Reviews of Free Sci-fi - B

Reviews of free Sci-fi with titles starting with B

Back Again – Larry Rich

*** Sex = 2, action = 1, prose = 8

Why did I give this three stars when the characters are thin, there's hardly any plot, no science at all and no action? Because it is a heartwarming look at the afterlife. It's not a scientifically created afterlife as either one of them shown in 'Tangle in the Dark' or the remainder of the Gordon's Lamp series, but a naturally occurring afterlife. It follows no specific religious doctrine though there is a hint of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions in that reincarnation is possible.

In this afterlife you meet beings at various levels of enlightenment, but never a diety. Unlike some people believe, you are not given all the answers when you die. The souls are a lot like ghosts, with no real material presense. They stay in the viscinity of Earth and can watch their families grieve but cannot interact. They can move at will around Earth and space and interact with each other. Being 'sent back' to mortal life is regarded as a bad thing because of the suffering mortals endure.

There is some message in here regarding the evil that is done in God's name by divisive churches.

All in all it was fun. It would be nice if we knew the author had a line to the truth. I remembered being born and think that it was a bit like he describes so I'm willing to believe he may be onto something. The lives of his 'angels' certainly have their good points, but they are too sterile for me. I would chose to be sent back again.

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Balanced on the Blade's Edge – Lindsay Buroker

**** Sex = 4, action = 6, prose = 9

A really good sci-fi/fantasy yarn that takes place on Earth in an alternate time line or way in the future, or possibly on a planet terraformed thousands of years ago, as Reddend was in On the Horizon. It has technology approximately equivilent to World War I but also has magic. It takes place in a nation that has given up magic and where magicians are hated and feared as in Wizard Run. Unlike 'Wizard Run' however the magic they fear is actual magic and not advanced technology that has been lost. That country is under attack by a distant land bent on conquest that does still employ magicians

The plot is about a woman sorceress who has been in suspended animation for the last three hundred years and a colonel/pilot who has been reassigned to command a prison/mine. The woman wakes up in that mine just as the colonel arrives to take over the fort and just as an enemy zepplin arrives to try and destroy the fort. At first it looks like they will get mired in the typical romance novel, 'Oh he couldn't possibly fall for a suspected spy like me,' 'Oh she probably thinks I'm a military monster,' schtick, but thankfully that lasts only until they first get stuck in a cave together while fleeing a giant owl. All the tension in the plot is about her trying to keep secret that she's a sorceress while trying to use her powers to defeat the invaders. There is also a sword with a soul trapped inside that she must retrieve from down in the mine, and a real ass-wipe of a general who comes to take over the fort who has a lush blond daughter who falls for the colonel and looks like she's all set to mess up the budding love affair. Too bad the war intervenes.

There is sex in the story but it's clean. There's violence in the story but it is also clean. The prose and proofreading are excellent, the main characters quite lifelike with strong personalities, though the general is a bit of a caricature. It touches the bases for romance in that the colonel is a typical romance novel good hearted alpha male and not the unlikely love interest of a story like Antidote or Yoonbarla. There does't seem to be any message in here, but there is good entertainment.

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Betraying Nexus – Richard L Sanders

** Sex = 0, action = 6, prose = 8

A short story about psy powers and spirituality. They must sacrifice souls to fuel their powers, other people's souls and bodies. One of their operatives recognizes it as evil and fights against them.

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Binary – Jay Caselberg

**** Sex = .5, action = 4, prose = 9

A tale of convoluted Machivellian political maneuvering and competition for social position with lots of attention to small social clues and measured words. In some places it seems like there are plots within plots just for the sake of plots, but I think of it as a caricature of current corporate politics. The plot is put into motion when the leader of their society begins to exhibit Alzheimer's-like symptoms and abdicates in favor of his eldest son, throwing society into a battle for position and power.

This is set in a society which has grown from a colony ship that crashed on the planet five hundred years previously. There is an alien species on the planet and in this story the aliens are enough different from humans to be believable, and enough like the other native species to appear that they have evolved there. Even more alien than their appearance is their society, they do not have human motivations. This is unlike most Sci-fi where the aliens have more human-like personalities and motivations than the modified humans who inhabit Kassidor. A part of the human population of the planet has given up the quest for power and status to an even greater extent that they have on Kassidor.

The physical science is not central to the story and must be accepted at face value. The 'Binary' of the story is the spectroscopic binary the planet orbits. The brighter star is eclipsed by the dimmer and that event is supposed to be the cause of storms, quakes, and the failure of most technological devices. The social science seems better but slightly exaggerated. People are either leaders or followers, and the leaders will stop at nothing to achieve power.

There is no sex in the story and only two characters seem to have even the slightest feelings of sexuality. There are only two female characters with speaking parts but there are plenty of children and at times it makes one wonder how they got there. There is also little violence. The story may be taken as a plea for less social competition and a more sustainable way of life, but the message is not front and center.

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Black Hole Drive – W. Strawn Douglas

*** Sex = 1, action = 4, prose = 7

Not bad at anything, but not outstanding either. It's a story of the galactic Empire days, alien contact, utopia and the evils of the corporate takeover. It covers a lot of ground but doesn't dig into that ground in much depth in many places. There main characters are sketched well and it is easy to believe there is depth to them, but you don't actually see it. Different ones are the main characters at different points in the story.

Various faster than light technologies and antimatter are involved in the story but the science is barely to the popular press level and those with some scientific background will find a couple places to cringe but it is not bad enough to distract from the story. What does detract is trying to cover so much ground in a story short enough to fit with today's busy schedules. As a result much of the story is straight narration like a history text, trying to fill in the background of two interstellar wars, the history and evolution of corporate feudalism and the history of several of the important ships in the story. However, the alterenative is either simplifying the history, which would make this shallower yet, or filling it out into a massive volume like The Aluminum Quest which only us old retirees have time to read.

This could have been a two star, but because of the message of corporate greed, the cure of aging and the lack of senseless violence, I enjoyed the story. I think Piglet could be a very likeable and enjoyable character if given a little more space and a romantic interest.

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Blood and Dirt – Dai Alanye

*** Sex = 1, Action = 4, Prose = 7

A cute and fun story of a bounty hunter attempting to bring a woman back from a primitive planet. The story is relatively short and most of it takes place on a single small boat. The universe it fits into and how it functions is not a large part of the story, it seems like present day Earth with starships. The primitive planet is inhabited by hominids so close to us we would have to have a common ancestor, but no one even speculates on that.

There is some action when they battle pirates and one attack by a wild animal but nothing is overly violent or gory. The natives are entirely human, their society more like ours than Afghanistan's. The male and female lead notice each other and at one point the female gives him hints, but he does not take them and no involvement occurs.

This short book is meant to introduce a series, the second book in the series is already available as of early 2014, but it is not free.

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Brain Twister – Gordon Randall Garret & Laurence Mark Janifer (= Mark Phillips)

** Sex = 1, Action = 3, Prose = 9

A lesson in the perils of writing near future Sci-fi. Published in 1962, the action is supposed to take place in 1971 when JFK was the youngest ex-president and the hardwired video phone was universal. The counter culture never happened and the 50's continued on unabated.

The plot of the story is a telepath extracting secrets from the scientists at Yucca Flats who were working on a non-rocket space drive. The only way to catch a telepath is with a telepath, and all the telepaths they find are insane. It's light hearted and somewhat humorous, even a laugh out loud. The main attraction is the look at what people back then thought the future would be like. It's such a sunny, light hearted and carefree world compared to the real world today, after '1984', after 'Stand on Zanzibar', after 'Dominion.' If only we could go back to when society was 'we' instead of 'they' and the difference in pay between the guy at the top and the guy on the line was 10 to 1 instead of 1000 to 1.

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Brain Worms – Charles Kaluza

*** Sex = 2, Action = 8, Prose = 9

A very good thriller, lots of action, heroism, a damsel in distress, black ops, terrorist plots, high tech surveilance and all the stuff you'd expect in a mainstream black ops story. The only thing that makes it sci-fi, a genetically modified parasitic worm is used as a component in the terrorist plot.

Now I must admit that though this is good for what it is, it isn't really sci-fi, and it isn't the kind of story that I like best. The hero is too heroic, a neurosurgeon and former navy seal. The villain is too cultured and polite, very much like a James Bond movie. The damsel in distress is the hero's wife who is kidnapped by the villain to make the hero help them instead of the agency. For fans of that genre, this is a good pick, even though it's in the sci-fi aisle.

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Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton

Anonymous guest review

The best! Adventure, action, a million laughs. Wraps up the 50's, the 60's the 70's the 80's and the 90's and reveals the true meaning of all of them. Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Krushchev are only a small part. Fast cars, slow motorcycles, mechanical alien dogs, wacko cults, secret messages from malfunctioning satellite dishes, this has it all! You'll never look at aliens or alien cults the same way again. Give me that old time Rock and Roll!

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Burn – James Patrick Kelly

*** Sex = 1, Action = 4, Prose = 9

A story of a forest firefighter on a pastoral planet and his encounter with a mother and children from a more advanced planet. This is a little longer than the average novella but not as long as the average novel. The length is good for the story that is told. There are some action scenes of fire fighting. On this backward planet it is very similar to the fighting of forest fires today. The action is good but not breathless, but it all takes place in the last quarter of the book.

The story is really all about the conflicts between 'simplicity' which is the pastoral life, and modernity. It is very similar to the Amish in today's world or even the Kassidorians in the Empire. The 'simple' people in the story are actually as modern as we are today, while the people of the 'thousand worlds' (the Empire) are way beyond current thechnology and life-styles. That conflict costs the main character his marriage and more.

The story is mainly opposed to the pastoral life, but does not mention some of the most important points. Pastoralism is extremely difficult with current technology, I know this first hand from my own New England homestead. If we were to devote the effort to it, we could make a self reliant lifestyle palatable with about a thousand years more research in ecology, genetics and agriculture. The peasant farms of Kassidor cannot be reproduced on Earth, we are three thousand years behind in agricultural technology. It is true that in 81 pages there really isn't room to go into as much detail as it would take to do a thorough analysis of pastoralism and what it would take it make it a lifestyle that people would choose voluntarily.

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