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.

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