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

Series spotlight and giveaway: Hell Squad by Anna Hackett

Welcome to my first series spotlight, where I recommend an entire series you can binge on! It’s Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad.

This series is ten books long so far:

 

Spotlight

In our near future, aliens invade and lay waste to Earth. What’s left of civilization must organize, survive, and fight back against the continued onslaught. The heroes and heroines of the Hell Squad series are among those trying to give humanity a future. Follow them through their perilous journey through post-apocalyptic Australia as they learn what it means to live for each other.

The short novels have tight plotting, fast-paced action, and scorching encounters. Some of the characters are especially memorable: my favorites are Noah Kim of the book that bears his name, Claudia Black of Shaw, and Adam Holmes and his heroine Liberty. The friendships between non-romantic characters and the squad relationships are solid. The romances feature couples who complement each other well and have excellent chemistry. These books celebrate life and love amidst fear and loss.

I enjoy the stunts that appear in the action scenes. I don’t lose track of where anybody is or what they are doing, which is difficult to convey with multiple characters and enemies. Trucks explode, lasers fly, fighter planes bombard, one of the heroines pit-fights some devil doggies…the action doesn’t stop. Even the metaphors used about feelings include percussive words! Speaking of devil doggies, the world has a fascinating bestiary. Fans of alien invasion/monster movies will enjoy the horrible person-sized dragonflies, exploding acidic devil doggies, giant sauropods, pterodon-like creatures, and the biped lizards who appear to be masterminding the invasion. It’s not quite kaiju movie, but I do want to see it in theaters.

I recommend starting with Marcus, which is free, and I recommend reading the series sequentially. There are several big arcs that span multiple books, even if each book stars one couple. You’ll enjoy these more if you’re comfortable with gritty violence. We don’t get any gory details of alien torture, but bad things do happen to various people during these stories.

Giveaway!

Anna herself has generously supplied a signed copy of Marcus that I’m giving away. I’ll attempt to ship anywhere on planet Earth. I’m also giving away a Hell Squad ebook of their choice (via Amazon) to two other readers.

How to enter: Comment on this blog post with your favorite movie monster! Mine’s either the Alien queen from the Alien series or Pyramid Head from Silent Hill. Contest runs until 17 September at midnight PDT.

Disclosure: I have received some of these books free for review purposes. I have bought copies of the rest. The ebooks will be gifts from me.

I have my own grumbles about ebook retailer exclusivity, but you can get Hell Squad in print from Amazon/CreateSpace and The Book Depository.

Book Review: The Caphenon by Fletcher Delancey

The time and place

The far future, on a world called Alsea.

The suspension of disbelief

Faster than light space travel exists across the galaxy, but Alsea doesn’t have it. Also, the Alseans have scientific and other capabilities that we do not today.

The quick summary

A space firefight happens above Alsea, a technologically advanced world without very fast spaceships and no proof there are aliens until some aliens crash down to the planet. The aliens, a humanoid and friendly bunch, inform Lancer Andira Tal (government head) that the less friendly aliens they fought in space want to come invade and enslave Alsea. With their ship beached, the aliens want to help Alsea as much as they can, but they are limited by the orders of their government. Tal must do whatever’s necessary and make uncomfortable choices to try to save her world. Will it be enough?

 

My squees

The Caphenon, titled for the crashed ship the friendly aliens were on, boasts tons of memorable and intriguing characters with complex interactions. Lancer Tal must bear the weight of society, marshal the world’s troops, and play politics at the same time, and those have shaped her into a fascinating woman, tough and empathetic. Her foil, Ekatya Serrado, has a similar personality and burden, but differing life circumstances and loyalties molded by her society’s customs. The most major non-main character (deuteragonist?), anthropologist Lhyn Rivers, is richly detailed: curious, loyal, brilliant, and drives the actions of many with her ingenuity and compassion.

The female characters in The Caphenon all take actions, take responsibility for their actions, and have all kinds of different jobs, capabilities, and personalities. You know, like people! That they are people is not a gimmick or remarked upon. This is what I look for in stories: fully realized characters of all shapes, sizes, genders, sexualities, and more.

Alsea is a fascinating world with a complicated society and history. The caste system makes meritocracy an even more problematic concept, with people of certain aptitudes (inborn) being shoehorned into the higher castes. Alsean society knows this is an issue but has not divested of it, and the tensions between the less prestigious castes and the warriors and scholars come up in several discussions.

Delancey explores an interesting concept I wish I saw in more military fiction: the soldiers die, but they have traditions and ceremony to commemorate that, and they’re trained for war. Civilians still have to cope with war and often bear the scars of conflict as well. In The Caphenon, some academics have to get into combat zones and do violent things unfamiliar to them, the trauma of which will follow them beyond the story.

 

My grumbles

The villainous aliens, the Voloth, are just villainous aliens. They believe they’re better than the Alseans, and the individual ones we get glimpses of are very simple in that. They aren’t named or physically described beyond having humanoid bodies, and they just seem to be evil because that’s their role. I find it a stretch to believe that such a huge army isn’t at all conflicted about what they’re doing in the least with their truly horrifying tactics. I prefer when I get a little more insight into the villains’ more human motivations and when they are presented in a morally gray manner.

Both Tal and Serrado are presented with some awful choices. They are prepared to go through with horrible things for decent reasons and self-flagellate indefinitely for them, but the story doesn’t pull those triggers. They don’t end up doing or having to do anything truly problematic, and having been led through some of those struggles and then finding no questionable means were required for the ends felt a bit of a letdown for me. There are characters who have to do problematic things for survival, but the moral choices of the main characters end up with their hands pretty clean when I thought dirtiness would have been interesting.

My other comments

I usually review SFR, which this isn’t, although there are some romantic elements. There is a f/f couple early in their relationship, and they have to navigate some perils. They have sex, and it is fade-to-black.

This is space opera. It’s big. We get explanations of matter printers, religious myths, and military funerals. Cultural exchange takes many pages, and the reader will need to have some patience for that. There are dozens of side characters, which can be difficult to keep track of. Several of them are named and die in the same scene. Almost all of the conflict is large scale. Even the personal matters mostly come up because of world conflict, not budgeting badly for the month or keeping residence poorly.

Read if you

  • Enjoy Star Trek and first contact stories
  • Want to hear about competent female characters in many walks of life
  • Can sit back for an epic yarn

 

Skip if you

  • Aren’t a space opera fan
  • Don’t care about the cultural or broad technical details of different societies
  • Require morally ambiguous villains

 

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received a free copy for review purposes. This book is available at my local library, and may be at yours too. It’s a finalist for a Lambda award (LGBT SF/F/Horror) to be finally judged in June. Thank you to Gill McKnight to introducing me! Tal’s adventures continue in more books (The Chronicles of Alsea).

Series site with plenty of world info: Chronicles of Alsea

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Kobo / Ylva

 

Book review: In the Devil’s Nebula by Anna Hackett

The time and place

See the title. Lots of action happens on planet Lucifa, the Assassin’s Guild base, but there’s also some on a cowboy western planet and in space. As for time, unspecified, but in our far future.

The suspension of disbelief

Space travel exists. Long ago, people fled Earth after nuclear war, scattering its treasures and museum pieces everywhere. Those are now valuable. There are several humanoid races around, perhaps all descended from us. People live on both low and high-tech worlds.

The summary

Someone’s stolen a rash of artifacts before the Phoenix brothers, treasure hunters extraordinaire, have been able to get to them. Somebody wants their attention. They track the thief to the Devil’s Nebula, where they find an assassin named Ria Dante who wants their help stealing the Lincoln Derringer so she may buy her freedom from her Guild with it. Zayn Phoenix, an ex-Strike Wing pilot, is flabbergasted to realize Ria looks just like Viktoria Anders, his late commanding officer who he still has nightmares about. Something fishy is going on here. The brothers agree to help Ria out to stick it to the Assassin’s Guild. On their hunt for the derringer, Zayn and Ria fall in love, only to discover dangerous secrets that could destroy Ria’s life and their relationship.

My squees

Fighter pilot and assassin? Yes please. These two go toe to toe with each other physically, have lots of fun together and are well-suited for their adventures. He’s got a need for speed, and she enjoys adventure thrills. He does muck things up a few times, but it is understandable. They respect the heck out of each other and their caring becomes selfless: Ria wants to protect Zayn from the punishment for her good deeds.

Zayn has gun issues. They get him into trouble, which I appreciate. His reasons would turn me off guns, of course. Although he deals with it in one instance, he isn’t miraculously cured after that. At least, he doesn’t say so.

This book is longer than At Star’s End, which I remember I feeling was a bit short. In the Devil’s Nebula gives us a little more time with the characters so the love story feels organic. The action-adventure keeps the story moving along at a fast clip, though.

The secondary cast is varied and vivid. Eos and Dathan return, Nik continues his bizarre game with Darc, and we meet a crazy teenager who’s an explosives prodigy.

My grumbles

Zayn plunges into a nightmare pretty early in the story, but keeps his PTSD a secret from his brothers. It’s a bit surprising since they seem so close.

There’s a character at the end who spills all the details of a complicated operation to enemies. He does this with very little threat or prompting. Why does he tell all of this to people he knows are hostile? I would have preferred our heroes to put the pieces together, perhaps researching/hacking a console at the site.

This is the third Phoenix Adventures book in a row I’ve read where the female protagonist does not have (by birth or by grooming) a certain kind of body hair and the male considers this sexy. That kind of squicks me out with its consistency.

Read if you

  • Enjoy action-adventure plots
  • Have a soft spot for wounded warriors
  • Like your love scenes picante

Skip if you

  • Want a slow, deliberate love story
  • Avoid swear words
  • Think people without hair that a bikini would cover are a giant turn-off

Disclosure:

I’m a member of Anna’s Launch Team. I purchased this book on my own.

With what Zayn’s been through, I’d assume he needs a psychologist. Although he can face the events on Lucifa with some closure now, I doubt the horrifying scenes he remembers will just fade away. Ria also has plenty left to process at the end of the story, and I hope we see those ideas explored in their appearances in further books. I do recommend you read At Star’s End to get a bit more on Zayn, but it’s not necessary.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Kobo

Book Review: Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green

The time and place

I assume from the author’s blog that it’s our future, and the place is deep space on several radical ships and less awesome planets.

The suspension of disbelief

There are various humanoid races. Space travel exists, and spaceships have combat capability. There’s all sorts of cool technology around that I won’t spoil.

The quick summary

Sair’s been a tribute slave to another race since before adolescence. He manages to escape the palace where he serves, but needs a way offworld. He finds a beautiful prototype ship and convinces the captain, Drea Mennelsohn, to take him aboard and drop him off somewhere safer. As he grows more fascinated with Drea, he finds that she and her mission are more complicated than he could have guessed. Together they could change the fate of known space.

My squees

Our couple make sympathetic rebels against the evil Empire. Sair is grieving. Learning to let go is never easy, and just because he likes, wants, and is grateful to Drea, they can’t commit until he releases his guilt. This is handled in a way that feels natural and relatable, even if I don’t know anyone whose losses are as awful as his. He wants to do right by the people he feels he left behind and those he cares about. I would treasure a friendship with him. Drea is a fascinating character. She has a disability that many potential partners would blanch at, but she makes the most of her limited life. That Sair is willing to work through it even though he thinks it’s difficult speaks well of him. I would love to pick her brain. The way she experiences events and space must be breathtaking, even if she finds it lonely. She bears a complicated burden, so wanting something for herself is rather risky.

The ship’s functionality and technology are introduced gradually. We learn about the Specter’s combat systems and cool features as they’re used, so it does not feel overwhelming and we can savor each nifty invention. There’s a scene about droids mating that I would have blushed at, were I physically capable. I didn’t know inorganic interactions could be that hot.

The epilogue ties up all the loose ends a reader wants to know about. Everyone gets what they deserve.

My grumbles

Drea and Sair are immediately attracted to each other, and as soon as she sees him she knows she’s going to take him on her ship. Uh, why? Because she felt a spark? Fate? The story is told from Sair’s perspective, though we get some of Drea’s at the end of the book. He finds her helpful and attractive, she does unprecedented things regarding him just from a first meeting. It seems impulsive and at odds with the rest of her behavior.

Drea has a brother named Ry? What was their father thinking? Dreary?

I enjoy learning new terms as they fit into a world, especially when they are not things I have names for now: spectro-drones, neuraltron, microcell. However, I am confused why there are new terms for units of time in this book: calendars, haras, tempas. If they are just years, hours, and minutes, using a new term makes me have to exert effort to stay immersed in the book. I assume everything’s being translated to English from several alien tongues for our benefit, so why weren’t the words for units of time translated as well? If they are different concepts, I’d like to know how they differ. The most disruptive word for me, though, is ‘gerabunga.’ It makes me think of heroes in a half shell, breaking my reading trance. That it’s the last word of the book following an emotional scene feels disorienting.

Read if you

  • Are curious about neural interfacing involving spacecraft and geek out over fighter jets and the like
  • Want the tortured hero’s perspective
  • Like your space opera vast and sweeping

Skip if you

  • Can’t stand dead baby jokes- there are dingoes in this book
  • Avoid fictional situations involving sexual slavery
  • Find instant attraction infuriating

Disclosure and final thoughts

I won this book in a raffle, but review it unsolicited. It’s available as a three-part serial, but I prefer to read complete books. I found several aspects of the world and characters to be original and fresh, and the author surprised me more than once.

Author site: http://www.laurieagreen.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Amazon serial