Reviews of Free Sci-fi - S

Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with S

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 for 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 and 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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top