Book Review: Jumper’s Hope by Carol Van Natta

Jumper's Hope cover art

The time and place

About a thousand years from now. Action takes place on fairly backwater planet Branimir, on the passenger-freighter Faraon Azul, and in the city of Ridderth on planet Mabingion, the site of a brutal city riot several years before the book begins.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized many planets and developed space travel. Some humans have psychic powers, referred to as “minder talents.” These talents include mind control, healing, telekinetics, detection of other powers, and plenty more. Those who have them are often pressed into the Minder Corps of Citizen Protection Services: essentially the galactic police.

The quick summary

Retired pilot Kerzanna crashes on the planet Jess has retired to. It’s no simple accident—someone wants her dead. Jess finds and rescues her, to both their confusion, as they were each convinced the other died several years ago. The two try to lay low and make their escape, but somebody has a tempting offer for them that could give them a chance of a future together. All they need to do is deliver some information. Easier said than done when the baddies are still after Kerzanna.

My squees

Kerzanna is one of the most interesting cyborgs I’ve read about in SFR. Cybernetics aren’t all sunshine and roses while we still have flesh. Like prosthetics now, they cause stress on other systems and need constant tweaking. I like how the CPS deactivated some of her capabilities and there was a side market for restoring them, it felt very punk. Kerzanna and Jess are mature adults who use their experience wisely during the course of the story. Though he’s retired, he has problems due to some mismanagement by his workplace. There’s a bit of upside to that oversight, but of course there is also a price for taking advantage of that. It makes me think hard about how organizations treat their employees.

The villainous troupe is entertaining. Davidro is an easy fellow to understand, and watching the way he tries to handle his underlings keeps making me snicker. I felt sympathy for Vahan, who may be cold-blooded and callous, but has to deal with a difficult job. Renner the electric talent has gotten more interesting through the series, and Georgie the forecaster and the others are memorable. Those who slip Davidro’s leash still have parts to play, even if they pay vividly terrible prices.

There’s a battle in space, and it’s exciting. Keeping track of the minor characters involved there is easy. Van Natta is good at making them distinctive and choosing interesting names.

My grumbles

I had a lot of trouble visualizing the layout of the passenger-freighter ship. That could just be my own spatial reasoning problems. What’s a nav pod, and why can it do what it does in the story?

There are several time jumps near the end of the book. Sometimes it felt like events were skipped over a bit abruptly, which made keeping track of them a little difficult for me.

Read if you

  • Enjoy a tale of reunited lovers
  • Like an interesting stable of villains
  • Are really into competent cyborg heroines

Skip if you

  • Want your heat level higher than sweet
  • Shy away from violence
  • Prefer a primary focus on the love story

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an advance reader copy for review purposes.

Don’t read this book on its own. Earlier books introduced these villains and their motives, and that makes the experience much richer. The leads get their happy ending, but there’s a twist for some characters which makes me very excited to read the next book. The way the characters have been built over time makes me curious about where some of them will end up.

Each entry in the Central Galactic Concordance is a bit different in tone. This one felt most like Overload Flux, with some spaceboard and plenty of hand-to-hand action. If you’re curious about other books in the series, I also reviewed Minder Rising and Pico’s Crush.

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

Resources: Kobo / Goodreads / Amazon / Google Play / iBooks / aRE

Honeymoon reading

This morning I set out to New Mexico with John! There will be plenty of downtime and hanging out at cafes, just letting our brains unknot for a week. I’ll do plenty of reading, I’m sure. Here are some books that I’m thinking of getting to:

  • Aliens in the Barn by Kyndra Hatch. I’m partway through this, and I haven’t met such unique aliens in a long time.
  • Deep Indigo by Cathryn Cade. I’ve read the others in this series and enjoyed them, so why leave that incomplete?
  • Mission: Improper by Bec McMaster. The spinoff to London Steampunk.
  • Hell Squad: Cruz and Gabe by Anna Hackett, because I’ve read the later books and want to be able to fill in a few references.
  • Trapped with the Cyborg by Cara Bristol because I will read most any books with female cyborgs in them.
  • Seth by Eve Langlais because see above.
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I’ve tried to read this a decade ago but had some trouble with it. I think it’s important for me to read more about hypercapitalism and classics of cyberpunk.
  • You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry. Dave Barry was the first humor writer I read as a teenager and I appreciate his talent for the absurd.
  • Devil’s Kiss by Zoe Archer. I love her adventure stories. This is a historical with some supernatural elements I borrowed from the library.

I said recently that I’m not great at “just being” and reading is a good balance between doing and being. Do you have any summer vacation reading plans?

Book review: Crash and Burn by Cynthia Sax

The time and place

Unknown time, presumably the future. As in Breathing Vapor, the story takes place aboard various ships and on the planet Tau Ceti, a world colonized by the Humanoid Alliance.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists and humans have colonized it. You can stick chips in your head for communication (at a cost). People built cyborgs as war machines: soldiers with machine frames, wifi links in their heads, and nanomachines.

The quick summary

Safyre, a crack pilot, is on a suicide mission to save her friend. A rogue cyborg who’ve been receiving her transmissions gets in her way, because he knows the place she’s going is at risk and he’s grown to care for her through their voice communications. Can he let her fulfill her promise and still keep her alive?

My squees

I adore Safyre. She’s loyal, stubborn, clever, and skilled, willing to put people ahead of herself. Her friendship is an amazing valuable, and she cares fiercely for people. She’s into being restrained during sex, and I like how it’s presented and integrated into the love scenes. There’s nothing fussy about it, and sometimes one partner has a kink that the other doesn’t have themselves but is cool with going along with. That feels authentic.

Crash is a sweetheart, and the way he treasures Safyre and respects her abilities, letting her take part in her most important mission, is well-navigated. It’s also nice to see a war machine who questions his own purposes and makes his own life. He chooses not to kill, and when he has to look at that resolution and reevaluate it, his dilemma is compelling. I like a bit of existential angst in characters.

My grumbles

Terminology: use of the term being instead of human or person. Sometimes instead of “anyone”, Sax writes “any being”. That felt a bit jarring. Similarly, the almost exclusive use of “my female” and “my male” as terms of endearment. I don’t think being female is Safyre’s most important or prominent characteristic, but others may disagree. It feels primitive in a way that may appeal to some.

The genetic compatibility (fated mate) trope. I’ve never been a fan of it, and I think Safyre and Crash would work just fine without it.

Read if you

  • Can’t get enough of fellows with Brain Computer Interfaces
  • Would risk your life for your best friend
  • Think people with black sclera are hot, too

Skip if you

  • Prefer fluffy happy books where nobody cool has horrible things happen to them
  • Want detailed engineering explanations of how all the cybernetics, space travel, and weaponry work
  • Dislike crude language with your explicit sex

Final Thoughts

Something very dark happens late in the story to people you’ve grown to care for. It’s a haymaker and I thought it gave the story extra emotional depth and resonance, but if you want a light or optimistic book you won’t get that. This is a story that takes place during military struggle, and it’s got some gritty parts.

I look forward to reading Defying Death.

Author site: A Taste of Cyn

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Kobo / ARe

Book Review: Breathing Vapor by Cynthia Sax

The time and place

Unknown time, presumably the future. The story takes place aboard various transport ships and on the planet Tau Ceti, a world colonized by the Humanoid Alliance. As per usual, the native people are second-class on their own land.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized space. They’ve also created cyborgs, biological constructs fused of human, machine frame, and nanomachines, as supersoldiers. They’re created as babies in vats, and then aged with acceleration so they grow to adulthood in only a few years.

The quick summary

Mira “the Merciless” Breazeal is a cold, cruel, capricious socialite and the daughter of a scientist known as the Designer (a higher-up in the Humanoid Alliance who deploys and dissects cyborgs). The cyborgs serving the Designer have decided to kill someone to make an example, and Mira makes a good target. Vapor, the would-be executioner, suspects Mira’s not all she seems. Or perhaps he just wants her for himself. Conflict of interest, much? Mira may want what’s best for Vapor (and also to do super fun things with his body), but she can’t trust anyone, as it will mean her doom. Can the two of them see eye to eye and earn Vapor’s freedom?

My squees

Mira makes this book for me. She’s brave and vulnerable, with a big heart she has to hide at all costs. Her best talent is bluffing, and she uses it well. She tries the best she can to do compassionate things while keeping her cover so she can do more good later. It’s a tough balancing act and she’s willing to have people believe the worst of her and hate her when she only wants to help them. Vapor, for his part, recognizes Mira’s specialties and lets her shine. He also understands what she is giving up by choosing a future with him. She may be the only woman he’s ever met until the start of the story, but he convinces her and the reader that his obsession isn’t due to that. Good on him.

The action is well-paced and the story’s tight: there’s no flab on it.

Sax does not pull punches: Mira goes through some terrible loss during the story and has to make sacrifices to do what she thinks is right and be with her love. This is my candy: high emotional stakes and sometimes getting curb-stomped in the emotional department.

My grumbles

What on earth kind of scientist gives subordinate people an unmonitored communication channel?! The cyborgs can all talk to each other without any of their supervisors even noticing that they are communicating. That snapped my disbelief right there: all of us using electronic communication today are under surveillance. I noticed a lack of different types of men in the story: the ones we meet are all virile cyborgs, weak and stupid guards, or cackling villains. Maybe that’s related.

There’s an exhibitionism scene near the end that made me blink several times and crook an eyebrow. Somehow it lacked the punch the earlier intimate scenes did for me. There are D/s elements, but they seem to be there for spice instead of lifestyle.

Read if you

  • Want the crushing lows of emotion along with soaring highs
  • Enjoy a high heat level in your romance
  • Need a heroine you can root for and believe in
  • Are a cyborg junkie

Skip if you

  • Don’t want to read about bad things happening to good people
  • Are turned off by violence or eff-bombs and other crude language
  • Think gray is not an acceptable skin color

Final thoughts

I’m not very interested in alpha males or D/s sexual encounters. I usually find them pretty boring, so if that’s all there is I can say well, this book went completely over my head and it’s better judged by someone who likes those. I bought this book on a sale (I thought Kobo, but the truth is ARe) because I’m a cybernetics fan and figured it was worth a try given the sample I’d read. I haven’t read Releasing Rage yet, and don’t think I missed anything because of that. I bought Crash and Burn a few weeks ago, and should get on reading that.

The elements I was meh about were there, but they didn’t get much in the way of the emotional payoffs of the story. The story addresses families, friendship, and the price a person can pay for their beliefs. This may be an erotic romance with lust riding the characters hard at the beginning (heh heh), but the love they express by the end feels real.

Author site: A Taste of Cyn

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble / Kobo / ARe

 

Book Review: Stranded with the Cyborg by Cara Bristol

The time and place

Our future, post 23rd century. There’s action on a space port, spaceship, and a wild planet with breathable atmosphere.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists! Also, the government has a secret cyborg program where they outfit people with BCIs and nanomachines and such. The other civilizations have Near-Humans and Not-Very-Near-Humans.

The quick summary

Cyber Operations Agent Brock Mann is pulled from his well-deserved R&R to act as bodyguard for a diplomat. He and said diplomat have a history: she was a pain in his rear when he guarded her years ago, and got him fired by doing something pretty heinous, indirectly causing him career problems. She feels bad about it now, and is trying to get meaningful work done. Their journey goes awry, and they get stranded on a strange planet. Can Brock keep his computer parts a secret from Penelope on the planet together? Can she stop herself from jumping his bones? Does she even want to stop herself?

My squees

I’ve always been a bit confused by the idea of engineered cyborgs that grew in a vat. My thinking is that drones are making fighter pilots obsolete already- if we need a mix of human ingenuity and processing power, why not outfit volunteers (and give them command posts) rather than grow slaves? Brock’s cyborg nature fits in with we are making cyborgs today: something doesn’t work, so we’ll integrate machinery in for functionality (he gets upgrades, though). Cochlear implants and Deep Brain Stimulation have improved quality of life for many, and people are developing cybernetics to help paralyzed people walk. Brock’s situation was a bit more acute, but it seems like a viable step in the direction we’re going with cybernetics.

Bristol also pulled a fast one on me: it’s mentioned that Penelope is the former President’s daughter in promotional material. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say said President is Penelope’s mother. I fell into a trap, assuming the President was a fellow. Laura Roslin of Battlestar Galactica should have helped cure me of that! It’s such a small thing, but I applaud the author for putting another chink into my unconscious gendering of professions.

The planet’s secret is pretty cool, and the way it’s used in the final conflict is well done.

My grumbles

Brock decides that nobody would want a cyborg, so keeps Penelope in the dark about it and pushes her away. It may be a state secret, but he also doesn’t tell her for his own personal reasons. I feel like she can make her own decisions on that, and that any man who pulled that with me would never hear the end of how that was not cool.

Although some of Penelope’s attitudes and actions make sense for a civilian with her sense of the diplomatic situation and little survival training, she has to be saved enough times that I filed her under ‘distressed damsel’. It’s not a trope that jives with me.

Read if you

  • Like alpha male cyborg heroes (are there more manly names than Brock Mann?)
  • Enjoy second chances, or couples needing to grow up before they’re ready for each other
  • Value beauty in nature, and especially rocks

Skip if you

  • Roll your eyes at big manly men with many muscles
  • Think the girl should always save herself
  • Have had a scarring accident in chem lab

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I found it a fun and sexy romp, but I wasn’t too attached to our leads. Alpha males usually aren’t my type, so I think that colors my review. If you do like such heroes, you’ll enjoy this story more.

Author site: carabristol.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon AU /  Amazon CA / All Romance / Barnes & Noble