space stations, but. :D )
* The mentions of CTE made my little health scientist heart happy (I was thinking "wouldn't this be an issue" and yes, it was discussed)
* Realistic depictions of marketing (!!) as part of the plot (!!!)

Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library
Profile Image for Megan  (thebookishtwins).
527 reviews171 followers
February 12, 2016
I received this free from the publishers via NetGalley

*I really shouldn't leave it so long to write my reviews as I'm never any good at them when I leave it so long but too much work...*

Carr Luka is one of the best at the weightless sport of zeroboxing. He dreams of winning the championship and after a great fight he gets a new contract who want to make him a star. He is assigned a marketing strategist Risha, and the two soon fall in love. Carr becomes an inspiration on earth but his life is soon turned upside down when he discovers a secret about himself which changes everything.

This was a pretty decent read, but I guess I was expecting more. I should probably learn from my mistakes and stop having too high expectations for books. I felt like the world building was pretty good, but it could have been better. I found the plot to be good, but as someone who isn't a sport fan, it just was not as interesting as it could have been so it is more of a personal thing. Saying that, it was an original take on boxing and it was done really well. There were some intense moments, but I felt like it dragged a lot. I found the 'criminal' element intriguing and fairly suspenseful.

The characters were pretty decent and I felt like Carr was very well developed and complex. The secondary characters however, I thought fell short as it not as much attention was given to the secondary characters as there was to Carr. They were all likeable enough, but all fell a little flat to me. Same with the romance, as it felt rushed. However, one positive is that is was not at the forefront of the story.

Overall a good science fiction read, and it you are a fan of sport and boxing then this is a must read.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,282 reviews116 followers
November 17, 2015
I spent a long time waiting for something to happen in this book. There's not so much a plot as a collection of the essential narrative beats of an inspirational sports film.

Carr Luka is the zero-gravity equivalent of a boxer (MMA fighter?). He's a teen prodigy, 17 years old at the start of the book (by the end of the book he was 19. Which still felt weirdly young for his personality). In Carr's world, global warming and overpopulation have wrecked Earth. Mars was settled by scientist pioneers and is full of the genetically enhanced. Terrans ("earthworms") and Martians ("domies") mutually despise each other. The moon is semi-neutral territory. Carr is a Terran zeroboxer, a sport that has historically been dominated by the Martians.

The book is focused on Carr's rise in the zeroboxing world, up through the massive War of the Worlds (Terrans v. Martians) tournament put on at the end. And, honestly, that's about all this book was about. Carr and his zeroboxing career.

I couldn't figure out where this book was going for so long, because I didn't realize it was going nowhere. It wasn't until over a quarter of the way through that the first actual conflict appeared - a nasty genesplicer who tells Carr that he is an illegally enhanced individual and blackmails him into sharing 20% of his income. This genesplicer apparently has seeded the world with engineered embryos who are primed to succeed in their field - businessmen, artists, athletes. He then reappears once they're invested in their careers and blackmails them. I thought that finally there would be some forward momentum given this new development. Nope. Carr Luka continues to zerobox and win more fights and that's about it. Nothing more happens until halfway through the book where a policeman shows up hinting that he knows Carr's DNA has been illegally tampered with. And then...nothing again. Carr does nothing proactive or interesting with his dilemma - he just frets and ignores it. He concentrates on zeroboxing because that's what he is - a zeroboxer. Nothing else.

Right when some more conflict finally appears - - the book ends. I guess because if the focus is not on Carr Luka's zeroboxing, then the book doesn't want to waste time on it?

It doesn't help that the genesplicer - again, the one source of plot momentum in this book - is kind of an idiot for a supposed puppetmaster. He's a one-man operation. As far as the book shows (and it doesn't show much, because the genesplicer is only there to give a little bit more urgency to Carr Luka's zeroboxing), there is not a wider conspiracy. The genesplicer has no partners or allies. It's just him splicing genes and blackmailing the incredible offspring. So why does this genesplicer think it's a good idea to continually confront Carr Luka without any weapon or backup or dead man's switch? It's as if an unarmed blackmailer went up to Muhammad Ali and threatened him to his face. That is just asking to be BOXED TO DEATH. Especially since the genesplicer only confronts Carr Luka in private (and not in public, giving him some protection from being KO'd by an angry champion boxer). What kind of idiot mastermind puts himself in such a vulnerable position? Thankfully for the genesplicer, he did not splice any cleverness or ruthlessness into Carr Luka, so Carr Luka never considers that he could just physically overpower and take out the genesplicer.

The most underwhelming part of the book was the dud of the "romance." Carr falls in love with his "brandhelm" (personal PR/marketing person) Risha. Risha is half-Terran, half-Martian and that's about the only thing that's memorable about her. She's also apparently a good brandhelm? But she's SO unprofessional that I can't believe that. She starts a romantic relationship with her UNDERAGE client without a hint of guilt or conflict. Then when she gets mad at him she goes off to pout and completely ignores her duties as a brandhelm. During the most important tournament in history! There is no chemistry or believable reason why Risha and Carr are together. And so many reasons why they shouldn't be. I was hoping that Lee would actually give Risha some motivation or personality - maybe she is such an ambitious brandhelm, that she agrees to Carr's romantic overtures to further her control over him and get more power? But, nope, that's not it. She's just an idiot who inexplicably falls for her 17-year-old client without any hesitation about what it means for her professional life. Carr is just that handsome I guess.

Everyone's use of racial slurs bothered me as well. They're not real slurs because they're not real races (yet...). In the very racially charged future of Martians v. Earthlings, it is unsurprising that racial slurs would be tossed around about these two groups. But why do the supposed heroes also use racial slurs? After a particularly vicious fight against an unscrupulous Martian Zerboxer, both Carr and his trainer/father figure Uncle Polly use the term "domie." Which from the context of the book is a bad racial slur equivalent to...well, any racial slur we use today. I cannot imagine it being seen as ok if a contemporary racial slur was put in a hero's mouth. Why is it ok if it is a made-up racial slur like "domie"?

For all my complaints, this is not a terrible book. There's a lot of room for improvement (developing the characters and designing an actual plot), but the world itself has interesting potential and Lee can really describe boxing. For readers who like fight scenes and combat sports or love inspiring sport movies, this could be a wonderful read.
Profile Image for Kristen.
324 reviews261 followers
October 1, 2019
Zeroboxer is largely a futuristic sports story with a crime/suspense element that touches on celebrity, genetic engineering, and marketing. Although I thought the sport of zeroboxing was interesting (despite not being a fan of boxing/fighting sports in general), I thought the book was an average read with its one dimensional characters and abrupt ending, plus it didn't deeply explore the aspects I found most compelling (marketing, genetic engineering, and the rift between Earth and Mars). It's not a book that I struggled to finish, but it also isn't a book that kept me eagerly turning the pages or one that I found especially memorable.

Review on My Website
Profile Image for Queralt✨.
355 reviews58 followers
February 19, 2021
Yeah, uh, not for me.

I like fitness and for some reason I thought I would enjoy reading about sports, but overall zeroboxing (boxing in space) was just about aggressive dudes punching each other and the story had (mostly) a predictable plot.

Don't get me wrong, I love Fonda Lee and her writing? me likey. This was just a miss for me.
Profile Image for Sunil.
933 reviews118 followers
August 28, 2015
I first heard about Zeroboxer from my Lightspeed book review editor Wendy Wagner last November, but I was like, I don't care about boxing. When the book came out, it got a lot of good buzz, so when I went to Sasquan, Fonda Lee was on my radar. Turns out she's a very cool person, and I bought the book and started reading it on the way home.

Fonda Lee describes Zeroboxer as "Rocky meets Gattaca" and that is actually an accurate description.

In the future the coolest sport is zeroboxing, which is boxing in zero-gravity, which means it's a lot more than just punching so it's a bit closer to space MMA. Carr Luka is a rising star, a teenage hotshot who's got all the right moves. I don't care about boxing but zeroboxing is so cool: the Cube is like Thunderdome meets Battle Room, as fighters fly through the arena, kicking off the sides and launching themselves at the their opponents and then grappling for control and pain. The fights are marvelously choreographed and smoothly written; I could clearly envision what was going on, and I winced with each hit. Lee spends a lot of time detailing the first few fights to give the reader a good sense of what the sport looks like, but after that, she understands when to pull back and summarize to avoid drowning the reader in the detail. It's a good balance, and it makes the moments where we're right there in the fight with Carr that much more visceral.

Much of the book does follow a traditional sports narrative, as we root for Carr to defeat his opponents and become successful, make his home, his friends, his family proud. But I liken his role to that of Katniss's in Catching Fire: it becomes more about him as a celebrity and symbol, and how he gets caught up in the media narrative of his own life.

The Gattaca comparison comes from the prevalence of genetic engineering. In the future, humans need not be held back by disabilities like asthma or nearsightedness, as long as you can afford it. The babymaking process can include requested enhancements, and...wouldn't you know it, there's a whole race of genetically engineered humans living on Mars! I love the worldbuilding in this book, especially how Lee allows the background to speak for itself, never spending paragraphs or pages on infodumps. While the details of Martian colonization are unclear—I have no sense of how far in the future this book takes place, or how long people have been living on Mars, and I didn't really care—Terran-Martian relations are quite clear. I found it fascinating how Martians were essentially treated as people of color (literal aliens, despite being genetically superior humans).

The real meat of the story doesn't emerge for a while, but Carr's zeroboxing career is compelling enough, and he's a likable, sympathetic character, even though he has his flaws, his moments where he lost me for a bit. Part of it is the curious experience of reading the male gaze as written by a woman: Carr is a teenage boy, and so pretty much every woman he sees is described in terms of how attractive she is. The zeroboxing ring includes scantily clad women holding up signs (I would have hoped we'd move past that in the future). Carr's love interest, though incredibly savvy, driven, and competent, is seen so frequently through Carr's horny-teenager eyes that even I was attracted to her (some steamy scenes in this book!). I wouldn't have minded so much if she weren't the only major female character besides Carr's mom, who appears a couple times, and a female zeroboxer I would have loved to see more of because this is a very dudely book full of dudes punching each other.

Zeroboxer is not exactly the "sci-fi thrill ride" the back of the book proclaims, as that implies more chase scenes and explosions, but it is a very well paced, thoughtful novel full of fighting, suspense, romance, more fighting, and great worldbuilding. I would give it two thumbs up but you can't see my thumbs inside these boxing gloves in spaaaaaaaaaace.
Profile Image for Dark Faerie Tales.
2,274 reviews546 followers
February 23, 2016
Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: Gravity-defying solar sports contests and a life altering secret.

Opening Sentence: Carr Luka woke from a nap three hours before his fight.

The Review:

I am not a fan of any kind of sport, whether it’s football, basketball or golf, and although this book is based on a sport called ‘zeroboxing’ it had me hooked. Zeroboxing isn’t any sport you’ve heard of before, it’s an inter-planet sport that is like boxing but without gravity! This story is set on Valtego; which is best described as a sort of space-station in between Earth and Mars. I was fascinated by the concept of a gravity-defying sport that’s played on multiple planets.

Blake shook his head. “You’ve never been to that place, Carr.” Was it a good or bad sign that he was weirdly at ease, his eyes distant? “Where you know you can’t win…but you can decide not to lose.”

Carr Luka is training as a professional zeroboxer and despite his young age, he’s racing his way to the top. Life seems to be perfect for Carr; he’s excelling in his career, has a lovely girlfriend and just landed a solid contract with The Martian. Just as his dreams are coming true he learns a secret that shatters his self-pride and could cost him everything: his career, the love of his life and his dream.

Carr drank in the sight, letting its sweet flavour infuse his euphoria. Victory was a better high than a hundred bliss bombs. Perfect and real, lasting for days, even weeks, before being polished and stored in its own special nook of his soul, each win in his collection unique and everlasting, wanting nothing except more neighbours.

I loved the way this story is written: the author’s descriptions of Carr’s feelings, the fights themselves, how the planet’s look. It was all described brilliantly. Sometimes you can read the perfect storyline but the writing will let you down but in this case, even the dullest of events are depicted excellently.

Now he was on the up again. Attention could be good or bad, he decided, but it didn’t really matter. “Fighting isn’t a popularity contest,” he said.

Onto Carr himself; he’s an excellent protagonist: kind, hardworking and most of all, determined to succeed. The secret he uncovers devastates him (no spoilers), mainly because Carr has worked tirelessly to win and he’s so proud of this so it’s unfair to see how quickly one truth could take it all away! This could destroy not only his life, but of those he holds dear.

“You were perfect.”
“What do you mean? I didn’t do anything.”
“You looked confident, you paid attention, you were serious, but funny, and you didn’t act like a prima donna or a jerk. You have no idea how rare that is, for a sports celebrity?”

Once Carr learns of the truth, he struggles with what he should do. He’s come too far to go back but the guilt is eating him away. Can he give up his life’s work or will he continue to live in fear? Whatever the decision, everything as he knows it has changed…

This is a fantastic read and it surprised me how much I enjoyed it and I hope you give it a chance too!

Notable Scene:

A shudder of distaste ran through Carr, along with a strange and immense fatigue. Why was all this happening to him? There was a time, not that long ago, when things were a lot simpler. When he knew who he was, and what he wanted, and the world seemed like the sort of place that would reward him if he worked hard enough, and each step he took went forward, toward something better.

FTC Advisory: Flux provided me with a copy of Zeroboxer. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
Profile Image for Angela Blount.
Author 5 books670 followers
July 25, 2015
Originally reviewed for YA Books Central: http://www.yabookscentral.com/yaficti...

3.5 Stars

This sci-fi debut steps boldly into the YA ring and puts on a compelling show.

Set an indeterminate number of years in the future, the story is told entirely from the third-person point of view of Carr Luka, a 17-year-old "zeroboxer" of exceptional gifting. His career has just taken off, and he’s attracting a lot of attention—some good, some jealous, and some potentially dangerous.

The worldbuilding is engrossing and remarkably well thought out across the board. The science isn't so out-there as to seem mystical, the use of physics is logical, and the organic progression of sporting events adapted to zero-g environments makes perfect sense (from both a practical and human nature standpoint.) The layering goes deeper still, including sociological elements that enrich the plausibility of Lee’s imagined future—from the overall mingling of ethnicities and availability of genetic modification, to the geopolitical conflicts between Earth and Mars, to marriage being re-defined into 5-year incremental contracts that participants may simply choose not to renew.

The highlights of this book are definitely the technical and behind-the-scenes aspects of mixed martial arts (with a zero-gravity twist), along with a keen conveyance of branding and marketing practices. The author has a crisp and competent writing style, with a real strength for action scenes. The metaphors are solid and the pacing moves along at a captivating clip for the first half of the book.

On the downside:

The romantic elements are a bit lacking and the base emotional connectivity seems to take a far backseat to the sport-centric plot. The smoothness of the read shifted at about the same time the legitimacy of Carr’s genetic background became a point of conflict. For some reason Carr never inquires nor seems curious about the identity of his biological father—and the characterization of his mother feels strangely lacking in depth. As the story progresses, Carr himself becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with and the book becomes easier to put down. Risha and Carr come together without much sensuality or buildup of tension, and didn't present as a couple this reader felt any particular need to root for. I had a lot of trouble understanding why Carr would choose to keep his “big secret” from the woman he not only (allegedly) loves, but who is best qualified to help him strategize the handling of his precarious situation.

Content Note: To readers and parents who may be concerned, this book sometimes feels as though it's skirting the line between mature YA and New Adult. The f-word is used with some frequency—although nothing beyond what one could realistically expect from a sports setting. Sex is depicted (although not graphically) as something of a casual expectation, with no mention or consideration paid to contraception.

Overall, this is a refreshingly true sci-fi read that takes its research seriously. You'll want to keep an eye on this author.
Profile Image for Sophia (Bookwyrming Thoughts).
660 reviews231 followers
November 22, 2018
Zeroboxer is obviously a book farrrr from my range. In fact, it's literally out of bounds. A sports-themed book is the last thing I'll ever read – I'll read contemporary romance any day over that.

But Fonda Lee's book is something different. Something completely different and out of bounds from what I usually read, and I didn't think I would actually enjoy her novel as much as I did. It's about boxing in zero gravity! On the moon! And Mars! Happy dance ensues – I'm a space nut.

Zeroboxer focuses on Carr Luka, a zeroboxer from Earth who is slowly rising the charts in the zeroboxing world and has dreams of becoming the Lowmass Champion of the Universe. But as Carr becomes more famous on Earth for zeroboxing and his career grows, he finds out something that could ruin not only his career, but his life as well.

Lee's debut novel is very fast-paced, which isn't surprising from a book based on boxing out in space. The book mainly focuses on Carr's career as a zeroboxer and how he grows career-wise in the span of two years. Putting all of that in a 350 page made everything – Carr's career, his relationship with his brandhelm – seem to go by a lot faster than it actually would. In all honesty, it's been a long time since I've last read a book that has a span of more than a year in one book instead of several.

The world Lee builds is an entirely different world and it takes a while to get used to all of the slang and abbreviations that are used throughout the book. It's clear from early on that Zeroboxer is set really far away in the future – Earth isn't exactly a dominant planet anymore compared to those who found a home on Mars and the moon, and some of the places have definitely changed (New Shanghai, Asialantis, etc). The technological advances were really interesting and I would love to see an actual version of how the colonies on the moon and Mars really look like as civilizations with cities, towns, etc. Oh, and I would actually like to see a zeroboxing match one day.

Zeroboxer may be completely out of bounds from what I'm usually drawn to, but I highly enjoyed the entire journey. It's fast-paced and something different. I might feel a little biased here, but I can't ask for anything more from a debut novelist.

This review was originally posted on Bookwyrming Thoughts
Profile Image for Giselle.
1,057 reviews906 followers
April 7, 2016
An Electronic Advanced Reader Copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for review. Quotes have been pulled from an ARC and may be subject to change.

Carr has boxed in zero gravity since head just seven years old. He started zeroboxing professionally ever since then and now he's eighteen. Quickly gaining wins he becomes the most popular zero boxer on Terrain (Earth). He catches the eye of a brands elm who wants him to be a star and with that comes an attraction he has never known. When he realizes his mother and his coach have been keeping a secret that will change his life, will he flee or will he fight?

There is some excellent futuristic gizmos and gadgets in this story. Like colour changing hair dye, and even tattoos that are electric. The world definitely was built up from the ground up and we don't necessarily get a crash course, so that was missing. It just felt like this was the future and people travel in cubes and can live on Mars and other stations. I love that it was set in Toronto and even had mentions of the Harbourfront and Quren and Jarvis streets. It felt like I was literally dropped in the future and this is what is the most popular sport. I could pretty much imagine the entire fight scenes in my head, it was that detailed. My favourite parts of the book really.

Overall, an amazingly solid debut and I can't wait for more even though the ending was so open-ended!
Profile Image for grieshaber.reads .
1,583 reviews38 followers
May 26, 2017
Zeroboxer is a seriously cool sports story set in a seriously cool sci-fi setting. It’s got a Rocky III meets Real Steel feel with a touch of M.T. Anderson’s Feed thrown in for good measure, but it definitely has some stuff that’s all its own, too. Carr Luka is a rising star in the sport of zeroboxing (just what it sounds like - boxing in zero gravity). When he wins match after match, it is decided that he will become the face of zeroboxing - the guy that will boost the sport’s popularity on Earth to equal its popularity on Mars. Just when things really get good for Carr - a publicist (who becomes his girlfriend), top endorsement deals, fight for the championship, etc., a secret that could destroy everything is revealed to him. What he decides to do about it will affect not just him and those close to him, but relationships between Terrans (those of Earth) and Martians. Non-stop action and fascinating world building make this a no-brainer for Gateway. My only complaint? I could have used a glossary for some of the setting’s terminology, but it all became clear after a chapter or two. This is definitely a book that would appeal to reluctant readers, but I am concerned the terminology could be an issue.
Profile Image for Erika.
195 reviews28 followers
September 11, 2015
Okay, if this book isn't made into a movie, I will be one unhappy camper!

World building is hugely important to sci-fi/fantasy, and Zeroboxer more than delivers on this front. Everything, from the sport and Earth/Mars political relations to a myriad of future technologies and practices, it's all here and beautifully envisioned. There's tons of detailed observations but they never bog down the action, which comes fast and furious, especially during the fight sequences. Car is also a great character and watching him try to navigate the machinations in and out of the Cube, you can't help but cheer him on.

I know Lee has said this is a stand-alone book, but with such a winning MC and such a richly imagined world, I really hope she's rethink that decision.
Profile Image for Kathylill .
162 reviews173 followers
Want to read
November 15, 2014
zero gravity prizefighting ...?
Rocky meets Gattaca ...?

Damn, that sounds like it might be just THE BOOK for me.
Profile Image for Diana.
1,738 reviews222 followers
January 13, 2022
There were lots of things going on on this book, some I did care about some I did not.
While I didn't enjoy the boxing in space part (which duh, is the main point... at least at the beginning), I did enjoy the fact that having humans on the universe makes the universe full of the same sh*t and prejudices we have here: whether or not you look martian enough, whether your race belongs or not in a certain place or strata...
I also enjoyed that the story talked about geneticism (is that even word?), making you think about whether it's ethical or not to tamper with the genetics of babies to produce the "perfect" offspring. And more than that, the fact that only people with money can get access to this kind of bonus, and some of them, like "cancer resistance" are not fancy at all like say "blue eyes or blond hair".
Also how it can be used in the black market and all kind of things.

But what I didn't like where the chracters, they were pretty plain; the romantic relationship I didn't feel, and I don't know, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I was expecting but the ideas I talked about before were pretty neat, honestly.
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