REVIEW: Zero

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, is due out in August 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

About Zero

Kaleb Hugo is every­thing an offi­cer of the Ser­vice should be: loyal, expertly trained, unques­tion­ing. He has done every­thing ever ordered of him and has done so with a pride that comes from know­ing you are fight­ing for the good of humankind… until the day that he made a deci­sion, as he has had to many times before, in order to ensure the best out­come for the Ser­vice, even though it was in direct vio­la­tion of regulations.

A bat­tle was won, but Hugo was con­demned and dis­hon­ourably dis­charged by Ser­vice com­man­ders for going against orders and risk­ing him­self and his unit to save an inhab­ited satel­lite that had been deter­mined as an accept­able loss.

Offi­cially, anyway.

Unof­fi­cially, Hugo was re-assigned to cap­tain the crew of the Zero, an eight-man craft that is clas­si­fied in all Ser­vice records as, at best, a pri­va­teer ship and at worse a smug­gling and bor­der­line crim­i­nal enter­prise ves­sel. What very few peo­ple in the Ser­vice know is that the Zero, and its crew, are con­tracted by the Ser­vice. Their role is to inves­ti­gate and infil­trate the less savoury and unac­knowl­edged lev­els of human soci­ety. They sell on, buy in, bar­gain, threaten and report back on every­thing the polit­i­cal lev­els the Ser­vice don’t offi­cially want to know.

The Zero’s rag-tag crew look to their com­man­der, Ezekiel Webb, as their leader and mid­dle­man between the reg­i­mented expec­ta­tions of the Ser­vice and the harsh and unpre­dictable demands of the under­world of colo­nial space. He knows he is not cap­tain mate­r­ial but has not man­aged to serve well under any that have been placed over him. Both Cap­tain and Com­man­der clash, but they will have to adapt and find a com­pro­mise if the Zero is to carry out her mis­sions suc­cess­fully and for the har­mony of the crew.

As the Zero is assigned mis­sions by Colonel Lus­combe, her crew is pulled deeper into an orbit-wide game of pol­i­tics, deceit and cor­rup­tion which will threaten to tear them apart and throw Human­ity back into a cycle of war and destruc­tion. To stop this and pre­serve the frag­ile peace, Hugo, Webb and the crew will have to over­come per­sonal tragedy, insur­mount­able odds and every cruel depraved twist of fate that the Orbit can throw at them.

As events esca­late out of con­trol, Hugo will have to go against every­thing he has ever believed in to save his crew and bil­lions of inno­cent peo­ple. The out­come is always uncer­tain, but for the crew of the Zero, it was always this way. What will tran­spire will decide not just their fate, but the des­tiny of the entire Human Race.


About the Author

J. S. Collyer is a science fiction writer from Lancaster, England. Her first novel, ‘Zero’is due for release by Dagda Pubishing August 2014.

She shares fiction and musings on writing on her Wordpress http://jcollyer.wordpress.com

‘Like’ her on Facebook: facebook.com/jscollyer

Follow her on Twitter: @JexShinigami


My Thoughts

After disobeying multiple commands to retreat, in the opening pages of JS Collyer's sci-fi debut, Commander Kaleb Hugo finds himself publicly disgraced but secretly promoted to captain the Zero. A cobbled-together ship, the Zero is the covert pride of the Service, its motley crew a band of rogue pirates.

I'll be honest - I'm not terribly well-read in the arena of military science fiction, despite it being a genre I enjoy quite a lot, especially on film. Like so many others, I was a huge fan of Firefly, and the overarching war story that unfolded in Deep Space Nine made that series my favorite in the Star Trek franchise. And who doesn't love the intergalactic dog-fights of Star Wars? Upon starting my read-through of Zero, I was immediately struck by its welcome familiarity of equal parts Timothy Zahn by way of Federation-like intrigue, and Fireflyesque space scavenging crew.

While there's a few familiar tropes at work here - a dyed-in-the-wool Serviceman and patriotic True Believer forced to work with a band of misfits and resolve their differences whilst engaged in harrowing adventure - Collyer's knack for making it ring both authentic and interesting overcome any risky clichés by virtue of sheer enjoyability. In fact, the author is able to take this well-trod premise and make it feel fresh, focusing on the emotional underpinnings of interpersonal conflicts between Hugo and his new crew, all the while proving she's a bit like the scrappy underdogs she writes about. It helps that there's a huge mid-book game changer, which I will not spoil, that packs a wallop and upends the interpersonal conflicts and raises the stakes considerably.  There's a lot more going on under the surface of Zero than initially appears, and it is very dangerous to underestimate Collyer's remarkable skills and gift of storytelling.

In fact, the relationship between Hugo and Webb, his immediate subordinate and Zero's Commander, is one of the book's highlights, and there's a lot of joy in watching the two overcome their initial distrust and rivalry. And while Hugo is the lead, I think Webb often overshadows him through virtue of his strong, scrappy presence.

The story itself revolves around these off-the-books Serviceman who crew the Zero under the cover of piracy. Under Hugo's captaincy, and whose orders come directly from a high-level Service colonel, the crew engages in some terrific bits of espionage and assassinations. As Hugo begins to recognize certain patterns and hidden threads linking their missions, he begins to uncover a rebellion that threatens to tear apart the stability and fragile peace of Earth and its near-orbit colonies.

Plot-wise, the books real strength comes from its fascinating and layered portrayal of a future Earth and its colonial space subjects. I really liked the almost small-stage setting, with Collyer's focus being limited to, as the title suggests, Earth's immediate orbit. There's no warp drive or FTL jumps, no galaxy-wide escapades, no aliens, and no technical jargon. Instead, the author concentrates entirely on her strong crew of misfits and high-stakes political intrigue, drafting a strong, compelling work of near-future science fiction.

Offhand, I can't find a single misstep in her execution of the story. There's a great sense of world-building within Zero, ranging from a brief mention of the Whole World War, and an earlier lunar revolution that helps shape the events of her present story. It's terrific stuff, and there's a whole gamut of possibilities and story-telling potential tucked away in these little nuggets of info. The plot is well-crafted, the characterizations are nicely handled, and the action is exciting.

Collyer's work has a very strong cinematic presence about it, and I feel like there were a lot of wonderful influences she was inspired by. She handles scenes of tenderness and trauma with a subtle grace. Webb, for instance, has some serious traumas in his past, and he's fleshed out with a much-appreciated delicateness. One scene that has really stuck with me involves a brief, almost-romantic interlude, between him and Rami, the ship's science officer. Collyer gives us a great demonstration of "show, don't tell" here, allowing readers to catch hold of some of the weight and shared history between these two, without getting bogged down in details or a recitation of their pasts. The attention given to her characters and their developing relationships and interplay allows for one hell of a brutal sucker-punch when trauma strikes, and the weight of loss and sacrifice is palpable.

J.S. Collyer is a fresh and welcome voice to the sci-fi genre, and her debut sets the stage for a terrific new series that I will definitely be paying lots of attention to. She's one to watch out for, and Zero is highly recommended.

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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