He's got a monkey on his back... 

I downloaded this short story a little while ago after the author was discussing it in Discord. I've been thinking about maybe trying to get back into this series later this year, so I figured I would pick this up as a nice, quick read to help me get out of a little bit of a slump.  

4/5 This short episode manages to pack all of the action and humor of the HYBRID HELIX series into a pretty short story, making it a great taste test for those who have not started their journey with Berne's writing as well as a quick fix for those who are already a fan of his work. Just be warned that things do get... a little weird.

DISCLAIMER: Though I am tempted to dock this story on points for the jarring lack of Berne's famed "space bears," I will give it a pass because it is set before the moment in which that species arrives on Wistful.  
Set before the events of WISTFUL ASCENDING, "Zero Twist" weaves a quick sort of origin story for Rohan as he builds himself a new live on the sentient space station, Wistful. Along the way, we see him establish his friendship with Security Chief Wei Li, get sucked into an ever-more-complicated plan to ensure the station's safety, meet some characters who didn't appear in the original novel, and have a rather uncomfortable romantic entanglement with an alien monkey-lady. While I certainly could have done without the pseudo-furry romantic angle, it's worth noting that this never got too explicit, it was more so just conceptually disturbing (yes, I know Rohan isn't 100% human himself, but he presents as human and this alien monkey looked kind of like one of the characters from PLANET OF THE APES in my head). That piece aside, I quite liked this quick adventure. The stakes and scope are obviously much smaller than in the mainline novels, but I still found myself quite invested in the conflict that Rohan has to contend with. Everything is expertly paced in that it wastes no time at all and yet never felt rushed to me either. One scene flows effortlessly into another and I loved all the fun turns that the story took as Rohan reluctantly helps out some new friends while still trying to remain relatively incognito (for reasons that you'd have to read WISTFUL ASCENDING to understand). While I think people who are already fans of this series will likely get more out of this story than folks who haven't I think this can also serve as an awesome introduction to Rohan's character, Berne's writing and the series as a whole.

As sort of a random aside, I had complained about not liking the way that the Prologue was handled in WISTFUL ASCENDING. Even though Berne does basically the same thing here, where he offers a glimpse into the final conflict of the story, I think that worked a lot better for me in this case. Maybe it's because the prologue for this was much shorter, or that just took less time to get to that scene given the brevity of this piece, but it could also just be that I am a fickle man. 

As far as free short stories go, I think this is a pretty nice little package. The story is split up into a few chapters with some nice interior formatting. I also liked the simple, yet striking cover that Berne went with. I will also note that this is pristinely edited. Normally, I would not mention that, but since this is a free story, I though it was worth noting that this is all still very professionally done. I'm not entirely sure how long the story actually is. You could certainly blow through it in a single sitting, but I chunked it out since it was nice to have something on my phone where I could just read a quick chapter here and there. I do think this is on the longer end of a short story and may even fall into the shorter side of the novella spectrum or perhaps the "novellette" range (somewhere between a short story and a novella). Either way, there's a really nice amount of content here to quickly consume at whatever pace works best for you. 

If you haven't tried out Berne's HYBRID HELIX series yet (starting with WISTFUL ASCENDING), then I would absolutely encourage you to give this quick story a shot because I think it will give you a pretty good idea for what you've been missing. If you're already a fan of Berne's then I think this can serve as a really nice bonus episode that explores the origins of some of the characters and their relationships with one another. This was very easy to get through and I think it honestly helped pull me out of a bit of a slump reading-wise.  

(+) A short, but satisfying read that could be a great intro to Berne's writing as well as a fun bonus story for those who've already read his HYBRID HELIX novels.
(+) An interesting plot setup with some fun twists and turns along the way.
(+) It was cool to see Rohan's early days on Wistful and see his friendship with Wei Li begin. 
(+) A really fun final sequence with hysterical commentary from two sports-caster characters.
( ) People who already know and love these characters will likely get more out of this than those that haven't even though it can absolutely serve as a great intro to the series.
(-) I could have done without the Furry-LITE content, personally.


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