Book Review: Minder Rising by Carol Van Natta

The time and place

About one thousand years from today. We’re given GDAT 3238 for the beginning of the book. Place is mostly the planet Concordance Prime, in the cosmopolitan city of Spires.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have found FTL and colonized other planets. Some have manifested ‘minder talents’, which are essentially psychic powers. Those who have particularly strong talents are recruited by Citizen Protection Service (the transplanetary military).

The quick summary

CPS agent Lièrén Sòng is recovering from a he’s-got-lots-of-new-vat-grown-internal-organs injury, doing clerical work by day and drinking soda at night at the Quark and Quasar pub. The bartender, Imara Sesay, works two jobs to help support her and her son Derrit, and the two of them have become friends during his convalescence. After an unpleasant bar incident, Imara asks Lièrén to help her son control his minder talents before his government aptitude test, and Lièrén agrees. Meanwhile, members of Lièrén’s team are dying suspiciously. Imara and Lièrén get closer while he uncovers damning information about the local CPS testing program and his own team. Can he both stay alive and help her keep her son safe? Is there any future for a road crew chief and man subject to military deployment?

My squees

Lièrén is not a conventional hero. He’s deferential without any irony, polite and honorable. It’s so good to see East Asian males as a desirable subject. He’s running Confucian firmware on his brain, too: he respects his elders for being such, wouldn’t think to break the rules as anything but a late resort, and values his extended family greatly. He doesn’t think of himself as a good person due to the things he’s done in CPS service, but he’s principled and disciplined.

Imara isn’t a conventional heroine. She may work two jobs and be a widow supporting a kid, but she’s not downtrodden or victimized. When she’s in her element on the road or at the bar, she’s competent. When scary things happen, she’s scared, but thinks quickly to deal with it. Imara feels like a complete character, her actions feel believable. She’s world-wiser than Lièrén since she’s older and not the semi-sheltered agent used to living in hotels and ships, but they fit together well. Their romance is a slow burn, with both of them mindful of the obstacles to their togetherness. The rest of the story is also paced that way, starting sedately and growing progressively faster.

The secondary characters are memorable too. Derrit, Lièrén’s family, Imara’s deceased husband, the other bartender, Imara’s road crew, and the CPS officers all have their own agendas and drive the action. Some of them are good people who did harmful things, and some are morally dark gray but try to do some good deeds. Everybody’s more than plausible. Even the organizations are nuanced, there are good and bad people in the bureaucracies. No Evil Empire here. The truth is that there are lots of players in problematic organizations, most well-meaning and trying to do their best jobs, some malicious, and some who are not quite competent.

My grumbles

I had to read the last few chapters more than once to check whether I’d missed anything. Did Lièrén ever tell Imara what was up with his job and his team dying? He is keeping secrets from her, but I imagine she’d ask, “so what was with those people trying to mess you up?” I am curious as to how he’d answer. Because of the time lapse some developments seem a bit sudden. Maybe they could have felt a bit less so if I’d known the extent of the contact Imara and Lièrén had during their separation.

Read if you

  • Enjoy original, fully-realized characters
  • Like to think about the ramifications of multiculturalism in humanity’s future
  • Wish you had psychic powers

Skip if you

  • Require on-screen sex scenes
  • Want a edge-of-seat fast-paced read
  • Have a ton of difficulty with other languages getting sprinkled into English

Final thoughts

Why the accent marks on Lièrén’s name? They’re tonal markings for the Romanization of Mandarin Chinese. Van Natta represents the future-culture respectfully and pretty true to my own experience and speculation (how many other grown American women share banking and investment accounts with their parents?). East Asians, and really Asians of any kind, are almost invisible in North American media. I’m delighted to see a Chinese character in the spotlight.

Author site: http://author.carolvannatta.com/

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble / iBooks / Google Play / Kobo

Ride it for all it’s worth

I’ve been making music, playing games, writing games, programming tools, and writing stories since I realized I could. Not all at the same time. For years it was music, then games and music, and now writing. For a while, I feared myself a creative dilettante. I assure myself that music is something I can get back to. I tell myself I’ve made some interesting music already whether I do go back to it or not. I don’t need an identity as ‘a composer’ or ‘a writer’ because I have already made music and written some stories and they have made me and a few others feel things. I still get neurotic about it, though.

Out of morbid curiosity, I skimmed some articles about ‘creative people.’ There’s lots of contradictory information about what makes such people different. Here’s my generalization:
Creative people will go mad if they try to suppress the urge to make something. The things they make are motivated from some internal wonkiness that creates chum that they have to vomit up. Some of this can be shaped into things that they will share with the world. The majority will not.

I think creativity is on a sliding scale rather than having a binary value. Some people must spend hours each day doing their thing, and some can do it a few times a week or month. My creative output and hours are partially dictated by my energy, as I work full-time and don’t have the energy to do more than one thing at once. The flesh is weak, and that drags down the heart.

How long will I continue this spate of writing? I could lose interest or end up doing music or games with my limited time instead. I don’t know. I’ll ride it for all it is worth and see what comes together. I’m happy I took it up in January. Whatever happens, I’ll keep reading and reviewing. My consumption and urge to give back is a given.

Book Review: Return to Dark Earth by Anna Hackett

The time and place

Earth in our far future, as intimated by the title- it’s got all kinds of irradiated beasties and killer plants! The opening takes place on a jungle planet, Mazona V. There’s also some time aboard spaceships.

The suspension of disbelief

Nuclear war rendered Earth pretty much uninhabitable. The survivors escaped into space to found new colonies. Artifacts from Earth are considered valuable archaeological treasures.

The quick summary

Niklas Phoenix left the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation on acrimonious terms and took up treasure hunting with his brothers. The Institute has found him, though, and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: an expedition to Earth, with Nera Darc also going. Nik has a fascination with Darc he can’t get rid of, and he distrusts the Institute enough to join up to see what they are up to. Nera has always found Nik rare and intriguing, but their rivalry and the remnants of her own issues have kept them apart. Finally working together on the expedition, they have the luxury to decide what they mean to each other. But first, they have to survive zombies, giant mutant cats, acid-spitting plants, and internal sabotage.

My squees

Our protagonists, separately and together. Niklas is, as Nera says, a good man. The two have been tangling since the beginning of the series, and I do recommend reading the first three Phoenix Adventures books before this one for a little more background on them. Niklas makes a great Indiana Jones, scholar and adventurer, and his respect for Nera is evident even while dirty things are happening. I was a little worried Nera’s character would get watered down from what I read in earlier books, but those worries were put to rest (by zombies!). Nera Darc continues to be the baddest treasure hunter in the galaxy, with human issues that she’s somewhat dealt with, like most of us. She’s not completely trapped by her past but it does give her hangups. The way she falls for Nik and opens up to him feels natural, and her protectiveness (while trusting his competence and letting him stand on his own) made me feel all warm and cozy. They make an excellent team, and I cheered them on through the whole story.

The action is filmic. Chase scenes, booby traps, sword and gun fights, gladiator rings, it can make your head spin. With all that, I still somehow have a good idea as to the sequence of events. It’s more coherent than the majority of action movies I’m familiar with. Everything is consistent and ties together nicely. Heck, why isn’t this a movie?

It’s also fun to see the radioactive world Hackett has built, abounding with monsters, mutants, treasures, and environmental hazards. The horrors are vivid and scary. The ruins of my beloved New York City got me thinking, “Could we really do this to ourselves someday?” We also make stops in savage Mexico and Peru, and I was always curious to see what the team would discover next!

My grumbles

The villains are shallow. Their motives are believable but not complex, and I believe there are actual villainous cackles. It’s a sharp contrast to the well-developed protagonists.

I am very burned out on zombies. These are well-done and not garden-variety, but they’re still zombies. Your mileage will vary a great deal.

Read if you

  • Enjoyed Uma Thurman’s action sequences in Kill Bill
  • Like a hero who isn’t intimidated by a lover who could slice him to ribbons
  • Spend time thinking about the ramifications of nuclear war
  • Like everyone to get what they deserve

Skip if you

  • Are allergic to zombies
  • Want to see all the different grays of morality
  • Need things slow and easy

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Also, I have a pronounced weakness for loyal scholarly types who like badass women on top. More books like this for me, please, I will buy all of them. You can read this book as a standalone story, but previous books do build up to it.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Smashwords / ARE

Book Review: Luminous by A.E. Ash

The time and place

Planet Hestia (as named by our protagonist), a world that could be colonized by humans. I assume it’s our future because “Terran Standard Years” and Earth are mentioned.

The suspension of disbelief

Humanity has traveled into space and set up colonies/space stations. When stars fall, they hear voices and experience life for a moment before they die.

The quick summary

Jyothi Agarwal left her love behind to work on a research team out in space, feeling she could help out humanity. The team determined the proto-colony was habitable, but war broke out before further preparations could be made. The others on the team returned home for war, taking their ship with them, and they haven’t reported back. She’s been alone on the station for nine years, making daily logs and surveying the land. One day, during her terrain survey, she finds an injured man on the barren planet. Where did he come from and what shall she do with him?

My squees

Older people with older bodies find love, too. They don’t cease to love uncomfortably, to be free of sharp, ugly feelings. This is the first love story I can remember reading with a sixty-plus year old human as a protagonist. Jyothi is something of a paragon and has most of her act together by her age. When her age becomes an issue for her, Ash resolves this in a way that I appreciated because it wasn’t the glamorous ending.

The writing felt gentle, the prose almost Impressionist: even scientific reports, first aid, cargo bays, and speeders became muted and softened. The story gave me a hug. Loneliness is a powerful theme for me. Most of the books I’ve read that touched me in the amygdala reference loneliness and how we cope with it. I bawled for a while afterwards because Luminous made me feel things that swept me in with the tide.

My grumbles

Well, how a fallen star becomes a dude and can speak a language is something I still struggle with in my primitive hume brain. I had to tell my logic circuits to suspend the disbelief pretty often. The back filler took up many ‘pages’ on my ereader- 25% of the content. I wanted to know more about the author and book, but it felt like padding in the format.

Read if you

  • Want to explore ideas concerning isolation and loneliness
  • Are in the mood for a mythic tale
  • Believe senior citizens and the stars are beautiful

Skip if you

  • Are looking for hot erotic romance
  • Require rigorous science in your science fiction
  • Don’t like short stories

Final thoughts

This is a quick read. It made me feel warm and hopeful inside. Possibly also luminous. I shall reread it whenever I want to evoke that mood. The cover, which I like for its subtlety and resonance with the story, is by Yasmin Khudari.

Author site: https://aeashwrites.wordpress.com/

Resources: The Book Smugglers / Read for free at publisher site / Goodreads / Kindle US / Kindle UK / Kobo / Google Play / Smashwords / B&N / iBooks

Did I long for alienation?

Last Saturday I went to Penny Arcade Expo. I’d never been before, but most of my friends have. I was less aghast by commercial pressures than I might have been. The Square Enix section had demos of Final Fantasy XV, which looked slick as expected, and Life is Strange, which I’ve yet to play but intend to someday. I was too depressed about Bioware not supporting anything further for PS3/X360 in their Dragon Age DLCs and updates to investigate what they had. Nintendo had lots of Mario Maker on display and a cool demo of Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Nice surprises came in the Indie Megabooth. I got to speak with Christine Love of Love Conquers All Games and play a demo of her upcoming game/visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind. I love that the characters don’t have names, just titles. It makes us project our ideas of beastliness and nerdiness onto the characters, and because our ideas of these stereotypes may differ in nuance, we create extra layers to the characters. Love and I agreed that Korean history doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as Chinese or Japanese, despite its richness and relative population. She said this was part of what inspired Analogue: a Hate Story. Anyway, I told Christine she was super cute, because she is. She wants to make the world cuter and she’s doing more than her part.

I also found Playsets, a virtual tabletop geared to remote tabletop RPGs. It’s system-agnostic, and is mostly there to provide visual representation of what’s going on. This is great for people like me who are terrible at remembering how big a building is. The sets are the tilesets You can make our own dungeons or buy some prefabs. They don’t have a science fiction set yet, but it’s a common request. I’d buy that.

Sunday I fired up the PS3 and played Tales of Xillia for the first time in eight months. I don’t know if I will finish it by the new year what with writing as a hobby, but if I do I have plenty of other games in my backlog before I ever get the the games I saw at PAX…