This week I took a break from my diet of Moby Dick and compulsively refreshing the JOC (journal of organic chemistry) ASAPs to indulge in the taco bell of literature: the short romance. Don’t hate, a girl can’t live on the chicken, broccoli and rice of literature all year long, sometimes you just really want a crunch wrap. And if you’re anything like me, you have some really confusing feelings about Data from watching TNG as a preteen that you need to resolve; enter the cyberpunk romance.
C791 is a cyborg love story with enough tropes to keep you eye-rolling and disappointedly sighing all afternoon. The male lead is a victim of involuntary military cybernetic enhancement that robs him of his free will and conscious thought until an EMP accident allows him and some of his fellow cyborgs to regain control of themselves and rebel. After he is captured, the female lead is sent in to get “samples” from him for medical testing. Sparks fly and when he escapes, he takes her with him essentially as his personal sex slave and pathetic as she is, she’s totally fine with this.
C791 was published in 2012 by Eve Langlais and has 4.2 stars on Amazon (#374 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Cyberpunk) and 3.75 stars on Goodreads with a 90% liked-it rating. I have to wonder how many of those reviews were made by people who either have not actually read it or were paid for the reviews because I give it 3/10. Let’s start with the writing quality. Although she credits both a line editor and a content editor, I have a hard time believing someone other than a word processor edited this before it went out. There are grammatical errors, excessive passive voice, run-on sentences and scenes that don’t entirely make sense. As an example, in one scene they have sex standing up because for some reason his bed is missing from his room and then somehow cuddle and fall asleep after. The plot is exactly what you would expect from a romance (it is a regrettably formulaic genre) except for a twist in the last third which wasn’t too hard to see coming. It’s fairly short at only 42k words/164 pages, and at least half of that is sex scenes (which aren’t very good, unfortunately), so there isn’t much left for plot, character development or world building. A lot of the writing is repetitive, especially the sex scenes, where she uses the analogy of her sex milking his three times in three different scenes. Keep in mind this is only 164 pages. Beyond that, the author seems to prefer telling rather than showing the reader what’s going on in the story. Or worse yet, she tells you and then shows you. It makes the writing style boring and juvenile. There is not nearly enough interpersonal conflict or character development.
Speaking of character development, it’s also seriously lacking. The characters are so one-dimensional; I can confidently say that I own jackets with more personality. This is unforgivable in a romance novel as the plot is generally very character driven. The male lead is too perfect. His only real weakness is the female lead, and this makes him incredibly uninteresting. I’ve already mentioned how spineless the female lead is. The only time she showed any backbone whatsoever was in response to sexual abuse. It would have been so much better to have had her show this backbone without bringing sexual abuse into it. Now I don’t mind alluding to a history of sexual abuse. It’s something that happens in real life, and it’s important to explore the depths of human depravity through literature sometimes. I don’t advocate censorship just because something makes people uncomfortable. That said, when it adds absolutely nothing to the plot and very little to character development, it is beyond unnecessary. When rape is used in a story, it needs to be done with care and caution so that it is not just an opportunity for further abuse and insult against the character.
On to the burning question, is it cyberpunk? Could one replace the word cyborg with pirates and get a swashbuckler romance you’d find in grannie’s attic? Not quite. They do use cybernetics as a major plot device. They explore the involuntarily-being-made-a-cyborg trope and at what point is someone so heavily modded that they are more machine than human. Beyond that, it’s hard to argue that it is cyberpunk. I’d comment on the elements of the setting that lend it towards or away from cyberpunk; however there isn’t much description of the environment at all, and the story largely suffers from the white room problem, where there isn’t enough description of the setting to sufficiently distinguish the location from a white room. It takes place entirely on military bases or space ships. There’s no mention of corporations, no punk elements or street life, and no AI or virtual reality.
Overall, the storytelling was very heavy-handed and poorly written. The story concept was interesting enough but felt half-assed with a superficial exploration of the cyberpunk elements at best. The characters lacked depth and personality; the settings lacked description, the plot only slightly deviated from the typical romance formula and even the sex scenes were monotonous. It’s a poor first look into cyberpunk/romance fusion, but not so bad that I am willing to declare the whole genre a botched run. If you have any suggestions on what I should read next, leave us a comment.
C791 – 3/10