Reviews of Free Sci-fi - R

Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with R

Races of Armis - Midnight Oasis – Deb Sartoris

*** Sex = 3, Action = 4, Prose = 8

This is a fantasy, mainly about vampires. A race of vampires have been living in South America for a long time, making arrangements with village elders to mate with an occasional woman to create a child of their species. There is apparently no genetic contribution from the mother. The mother always dies in childbirth, so obviously this arrangement is not popular with the humans involved. It is also not popular with some of the vampires involved because they are good enough to see the evil in this arrangement. The main character is even bothered by the fact that he has to drink blood to survive.

We then add a race of shapeshifters from the planet Armis. The main character falls in love with one and the plot goes on from there. You are not present at any actual sex scenes, but you know they happen, which is why I gave this a 3. There is very little violence, but there are a few disturbing scenes of vampires feeding that were cringe-worthy. The prose is fine, the proofreading pretty good, but the whole story is narration, there is no dialog at all. It's not very long, so you don't have to invest a lot. With the caveat this this is fantasy with no science at all, it's worth the three stars.

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Rebels - Arcworlds Vol. 1 – Richard Alonzo

*** Sex = 1, Action = 9, Prose = 7

Another in a very common theme, corporate dystopia. This one in the distant future when humans have spread to many planets and corporations each have many planets of slaves. There is a revolt against an insanely evil corporation, one which is hiding a research project into ancient alien tech, another very common theme. The story is loaded with action, firefights in buildings, space battles that are realistic enough that they don't look like worldwar era aerial dogfights, super weapons that can destroy planets. All pretty common stuff, but done quite well for the most part. The characters in the evil corporation are stereotypes and too over-the-top to be believable, but the main characters are likable enough and realistic enough.

I found the bloodshed too cold-hearted, even from the good guys. The bad guys relish it and kill for pleasure. Granted there have been real bad guys that cold, and it's a good way to make sure we know who's the bad guy and who isn't, but it does turn the stomach at times. It is much more disconcerting in a story that is relatively well done and realistic than in a piece of crap like 'Chasing the Jeweled Throne' for instance. The other thing I found problematic was the proofreading. Most of it is fine, but the errors there are can be glaring. Missing words, there, their, they're often wrong, quite a bit of missing commas that make you go back thru the sentence and try to figure out what it's really saying. All in all however its a good short novel with lots of action and realistic dialog. There is a sequel and it's also free. This was good enough that I picked up the sequel and will give it a try soon.

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Reclaimed – Elimelec Gonzalez Roman

** Sex = 3, Action = 6, Prose = 6

A short novel of alien invasion. The aliens are very humanoid, in fact they are human, descendants of a pre-ice-age civilization. In this they are much more than fifteen minutes more advanced than we are. Earth is helpless before them and most of America is captured in a matter of weeks. If there is a message in the story it is that we are destroying the environment and a superior civilization had to take over to save the planet.

The story has a lot of flashbacks, some of them are a bit confusing. They are made more confusing by the fact that some of the proofreading is pretty bad. There are a lot of words out of order, a lot of words missing. Also, be warned that the ending is even more unresolved than Vermin Rising and I saw no evidence of a sequel.

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Replica – Ferro Gabro (Enzo Marconi)

** Sex = 3, Action = 6, Prose = 6

In the not too distant future a man orders a personal companion robot to take the place of a girl who broke up with him and has some trouble with it. This story has a lot in common with 'His Robot Girlfriend' by Wesley Allison. It's not quite as much fun as Wesley's story and quite a bit shorter, but may be a little more serious.

Neither of these stories really examines in depth the issue of fooling your biology with a hyperstimulant robot. On the surface one would think that just the knowledge that the the thing was a device would be enough to make it uninteresting in this role. It is really no different than a dildo or a blow-up doll, just somewhat better crafted. For ephemerals there is no reproduction, for eternals there is no conjugation so no actual biological function is performed by the robot. If we humans had instincts smart enough to know that, what I just said might be true. However we already know our instincts can be fooled by refined sugar, fat and salt so that our instincts serve to earn us obesity, diabetes and heart disease instead of real nutrition. It is likely the same will happen with these personal companion robots.

We are already seeing a problem in developed countries that people will not reproduce at even a replacement rate if women are given the choice. Reproduction is hard. Pregnancy, labor, nursing and especially caring for infants and toddlers is much more difficult than the average career. The only societies that are currently growing in population are those that do not really give women a choice. I am quite confident that many current events will continue this trend. #MeToo is one factor. This movement will have relatively little effect on the alpha males who know they are entitled to any woman any time. They will behave as they always have and the republican party will make sure that they pay no penalty for it. The average man however will be worried that any advance at all will be seen as unwelcome and they will be afraid to court a wife. Since this movement makes it more difficult for the average man to treat women as sex objects, the market for robotic sex objects to replace them is wide open. Another factor is the easy availablilty of porn, making many less diligent at pursuing a real relationship. Pursuing a real relationship is difficult and emotionally expensive. Porn damages in another way, no real woman can long live up to the standards of appearance in the images for any length of time. Many look as good from 18 to 24 years of age, but as they get older, they can't. Neither can the girls on the net, but they have very short careers and there are always new ones to take their place.

These stories can be easily extrapolated to a world where everyone has only robot friends who always agree with them, appear as they want, always want to do the things we want to do and, in short, provide us all with an important social position without the necessity of earning it. Such a world can be seen among simulated humans in Tangle in the Dark where each soul is allowed to be god of their own universe. This could very well be the way the machines replace us without directly causing a single death. All they have to do is stop us from reproducing. We are currently using similar techniques to control pests on organic farms, giving them sterile mates that are more desirable than the natural ones.

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Requiem – B. Scott Tollison

**** Sex = 1, Action = 7, Prose = 9

Can a species have a death wish? Can a civilization? That question is examined in this story using a mid-term future Earth as a vehicle to examine the apparent death-wish of western civilization today. In this story I see echos of 'A Thousand Words for Stranger,' 'I of the Storm'(reviewed as 'Eternal Passage'), 'Macroscope' and even something of the Wetat in Tangle in the Dark, though none of them dealt with a civilizational death-wish as this one does.

The world this is set in has interstellar travel using stargates left by a long dead civilization. There are aliens, some are human enough for Hollywood, some are not, but the ones who are humanoid DO have a route from Olduvai Gorge to the planet they inhabit in the story! The most advanced technology at the time belongs to those near humans. They branched off from us at around the time of Homo Erectus when some alien species transported them to another planet, much as the Pronna transported humans to Kassidor.

Earth at the time is nearly lifeless, either in a post apocalyptic state or in the hands of Neocorp, which is a symbol of corporate greed and cruelty everywhere, rolled up into one stinking ball. It is a bit of a caricature, too evil to actually function, but as the story is very symbolic and philosophical, that is fitting. The areas not under Neocorp control are called 'The Insolvency' and a large part of their area is terrorized by the followers of 'The Downfall Warlord'. He is a man who believes that life is so bad in those days that killing is mercy, and endeavors to 'save'(=kill) as many people as possible.

If things weren't bad enough on Earth, the humans of other places are in almost as bad a state. There is no rule of law, there are no rights. Deprivation and hardship are everywhere. The non-human aliens, who did not evolve on Earth and could not be played by a human actor in a baggy suit are even worse off.

Oh yeah, the plot. Out in space the main character's mother opens an ancient stargate thru to another galaxy, letting a creature thru into the Milky Way that devours planets and stars. The near humans and the main character try to stop it and try to save their respective planets from destruction. Compared to the setting and the ideas presented, the plot is not the most important thing about the story. It is still quite a bit more exciting and interesting than the average paid sci-fi story, not just the free ones.

The part that spoke loudest to me was the chapter 'Homesick Seraphim' in which the main character tries to convince people from Earth to save themselves from the alien threat. No one believes her. To me it sums up the whole civilizational death wish and gives it real substance. Even more amazing that it was done before the Trump campaign, and while watching from New Zealand. In that chapter we see the deliberate, studied ignorance of the American people as they cling to fake facts even in the face of their own death. Yes, people in this country will support Trump even as they watch him take away the health care they need to survive. It is a very strong indictment of the fake beliefs that are destroying our civilization. If you read nothing else in this book, read that chapter.

There are only a couple things missed in this story. There is nothing showing that it is the human compulsion toward status, greed and dominance that causes the collapse of civilizations and the misery of other humans. The story is quite violent and depressing, another example of the general dystopia of these times. There are tiny glimmers of hope and affection, but as in many other stories, the leading species are as free of emotions as possible. Still, considering that this is a first novel, it is an amazing acheivement and I highly recommend it. I believe that if it were in the paid market and had just a bit better proofreading it would be a Hugo nominee.

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Revolution – Paul Palmer Nelson

*** Sex = 2, Action = 7, Prose = 6

Spoiler Alert, there is no revolution in this story. Instead it is about a group of genetically modified humans and their technology. It all came from Roswell and area 51. The government kept the secret, reverse engineered the technology and bred a small band of top secret warriors augmented and controlled by that technology. One of them finds a way out of the government's control and decides it's his duty to destroy all life on Earth. His mind becomes deranged due to merging with the semi-biological alien exoskeleton that he kept on for too long.

For me the premise doesn't work because I don't believe in the Roswell/area 51 conspiracy theories. There are too many conscientious people in government jobs and too many high powered intelligence operations aimed at the Amerian military. Even if we were able to keep it secret from the American public and press, we could not keep it secret from the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans. The fact that the alien science discovered in the saucer violates the conservation of mass and energy and a few other basic facts of science also reduces the believability of the story. It's entertainment value overrides that in a way if you consider impossible battles between impossible superheroes entertaining. If you do, this is a good story.

While the story itself is good, the prose is often juvenile and the proofreading is fine in some spots and impenetrable at others. There are some points where the science is good and some others where it is so wrong that you want to laugh or cry. There is too much violence and it is pretty brutal but unrealistic so it is not as disgusting as it would be if it was more real. There is a love interest in the story but nothing explicit.

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Revolution in C Minor – Jennifer Armstrong

*** Sex = 2, Action = 1, Prose = 9

I'm guessing this was written as near future Sci-fi because it is set in 2011 just after the end of World War III when Canada is holding a referendum to determine whether or not they will join the United States. Evidence that it is near future sci-fi written in the past is that the smart phone was not present in the story and the U.S. had not eliminated its middle class. The only clue that it might be alternate history is that is was 70F in Ottawa on Nov. 1 and 2011 was an unusually warm year.

The story is not really about the union of Canada and the U.S., it is about a group of young friends and their lives against the backdrop of the upcoming referendum and the unrest it causes. The main character is trapped in longing for an alpha male who discards her. This same girl accidently burns down his office building, and her worry about being caught is most of the tension in the story. The fact that the building was owned by an American company gets it labeled an act of terrorism.

There is a lot of talk about Canadian identity, and that is the main idea brought out in the story. Some of it is funny, a little of it is poignant. Being in New England I understand a lot of this. Though we are imprisoned in the American empire, we are also clearly not American, perhaps less American than Alberta, and have some of the same issues with identity. The other main idea here is an example of the pain and sorrow a woman can go thru when she lets herself succumb to an alpha male. The fact that young people are interested in these things is refreshing, and helps me believe it was written before the millenials disappeared into their smart phones.

This is more a character and idea driven story than a plot driven story, though there is a plot twist at the very end that was most unexpected, a twist that is the only Christian message in the story. The characterization is excellent, and even though there is not much excitment in this book, I found it interesting because the people are interesting.

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Roaches in the Attic 3 - Non-Retrieval – Raymond Towers

*** Sex = 1, Action = 8, Prose = 9

An entertaining and well written Man-against-bugs story told in the first person by a shuttle pilot taking a group of marines into battle in a new colony planet where the insect-like alien menace (the Roaches) is believed to be attacking. There is plenty of man-vs-giant-insect action, well-developed military characters and aliens that are believable enough that they don't detract from the story.

Man vs insect is a popular sci-fi theme, I've even used a variant of it in Aldeb Wars. Insects are probably the most alien macroscopic life on Earth, they are ugly, destructive and for the farmer at least, man's worst enemy, so it isn't surprising that they often show up as the enemy in much sci-fi. In this story, as in most, the difficulty of a creature with an exoskeleton growing to the size of a human in gravity approaching that of Earth is ignored.

That is not the major science problem in the story. In this we have a very advanced FTL (Faster Than Light) drive and a large number of colonized worlds in 2060, and all that is done by the USA. It is doubtful a recognizable USA survives til then, and as we are all aware, the American space program is just about a thing of the past. Even so there just isn't time to set up many colonies by then even if the 'Pulse' Drive' as it is called was rolled out of the lab in perfect working order tomorrow morning. This problem can be overlooked however because it allows the life and society of the soldiers to be close enough to today's to be familiar to the reader.

There is supposed to be a book 1 of this series entitled 'First Contact'. I have not read it and that didn't seem to make any difference in understanding this book. I can find no reference to a book three. Fans of military sci-fi should find this whole series entertaining.

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Rocket Fuel – Andrew McEwan

** Sex = 4, Action = 6, Prose = 6

A confusing and disjointed story made up of live action, flashbacks, dream sequences, delirium and probably some hallucinations and/or simulations. The plot might be about getting fuel for a starship engine, but more time is spent in psychological soliloquies than anything else. In this the starship 'engine' seems to be the whole ship. Maybe this is a technology where it is like a train 'engine' and is used to tow or push cargoes? It never was real clear to me what was really going on, who was attacking and why, what the mad scientist had really discovered and who actually knew about it. Who was actually dead and who was only said to be dead and who was where and how they got there.

There is some hints that the whole crew was used in some kind of experiment and that a research organization from Earth is responsible. I don't know if that was really it. The ending of the story explains even less than the ending of Vermin Rising and does it in a way that is partly unrelated to the story.

There is some sex in the story, some consentual, some not, some obsession but no affection as we know it. You are present at some of if, but it is not covered in detail. There is a fair amount of violence in the story, but in some places I'm not sure it was real. The proofreading is rather lax, spell check was run but there are missing words and wrong words. It's not as bad as some, the story is not confusing because of the proofreading but because so much explanation is left out. The story is short, short enough I went thru it twice to see if I could make more sense of it. I think it would takes notes and diagrams to try and follow it and even with that, I'm not sure it actually makes sense at all. I'm not sure it was intended to.

Others may find something they can understand better. It strives to be 'deep' and may be trying for the confusion to help it seem deeper. Don't get me wrong, a good sci-fi story can be very confusing in the beginning when you don't know who's who and what's what, but by the time you are a quarter of the way into it, what's happening should be clear.

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Rojuun – John H. Carrol

*** Sex = 2, Action = 6, Prose = 8

This is high fantasy according to the author. Maybe not quite as high as Lord of the Rings or the Icewinddale Trilogy, but it is definitely fantasy. Magic is in use in almost every line and event. There are dragons, druids and spells and magical artifacts and weapons. It doesn't quite follow the common rules of magic but it is close enough that sword and sorcerer readers will feel somewhat at home. It has a bit more young adult flavor than most 'high fantasy' but it is not devoid of violence and gore. The plot is not quite a standard high fantasy quest, in this the intrepid adventurers are hired by an alien race (also not a high fantasy staple) to defend them from monsters of the underworld.

Because this does not follow the standard 'rules of magic' there is room for the author to introduce new magic whenever the going gets tough. That happens in a couple places but nowhere near the extent in say 'The Coronite Chronicles.' It does have the usual hand-drawn maps of a fantasy epic, but the world building is not quite as lavish as most of them and the language is much more commonplace than LOTR and most other high fantasy. The characters are adequate and three of them are unique. The book is also a bit shorter than most high fantasy.

In spite of all that it is a fun read, though violent in spots. There are other long sequences without violence, making the action a bit of a roller coaster. There is a love interest that is quite unconventional. There is no actual sex, so if you are one who is OK with your children making war not love, it is OK for them.

The story is the first of a trilogy, and as in most major free-market trilogies but The Second Expedition, the other two are not free.

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Roo'd – Joshua Klein

*** Sex = 1, Action = 8, Prose = 9

The term 'roo'd' is used to mean getting one's legs modified to be like those of a kangaroo. One of the main characters gets that treatment. Several of the others have other treatments, mainly incredible muscle. They are all into body mods, genetic and surgical modification of the human body, far beyond anything popular on Kassidor, but using much more primitive technology from mid 21st century earth.

That is all just backdrop. The book is mainly about hacking and cyber-security, or the lack thereof. There's a fair amount of computer jargon, so far from any work I've done that I can't judge whether it is cutting edge science or technobabble. The second half of the story takes place in China, and most of the violence happens there. Not that there is any lack of violence in the USA part of the story. The violence is heartless, brutal, and no one feels the tiniest seed of remorse. One of the characters is in some ways an Asian version of Millie in the Skank series except for her total lack of concern for the lives of others.

The world is a highly dystopian mid 21st century. Corporations are sovereign with their own armed forces and Disney is one of the most brutal and controlling. Their forces are called 'The Mouse' and they are feared world wide. China seems to be the only remaining functioning nation state, and they are relatively backward at the time. The average person has no rights of any kind, only what they can secure by force or stealth. There is almost no love or affection and while a couple of people mention a passing interest in sex or sexuality at one time or another, the characters might as well all be neutered for all the bearing it has on the plot or the action.

Unfortunately this is a pretty probable look at the world a generation from now. The corporations and their lobbyists have already taken over, personal relationships are already mediated by machines, and the rights of the common people are disappearing at an alarming rate. Cyber security has already been proven impossible, and the people of that time are as much in denial of that fact as we are. Even then people haven't figured out that data belongs to the network as soon as it leaves your fingertips. You cannot enter a keystroke that any nation-state or corporation that is sufficiently motivated can't gather. If data is stored on a device with any kind of wireless port, or a wire connected to it, it is not secure. As long as data is accessible from the net, it is open to the public.

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