As I put the final touches on my own cyberpunk romance, Unacceptable Risk, I’ve also been doing some reading in the genre. Samhain Press (which will also be publishing Unacceptable Risk) recently released Cybershock, a trio of cyberpunk novellas, which I snapped up immediately.
Here’s my take on the second, Zero Factor by Stacy Gail.
Four Stars ★ ★ ★ ★ (4.0/5.0)
Stacy Gail’s Zero Factor, like most cyberpunk stories, takes place in a grim future where much of society has collapsed, political borders have been redrawn and technology has changed the landscape. The book is set apart by the introduction of psychics, a rogue military-industrial complex and a villain who is entirely too plausible in his belief that his actions are above the law.
Our heroine, Via Brede, is one of the aforementioned psychics. In a fascinating premise for a romance novel, she receives and transmits psychically, but only through physical touch. At the opening of the novel, when she foresees a catastrophic attack, she uses this gift to warn a career soldier, Locke, who recognizes the attack as the profound betrayal that it is. The two escape together and go into hiding, intent on discovering the truth behind the explosion and the key to unlocking the true potential of Via’s power.
First off, I’m a big fan of the world Gail has created. It’s full of political intrigue and seems like a fairly natural extension of our current police state should consolidation of power continue to go unchecked, which is a big plus for me in speculative fiction.
Second, I love when a romance author creates a vaguely-supernatural world that specifically lends itself to, well, romance. The physical contact part of Via’s power makes the eroticism of the book 100% integral to the story. And wow, does the story ever get hot.
Third, I loved her characters. Locke with his steady, self-sacrificing leadership. Via with her vulnerability and her fears… but also with her extraordinary abilities and strengths. That said, my favorite character was a supporting one, Madame Citrine, who gives our heroes sanctuary and the tools they need to get to the bottom of the many mysteries before them … and to the heart of their romantic connection. That she’s gender-bending to the extreme is just a bonus.
That said, I would have liked a little more space for the connection between Via and Locke to play out. The two are almost literally thrown together, and their alliance is not an easy one. Considering that this is a fairly short novella, the author did forge a believable, compelling relationship between them. It just felt a little rushed in places.
On the whole, I give Zero Factor a solid thumbs up. It’s an intriguing premise with a unique cast of characters that provides a hot romance and a lot of food for thought.