Reviews of Free Sci-fi - C

Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with C.

Cactus Land – Robert Bonomo

** Sex = 4, Action = 3, Prose = 7

This is a story about civilians getting ready for war and what it means to them. Their concerns, their affairs and their lives are the story, not the war or any other action. It is a war of the developed world vs. the third world, but it is not set in any country or place we would recognize. It is not really another planet or a parallel universe, it is like when mainstream fiction uses a ficticious town which could be real, just on a larger scale. Should it really be called Science Fiction? It does not have the feel of Sci-fi, but of the fictional town in mainstream fiction. The time period may be slightly in the future, or slightly in the past.

The book is all about the characters and their interactions. None of them are particularly likeable, either as heros or as average people, but they are three dimensional enough to be interesting. Enough that the story might have been worth three or four stars if it was complete.

Right, this book is not complete. It goes along and goes along, the characters go about their lives, the war finally starts and you hope to see what happens to them all. You do not. There is one final scene which seems completely disconnected to the entire book, and then it ends. This ending leads one to beleive that the entire narration and characterization never had a place to go and the author eventually got tired of it and just saved out what there was of it and put it up. Maybe there is something more to it that I wasn't smart enough to find, but that's how it seemed to me. It could have been three stars if it was simply finished, or four if it had something meaningful to say about war between the developed world and the third world. It starts, it shows that people from all countries are human, for better or for worse, but never comes to a conclusion.

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Caffeine – Ryan Grabow

*** Sex = 2, Action = 3, Prose = 9

This is a story of an artificial intelligence becoming self aware. This takes place in the late 2100's in a universe that is pretty optimistic, in that the average person still has rights, a bit of comfort, the right to travel etc. At the time people enter virtual reality from the flesh via a mind link, as in Tad William's 'Otherland,' and are not full time residents of virtual reality as in the Gordon's Lamp series. The era feels like about a century sooner, the mid to late 21st century.

In this the main character falls in love, or at least partly in love, with a computer virus that has become sentient and begun a quest for the meaning of life. For the first two thirds of the book they go thru a series of adventures quite a bit like in 'Otherand'. The book is long and this part is a little drawn out, but not to the numbing lengths of 'Otherland'. It is the difficulty in getting thru this area that kept me from giving this four stars.

One thing which is never mentioned is how a bit of random code became sentient, and not only that, became sentient with a totally human personality. MUCH more human than the modified people of Kassidor. The reason it is like this is obvious, so that people will read the story. They do not read stories where the characters do not have human motivations, regardless of what they look like. The stories on this site are proof of that.

There is mention of the main problem with robots, AI's, automation etc., with so much done by machine, how are everyday humans going to make a living and find satisfaction? Many pundits say people can provide personal services to each other, but not all people are 'people' people who can sell, govern, console, etc. Some are 'things' people who can build bridges, cut lumber, fix cars, etc. Those people are completely left out of those scenarios. Not much is discussed of that problem, but at least the characters are aware of the problem.

About two thirds of the way thru the virus discovers God and Christianity and that becomes the focus of her quest for the meaning of life. Not to give away too much of the ending but it has echoes of the crucifixion and resurrection. The remainder of the book treads the fine line between continuing the adventure story and delivering the Christian message. I feel he has done a good job of that balancing act so that he says what he meant to say without losing the non-Christian in a sermon. He even begins the discussion that we will have to have some day (probably sooner than he predicts) of whether artificial intelligence can have a soul. I've grazed the same issue in 'Tangle in the Dark', tying in some cutting edge science. Neither of us have looked at the really important related issue which is how do we wrest Christianity from the fundamentalists and reconcile it with science so it can once again be a meaningful part of mainstream life.

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Cavalcade of Rejection – Andrew Johnston

* Sex = 0, Action = 2, Prose = 8

This is a collection of twenty one short stories that the author sent to numerous publishers that were rejected every time. In the introduction and appendix he details why they were rejected and then in the very first one proceeds to demonstrate many of these reasons, especially publishers comments about the ending. A short story is really a different art form and not a mini novel, one of the reasons I don't do them. A short story is supposed to have an ending that is sort of like a punch line, often ironic, sometimes profound, often unexpected. Many of these just end, like the story should be ongoing but we ran up to a word count limit so the remainder is left off. Many of these come from or are related to one of his novels 'All the Stars Within Our Grasp' which is not a good advertisement for that novel.

There is no sex or romance, little action, a few gruesome episodes and no real message. The prose and proofreading are the best parts of the book. Read an isolated page and it may seem just fine.

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Chasing the Jeweled Throne – Ben Miller

* Sex = 1, Action = 6, Prose = 7

This is a story about civil war within the galactic empire. It is all about bodycount, bodycount, bodycount. It starts with an over-the-top caricature of a decadent, corrupt, dissolute and cruel Empire government, far worse than the Texassi of 'The Aldeb Wars' or even the Harkonnens of 'Dune'. This contains some of the most sickening, un-called-for cruelty ever written down. Even with all the destruction, there are no thrilling battle scenes. The fighters are constantly coming up with new inventions out of thin air any time there is no other way out of the predicament.

The characters are thin as cardboard cut-outs. There is not enough dialog and too many cliches. The unrelenting depression is relived a little at the end, but it is too little, too late and too cliche. Do not waste your disk space on this, much less your time.

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Coranite Chronicles - The Judge – Egan Yip

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

There are several other reviews on the download site for this book, but I feel they are somewhat misleading. Not that the book isn't somewhat fun, but they miss what I think are a couple important points.

One, it is a stretch to call this 'young adult' fiction. The main character in this is fifteen, several of the other main characters are teens, one is twenty. But the story feels more like tweens than teens. For instance, we have all these teen-aged characters and not one of them ever has a sexual thought. When I was fifteen I found it difficult to have any other type of thought.

Second, the other thing missed in the other reviews is that this is pure fantasy with no thought given to reality what so ever, not even quite as much as in a comic book. New 'anti-law' (magical) powers are introduced whenever a character gets in a tight spot. All planets are hollow and have small suns in their center that can he caused to explode with a chemical injection. It's all good fun as long as we understand it is fantasy.

I think the story is fun for younger readers, but while there is no sex, there is quite a bit of violence, some of which would be gory if it weren't for the comic-book atmosphere. The only message in this story is that extended lifespans and extended youth are bad. I'm sure those thoughts will change when the author is my age.

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Crystal Nights – Greg Egan

** Sex = 0, action = 3, prose = 7

This is a short story in which a billionaire tycoon wants to build artificial intelligence in a super fast processor using virtual natural selection. His creations progress very rapidly and soon become smarter and more advanced than humans and disappear into their own universe. It would be a cute little story if not for the fact that it is a direct rip off of a story that appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in the 1950's. I have forgotten the name of the story and the author, but I remember it was much more well done than this, mainly because the main character was not a megalomaniac billionaire.

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