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 whenthe 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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Saligia – Gerald A. Whitfield

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

This is advertised as being about the seven deadly sins but it just seems to be about a war between demons and the church. It is unremitting war and horror. Death, dismemberment, dispair, plenty of quotes from Dante's 'Inferno' which it seems to be trying to emulate. There are some familiar names, Lucifer, Mammon, Beelzebub. There are angels, supposedly on the side of the church, but they are just as violent as the demons. There is a pale imitation of God in a couple parts of this but nothing that I could get much meaning from.

Maybe his church is trying to say something about the evil in many of the right-wing churches of our current day. One of the characters, Leviathan, makes the claim that envy and jealousy are the cause of war. The real cause of war is the alpha male drive to dominate and 'win' at all costs.

There is no light in this at all. Many words are hyphenated in the wrong places and the turgid prose often gets annoying. I started another story in this series or a similar one, 'The Gift' and found, on the first page, that it is just more horror and gore so I did not read it and won't write a separate review.

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Scourge - Book Two of the Starcrown Chronicles – Jon Gerrard

**** sex = 1, action = 7, prose =8

The second book in this series puts Cordass Pell back in action in a redesigned and updated ship chasing the space pirates that are threatening the economy of his empire. This makes for a good story but I don't think it is realistic that any but the most recent colonies would rely on interstellar trade for even the tiniest fraction of their economies unless stargates as mentioned in The Aldeb Wars or the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons were cheap and higher capacity. The cargoes being hijacked are usually simple manufactured products that we can produce easily and cheaply today with no interstellar trade at all. Nevertheless it is a good device to get them out there following a trail to the pirate leader and engaging in a few space battles that are done pretty well. He even makes a point of informing us that space battles are not like worldwar era aerial dogfights.

There are a few times he uses the plot device of making plans that we readers are not privy to. He uses a few other plot devices to keep the readers from knowing what some of the characters know. I've seen others where these machinations are much more blatant and annoying than this. The proofreading is generally pretty good, but there are a few missing words that will cause a brief stumble now and then. There is affection between some of the characters but no explicit sex. The level of violence is relatively low for this kind of story and most characters have feelings for the fallen.

All in all it's a very engaging story. When thery finally reach the pirate base and find out who their leader is, it does turn out to be who you expected all along. However, we find out at the very end that he is not the actual boss after all, but there is some other figure who we haven't met before. They plan to find and eliminate him, but that will be in the next book, which wasn't out as of Mar. 2018.

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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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Seeds of a Fallen Empire - Across the Stars (Vol. III) – Anne Spackman

*** Sex = 2, action = 4, Prose = 8

In the third book in the series, Earth forces try to take over the giant spaceship Selesta and use it to overcome the invaders. Instead it takes them, against their will, on a multi-generation trip around the entire galactic cluster looking up old planets in the most recent empire. The arch villain pursues them and there are some battles with him and his own giant ship, but they are not the main thrust of the story.

The main point of the story seems to be to show the length and complexity of the history of this section of the universe. It is nearly as deep and complex as the history of Kassidor. It is also the claim that almost all intelligent life in the universe is humanoid and that some ancient race modified many different species to be more humanoid. It has some echoes of Brin's 'Uplift' series in this regard. In this the explorers even encounter a few of this seventeen billion year old race, but they have no memories of what they were. The claim is that they come from beyond this universe from one that was collapsing back on itself. So we still don't know if we are being told that God made man in his image or if there was an ancient technological species directing our evolution.

At the end of this volume the personality that was put into the Selesta's computer comes forth and then dies. That should end the ship's acting on it's own accord, but nothing of that is mentioned in this volume. Also at the end of this book the arch villain has caught up with the last immortal and her daughter, who is also immortal, but it ends before they actually meet, that action is presumably in the fourth volume, Star Gods.

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Seeds of a Fallen Empire - Star Gods (Vol. IV) – Anne Spackman

*** Sex = 2, action = 4, Prose = 8

The fourth episode is again, a completely different story than the other three. In this we go tens of thousands of years back in time to when the last immortal (Alessia) was a child and follow her entire ~100,000 year life. We see the ship being rebuilt from the wreck of an even older and more advanced ship. We see it sent on three exploration voyages that open up the universe for conquest. We see how the empire was built and how it fell. We find that the explorers spent thousands of years on Earth attempting to bring civilization to our branch of the human family tree. At the very end we go back in time to find the people who claimed to have seeded and modified ingtelligent life everywhere to be humanoid. We are not sure it's the truth. We find a truth about the great ship Selesta also.

Most of the way thru we get back to the point where volume three left off, but it doesn't quite continue that story line. The conflict between them and the former arch villain just sort of dissipates and I'm not sure the time-lines are compatible. I didn't see where volumes two and three fit in. That kind of multiple time line is difficult to get right. When I do it I have to draw out the parallel time-lines to make sure they mesh, as in The Aluminum Quest.

One thing I like about this series is that each volume is a complete story in itself, and of course, that they are all free. I understand that people trying to make a living at this have a reason to make a multi-volume story that leaves you hanging at the end of the free volume. It is assumed you will be hooked and buy the next volume. That hasn't worked on me yet, but probably works on others.

There is no actual sex in the story, but there are a few love affairs and one marriage. Alessia's love affair probably has the longest time span of the 'Oh I'm not right for him,' 'Oh she could never have feelings for me,' schtick used in romance novels ever written, tens of thousands of years. There is not a lot of up-front violence, most that there is is from their time on Earth. You do hear about lots of destruction at a distance and are present at a supernova that wipes out a planet.

The prose and proofreading are the same as the other volumes, a few missing words, some punctuation errors around quotes, ("See you soon." He said.) and such happens a few times. All in all pretty good, only a few times did I have to stop and figure out what the missing word must have been. Proofreading your own stuff is difficult because you know what it says. You have to determine if it actually says what you think it does.

Seeds of a Fallen Empire - Comet Riders (Vol. V) – Anne Spackman

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

The fifth installment of the series takes us theu the ancestry and life of Fynals Hynev, the inventor of the immortality serum and the ancestry and part of the lives of Emperor Marankiel and his only friend, Ornenkai. In this there are more soliloqueies about philosophy but almost no violence. There is a lot of argument over the question of common ancestor of all humanoids versus parallel evolution. It is a little strange that in all the discussion of this question in all these books there is no mention of the fossil record on any of the planets. A little palentology on two or three separate planets would put the matter to rest in a few years. Instead the question persists for thousands of years.

What I thought was an important scene was when Alessia's daughter tries to kill the future emperor and finds that the universe will not allow it because it would create a time paradox. This is the only place I've seen where the universe attempts to solve that problem. In most stories involving time travel the 'Went back and killed my grandfather' paradox is solved by allowing two separate time lines to occur. The problem with this version of the solution is that the daughter finds herself prevented from action but there is no explanation of the mechanism by which it is accomplished. It seems like a supernatural event, as if God had intervened and paralysed her, as if by the Instinct of Kassidor. Instead the future emperor falls in love with her, she spurns him and causes him to turn into the monster she was supposed to kill.

There is a message against racism in this, and maybe the fact that the rejection causes the future emperor to become evil is a message about the consequences of such action. Unlike the other books, this one really wouldn't mean much on its own, it would seem like a couple partial biographies of people you have never heard of. It didn't feel like the time line quite agrees with the other volumes, but I can't find any definite disconnect because I can't remember the others actually saying MaranKiel was on the council before he became a robot. This was written well before 2016 but it lays out the same scenario for the death of democracy the Donald Trump is using today. Too bad not enough people read this to heed the warning, but we should have been warned already because Hitler did the same thing 75 years ago.

The prose and proofreading in this are the same as the others, good enough to cause only an occasional back up to puzzle out the missing or wrong word. The sexuality is the same, some affection, you're not present in the bedroom. By the way, you never meet any actual 'Comet Riders' (Enorians) in this.

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Seeds of a Fallen Empire - Empire (Vol. VI) – Anne Spackman

**** Sex = 2, action = 3, Prose = 8

This gets four stars because of the entire series and not because of this volume alone. By itself this volume is on a level with the others. This final episode fills in lots of blanks. You have been thru the time in which it takes place before, but this volume stays on Seynorynael the whole time. You see many events you have seen before but from another point of view, among them Malankiel's affair with Selereal. You see the childhoods of many of the major characters, Alessia, Fielikor Kiel, Fynals Hinev, Ornenkai and emperor Malankiel.

This volume has more depth of emotion than the others, though the others were not lacking. Ornrnkai longs for Alessia while he is in his mechanized unit. His feelings on the situation are those of any old man conversing with a beautiful young woman and wishing to be phyically able to make more of it than a chaste conversation. His crush on her is probably the longest in any fiction, fifteen thousand years or so. The overarching emotion is melancholy, owing to the dying civilization they live in. It takes over ten thousand years but their civilization is in decline all that time. It is most acute in the death of a single minor character, Calendra, who seems to represent the death of innocence as their civilization slides deeper into brutality and poverty. I see many parallels of mood with today as our own civilization goes down the same path.

Taken as a whole, this series is a major feat of storytelling on the level of Asimov's Foundation series, Simmon's Hyperion series or even the Gordon's Lamp series on this site. The execution (prose, proofreading etc.) is a bit flawed in places and the science is sometimes shaky, the time scales might be a bit too vast and I'm still not sure all the events timing is quite right, but the vision and scope is monumental, the differences between the volumes and the way they fit together is mind boggling. Anne deserves some kind of major award for that alone.

This, more than anything else but the Kassidor stories shows real thought being given to the issue of greatly extended life spans. Our vision of what it would be like may differ, I don't think memory can be preserved over all those years, as shown best in Pieces of Me and I believe we lose interest in life over time because of our deteriorating abilities and not boredom with having done it all before. However, the thought is there. Her eternals are not just ephemerals who have been around more.

The flaws are minor compared to the scope and vision and I give four stars to the series as a whole. The characters are memorable, unique and meaningful. Their emotions are realistic (most of the time) and complex. There is affection, lust for power, the call of duty and many more. If you have the time and are looking for a complex and visionary piece of storytelling, I highly recommend this work.

There is a note at the end with some astrophysical and biologial data on the planet Seynorynael which orbits a blue-white star. This is somewhat in error, and this misunderstanding pervades the story in subtle ways. Even if the star was Sirius and not Deneb in size it would not work, it might work for a recent white dwarf, but they cannot explode without adding another stellar mass of material.

Taking Rigel as a typical blue giant at 40,000 solar outputs, the habital zone (if there could be one) would be about 200AU or about twenty billion miles out, about the separation of the 61 Cygni binary. The orbital period would be centuries. It is doubtful however that the x-ray and ultaviolet radiation would allow any life to exist in its habitable zone, and its life span is too short (a few million years) for any native life to evolve. She does know that the there would be excess radiation and that it would be harmful to life, but that is appropriate for an F-type star like Altair. Under that radiation evolution would proceed more quickly, not slower, if life could survive at all. Under a thick atmosphere, as in Kinunde at Altair (in The Aldeb Wars) life might be possible. The year of a planet at an F type star would be measured in decades. (Kinunde's is 17.)

Of course it does not take a supernova to destroy all life on a planet in a star's habitable zone. A regular old nova such as an F type star will undergo would remove all air and water. Even one an astronomer might call 'A little ffft' that emits a planetary nebula would render everthing in the system dead. But no kind of nova occurs on a star that is on the main sequence. It goes thru a red giant phase and a supernova goes thru a much more exotic phase that would have already eliminated all life in the system a million years before the blast.

Most of this data is readily avaiable on line along with the relatively simple astrophyical formulae which allow you to calculate the orbital periods of planets at stars of any given mass or energy output. It is now the consensus that most habitable planets will be tide locked at red dwarf stars, simply because those stars are the bulk of the universe. The ideal human habitat will probably be at K type (orange) stars since they are long-lived, emit less harmful radiation, are relatively common and may allow planets in the habitable zone to avoid being tide locked and thus have a day and night, allowing much of the surface to be habitable. The jury is still out on whether or not it is possible that a planet can exist that will allow humans to live on it without terraforming. If some theorists are correct, any planet that develops life with photosynthesis will develop an oxygen concentration we can breathe so that only the presence of pathogens need be of concern. Note that for the purpose of storytelling I use the fantasy that a planet can be terraformed in a thousand years or less. No serious scientist would agree, a million years is a more likely time line.

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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 alternate 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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Slave Empire, Book 1 - Prophecy – TC Southwell

*** Sex = 2, action = 5, Prose = 8

The first book of a trilogy, the other two of which are not free. It claims to be set soon after 2020 when the Earth has been destroyed by environmental disaster. It is in a universe full of humanoid aliens, the most different of whom have scales. Most are indistinguishable from everyday humans, and we all know how I feel about that. In all other respects the universe more or less follows the laws of physics. There are numerous empires, lots of pirates, a form of warp drive and lots of slave traders.

The plot is about a girl who is supposed to save one of the largest empires from some unknown danger. We don't know til near the end of the book what that danger is. We don't know til then that she has to enlist the help of one of the pirates to save the empire that is hunting him. She finds out some truths about him, such as, his species was exterminated by the same menace that threatens the empire in the prophecy. He says he's giving her one of his most advanced ships because of his desire for revenge.

That's the end of book one. The story is not complete, you have to buy the other two to finish it. TC has to make a living at this after all. There have been worse stories with higher prices. There doesn't seem to be any message in this except maybe stop polluting the Earth, but the devastation is so overdone that it loses its ability to persuade. As I write this we are days from entering 2020 and we do not have billions dying as of yet. We do not have all our cities in ruins, all life dead and no means but cannabalism to survive. As entertainment it's decent space opera. The girl in the prophesy has a crush on the pirate leader, that's about the only thing sexual in the story. There is a moderate amount of violence, but much more seen in recent history and a lot more threatened in the future. The prose is good, the proofreading is pretty good. If it was a little more engaging I could have given it four stars. You might find it engaging enough.

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Sleeping Giant – RJ Lopez

** Sex = 1, action = 3, Prose = 8

A longer short story about a homicidal maniac. He starts off deciding it is his duty to clear the world of a neighbor with rather extreme Aspergers and then goes on to decide he needs to cleanse the world of just about everyone. There is no rhyme or reason to his victims, just blind, psychotic lashing out at anyone who strikes his fancy at the time with utterly nonsensical rationalizations for his unfettered insanity. It's not really a science fiction story at all except that the time and place is undefined. If the author is actually a psychiatrist and this is really a look into the actual ravings of a homicidal maniac, maybe it is informative. There are some prophets in the old testament who's logic seems to be almost as random as this, but they probably did not act it out by taking the lives of random friends and neighbors. My guess is it doesn't give us any real insight into these monsters.

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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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Space Crazy – K. Rowe

*** Sex = 5, action = 3, Prose = 8

A young man longs to go off into space and gets his chance. This short novel spans the start of his career as a spacer and freighter captain. The universe at the time is not in a unified human empire but full of independent planets with lots of aliens. They are all humanoid, closely related enough to interbreed, so they would all have to be descended from humans at some time in the distant past. The science is at the comic-book level, some technobabble with little connection to reality. There are a few battles with space pirates but nothing that will amuse those looking for non-stop action. The writing is pretty good but pedestrian, proofreading is good, a few missing words here and there but nothing that interferes with the story.

There is a pretty steamy scene with his first sexual encounter, other than that it would get a sex = 1 because it is only mentioned from then on. There is a language barrier at one point and the alien language is actually almost understandable to an English speaker, at least as understandable as Norwegian, so that was really done well. The story is pretty cute and fast paced enough to be worth the time. If you try to take this seriously it will only be a two star, but I don't think it was written as a serious examination of how one would really go about making a career in space, even in the post-empire era.

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Spike Breaker – Gareth Lewis

*** Sex = 1, action = 6, Prose = 8

A short story about telepaths in which they attempt to take over society. It's only 21 pages but crams quite a bit into them. Some examination of the issue of telepaths and normal humans trying to co-exist. Gareth has many other titles on smashwords but few of them are free and most of them are fantasy, not sci-fi.

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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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Star Dragon – Mike Brotherton

**** Sex = 4, action = 3, Prose = 9

An ancient probe finds a dragon-like creature living in an accretion disk around a distant white dwarf. An expedition is sent to investigate it and bring one back for study. In this time (~3000ad.) there is no faster than light travel so the expedition will take 500 years. It takes only two years for the people on the expedition because of the relativity effects. The plot of the story is about capturing the dragon, something that turns out to be easier said than done. The dragon is an alien intelligence that is truely alien, not just a human actor in a baggy suit, more alien than the enemy in The Aldeb Wars but not quite as alien as encountered in Tangle in the Dark.

The story does not live by plot alone. The characters are well done and deep, and the science is quite important to the work. In this universe aging has been cured and there is a bit of social difference because of it, but it does not really examine the differences of an eternal society the way stories like Pieces of Me or Love in Exile or any of the other Kassidor stories do. The main change is a slightly more easygoing attitude towards sexuality, and the knowledge that they are not necessarily going to die anyway. There is a lot of other advanced biological science. People can modify themselves to a great extent, even as great as the hotblood modification encountered in Wild World. The ship itself is a living thing as well as many of the fixtures in it.

Mike considers himself a hard SF writer, and he has the credentials to back that up. He is not like Robert Forward where the story is completely buried by the science, but it is present and a lot of it is not explained in such a way that I understood. Of course that could be true of a lot of the science of 'Tangle in the Dark' also. In truth they are both pretty speculative.

For me the characters were the strong point of the story, but all of it is quite good. The bad news is that he only has one other book out and it is not in the free market.

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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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Stranger in the Allotment – Kit Mullen

*** Sex = 1, action = 5, prose =7

I'm giving this three stars because it was a bit entertaining in spite of being confusing and hard to follow. Part of the reason is there is a lot of dialog with it never being said who's speaking, along with characters that are rather hard to tell apart. Part of the reason it's hard to follow is that we are just not told what's going on. To help, I'll say that the characters seem to be in training for a time patrol as in Robert Silverburg's series from fifty years ago. They are tasked with fixing the damage done by time traveling tourists and other time-traveling villains called meddlers. They are being trained by an alien who looks like Jabba the Hutt but there is no explaination of where he came from and there are no others. The time period is probably over a century from now because people are trying to colonize Saturn.

The action is pretty much all at the end when we find out how the Bermuda triangle was caused. There are only two female characters with speaking parts. One was said to be a girlfriend of another main character and pursued by another but there is no action associated with that. There is quite a bit of violence in the latter parts of the book and a couple gruesome scenes but it's not one of those senseless wastes of ammo like some others. There aren't a lot of proofreading 'errors' unless you count the lack of speaker identification. There are some historical disconnects like Athens attacking Atlantis in 4242bc. I believe Athens was founded about 800bc. He places Atlantis in the Bahamas where Athens never explored. Since I'm not a believer in time travel anyway, I'm not going to critique his paradox control or the energy released when a paradox is encountered. In spite of all this, it's kind of fun if you don't get too frustrated trying to figure out what's happening.

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