Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with T
*** Sex = 2, Action = 5, Prose = 7
As a story, this is good. If that was all it was, it's worth reading. There's a lot of astromomical and astrophyical science in this that might be a little shaky but that isn't the point. The plot is a bit similar to Les Broad's 'Aupes' but this is MUCH more believable, much better plotted, uplifting instead of desperately depressing and fun to read in most spots. A man from Earth reaches an alien planet that is all but destroyed by an asteroid impact and helps them recover and start a new community. It is not the events that make this so completely the opposite of Aupes, but the way the story is told. It is not that the prose is better, it is because the heartwarming moments are in the story as well as the heartbreaking.
This book is supposed to be about the autistic and the normals. He's got a type of humanoids with tails that use them to communicate something about their emotional state, and other humanoids who have excellent engineering skills but are unable to speak or reproduce. Being a medical professional I'm sure Charles knows that autism is a failure of the 'mirror neurons' which are used to generate an internal copy of the thoughts and emotions of those we communicate with. He is using the fact that such people usually become 'things' people who work with their hands, write code, or other endeavors that involve working with objects and not with people. Unfortunately people on the autism spectrum are too varied and the symptoms too diverse to capture in a story where so few of the 'fixers' personalities are examined in any detail.
All the stories of Kassidor are really about autism, because they are written by an autistic author who cannot do justice to a character who is not somewhat autistic. They are slanted strongly toward my own particular symptoms, a complete lack of interest in competeing for social position (status), an overdeveloped sense of fair play and a complete lack of ability to deceive or detect deception. Others with the disorder are totally amoral or even cruel. Many are too withdrawn to interact with the world. Some have extremely limited intelligence, some have exceptional intelligence and most are of average intelligence. The disorder comes in different levels of severity from 'a bit shy' to some who can babble on for hours when no one is interested. Many are unable to hold a job, date, or manage their affairs. Some live a semi-normal life but alone. Some are happier alone, some wish they had the social skills to have friends, spouses and families. Most are hidden in plain sight. They appear fine from a distance and only by knowing them can you tell something is off.
Deep Autism is a crippling disorder, but milder forms have been survivable until now. The reason for the difficulty today is that one must have MUCH MUCH MUCH more social skill to get a decent job today than in the past. Once the job is won, it takes much more social skill today to do most good jobs than it did in the past. A position where one can just sit at their desk and write code is much rarer today, because the actual code writing is done by machine. The same can be said for assembly line jobs, machinist jobs and many others that allowed people who were unwilling or unable to play politics to make a living. Today just about anyone with even a toe on the autism ladder will have enormous difficulty getting any job at all, and find it nearly impossible to get a job sufficient to support a home and family.
Another difficulty, the smart phone. Autistic people are not at a particular disadvantage in using a smart phone because all the non-verbal ques are missing in communication via text. What is problematic however is what the smart phone's effect will be on the life and learning of autistic people. The disorder is not a simple matter of nature, there is a big nurture component to it. I went thru most of my life not knowing I had it, not knowing what it was, but knowing I was not acceptible socially to most people. The point is, without a smart phone or virtual world to crawl into I had no choice but to tough it out as best I could. I know for myself if I'd had the virtual world to fall into, I would have never done that and I fear many others are doing that today. It is our loss, as we are losing the 'fixers' in this story, those who do the 'things' work in our society.
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*** Sex = 2, Action = 5, Prose = 9
I'm sure this book was a lot of fun to write. Being granted super powers, being put in command of the world, able to remake it to your own liking, being young again, getting fawned over by pubescent women, who wouldn't enjoy it? Effortlessly vanquishing all foes, including former generals, gaining new super powers without effort, as required, all that just has to be a trip. Anyone who writes creates their own world, some write mainstream where the changes from present day reality are small, some write wild fantasy where none of the laws of physics still apply and most are somewhere in between. We Sci-fi writers are near the outer edge in the liberties we take with our worlds.
This is a post apocalyptic tale, in this case the apocalypse is the Earth passing thru some kind of rift in space where the laws of physics are transformed into laws of magic. In the process almost all of humanity dies. Some of the survivors mutate, filling the role that zombies take in most post-apolcalyptic stories. This is about rebuilding the world using the laws of magic instead of physics, but it is the same problem faced in all stories of this type, getting civilization going again and dealing with the violence that the lack of law enforcement brings about.
It is as violent as 'Wanted' by Jason Halstead or 'Hawk's Legend' by Robert A.J. Turnbull Jr. but not as bloody. Only a couple of the good guys die, but thousands of the enemy. The only sex in the story is never consumated. Most characters and settings are a bit thin but not enough to be a problem. Many readers will be glad not to get lost in too much detail. The proofreading is generally very good, but there are places where we change point of view without even a blank line.
The intellectual points made in this are that many people today are raised with no intent to be productive members of society. All they want to do is watch TV. That was true in the past but he's dating himself saying that, the current generation has little use for TV. He seems to favor plantation style agriculture instead of personal farms, but that could be just because he's trying to employ thousands of people with no farming skills. I know exactly how frustrating it can be to try and raise food when you don't know how. He was a child of the 60's but still fears 'drugs' and doesn't differentiate between them.
He also makes a good point that people just can't believe the United States is gone. We are all having a hard time believing it in real life. It would be much easier to beleive if 99.99% of the population had died and nothing worked any more. It is much harder to believe when the Roberts court has quietly sold our once-great nation to the corporations where it will be slowly digested over the next hundred years.
While I disagree with some of his points (I think most people would be glad to contribute to society if they were allowed), and I think the main character's powers were somewhat over-the-top and arbitrary, it is actually fun if you take it for what it is. Fans of Ayn Rand will probably like it a lot.
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Guest Review by Roger Zuidema
Tangle in the Dark gets the award for the most alien alien. A 1400 x 900 light year, quantum space, dark matter creature, or feral OS as Ava puts it, using bacteria to 'upload' souls at death. I know that there are a lot of people who like, or need to have, all of the questions answered at the end of the story. However I really like it that all of the questions were not answered. In fact there are a lot of unanswered questions. Is the Wetat God? I assumed not, however there is another question on whether or not this creature/OS was invented by God as the mechanism to bring people to heaven. In the real Christian version the Wetat would best correlate to Hades (not Hell). Hades is actually a Greek invention as a place where the dead go, however Christians used the word to mean that place where souls go waiting for the final establishment of God's kingdom as in Revelation chapter 21. That would make Wetat God's construct or creature to do this. However this could also fit with a lot of other religious traditions, from a great many pagan religions with multiple gods. (Wetats) Or the native American style nature based religion that teaches that all things have a spirit. Where the spirit in this case is the planet wide soul eating bacteria, this would assume that not only humans would be transferred, but also higher animals. Personally I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be. I assumed that the animals in Atlantis were not simulated but were transferred just the same as the humans. By the estimated numbers of souls talked about, it was not only humans or life forms from Earth but many other planets. Its too bad that they were kept separate, or were they? I'm also assuming that there is more than one Wetat, so I'm not really calling that an unanswered question.
Another question, is it a naturally occurring creature or a construct of a higher being (not necessarily God). Ava assumes that it is an OS but she could be a bit biased because that is what she is used to. This brings up the question of, if it's a naturally occurring creature, why would it collect souls? It would be assumed that the creature would have to benefit from collecting souls. Do the indwelling souls somehow provide the creature with some form of life force? If it was a construct (OS) then the answer is more obvious, it was designed that way, but then the question is why would the designer want to do that. Unless the designer is God and has a special interest in his creation (Intelligent life). Another question that I had from the beginning was, is Kassidor real. That question is kind of indirectly answered in the epilogue where Desa comes back to Alan. The assumption I had was that Kassidor is real and Alan just made a copy, including Desa. Of course that brings up to more questions. If Kassidor is real I can understand why they and/or Alan would not want the rest of the crew to know. However, did the Kassikan reprogram Alan into thinking that Kassidor civilization died out thousands of years ago, or did Alan do it himself to keep Gordon's Lamp from taking over? In this case Alan would be making a huge sacrifice to keep Kassidor out of their hands, to not harvest Kassidorian souls in other words.
To me it seemed like the epiphany point happened rather quickly, I had to reread that section to fully get it. Also to me a human constructed heaven is obviously not the real one. However I also know that there is no shortage of deceived religious fanatics who can be duped into believing just about anything. Once that happens to a charismatic leader he has no problem collecting followers no matter how irrational his ideas. It actually seemed to me that the theologians on Gordon's Lamp were fairly reasonable and tolerant as religious leaders go. It would seem to me that Bishop OíConner would have had to have had a previous crisis of faith in order to be that open to the revelation that their heaven was no better than that of the Wetat. I would have liked to have seen that in the story, but in all honesty, I don't think I would have known how to write it. It is suggested in the story but I thought it was pertaining to Captain Kelvin not the Bishop. With everything that they had been through it would have been easy to assume that any and all of the 'faithful' could be questioning their faith. When someone says crisis in faith there are three levels. First one's personal relationship to God. Most true believers if they are honest with themselves have at least a few of these. The next is their church's or belief system's relationship to the true God. (How trustworthy is your religion.) These are less frequent but happen. Most people change churches at this point, or like Martin Luther create a new religion. The big one is when one questions the existence or nature of God. (this is not the same as questioning God.)
This is only one of a number of open ended stories that leave behind a lot of interesting possibilities. This one caused a lot more thought than most however. Many do have to do with left behind artifacts, because for me they automatically provoke any number of possibilities. Although as I said, a fifth order condensate dark matter feral OS has to be the most interesting so far. Even more interesting than the ancient Krell replicator with a telepathic user interface that caused so much trouble in Forbidden Planet.
I kind of thought that this was part of the Expedition story line, which therefore answers some but not all of the Kassidor questions. And then Tangle in the Dark answers one of the left over questions from Tdeshi Quest. What ever happened to Gordon's Lamp and the other Ava? If there was one.
I realize that both O'Conner and Rendellyn are not main characters and therefore there is no need to go into great depth on their journeys, I guess I just identified with that a little more because I'm familiar with the concept of spiritual claustrophobia, or the need to try to fit God into a box small enough that we can understand and control him or her. But that was one of the big thought messages I got from Tangle. That God is bigger than we perceive him to be. This was not a revelation for me, but it was nicely portrayed in the story. One of the advantages that I have had in my Christian journey is that I have always known that my perception of God is not the same thing as God. Although I can't know what is in the heads of other Christians, many seem to act as their perception of God is God, and therefore to question their perception is to question God. Not only do I believe that my perception could be wrong, by definition I know that it must be wrong. Therefore for me a crisis of faith is not a question of God's existence it is a question of my ability to know who he is, while knowing that the best that I can do is to continually correct the model with new data. However this does come with a price in that the only God I have any hope with is one with the capacity to forgive my shortfall, because there is no way that I could fool myself into thinking that I measure up.
Iíve written all this and realize Iíve covered only the Christian aspects of this story and not said a word about the plot, the science or any other aspect of the story, although the science did get me watching a few Roger Penrose lectures from you-tube. Mainly thatís because the theology is the part that meant the most to me. Maybe someday youíll get someone else to write something about the other aspects of this book.
I know some day I will need to read the Second Expedition because that seems to make up the center of the Kassidor universe, although it seems like a pretty daunting task. Or maybe I'm afraid that it will answer too many questions. Kassidor is very big compared with the normal scifi planet, to me it seems very open ended and I like it that way.
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**** Sex = 1, Action = 6, Prose = 7
This is a large and ambitious project, and one that is pulled off fairly well. This seems to be intended as another Dune, Book of the New Sun or Hyperion. The canvas is broad and deep, there are many threads of action, a large cast of important characters, an alien and a plot against the throne of the Empire. There is a petty local tyrant (Cheney?) ruling a land significantly called Newusa, and a revolutionary movement to oppose him. The main character is an archeohistory professor and swordsman that remined me a bit of Severian in 'Book of the New Sun' though he is not as deep, as dark or as introspective. Like Severian he is cast into action way over his head, but in this it takes much less time for him to get into it.
The setting is the Galactic Empire when it is 1.6 million years old and unites over two million planets. Most of the action takes place on Mars after it has been terraformed, and Earth has been rendered uninhabitable. It has the feel of about 2800ad and not over a million years in the future. The only way I could make this fit in my mind is if the Empire has already existed for a long time and we havn't discovered it yet. How the other two million planets got inhabited by today's humans (not Homo Erectus) is a mystery still. All in all the story has the feel of 2800ad. or so and not an age so far in the future that we would not be able to understand the characters or the action. To be fair, Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe was also set in the very distant future, but had the feel of being in about the same time frame as Dune. If any descendants of humans are alive in one point six million years they will be more like the Pronna in The Secret of Mount Traygol and be almost impossible to translate into something we can understand.
The main character, Professor Benjamin Hillar is the only one developed in any depth, but this story is more driven by plot and action than character development or setting. You do not have the lavish development of setting and culture that you do in Dune, Hyperion or Book of the New Sun or even The Second Expedition. That is not to say the setting and culture is lacking, it is at least as well done as the other four star novels I've reviewed, and nearly as well done as In Her Name - Empire.
The story is written as Sci-fi, not fantasy, but the science is not front and center. There is standard Empire-era weaponry, compatible with action in the 2800's to maybe the time of The Aldeb Wars. The technology in use is noticeably earlier than that in Dune, maybe even prior to interstellar travel.
The prose and proofreading are a shade below professional. There's missing quotes and things of that nature, but spell check has been run and the errors are rare enough that I did not find them a distraction to the reading. The prose itself is light and folksy, not as challenging as Frank Herbert's or Gene Wolfe's, but not juvenile either.
This is a long book, nearly the size of The Aluminum Quest so you have to spend some time with it. It is also the first of a trilogy, and the other two are $2.99 each. The other two are not quite as long. I will not review the others because they aren't free, but I'm going to assume they are worth the price. I've paid good money for a lot less than this.
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*** Sex = 5, Action = 4, Prose = 9
The link that leads to this actually leads to 'The Terran Empire Series' of which this seems to be near the middle. The plot starts as a battle between a human empire and a group of terrorists. It soon morphs into a classic struggle between good and evil with Satan, Jesus, the final coming and a few scenes from 'Revelation'. A heavily mutated form of catholicism is very important in the story. I saw some similarities to 'Endymion' by Dan Simmons in this, but this was released four years before Endymion.
In this series there is one big empire, the 'Terran Empire' and other smaller ones such as the one where the story takes place. The main empire has some non humans in it. They meet a ship from the main empire during this story and the main empire turns out to be quite enlightened at the time, more like that of Star Trek than Star Wars. Others have likened this story to both those series, or to Babylon 5, mainly for the technology I think. I put it closer to 'Endymion' and 'Shadow of the Torturer' than either of them because of the very strong religious themes.
This also has a lot of the sexuality of Kassidor, but only for the military. The military is granted a dispensation to ignore the usual rules of sexuality (monogamy) because many of them are sterile and they are in so much danger that they need the relief. Just about any consensual sex is permitted but the story is not porn. You are rarely in the room when it happens and body parts are not described in any detail. Whether these reasons for changing human sexuality are any more valid than changing it because of eternal youth is not for me to decide. The real reason for the sexality of Kassidor is to match the 'free love' tenet of the hippie lifestyle, a piece that did not last, as I knew it wouldn't, thus the invention of the Species Immunity Complex.
Early in the story the main character becomes a torturer as in 'Shadow of the Torturer' by Gene Wolfe. As in 'Shadow,' we aren't present at many gory and sadistic scenes, but we are told that they happened. Since that was published twelve years before this, it COULD have been taken from there, but I haven't found just when this series was actually written. It was put on line in 1992, and some updates to her web site were made as recently as 2003 and nothing since. Since she was already pretty old in 1995, I'm not surprised, she's got to be over 90 by now. Some comments about the series in other forums have hinted that this may have been written earlier and placed on line long after they were complete, as was The Second Expedition which was written in the 1970's but not placed on line until 2009 when self publishing on the internet became affordable.
The next book in the series is called 'Resurrection' and that does not seem to be available in any of the places I've seen that host her books (Manybooks and The Gutenburg Project). Others were not able to find it either. All the books I could find are free. I don't know if she had a run with a traditional publisher. This story was worth the time and it was close to getting a four star rating. It seems like it wasn't quite finished when it was put up because there are some 'outtakes' from the main narrative that are tacked onto the end.
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*** Sex = 1, Action = 4, Prose = 8
This has a novel in it, but is primarily a future history of the 'singularity,' of human simulation and the exploration of space by simulated humans. There is enough of a story in with it to illustrate the points but not much more. The story is actually a little hard to follow, at least for me, but maybe that is because I was pretty caught up in the future history aspect of the book and not paying enough attention to the action.
The similarities with the stories of Gordon's Lamp are striking but thay had to be arrived at separately because nothing of the Gordon's Lamp series was available to the general public until 2009. He has the 'digitization' of the human mind occur a century earlier than I do, but it is accomplished by the exact same technology. As of now we (humans) have no other other theory on how that could be accomplished. He thought we would have to wait an additional century for the requisite compute power, I think that will be available before the atom slicer. All in all it is close enough that writing my version of what took place on Earth and in the Solar System while Gordon's Lamp was away would not be a very unique story.
This story is also very similar to Accelerando by Charles Stross. This has more background and is not quite so confusing. The characters are a bit less developed but I didn't find them quite as off-putting as in Accelerando. In this the 'singularity' is not quite as pronounced as in Accelerando, but it is my opinion that it will be slower still, slow to the point where it won't really happen. I feel that people writing about the sigularity are missing a couple important points. 1. We are already beyond society's limit at acccepting change. Our legal, social and economic systems have not and cannot keep up with the current pace of technological progress, much less anything faster. 2. The technology is already beyond the power of the human mind to 'hold it all' and that will make it more and more difficult for humans to direct that progress, so it is likely to drop back to something more akin to natural selection. It will still move faster than evolution in mammals but not as fast as when it could be logically directed.
A large part of the book is devoted to overcoming issue #1. There are lots of details about the government actions that were taken. The plans are very logical, and the laws of physics might allow them to work, but I feel they are overly optomistic. Maybe in Italy the legislatures might be able to understand enough science to actually take them up. In this country we are fighting to allow the continued teaching of evolution in school and allow modern contraceptives to be purchased by the people who really need them. I also don't think entrenched interests worth billions and their multi-billionaire masters are going to simply step out of the way.
The other issue brought up in this book is the prospect of replacing ourselves with computers. For those who believe we are nothing more than a running program, this may be acceptible. For those of us with religious beliefs or even some scientific beliefs, the running program in the computer may have no soul, or it may be a new soul, but that soul who lay down in the atom-slicer to have his or her mind read out, that soul experiences death and is gone for good (unless re-incarnation is true). Add to these religious doubts that fact that biological life is amazingly stubborn and I think we will see plenty of human beings who balk at being read out of their bodies and becoming machines. At the end of life, yes, but not during life.
I think the only fault with the prose is due to the fact that Marco is probably not a native speaker. If that is the case, he's done very, very well to make this book as literate as it is.
The book contains an extensive bibliograhy of references on this topic.
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*** Sex = 4, Action = 5, Prose = 8
Another good story in the 'Earthbound' universe where a group of terrorists from the planet Altia attempt to release as deadly plague on the planet Lexal. In this the male lead's ex-wife redeems herself by working on the team to develop a vaccine. Some of the proofreading and some of the dialog isn't quite up to the others in the series, it is still better than average. Add to that the fact that, like the others in the series, it is low on body count makes me say that this also is well worth the time.
See reviews of others in this series, Earthbound, The Lexal Affair, Planetbound and The Lost Colony for more on this interesting universe.
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*** Sex = 1, Action = 5, Prose = 6
This is a story about a vast worldwide conspiracy of the super rich trying to bring back nazism in the early 21st century. One problem with near future fiction is that it doesn't take long to prove itself false. In this case the fictitous terrorist attack and the fictitious names of a few corporations are probably to make this look enough like fiction to keep the plain sedans and trenchcoated men with silenced pistols out of the author's driveway. We do not need the fiction. After the 2001 attacks the USA Patriot act was ready in less time than it would have taken a fast printer to print it out, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that the bill was drafted and ready for action BEFORE the 9/11 attacks were carried out. This is shown in the story 'Dominion' reviewed above. All that remains to be done is find the means the Cheney/Bush administration used to get Al-Qaida to pull off the attacks. The book shows many ways he could have been manipulated into doing so with no direct contact with anyone in the administration or Haliburton. It has already come to light that the inability to thwart the attacks goes beyond pure negligence and incompetence to being down right deliberate. An offical in one of the intelligence agencies testified before congress that they knew about it but couldn't say anything because the law didn't allow his agency to operate within the country. That man should be convicted of 3000 counts of first degree murder (Wish my memory was good enough to name names). The point is we already have an example of one of our so-called public servants willing to sacrifice thousands of American lives just to get a law passed giving him more power over your life.
Almost all the future history in the story is today's facts. Our food is contaminated and often downright poisonous in the name of profits for the few. News is spun every which way, business cycles and markets are manipulated to destroy the nest-eggs of millions of working people. Privacy has been eliminated. Unlike Dominion, this story does not go into fantastic hyperbole, and that makes it all the more frightening. Most of the story takes place only a few years from now and most of it seems almost inevitable, with good reason.
What I think is unrealistic is the idea that there is a great and designed nazi conspiracy. There is absolutely no need for one. Neither is it necessary to assume all the super-rich are intrinsicly evil. But there are plenty (I know one) who are so sure they are a superior species that the rest of us are no more than beasts of burden to be used up and thrown away. They also know each other, and may make some of these plans, but a high-tech nest buried under a field in Paraguay makes a better story than random market manipulation schemes hatched on a golf course in Bermuda or a club in Moscow. No doubt many of today's multinationals maintain cyber warfare rooms where the scenes in the story could have been played out. The story clearly points toward one of them, but you will never get to read this if I mention a name.
The pure fantasy in the story is that there is an organization of little people who are going to fight back. We little people do not have the organization, the unity of purpose and especially the courage to fight back. History tells us that the common man will not rise against oppression until their babies are dying. Instead of rising up we believe the rhetoric, just as Ethan points out in the story.
The story is full of typos, grammatical errors, etc. There is an ePub error that caused a whole chapter of the story to disappear. That is of little consequence, the story is nothing, it is the catalog of government and corporate sins that this book is about. If the book were about the story, I probably would not have finished or reviewed it. If you are looking for pure entertainment, skip ahead.
Freedom and democracy is work, you must devote hours per week to it, both being informed and participating. There are thousands of people with billions of dollars each who devote every second of their lives and every thought in their minds to the acquisition of power and wealth. They are energetic, intelligent and determined and they want to take away yours and your children's freedom and prosperity more than they want life itself.
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*** Sex = 1, action = 6, prose = 9
An entertaining and light hearted tale of a young man sent out to make his fortune among the outer worlds of the Empire. In this case by 'outer' she means barely habitable and nearly uninhabited. They are lawless, every one has been genetically modified to handle the less-than-ideal environment. The story begins with a scene reminiscent of the first Harry Potter in that he is treated so badly by his father that I almost couldn't read on. But do read on, his lot gets a little better and somewhat more interesting.
The story is rather short, and the file contains previews from the other two books in the series. The three of them together will probably equal one long book, so in one sense I could say this this is not a complete book, although the first third does come to a kind of conclusion.
There is a little violence but nothing gory. There is mention of love and affection, but no actual sex. The book is suitable for younger readers. The prose is good, clear, and well proofread, a professional job all the way. The story appears to be pure entertainment with no message to deliver, although the other two books in the series might contain it. It is all set up to make a point about stealing your children's lives and then tossing them to the street.
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**** Sex = 4, action = 7, prose = 9
The second in the Earthbound Series is every bit as good as the first. This starts with some detective work in the first part of the story, but builds to quite a bit of action in the later part, even more than Antidote. Once again the settings and characters are excellent. This author understands how large planets are. You may not see every square mile of them, but he knows a planet is large enough to contain uncontacted tribes, insurgents hiding out of sight and different climates and life forms in different regions.
The plot is about a faction trying to take over one of Floran's colony planets, Lexal, using arms from Earth and backing from neighboring planets, a lot like we will face if Trump loses the next election. This was written well before the current disaster so it is not a comment on the Russian troops we could see on our streets three and a half years from now. In fact these stories don't seem to be promoting any particular message.
There are parts of the story where the characters seem a little too naive and trusting to be normal humans, more like the people of Kassidor. I still wonder how they got to be that way without modifications to human nature. The main character faces the guilt of taking a life and is at least as scarred by it as Kessil in Abomination.
Once again the prose is excellent, typos are very few, a couple 'is' that should have been 'his'. There is a little less sex than Earthbound, but some is a bit more explicit. The language is based on Esperanto and has some of the same word order as Kassidorian. That word order is chosen for being logical and precise, if not as colorful as English. Some of it is starting to get a little familiar by now. There is in this, as in the first, the culture clash of a romance between people of Floran, where sexual attitudes are more like eternals using sex as conjugation and ephemerals of Earth using sex for reproduction.
Once again, this book is highly recommended.
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**** Sex = 4, action = 5, prose = 9
The fifth and last book of the 'Earthbound' series is probably the best of all these fine works, needing only a bit better dialog to be a five star, Hugo-worthy classic. This is as well written as all of them, but beyond the story itself this one has something to say about racism, slavery and how we lie to ourselves about it. The premise is a colony planet that has been out of touch with the Florian Hedgemony for thousands of years. They would have been reinstated a thousand years ago but were blocked because they kept slaves. Now they are petitioning to set up relations and trade again and claim they have solved the slavery issue.
Their solution was to create a race of artificial beings that are supposed to be without feelings, intelligence or emotions, bred for work alone. Too bad their genetic science was not advanced enough to pull that off and they had to resort to more brutal methods to create the appearance of sub-human automatons. In this every excuse we have used in our history to justify enslavement and abuse of any other people we've encountered is trotted out and shown for what it is, self-delusion laced with willful cruelty.
It is true that other races have employed slaves, but I don't know what excuses they have used to justify what they did. It was probably just as bad, but doesn't live in our heritage where we can examine it. Slavery, here in America anyway, was always more than just unpaid labor. Unpaid, forced labor is bad enough, but to convince ourselves that the slaves are sub-human, unthinking, unfeeling beasts is far worse then that. Any of us who have ever had a pet know full well that even beasts have thoughts and feelings, to even pretend that other races of humans do not is willful cruelty.
This is such an important topic that I am surprised that I can't think of another sci-fi story that has handled it as well. There are plenty of others where slavery has been involved, but none where the dehumanization was exposed as well. In The Sex Slaves of Borlunth the actual slavery was four thousand years in the past and the 'slaves' in the story are those who are self-enslaved to outmoded notions of sexuality, those common on Earth today. There are many mainstream novels on the topic, but I'm not familiar with them. My own reading on the subject has been mainly non-fiction, either in American history or in the analysis of slavery that is still going on today in America, India, Pakistan, Africa and many other places. It has been said that there are more slaves in the United States today than there were in 1865. I've heard with my own ears that there are many in America today who still believe that other races and ethnicities are sub-human, unthinking, unfeeling monsters. That attitude is still common in some parts of the country, but espoused by a few even here in New England.
I would say, 'Read this book,' but those who will read it already agree with us and those who need to read it voted to destroy our civilization instead.
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** Sex = 0, action = 4, prose = 7
This is a very short and surface version of 'The Silmarillion' in that it lays out the legends of a fantasy world. The fantasy tale is not in here. This seems to have no relation to his 'Arcworlds' series.
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** Sex = 4, action = 2, prose = 8
This is a short story in which a guy gets a robot girlfriend and has a little trouble with it. It is very similar to and is completely overshadowed by 'His Robot Girlfriend' by Wesley Allison.
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**** Sex = 2, action = 5, prose = 9
This is primarily a detective story like The Tdeshi Quest or Antidote. Set in the Welsh borderlands of England in the present day (~2010) it features a cold case detective and a former hotshot, hard boiled detective inspector from the Met who's recently had a heart attack and been sent out for lighter duty. They are an 'Odd Couple' but come to appreciate each other. The plot begins when the local police start investigating a recent murder and come across a lot more human remains than they can handle at an old manor home and its grounds.
The Sci-fi/fantasy is similar to Narnia, a mural in that home is a portal to a magical realm of Old English history and legend. The long and troubled history of the house is a large part of the plot, and it is long and detailed enough that you might have to take notes (if your memory is as feeble as mine has become) to keep all the players straight. You also need to be pretty fluent in British (as opposed to American) English. The detectives make little sense of the case until they learn of the ancient evil attached to that house. Once they finally do, the ending is a twist that seems almost inevitable.
The story jumps back and forth in time between historical events and modern times. The setting in the past and the present is very well done and the characters are excellent. If there is any social commentary in here is it about superstition and fear of the unknown. The story is mainly entertainment, and if you like a good mystery as well as sci-fi/fantasy, it is great entertainment indeed.
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