Reviews of Free Sci-fi - S


Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with S



Sacred Water Book One - Half Brains – Charles Kaluza


**** sex = 3, action = 7, prose =8


When you start this you will probably think it is a fantasy because it reads like one, but there is no magic in it. There is some discovery of what we now think of as basic science so that in most cases the science in this is as accurate as it can be. If it wasn't for the fact that it takes place on what seems to be a different planet, it could have been a historical novel. Like the 'Seeds of a Fallen Empire', this seems to be in the far future after humans have settled many planets. Unlike the 'Seeds of a Fallen Empire' series, the people in this have no real knowledge of the time when their planet was settled. It was obviously terraformed using Earth native life, so it is possible to make a movie of it.

The plot is a war between the 'Northern Kingdom' and the 'Southern Kingdom' started when the Southern Kingdom built what was called a trade bridge over a great chasm that separates the two kingdoms. The bridge turned out to be an invasion bridge over which the southern army comes in and conquers a spring where the Sacred Water comes from. This Sacred Water is the only known source of iodine on the planet, and without it no one can be healthy. Things turn out to be a little more complicated than that, but I won't spoil it by saying how.

There is some mention of the evils of racism and how all it takes is knowing a few people of a different race as individuals to see how senseless it is. This world is a little larger than that of most fantasies, hundreds of miles insted of dozens, and we know that is not the entire planet and there are lands beyond the two kingdoms and the forest, which is not part of either kingdom. There is a love affair in the story, but nothing explicit, it is suitable for pre-teens. The prose is pretty good, a few punctuation errors around quotes, the occasional wrong word, but nothing in the grammer that really intrudes. This might have been a five star, Hugo worthy book if the narration and dialog was a little less amateurish. That means it's only a little better than the average free sci-fi.

The end is not really an end, like Yoonbarla, it leads right into the second book, but like The Second Exedition, the other books are also free.

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Sacred Water Book Two - The Time Before – Charles Kaluza


*** sex = 2, action = 7, prose =7


Like many trilogies, even The Second Expedition, the middle book is a bit less interesting than the first. In this a bit of fantasy is introduced in a form of telepathy. Telepathy (communication via radio waves) could be possible, but seems unlikely to evolve spontaneously in humans. In the second book there is little new ground covered. It claims to be about the time before, which I expected would be the era when the planet was settled, but there is in fact very little mention of history, but mainly a succession of battles against the red army which is that of a third nation a little farther away on the planet. In this the language becomes a bit less professional than the first with the phrase 'Morning ritual' being abused to the point of blood loss. It tries even harder to sound like a fantasy, to the point where the language seems stilted at times. But even though it is a little less a work of art than the first, it's still a pretty good book, still better than many in the paid market, and I will go on to the third in the series.

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Sacred Water Book Three - The Scarlet King – Charles Kaluza


*** sex = 2, action = 7, prose =7


This final book in the trilogy is very much like the second, unlike Zhlindu which is very different from the others in the trilogy. In 'The Scarlet King' it's a different enemy some different details in the battles and a few new characters introduced. It has the same good points and the same bad, but has an African character and hits the stupidity of prejudice once again. The telepathy becomes a little more explicit in this one but this is still not really a fantasy although it continues to read like one, actually a little too much like one because the language becomes a little difficult at times. It's still a good story however and I'm glad I came across this series.

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Seeds of a Fallen Empire - The Last Immortal (Vol. I) – Anne Spackman


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


This is the beginning of a huge tale about the far future. Humans of various kinds inhabit not just millions of planets in this galaxy, but many galaxies beyond. There is a belief that these humanoids have a common ancestor sometime in the remote past. Less remotely in the past an empire did unite the nearer galaxies, and there is still a remnant of that empire remaining which some people believe intends to re-conquer the planets where the story takes place.

The story takes place on a double planet, one fertile, one not. The people from the one that's not want to be allowed to settle the other, leading to a war that has lasted centuries already. The Last Immortal is a woman who is in possession of an enormous starship created by the most recent Empire, which others want to get possession of to either fight the war, or flee to another planet. Meanwhile the ship has a mind of its own and a mission to get to a planet in a distant galaxy where there is a special singularity that allows time travel. They need to keep it out of the hands of the most recent Empire or they will get the power to enslave the universe again.

It's a pretty ambitious plot, and that's just the first book of the series. There is a lot more to it than I've just outlined, a couple quick love affairs, human personalities transferred to silicon, people getting superpowers, dream sequences, planets exploding, a few battles (not dwelled on and not done in detail) flashbacks to past lives, a baby that might have superpowers and so on. There's really a lot happening, but as you read it, it actually seems to move rather slowly. Somehow all that is compressed into here without seeming too busy.

Immortality in this is different than on Kassidor. The immortals are all but unkillable, not just eternal. There is no examination of what society would be like for eternals because there is only one in the story, only a few in history, and very few who even believe in it. It was done by a serum, sort of like the dust of youth in Wizard Run. The science is pretty good, I found only a few things I'm not so sure of, such as volcanic eruptions on one planet changing the orbit of another. If the planet was to explode so violently that much of it's mass was lost, yes, but that wasn't what I read. The proofreading is pretty good, just some problems with quotes, periods, commas and capitals that don't really slow the reading. The good news is, the entire series is free, not just this first book. This is an ambitious project, Anne is to be commended for that, the execution may not be quite as grand as the premise, but it's better than many, and not very violent so kudo's for that also.

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Seeds of a Fallen Empire - The Osiris Invasion (Vol. II) – Anne Spackman


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


In the second in the series is a very different story from the first. It takes place mainly on Earth in 3062 -> 3086 or so, because it turns out Earth is that distant planet where a special singularity resides. The great ship of the last immortal flees with her daughter to Earth and the villain from volume one takes his own great ship and chases them there. The story spans some years, long enough for the last Immortal's daughter to grow to maturity and become a fighter pilot. The villain's ship and forces terrrorize Earth the whole time but do not actually conquer the planet and the people of Earth wonder why. So did this reader. All we are told is that the great leader (ie the arch villain) wanted it that way.

So this isn't in the very distant future after all, but does continue the assumption that all the humanoids in every galaxy have a common ancestor. At this point the science stops making sense. Humans did evolve on Earth, science is pretty damn sure of that. Humans have existed in their present form only about 50,000 years, and in a form close enough to call human for about 200,000. Since other galaxies are millions of light years away, there is no time for humans to have spread there unless some other civilization with wormholes already in place spread them. We humans were not modified into our present form by some alien species, the fossil record, while not completely clear, is clear enough to show that didn't happen. Chimpanzees are more like us than anything evolved on a different planet is likely to be. Out of the quadrillions of civilizations likely in the universe today there are probably a few others that look as much like us as a chimp. There is a hint in the story that ancient Egyption heiroglyphics are similar to the writing of the alien humans, but the last immortal is four times as old as the birth of Egyptian civilization. There are also hints that the last Immortal was there in the time of ancient Egypt.

Of course there is the chance that what she's going to say is that God himself has directed evolution on a parallel course over the whole universe and that when the Bible says he created mankind 'in his own image' it was literal. When we find the first truely alien race, we will know the answer to that question. If they are humanoid, and have clear evidence of evolving on that planet, then we know we have to take the Bible literally on this. If, like Kassidor, they are present on a planet where there is very clear evidence they did not evolve, then we know they were transported at some time in the past. After two books in this series, it's not clear where this is going. As this ends it's looking like the aliens have intervened to make us more alike, but since the remaining science in the books is generally pretty good, I'm thinking Anne may have a surprise in store that is something I have never thought of. I hope so, but I don't know if I have enough time left to find out.

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Shades of Grey Vol. I – Kristi Lynn Higgins


*** Sex = 0, action = 8, Prose = 7


This has to be called a fantasy because the science is so unlikely that I cannot see that any effort was made to keep this within the laws of physics. The basic premise is that there are 'dry clouds' that cover the entire western hemisphere, blocking all light, never dissipating or moving and releasing poisonous rain. There are trees and other plants that are able to live in these conditions because they produce their own light to enable their photosynthesis. Robots can communicate with wireless but also talk to each other out loud in an obvious ploy to inform the reader of what they are thinking. Five hundred years from now, flourescent lights are still in use. I found these things quite disturbing in a story that was written as if it was meant to be sci-fi, not fantasy.

This is set in a familiar dystopia with corporate military, excessive, senseless violence, dystopian rules that don't make any sense other than to pound home the point that the society is in its death throes where all wealth and power goes to the few and they make the lives of everyone else miserable just because they can. On the bright side, most of the violence is against robots and not living beings.

The main action of the story is the interaction between a 'project' who is a girl genetically engineered to be a killer, and a legal assassin called a 'closer' who is actually the daughter of the chairman of a corporation. Never mind how unlikely that is, their interaction appears less natural than the interactions of the modified people of Kassidor.

There are more books in the series. A book with half the second episode is available free. I found a paperback copy of the third for sale at Amazon for $87. That price is ridiculous. There are reviews of it there but they may be biased.

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Shadowplay: Book One of the Starcrown Chronicles – Jon Gerrard


**** Sex = 3, action = 7, Prose = 9


A exellent space opera with some unexpected twists, realistic action and no glaring errors in science. It is like 'A Thousand Words for Stranger' by Julie Czerneda in that the main character wakes up with no memory of who he is or why he's here, and he later turns out to be someone he never expected. It is very different in detail. He wakes up on a prison ship, not a spaceport and soon gains control of his fate. The prose and characterization is every bit as good and the plot is every bit as good, but different.

There is a love interest in the story, which also has an unexpected twist. There is nothing explict in it so the story is suitable for all ages, but is probably too mature to interest pre teens. That translates to, it's not just a senseless waste of as much ammunition as possible. There are fights, including a sword fight. There are space battles of decent realism, but the violence is not excessive and we don't dwell in the gore. Thank you Jon for that. The prose is as good as any professional.

There is a political message about bad leaders ruining their country with brutal repression and collusion with criminals. Rather timely for today, though it was written before Nov. 2016. The truth of that message is timeless, but it doesn't go into the aternate realities people are living in the way Zhlindu or Vermin Rising do. This book is much more entertainment than message however.

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Soul Seeker – Jacquelyn Smith


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


The action in the story does not make sense as written, but this is common in sword and sorcerer tales, no more so than in 'Lord of the Rings'. That a single person, with weapons that are not claimed to be magic can slay dozens of foes without suffering hardly a scratch just does not make sense. No one can be that skilled, the laws of physics simply don't allow it. Yes this is a fantasy, but even as a fantasy it doesn't make sense. This is why I think these tales are legends told by people generations later who were not present at the action. In my mind the only way this makes any sense at all is if the heros are using technological weapons from a previous Energy Age like the sunsword in Wizard Run

.

The other thing of interest that I would like to point out is that the two maps in this tale, combined, make up an area about the size of a typical county. About the size of Luxumburg. If you were to look at the map of Uttermost West, where this probably took place, you will see an arrow pointing to the shoreline during the Energy Age. The maps in this story fit between there and where the shoreline turns to the east again a couple hundred miles to the north. Another example of an area about the same size is the map of the modern Elvish city of Kassidor Yakhan. The people of the time had no idea of the size of a world, not within a few orders of magnitude.

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Source – Matthew S Williams


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

This is a long story made up of several parts that were once short stories. It is meant to detail the cruel realities our descendants will face because capitalism cannot function without growth and our resources are finite. The author has chosen to focus on drinking water as the finite resource. We are headed for a problem with drinking water, but that is really a problem of cost rather than supply, desalting the oceans will probably always be cheaper than attempting to import it from Mars or any other celestial body. The point he is trying to make about finite resources and the political problems that will lead to is still valid even though the science doesn't quite match. There are a few other problems with the science of reclaiming water and with the characteristics of the Alpha Centauri system but again, it's not enough to get in the way of the story.

While reading it is often not clear when hundreds of years have passed and it may be a little hard to get your footing. There was a time I wasn't sure which planet we were on. There are times when we change point of view, planet and time period with no more notice than a skipped line, and I stumbled a bit at some of those also. Sometimes it takes a few paragraphs before you know what has happened. I had to go back over a few paragraphs a few times. The proofreading and grammmer is good enough so it is not distracting, but you will notice a few errors. The PDF file seems like it was made with 'Word(tm)' and suffers from font and font size changes at every edit, at least on the first generation Nook I use. The file is fine in both Adobe and Foxit readers on my computers.

The characters are well done for the amount of time we spend with them. We don't get to spend a lot of time with any so we never really get to know them because they are each in their own shorter story, a little like Aldeb Wars. There is a little bit of space battle action. It isn't detailed, isn't gory, and isn't an obvious copy of worldwar era aerial dogfighting. There is no sex or romance at all, a couple married couples and one with a child but their marriages are not an issue in the story. The issue in the story is the environmental and politcal message, but that ends relatively early and after that a pretty good space opera sets in.

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Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0 - Origins – Randolph Lalonde


**** Sex = 3, action = 8, Prose = 9

A well written space opera about a mission to find technology and allies for a big space station which is isolated far from any stars. It takes place in the post-empire era when corporartions each own many slave planets and very few 'free' planets remain. This begins with a very long space battle which almost made me give up on it, but only about ten percent of the story is actual fighting.

I found this to be a little like the 'World's Apart' series, but with less humor and a bit more realism. Since there is quiet a bit of conflict in this, others will find it more fun to read than I did. The world this is in is well done and consistent, if not really unique. The characters are good. there are a couple love affairs but nothing that is in the least erotic and the affairs have very little to do with the plot.

This is the first of a series. The others are not free but the author says he makes just enough from them that he doesn't have to have a day job. Congratulations. Fans of military based Sci-fi will certainly find them worth it. Because this site is about free sci-fi I will not be reviewing the others but Randolph writes like a pro so they should all be worth it.

I have only one complaint with the writing, there are no blank lines separating sections of a chapter. There are many places where there should be one, but they aren't there. This is a VERY common problem with writing today, in Sci-fi and in other genres, among amateurs and pros.

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Starfire Angels – Melanie Nilles


*** Sex = 3, action = 5, Prose = 9

This is the first and only free book in a rather extensive fantasy series about a race of humanoids who are human in almost every way except that they can grow angel wings and fly, among a few other supernatural powers. It is aimed toward younger readers for it happens in high school and few adults have pivotal rolls in the story. It is a pretty good story, once you accept the premise. Tween girls will probably have no problem with this when they outgrow 'My Little Pony' and stories of that nature.

This borrows a little language from sci-fi in spots, but is nearly as detatched from the laws of physics as Harry Potter so I'll skip pointing out the rather obvious violations of the laws of conservation of mass and energy, evolution, action at a distance, etc. The story has quite a bit about teenage relationships, maybe a little over-the-top and cliched in trying to capture the OMG!ishness of some teenage girls. It seemed a little more like middle school than seniors in high school, but maybe kids do grow up faster in the working class cities and towns of New England than in rural North Dakota, but I suspect it is because the target audience is in middle school. In spite of most of the story being about puppy love, there is not much actual sex in the story, but it's not quite as dry as most free sci-fi (or fantasy). For those who are interested in this genre, I can recommend it.

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Status Quo – Drew Wagar


** Sex = 0, action = 8, Prose = 9

Based on the 'Elite' and 'Oolite' video games, and originally written for their 25th anniversary in 2006, this is a fast-paced space opera set in a human-space universe with three governments and an alien menace. There's lots of 'space' battles, super weapons, and attitude. Fans of Star Wars will find a lot to like.

There is a male lead and a female lead but there is no sex between them, their relationship is more father-daughter than romantic. The only strong emotion in the story is revenge. There's little more than lip service remorse for all the killing and destruction, but we must remember that it's only a game. The characters are a bit cliched, derived in part from a novella that accompanied the game's distribution, but done well enough that they do not detract from the story. The story is all about the action and not the psyches of the characters anyway.

Fans of hard science fiction will be a little put off by the fact that the battle action is completely based on world war era aerial dogfighting. There are bombers and fighters, the fighters loop and swoop, pulling up at the last second before crashing into moons and rocking each other in their wakes. Chromed exhaust ports throw off their handling characteristics. It's entertaining as long as you accept it for what it is. As contrast, a slightly more realistic space battle can be found at the very end of The Aluminum Quest but it is in no way the focus of that tale as the battles are here. That is good because a realistic battle between spacecraft would probably not make good entertainment. It is doubtful one would ever see the enemy. The action would probably take place in time regimes we cannot perceive, like months (Tangle in the Dark) or microseconds (Zhlindu). The weapons would probably be beams that would be invisible and silent, aimed more at the ship's electronics than human crew, though it is unlikely any crew would actually be sent into battle as they and their life support are too bulky and too slow thinking to have any tactical use. Note that the ships in Aluminum Quest, Tangle in the Dark and Zhindu have only simulated humans aboard.

The author throws in a lot of references to the early video game gear such as 'Z80A,' '6502' and '8 bit simulation'. Things like this make it a bit of an insider's story that is best appreciated by fans of the game. In spite of that it could be fun for fans of military space opera who do not mind taking (extreme) liberties with the properties of spacecraft.

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Stories About the Rain – Aaron Redfern


**** Sex = 4, action = 3, prose =10

A beautiful, poetic, short story about a ship which has landed on a planet where rain is perpetual. Their mission is to try and get some of the far-flung colonies of humanity to rejoin the center instead of remaining isolated. This is in a time when there is no faster than light travel, so of course rejoining the center is impossible, but the real message of the story is that once people are adapted to a way of life, they want to stay with it, even if other people think that life is harsh or primitive.

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Storm and Stress – Jennifer L. Armstrong


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

Jennifer's latest is a winner. This seems to be her second foray into the fringes of the Sci-fi genre but she has mastered the alternative history sub-genre on her first stroke. This is a world in which Germany won World War I and now dominates continental Europe, England has overthrown the monarchy and installed a socialist democracy sending the English monarchy to Canada, where it is nearly an absolute monarchy with the legislature having little power. The United States is still a republic, but is as much in the hands of the few as it is in our world today.

The world has a bit of steampunk flavor, many types of technology have been suppressed by the ruling elites, especially telecom as it can allow the poor to organize. The telegraph is still in use, as are zepplins. There are some motor cars and airplanes, a few televisions in public places, but for the most part the world is little changed in the past century and the transistor was never invented. This world is lavish and consuming, well detailed and very 'lived in'. Using the world of a century ago undoubtedly made this easier, but there are no holes in the fabric.

The characters are, as always, lifelike and likeable. The main character again suffers from unrequited desire for an alpha male, or at least a partial alpha male. She carries an important secret thru most of the story. This male lead is consumed by his desire for world socialism to improve the lot of the working man. He is a bit more complex than that, as we see when the Kaiser improves the lot of his working people and he realizes that such a move, while it helps the people he's trying to help, reduces the desire for world socialism and thus hurts his own chance of gaining power. This is a parallel to the way capitalism allowed more to the average man while there was a credible alternative in Communism, but now that that alternative is gone, capitalism is once more plunging the common man into privation.

The third character in the story is the crown prince of Canada who is also working toward world socialism. He never meets the others, so in a sense there are two parallel and separate plots taking place at the same time.

Much of the story takes place in Iraq where they are working to free the country from German rule. There are scenes that are reminiscent of the American invasion when Sadam was overthrown. There is little direct action in the story, it is driven by its characters, its ideas and its setting.

It is taken as a given that democratic socialism is the best way to organize a society for the good of the average person. There are many who would debate that, but in many ways it is the best that we have available to us today with human nature being what it is. This is extremely clear in such things as health care, not so clear in agriculture, based on the Soviet experience. (Although it is extremely clear that corporate agriculture is poisoning our planet as well as our bodies and MUST be stopped if the world is not to go the way of 'The Windup Girl'). Small scale private enterprise (but not finance-based capitalism) is good for people, and continues in the world she envisions, as it does in Sweden for instance. A little more debate and analysis of this topic would have been good for me, but this book is more about how to get there rather than where we should go. There is some good advice on civil disobedience that can weaken a regime on pages 84 and 85. To that I would add the following which would be effective in America at least. Just a few dozen people abandoning their cars on downtown highways in rush hour would be as good as a city-wide general strike. (Report it stolen.)

I had to look hard to find fault with this book, unless you consider the lack of action to be a fault, which I do not. If there is one, it is that the ending is a bit abrupt, saying more about how would spoil the fun and I won't do that because, for me at least, this was a very good read.

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Strange Future – Josh smith


*** Sex = 1, action = 3, prose =7

I'm giving this three stars because of the subject matter and not the execution of the story. It is a story about three people frozen in 2008 and revived in 2208 and their impressions of the future. Thruout the story they continually have a hard time with all the changes, though there are actually very few. There is a world government, just as disfunctional as today, and some new technology, not as dysfunctional as today. The main point of the story is that nothing will really change and life will not really get better until human nature changes.

There is a token love interest in the story, and the idea that only love can make the world better. The affair is as chaste as any puritan could want. There is no violence at all, except for some wild animals. The proofreading and grammer is very good, but the narration is pretty amateur and the characters could use more depth.

Perhaps the biggest change in the technology is the PODS, which is very much a Star Trek style transporter, but not advanced enough to transmit anything to a location where there is no receiver device. It is a device that reads a person or things's matter, converts it to data, and re-creates that person or thing at the receiving end. Besides the main issue with this device, handling of the soul, he has some other silly things going on with it. There is no explaination of what happens to the matter at the transmission end. There is no explaination of how new matter gets to the restoration machine at the receiving end. There is no mention of the fact that once the person or thing is reduced to data, any number of copies could be made. In the case of things being deleted from the data (in this case to remove weapons from luggage) the deleted objects are restored anyway, but in a different place. Now these problems are not unique to this story, the device as used on Star Trek is absolute fantasy, violating the laws of conservation of matter and energy right left and center, as well as having no way to capture and tranmit the soul. With that said, primitive forms of this technology are not far off, we already have three-d printers which are a primitive version of the receiving device in this story. The real problems begin when we try that with living things. We need the equivilent of a three-d printer that can produce living things. If one could even print a single bacterium, the remaining problem is one of scaling up until you get to life forms that have a soul.

I applaud the fact that Josh realizes that there can be no improvment in human life as long as human nature does not change. That idea is the central theme of almost every story of mine. It is true that my version of the changes required are those necessary to make the world imagined by the hippies of the 1960's a reality and not necessarily those that would make human life best. We have little to no agreement on what would be best, but quite a bit of agreement that reducing violence and dominance would be a good thing.

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