Reviews of Free Sci-fi - E

Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with E

Earthbound – DM Arnold

**** sex = 6, action = 2, prose = 9

A very good story, interesting, well written and enjoyable. There is little violence but a fair amount of sexuality. The premise is an early starship, using a warp drive, winds up off course and five thousand years in the past. They found a colony which grows into an interstellar empire and returns to Earth, where they secretly have agents working to bring genetic material back to their world where they don't have enough biodiversity to keep Earth-based life competitive with the poisonous native bioshere.

The world, Floran, is quite well done and fleshed out. They have a society, jobs, some entertainment and a fairly lived-in feel. Their society is like Kassidor sexually, with open marriages, group sex and frank discussions. It is NOT pornographic in that none of the sex is explicit. Unlike most of Kassidor in that they also have a form of sex slaves coming from 'finishing schools,' much like in 'Across the Zodiac' and The Sex slaves of Borlunth. Unlike Kassidor it is a highly technological civilization with warp-drive starships, abundant energy and a high level of creature comforts. They are not so far in advance of us that they have a society we cannot understand. In fact, it was written before the smart phone so it actually seems a little dated today. Unlike Kassidor they do not have advanced biological science and have not cured aging or modified human nature. There is no explanation of how they have managed to change their sexual behavior or reduce violence without eternal youth or modification of the human genome.

Most of the story is about a man from Floran who is working on Earth and falls in love with a girl that he soon comes to believe is a distant ancestor. They pursue an affair that is as full of angst and needless self abasement as anything from harlequin, but more realistic because she has a genuine mental illness and he has to keep his interstellar origins secret from her, as Alan does in The Second Expedition. Their affair follows the normal romance 'W' pattern but the ending is not quite as sappy. It may be a spoof on the romance genre because there has to be mental illness and an extraterrestrial visitor to make people go thru the insanity of the standard romance format. This spoof is more subtle than Love in Exile which takes it on face-first with a large hammer.

Only those few lapses of science keep me from giving this five stars. I enjoyed it from cover to cover. The proofreading is excellent, the prose is professional grade, the characters are as real as most of your friends and neighbors. The violence is minimal, less than Antidote and it is not dark and depressing like so many out there. Highly recommended.

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Encounter – K.Z. Freeman

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

A short story of invasion of Earth. This is better than most invasion of Earth stories because the invader is well over fifteen minutes more advanced than humans. They are in fact so much more advanced that we have no chance. They seen to be destroying us just for the fun of it. So while it is a more realistic invasion of Earth story than most, it is not very interesting and very depressing

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Eternal Passage (Now 'I of the Storm') – James E Bond

**** Sex = 0, action = 2, prose = 10

This is probably the most unusual book out there. I do not recommmend it for the feint of intellect. While the names are slightly changed, it is about the inhabitants of Jupiter and Earth, though Earth is only used as a point of reference to tie it to a human audience. All the main characters are residents of Jupiter, either 'rays' which are similar to the inhabitants of Saturn in Robert Forward's 'Saturn Ruhk', or 'Octos' which are highly intelligent and scientifically advanced octopus-like creatures living in the floating forests deep in Jupiter's atmosphere.

You get into an alien mind more than any other story I have read, and really get to feel their different way of thinking and living. It is more immersive than I was able to manage in 'The Secret of Mount Traygol' and I thought I did a pretty good job of it until I read this.

The Octo's have a more human-like psyche, but are still different enough that you know they are not simply human actors in costume. They have an advanced civilization and have settled most of the galaxy. They would be the 'kayoplasmic' life mentioned by the Rikavik in 'Zhlindu'. They re-incarnate their minds into computational devices like the 'Angels' of the Gordon's Lamp series. In this you get a first hand account of the mind adapting to it's new mechanical body. It is a lot like re-hab after a stroke.

They intervene in human life, implanting personalities and re-directing space probes to avoid detection and contamination. The implanting of a personality in a human infant opens a plot line that is never follwed up, maybe in a differnt book? There are other references to 'simions' (humans) which really have no place in the story but are probably there just to give human readers something to grab on to.

Most of the plot is a voyage to the center of the galaxy and the establishment of a colony on another gas giant. The 'action' of the book is an attack by an even more advanced civilization/creature called the 'voidling' which seems to live in black holes and calls every other civilization 'self-aware parasites of matter'. The chapter which introduces the voidling is incomprehensible to someone with a mere 130 IQ. The battle between the jovian colony and the voidling makes Greg Bear's 'Anvil of Stars' look like six guns in a saloon.

There is a lot of poetry, a lot of metaphysics, a lot of social and political theory. The second half of the book is appendices detailing the evolution of Jovian life, Octo philosophy, political theory and physics, including the math. It is all way too far over my head to critique. All in all this book is in intellectual tour-de-force like nothing else I have ever read. If only the story itself were more interesting and accessible it would be a five star.

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Everyone in Silico – Jim Munroe

*** Sex = 5, action = 4, prose = 8

This was early in the free ebook world, 2002, but even so it is hard to think that all of this could have happened by 2036. The main premise of the story, that simulated humans will be real by that time is off by at least a century, and the action of the story is probably off by more like two centuries. Still this story is rather well known and well regarded because it does have a lot of inciteful things to say about simulated humans and the corporate takeover.

The corporate takeover part of the future history in here is probably right on track. Right now (2017) the republican party and the rabid right is doing a very thorough job of destroying the federal government and all other institutions of our civilization, leading to the dystopia that this and many other stories have predicted. Whether this will lead to a thousand years of corporate dark ages, a brutal and hypocritical theocracy as detailed in 'Dominion' or capitalism's last gasp is up to us. Because the vast majority of the American people are not smart enough or involved enough to see what is happening, it will probably be the dark ages.

The technical and economic 'progress' imagined in this story was impossible in 2002 and far more impossible today, not because we lack the science, but because we lack the political will. Space resorts, high speed rail, genetic engineering will not advance much farther in this civilization, because the rabid right is destroying this civilization so utterly. In the world of Kassidor this story fits into the time while Gordon's Lamp is away at Kassidor, but those stories were written during the euphoria of the 1970's when we couldn't imagine the collapse and barbarism that was waiting barely more than a generation in the future.

If our civilization could survive to a time when simulated humans were technically possible, the vision of the life of simulated humans presented here is pretty dark, darker by far than the vision in the Gordons's Lamp series such as Tangle in the Dark. Even so, the mortal life of the time, either in this story, or in the Gordon's Lamp series is so much worse that voluntary 'Upgrading' or 'Ascending' will probably be possible. The capabilities and 'user interface' of simulated life is as close as the Windows and Mac OS.

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Evoguia – Steven Lyle Jordan

**** Sex = 3, action = 6, prose = 9

A novel of human transcendance. Using a form of biofeedback and various ancient meditative techniques, a group of people learn to direct their own genetics and evolution. They soon run afoul of the American government, who bans their research and tries to stop the guided evolution of the human race. Therein lies the plot.

The first level meaning is the fear and conservatism of aging bureaucracies. We see small minded people trying to stop what they can't understand. The point is well made that the USA now has a doddering old bureaucracy that is helping us toward the third world. The point is not made that it is the corporate take over (the regulated regulating the regulators) that has caused this.

There is a second level of meaning, the fear of the different, often expressed as racism or nationalism, here expressed as fear of the enhanced. Today our ethnic differences are largely superficial adaptations to different climates that do not give any group particular advantages in a mechanized world. In the future (or possibly already if you're rich enough) the enhancements envisioned in this story will be available and they will give those who possess them advantages over those that do not. The 'racism' that will occur because of them is likely to be much more extreme than what we have today, as was shown in this story.

The major enhancement that is NOT mentioned in this story and which I feel will be even more of a flash point for social unrest is extended youth. When the many come to believe that eternal youth is available to the few, watch out.

I doubt these enhancements will be generated using the methods in this story and I doubt they will be available to the ninty nine percent for some time. There may come to be some contagious transmission of the enhancements, and it is possible it will require body contact, as in this story. Things like that will probably occur much later. The alien contact seems rather 'tacked on' but I think it was to show that we have to evolve beyond what we are before we will be accepted into the galactic community, a sentiment I whole-heartedly agree with.

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Exiles - Arcworlds Vol II – Richard Alonzo

*** Sex = 2, action = 7, prose = 6

The second in this series, after 'Rebels' which is reviewed under 'R'. This has a better plot but even worse proofreading, but still a little better than the average text message. All the errors of the first in greater quantity and some new ones besides. The dystopian corporation theme is not as front and center until the very end where we learn how a corporation can be so cold and inhuman. In this one a brutal religious order begins to become more important.

But this story is really all about the plot, not as much the action, but the machinations of politicians as they try to cover up their dirty deeds. There is still a lot of action and a lot of it is still space battles, which are done better than average. For the most part they allow for the laws of physics and do not look like worldwar era dogfights. This one is more obviously an episode in a series, it's ending is not as much of a completion as 'Rebels'. Like Lhar more threads get opened in this than were in the first book. As of Oct. 2017, the third is not out, so I don't know for sure if it will be free also, but I suspect it will. If you can puzzle out what is happening among the grammatical errors, it is pretty entertaining. It's longer than 'Rebels' but I think it was worth the time.

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Expressions of freedom – Gareth Lewis

**** Sex = 0, action = 6, prose = 9

This is a short story about artificial intelligence becoming self-aware. In the near future we have direct democracy where people are allowed to vote directly on issues and not just for representatives. A reporter thinks he has uncovered irregularities among the systems that record those votes. He finds a cover-up of powerful people and they send killers to eliminate him.

The message here is that in a virtual world you can never be sure of the truth, much like in Zhlindu. Because it is a short story there are very few characters, but those there are are well done. The world is only sketched, but sketched well. It is in the 'Soylent Green'/'Blade Runner' era but I applaud the fact that it is not overly dark and depressing. There is some action and suspence but no excessive violence.

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