This website is concerned with free science fiction, sci-fi and space opera. This is a new phenomenon which could only occur because web hosting is now cheap enough to allow hobbyists and startups to afford to publish books either as a hobby or supported by advertising on free ebook websites. It can also happen because the computer, specifically the backspace key and the insert function, make novel writing possible with much less skill and effort than in earlier times. Think of the effort involved when Mary Shelley wrote Frankinstein. Loose pages had to be collated, pages had to be copied over to make changes. The quill pen had to be dipped for every word. There wasn’t even white-out to make corrections. I know exactly how difficult it was because I started ‘The Second Expedition’ with pen and paper and had no chance at all of finishing even the first volume without a means to make hundreds, no, thousands of corrections.
There seem to be two different types of free sci-fi, those written by someone trying to break into the paid sci-fi market, and those with something to say that can be expressed in novel format.
Those attempting to break into the commercial market seem to generate better prose in most cases, as they must if they are to compete with the paid authors in the field. They usually have interesting plots, good characters and good structure with the action culminating in a distinct climax. A good example of this is ‘Astra – Synchonicity’ A well done story every bit as professional as all but the very top level paid authors.
It is a legitimate question to ask why one would strive to break into the paid sci-fi market. It is crowded and the returns are relatively low, because the market is small compared to romance and thrillers. Part of the reason is that writing sci-fi is less expensive than writing international thrillers for instance. A thriller writer can be expected to visit Monaco and Moscow to gather background (although I know at least one who uses Google Earth and never leaves his cottage), a sci-fi writer is not expected to travel to Trantor, Arrakis or even relatively nearby Kassidor Yakhan. For hard science fiction, scientific research is required. In reality, it is difficult for non-scientists to write hard science fiction so we stick to softer science and don’t do much research. The months of research that went into ‘Tangle in the Dark’ is much more than most of these stories take.
In many cases the distinction between free and paid sci-fi is made by editors, which is good or bad depending on whether they like what you’ve done. Most of us have read paperbacks that are not as good as the works I’ve given four stars in here. The editorial system is interested in profits, not messages and thus stories with something to say generally do not get special consideration. There is a bias toward stories that are like best sellers which restricts the types of stories we get in paperback to some extent. The editorial system cannot publish everything that is good enough to publish, there is too much of it. That leaves a lot of good works out here for us to download for free.
Those who are writing because they have something to say sometimes do not produce prose as good as those who strive to be professionals. The story may not have the accepted structure for a novel, with no noticeable climax, random point-of-view changes, long lectures that may be given by the narrator or one of the characters. Plotting and characterization take a back seat to getting the message across. The story may be told in a format that is more a parable or a text. ‘Alpha Rising’ and ‘Great News’ are examples.
Some of the best free sci-fi has elements of both, such as ‘Dominion’ and ‘Freedom Incorporated’. There is no reason having a message to deliver should lead to a weak story. Some of the greatest paid sci-fi has meaning such as ‘Glory Season’ and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ There are hundreds more.
Personally, I like a story with something to say, even if I don’t agree with it, and will overlook some proofreading, character building and structural errors to get it. A lot of free sci-fi that is written for pure entertainment is packed with action, some of it senseless. This is more true of authors trying to break into the paid market. (None of those are reviewed here.) Very little free sci-fi has any meaningful relationships between characters and little enough sexuality that it could be distributed in a Puritan church in the 1690’s without causing a murmur. This is certainly an artifact of our puritanical age, had free sci-fi been available in the 1960’s and 70’s it would have been packed with every form of sexual experimentation our minds could dream up because the paid sci-fi of the time was rich in it, (Stranger in a Strange Land, Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up to name a few).
So much of the free sci-fi available today is morbidly depressing. 'Aupes' by Les Broad is an example. 'Chasing the Jeweled Throne' by Ben Miller is another. This is another sign of our times. We are living thru the end of the golden age of 'Western' civilization and the future is clearly going to be darker than the past. I wish we wouldn't dwell on it as much as we do. In my own stories I've tried to portray a world with some life and freedom for the average person. I wish more of us could do so. It is still my belief that in some sense we who write about the future help to create the future, we show people what the possibilities are. If we teach people that the only possibilities are suffering and slavery and disaster, that is all they will know. If we show them posibilities that allow some human dignity, some joy, some affection, maybe a few will be inspired to reach for it. We who write about the future have some responsibility for leadership. You readers have a part in this also. If all you want to read about is death and destruction, torture and privation, you are helping that world come true. If you want to read about ideas that are uplifting and triumphant, you are taking a step toward that type of future. I'm NOT trying to say that my vision is the right one. The 'Hippie' culture of the 60's and 70's had good and bad. All I'm asking is that some of us try to write about the the good that can be rather than the bad that is overtaking us now.
What I personally had to say is now pretty dated in some cases. 'The Second Expedition’ in its entirely came from a conversation regarding what it would take to make the ‘hippy’ culture of the 1960’s real, specifically the ‘sex, drugs and rock&roll’ part of the culture and not the communal living part (which few ACTUALLY participated in). The entire world of Kassidor comes out of that speculation, both the good (peace, living with nature, eternal youth) and the bad (promiscuity, drugs). Some stories here are meant as pretty much pure entertainment, such as the Dorrick and Tongsu series. Later stories set on Kassidor (still to be released) deal with the problems and possibilities inherent in extended youth. The Dyoniss and Kessil series, of which 'Antidote' is the first, explores the idea of a metacreature as a diety. 'The Aldeb Wars' was meant to contain a warning about the corporate take-over of government but many seem to think is is an argument FOR the corporate take over so I didn’t do a good job of that.