Sometime in the 1990s I read an excellent mass-market paperback, hard-science fiction novel set on a distant interstellar outpost (think: Deep Space Nine, but without the nearby planet, and darker, grungier).

Entertainment for space travelers is one of the main functions of the station, as well as secure storage of trade goods. The protagonist is a male trader, a "factor" - a person who acts or transacts business for another, that is: an agent entrusted with the possession of goods to be sold in the agent's name; a merchant earning a commission by selling goods belonging to others. Hence, the name of the book, as I remember it, was "Prime Factor."

But I cannot find any book by this title on any Internet search. The paperback was not particularly old when I read it in the 90s, and certainly was not from the classic days of science fiction, i.e. the 50s and 60s. It had more modern tropes. The setting is in very remote space, beyond the reaches of interstellar empires. There is a sense of lawlessness about the place. Background stories involve imperial political conflicts, and a side story was developing about a rogue interstellar artificial intelligence that is gobbling up inhabited planets.

The mood of the story and setting is very dark, dangerous, and cynical, with just enough law to keep monetary negotiations on contract. The trader travels solo in his own spaceship, if I remember correctly. I am looking for the author's name, the publisher, and the date of publication. I have already used Goodreads' search function to search all genres for either "Prime" or "Factor" as a word in the title. The author is not a famous science fiction writer. The book may have a sequel, as some of the larger background subplots seemed unfinished at the end.

  • There is an obscure sci-fi book called The Primary Factor but it doesn't seem to be the one you're looking for.
    – user14111
    Feb 27, 2018 at 1:45
  • 5
    "Random Factor" by Joel Henry Sherman features a space station and a main character who's position apparently is "Factor" but information on it online is fairly light and the other details I could find don't seem to particularly connect. Might be worth googling the title/author and seeing if the cover rings a bell though. Feb 27, 2018 at 2:33

1 Answer 1


As starpilotsix notes above, this is definitely Random Factor by Joel Henry Sherman.. From a review...

Rourke winds up taking on a job as the head manager, or 'Factor', for the Mael Station, a corporate-owned space station located in the distant, economically isolated southern arm of the galaxy.

This has got to be the book!

  • Edited to add author's name. A title is not an identification. The ISFDB lists three novels, a short story, and an anthology with the title "Random Factor".
    – user14111
    Feb 27, 2018 at 21:03
  • Thank you starpilotsix and Maury Markowitz. "Random Factor" is indeed the title I was looking for. I ordered the book on Amazon and it arrived today. (New York: Ballantine Book/Del Rey, 1991) ISBN-13: 978-0099146711 Recommended! Nov 2, 2019 at 18:51

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