Book Review – Pico’s Crush by Carol Van Natta

The time and place:

About a thousand years from now, on the planet Nila Marbela, a beautiful vacation spot. Most of the action takes place on the campus of Optimal Polytechnic University.

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:

Jerzi Adams goes to visit his daughter Pico at her university, Optimal Polytechnic. He finds out her favorite professor is a former Army buddy of his, Andra de Luna. Strange accidents involving explosions, evacs, and killer robots begin to befall the Materials Sciences and Chemistry departments. Jerzi’s colleagues Mairwen and Luka show up for a mission, and they get pulled into the mayhem as people start turning up dead. Campus becomes a dangerous place as several nefarious plots converge on the university, and it’s going to take some skill and luck for everyone to survive.

My squees:

Characters! We have two strong leads who’ve taken some knocks in life. Both have experienced romantic loss, and Jerzi’s relationship with his adult daughter is close and believable. Their chemistry and camaraderie has always been there, but they had other commitments in the past. Andra is understandably reluctant to get too close to someone who circumstances would dictate a long-distance relationship with. She manages to solve the two-body problem in a realistic fashion. She’s an interesting character on the whole: her background and skills are important during the school’s troubles, and she makes as good use of them as Jerzi does his.

Old friends and new villains also stick in the mind: we’re introduced to an excellent stable of twisted villains with credible motivations. Their story is mixed up in the continued adventures of Mairwen Morganthur and Luka Foxe, who shine again in Pico’s Crush. An adorable secondary romance between Pico and Luka’s assistant Sojaire picks up in fits and starts, with a satisfying ending.

Pico’s friends, classmates, and the kids in daycare pass through several characters’ watches during the story. They all are there for a reason, and some of them sounded cool enough to show up in further stories.

My grumbles:

Since are a ton of secondary named characters (especially the students), keeping track of all of them can get tough, especially when they are in different locations as matters go ill. Who’s where, when? I didn’t try to keep very close track of it myself, but if it’s important for your visualization processes you might want to take notes.

I adore Mairwen Morganthur, but there are times she almost overshadows Andra and Jerzi. I don’t know how I’d resolve that.

There are some premise questions I had to suspend disbelief with. Most of the characters seem to be of two or fewer nationalities recognizable today. I know that countries tended to migrate to different planets, but with space travel being around for generations, I would have expected more mixing and people from countries we haven’t founded yet. The departments in the university, and even the models of education, are pretty much the same ones we’d find today. It seems as if vast majority of human developments have been in space travel, which I had to remember and adjust for.

Read if you

  • Enjoy a friends-to-lovers slow burn
  • Sympathize with those who have to deal with Byzantine academic politics
  • Adore big space conspiracies and multi-faction machinations

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 a copy in exchange for an honest review. Each entry in the Central Galactic Concordance has told a different kind of story to me, and I think this is an easily-accessible adventure suitable and enjoyable for everyone. Although the book technically stands alone, I think Pico’s Crush requires a reading of Overload Flux to get the maximum effect. Reading Minder Rising and Zero Flux beforehand is also helpful, but not as critical.

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Nook / Kobo / Google Play / iTunes / Amazon.UK / All Romance


Planet Mira called

I’m getting back on the writing wagon-horse-thing slowly. The manuscript is at 50k. If you had told me that I could do it, I’d agree that it was possible but doubtful I could spend more time on yet another solitary hobby. Well, I want this story done justice. I have a small word count goal this month, though, because I’m working on some book recommendations on a deadline and am playing Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U because I enjoy getting slaughtered by alien squirrel-kittens and sauropods when I try to place observational probes. It’s eating almost all of my writing time. The other eater of time is a persistent fatigue dealing with my health and medications.

I’ve been reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. I don’t agree with his evolutionary bio/psychology arguments, but the mountain of stats don’t seem especially massaged, except for some historical death tolls that we don’t have great records for and are thus controversial. The random person born into this world today is a lot less likely to encounter violence of any sort than its ancestors.

There are a few elements on this site I’d like to facelift, and I’ll ask some people who like UI for help. It may be a little too stark or Lost In Space. I may want to migrate to WordPress. The further changes should wait, though. Wait until my backlog of recs and reviews are done, at the very least! I want to set a goal for myself again: review a book or game every two weeks! Some of them might not appear here since I am reviewing all of the Anna Hackett ever. Maybe I will make an aggregate post of those so you can peruse at your leisure.

End-of-year trip East reading and gaming

Boston has been about seventy degrees for Christmas. This is all highly anomalous and the house I stayed at was been stuffy and warm. I’ve gotten some reading done and some gaming and plenty of knitting.

The reading’s pretty all over the place:

  • Sidney Halston’s Laid Out, contemporary romance
  • Frostbound by Sharon Ashwood, paranormal romance
  • NK Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, fantasy
  • Clockwork Samurai by Jeannie Lin, alternate history
  • Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner by Yu Godai, science fiction
  • Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole, paranormal romance

I haven’t the wherewithal for full reviews of all of these, but I’ll make a few comments. I enjoyed Laid Out, but I wanted to punch everyone involved because they were too-human idiots. Believable flaws, but our protagonists are going to need to work hard for their future. Survivor’s guilt doesn’t just resolve in three months.

Frostbound wraps up, for now, Sharon Ashwood’s intriguing Dark Forgotten world. The hellhound hero is an excellent idea, and the heroine could really use some supernatural help for once. Although I could figure out the mysteries from a mile away, the pacing and some personal dynamics made it a fun read.

Go read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms if you haven’t already and can stand fantasy. Original ideas and world, fascinating characters, delicious layered plot. It was a library read but I went and bought the trilogy immediately afterwards.

Once upon a time I loathed steampunk for its Anglocentrism. Since then, lots of authors presented me with wonderful other slants on clocks, zeppelins, and the time of the Industrial Revolution. Clockwork Samurai is Chinese steampunk, set during an alternate Opium War. Lin presents wonderful ideas of acupuncture versus medicine, what patriotism means, and shows us the freaky isolationism that sadly dominated China and Japan during that era. There’s a bit of sweet romance for those who want it, even if it’s not resolved. I await the next novel eagerly.

Avatar Tuner is a light novel which was by the writer for Digital Devil Saga, retelling the story with some changes so far. DDS is one of my favorite games EVAR, so this book is a fun trip down memory lane. Hindu cyberpunk bizarre trip action plus wonderful cannibalism and existential questions. The translator never lets us forget how wonderful and horrible it would be to eat. This book’s part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. Yay!

My favorite cover of the year is the one on Sweet Ruin. I didn’t understand the red feather until late in the story, but I love how it’s integrated. Cole twists her formula a bit in that this time it’s the lady seeking her mate. Josephine is an excellent heroine whose emotional issues could fill several more books. Her man, Rune, is a bit tortured-hero-jerk, but he manages to redeem himself. The emphasis on familial relationships here is awesome.

As for games, I finally beat Pokemon Y. It’s a lovely adorable game that has me gardening and playing petting zoo and running around in grass and putting on cute outfits with my beloved pets. Perhaps this is because I do not have real pets? I have a special weakness for Pokemon and buy one game every few generations. This game was one of the bigger upgrades over past generations, and I find it satisfying just to toodle around and talk to people and their Pokemon. So cute!

Have you heard of Cinders? It’s a visual novel which retells Cinderella, except you can give our titular character some agency and choose her fate. The stepsisters and stepmother are pretty cool characters, as are the voodoo priestess, shady character, and love interests. Cinders can have several different personalities, and the art is gorgeous. I recommend it without reservations.

Happy new year. May it be one of creativity, joy, and discovery.

This winter’s struggles with chronic depression

I’ve spent the past several weeks dealing with illness and writing very little. I’m a little blocked, but more importantly I have zero creative energy. Depression is a mood disorder, but it turns out there may be an underlying neurological disorder in my case. If I test positive for Myoclonus-Dystonia, it will explain most of my sleep, voice, and mood issues. I’ve had bad shakiness since I was very young- my kindergarten teacher told my mom to take me to a neurologist, but my mother ignored this advice. I cannot hold my hands steady and have terrible fine motor control. When I play the violin, my vibrato is irregular and jerky. When I sing, my voice tires very quickly because my vocal cords get overworked from random spasms. I cannot cut anything with precision and nobody let me handle dissections in biology class. When I hold a mug of hot liquid, the liquid will move around and escape if it is three-quarters full.

While asleep, I constantly transition to periods of more wakefulness (but not awareness) due to something randomly arousing me. This may be caused by random spasms in my body or firings in my brain. I also have a tendency to shake, twitch, and kick. Last winter I started taking a high dose of Effexor, or venlafaxine, because my depression is somewhat seasonal and I require more antidepressants in the winter. My shaking, twitching, and vocal fatigue increased, and my sleep behaviors became dangerous to my partner, with me taking several swings at him. At the time I didn’t put this all together, but did attribute the parasomnias to Effexor.

I have to say Effexor is the most effective drug I’ve been on for my depression, because it addresses my lethargy problems. However, the stimulating properties seem to worsen all of my twitching problems. The medications recommended for those are depressants, which sedate me. There doesn’t seem to be anything to do from there. You see the difficulty. Too-fast a pulse (I’ve clocked in at 110 resting before some bupropion adjustments), giant twitching issues, and waking up covered in sweat every night versus being lethargic.

A neurologist prescribed me Primidone to see if it helps with the shaking, but so far it’s just made me quite dizzy and vertiginous. It’s also a depressant, so I am tired all day until it wears off, around 9PM. I’m waiting to hear back from her about how long I should continue the medicine with these side effects.

I tell myself I’ll get through this, but in the meantime it’s frustrating.