Reviews of Free Sci-fi - T


Reviews of free sci-fi with titles beginning with T



Tails and Fixers – Charles Kaluza

*** 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 Many are too withdrawn to interact with the world.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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Tales From the Securemarket – Colin Sandel

**** Sex = 4, Action = 7, Prose = 8

A satire about a future USA in which the gun lobby has their way completely and everyone has a sidearm. Grocery shopping accounts for a large fraction of deaths at the time so the Securemarket was started to protect shoppers. All store employees are armed and have weapons training like the rabid right wants to do to our teachers.

The plot of the story is mainly a series of incidents happening to and by the employees of the Securemarket. There is a fair amount of boyfriend/girlfriend activity among them and that was very refreshing to me. So much of free sci-fi exists in a world of total neuters who have never and will never think about love or affection for another person. That is the reason I gave it a four on the sex meter, you never see anything more than a kiss. There are two 'main events' in the plot, when the store employees go for military training and when a corporation invades their district in New Washington with the intent to take it over. Both involve quite a bit of action and violence.

The characters are unique on the surface, but internally they are nothing new. This shows that people are still people no matter how they are dressed and made up or whatever technology they employ. This was written when smart phone were new and he wrote down what the pundits thought they would do to society. Unfortunately the pundits were wrong, the smart phone became society, to the point where that generation needs that screen in front of their face nearly every second they are awake. Such a situation is not sustainable of course. We will either come back to reality or we will become simulates like the Angels of Gordons Lamp.

What I didn't understand in the story is the use of magic. It seems quite incongruous to everything else in it. If it was all about the comedy, that's fine. In most humorous sci-fi the technology becomes so unscientific that it might as well be magic, and some of the technology in this is close. Perhaps it was because one scene near the end could not be resolved without magic, so he put it in the whole story. That's way better than bringing it in unannounced at the time it's needed as in 'Coranite Chronicles' and other trash novels of that type.

The world this is in is somewhat reminiscent of Brunner's 'Stand on Zanzibar' and 'The sheep Look Up' or 'Blade Runner' or 'Windup Girl'. It is not as serious as any of those, but not as comical as a Douglas Adams book. When this was written, it was probably a laugh but today with 30,000 Americans losing their lives to guns every year and more than one multiple homicide a day it doesn't seem very funny any more. That is unfortunate because at the time it was written it was an amusing story and because of that I've given it four stars. Were he to write it today, in the age of Trump, I would only give it two. I know this was written, to some extent, as a warning, and because of that I'll say this one more time. Nothing we write in Sci-fi as a warning is ever taken as a warning. Everything we write about the future is taken as a guide to the future. When you write a sci-fi story, you are CREATING the future, so for the love of God write about a future you want your children, grandchildren and other descendants to live in! All those stories mentioned above, plus many others like '1984', 'Brave New World' and more were written as warnings but guess what? Most of them have either come to pass or are well on their way. That is because we've told people what will happen in the future and they have followed along into that future.

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Tales of the Triad - Book I - The Event – R.J. Murray

*** 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 believe 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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Tangle in the Dark – Lee Willard

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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The Aeolian Master – John Northern

**** 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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The Alembic Plot – Ann Wilson

*** 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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The Alien Corps – PJ McDermott

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

An entertaining and not too violent space opera reminiscent of the Atevi Series by Cherryh in some ways. It takes place in a universe where many alien species are already known. The job of the Alien Corps seems to be vetting prophets on alien planets to see if they are really a Christ for that species. I confess that's part of the reason I liked the story, because I feel a messiah must come to every intelligent species as soon as they evolve to a point where they can benefit from Him. It taskes place in 2179, which I personaly feel is way too soon. We may have reached Alpha Centauri by then, but I doubt we'll find a civilization there. I have to call it space opera because science was modified to fit the story and not the other way around.

In the plot, a recently discovered planet at a medieval level of technology has a prophet who is a good candidate to be that planet's messiah. The planet's government has banned the importation of technology, but at the same time the planet is rich in a special element that is needed in the manufacture of faster-than-light space drives. (One of the science-bent-to-fit-the-story spots, there are no missing elements in the periodic table.) They get to the planet and become embroiled in a political conflict between those who would allow contact with other planets and those who wouldn't. In the process they find other aliens on the planet secretly backing the 'no contact' faction and with high tech weapons smuggled in. Most of it is moderately action packed with one or another of their party getting captured, escaping, getting captured again. There is a seige of a city very like the siege of Gondor in LTR. The Christ figure has quite a large part in the story.

You aren't present at any sexual acts but they do occur. Some of the violence and torture is pretty gruesome but there isn't an excessive amount of it. The aliens are far too humanoid to have evolved separately, even to the point of people believing a rumor that an Earthman made a native girl pregnant! The prose is well-done but normal. It gets its rating for its entertainment value and not from any special meaning.

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The Alpha Centauri Project – Marco Santini

*** 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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The Altian Plague – DM Arnold

*** 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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The Ascension Collection – Ewan Sinclair

** Sex = 4, Action = 3, Prose = 7

This is a collection of four related short stories. The first is about a research team trying to get energy from the 'Prometian Plane' and how they have to sacrifice the souls of research volunteers to do it, giving one of the team leaders a lot of guilt. The second is about love at first sight on a passenger starship bound for Earth when Earth is destroyed. This is the only thing at all sexual in this book. The third is in the same location as the first. My take on what happens is that the main character was forced into a virtual world without her knowledge. The fourth story is a random collection of words that would have got no stars if by itself. It was thankfully very short.

All the stories are too short to really develop characters or even a plot. All together they are shorter than A Dry Seed which is the prolog to the Second Expedition. The second would be three stars (in my personal opinion) if it was by itself. You don't have to invest much time in this so it's no great loss if it does nothing for you.

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The Aurora City – E.R. Mason

*** Sex = 3, Action = 6, Prose = 8

This fourth story in the Cassiopia and Scott Markman series is all about the Men In Black. It is almost the same premise as the movie but much more serious, quite a bit better written with one consistant plot, a strong love interest and organized opposition. Unlike MIB the movie, there are strong religious overtones. The Men in Black are lead by beings who consider themselves Angels, the heavenly Angels and not simulates as in the Gordon's Lamp series. The arch villains are fallen angels. As well as all that, there is a simulated environment in a computer game, inter-dimensional portals, aliens that are actually alien, as well as aliens that are simply humans in costume. The story is positive, the universe it is in is actually in better shape than the real world. This universe is Earth as it was at the dawn of the smart phone era, before the collapse (Great Recession), before ISIS and before most of the school shootings. DEFINITELY before Trump.

There is a love story in it and sex happens but you are never present. The affair is light hearted and fun and ends well. There is violence, but it is a reasonable amount. Important characters die and there is feeling for them. For the most part the prose is very good. There are a few passages that are a little juvenile but the proofreading is excellent. It is a full-length novel with pretty good pace. The science is hard to evaluate because some of the players are claimed to be what we think of as divinities, though it is not clear if they are supposed to be actual divine spirits or very advanced aliens. There is a time paradox and hints of the multiverse. Some parts are pure paranormal fantasy. Some of the aspects of math and computer programming in the story are a bit of a stretch. Some of the gadgetry is a little corny.

I am not a fan of the multiverse. I feel it is a desperate ploy to deny the existance of God, done because the laws of physics are too exactly 'designed' to allow our universe to exist by pure chance. One must either remove the quotes from the word designed, or plausit an infinte number of universes, each with different natural laws, to arrive at one with the laws of physics that we see. The far simpler explanation is that some thinking being adjusted the laws of physics to allow a universe in which life could develop and become complex enough to contemplate the existance of the creator.

This is on the border between three and four stars. It was entertaining, well written and well plotted. There doesn't seem to be a message, that would have made it four stars, or if the science was a little better, or if there weren't the places with slightly juvenile dialog and narration. These quibbles are minor, it's a good book and I recommend it. It was actually the first one of the series that I read, I wish it was noted in some way so I could have read them in order.

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The Autumn Engagement – Stephen W. Cote

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

A novelette about a future when baseball is used to settle international disputes instead of war. The main character is a pitcher who threw a bad pitch and lost an important game. The plot is about him trying to clear his name. The bulk of the action takes place at a formal ball where everyone has to bring a robot date. All kinds of things are revealed there, shades of 'His Robot Girlfriend' again. They do find it wasn't his pitching that was off, but I won't spoil it any more than that.

It was an entertaining story in a universe that will really never exist, but it does have something to say about robots and consciousness. It doesn't take much time to read it and it is fun.

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The Awakening - Ordo Tribus XI – Ethan Santiago

*** 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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The Backworlds – M. Pax

*** 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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The Book of Adam – Robert M. Hopper

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

This is an autobiography of the first clone. With such a structure it doesn't need to have a standard plot line with a conflict, a climax and a resolution. In spite of that, it does. The conflict is between two clone-lines in the family and their fight for the future of immortality. There is also a lot about the remainder of society, the conflict cloning causes and how cloning is just the first step in a process to give us greatly increased life spans. The villain(s) in this (for he is also cloned) is one of the scariest I've ever encountered in fiction. That is not because he is an over-the-top mainiac, but because he's a realistic power-mad autocrat a-la Trump, but created before 2010. He kills, he cheats, he abuses children. He rapes his daughter, his employee's wife and uses his economic and political power to blatantly get away with it. His clone is just as bad if not worse. He gets worse as the story goes on. What gets better and better as the story goes on is the book itself. It's fairly long and many will get bored along the way. I'm glad I stayed with it.

The world this is in spans from 2032 to 2077. The story is not a good predictor of future history and shows the perils of near future sci-fi. There is hardly any space given to the smart phone, but it really wasn't clear at that time that there would be a schism in history so profound that future generations may change year 0 to the release of the first i-phone. He though a little girl's plea for peace in the middle east would have an effect. When a significant part of the population believes that the only route to salvation is to die in battle fighting for your God, peace can NEVER be acheived. In the story the USA is ahead of Europe in medicine in 2040, I got a real good laugh out of that.

There is a lot in here. He shows how child abuse damages generation after generation as it is passed on. It was the main reason the villain was the way he was. It shows the great damage cowardice can do, allowing the villain to go on unchecked for four generations. It does say something about our republican senators, they are not afraid of Trump, they WANT democracy to fail. What they are afraid of a democracy where whites are a minority. The main character's cowardice is the main reason for most of the agony in the story, and there is quite a bit. There is a part in here for string theory and the multiverse, cryofreeze and a cameo by Jesus, but that was probably a dream. There are places where you repeat part of the same time line from a different point of view, but not as extensively as in The Aluminum Quest or Tangle in the Dark. There is a lot about the desperate struggle for increased life span and a little speculation about how it would effect our society. Not as much of that as the stories of Kassidor, where it is my contention that almost nothing of our current way of life could survive. After all, educating the young and caring for the old are really the major part of government that the people care about. The whole culture of monogamy is all about raising children, as seen in Love in Exile and we will soon outlive our memories as in Pieces of Me.

The proofreading and prose is actually very good but there is a problem in the epub that converts every chapter name to 'Table of Contents'. Since the main purpose to chapter names is to give someone an idea of the story by looking at the table of contents, that does not really cause a problem. There is a normal amount of sex in the story, normal as in as much as there is in real life, not like most free sci-fi where there is less than in a Baptist hymnal. You are not present at it. There is some violence, the villain murders several people, rapes and abuses others and murders them slowly thru artificial diseases. The climax has a fairly violent scene, not as violent as the average crime drama, but significant. While I disagree with some of the postulates, I think the book was well written and thoughtful and I recommend it if you have the time.

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The Bright Black Sea – C. Litka

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

A gigantic novel, close to the size of The Aluminum Quest and The Aldeb Wars combined. Also in common with the Kassidor stories, the setting is very detailed, very complex and well thought out, although not very realistic in places. The story is also very vast, well thought out and complex. It constantly builds in complexity and wonder thruout, starting with a very lived-in look at a merchant space ship in a society not very far removed from our own, but in a very different environment, and progressing thru terraformed moons with novel societies, thick asteroid swarms full of pirates and other villains and to the most unique environment yet in sci-fi. The author is also strong on character development with the ship's captain, owner and pilot/first mate being especially well drawn, though none of them are terribly unique.

The plot is multi-parted, as it must be in a novel this size. In each part you think you have reached the 'real' plot of the story, the trials of running a cargo ship in an economic downturn, or avoiding assassins sent because of what the former captain and owner of the ship did, or avoiding criminals in the thick asteroid swarms and so on thru one iteration after another. In many transitions to the next level (sort of like a video game) the captain and narrator is rendered unconscious and taken to an unknown location. The scene that usually occurs at the end of an adventure where the villain tells all before killing the protagonist happens several times in this story, and in none of those cases does the villain actually tell all.

However, it is not the length and complexity of this story that has kept it from that very difficult to obtain fifth star, but the setting itself. The setting is absolutely wonderful for the story. There is a nebula with eight healthy stars, one black hole, 121 inhabited planets, many hundreds of moons, many more moons and planets among the asteroids plus the most unique and vast environment of all. All of it is reachable by fairly conventional spaceships in convenient amounts of time. It has been inhabited by humans for 40,000 years at the time of the story, hundreds of billions of them. Many thousands of years ago the humans and intelligent machines they built went their separate ways but both are still present and the intelligent machines have several roles in the story.

But what's the problem? It just isn't possible according to the laws of gravity, and that nagging impossibility eats at the whole thing. It's realism and lived-in aspects make it impossible to treat this as fantasy, but in real life a K or G type star just does not have room for a dozen or two habitable planets unless some heavy duty cosmic engineering is going on. I don't think it is possible for more than three concentric, stable orbits to contain naturally habitable planets and I know it is not possible for more than six planets to reside in the same orbit and that cannot occur naturally. In the asteroid belts it is not possible for them to remain in more-or-less fixed positions for thousands of years. They will all be in an orbit around some star or planet and all in more-or-less the same plane. If they are as closely packed as described their mutual gravity will draw them together. In our asteroid belt, if you are standing on one, you will never see another with the naked eye.

But all that pales to insignificance compared to the most unique environment and its impossibility. Many have tried to create a zero-gravity environment with a breathable atmosphere. There was Larry Niven's Smoke Ring as one example of a possible naturally occuring zero gravity atmosphere. Now Niven is a respected scientist as well as author and surely has some math to back him up, but I still don't think the smoke ring could natually occur. The environments in the Pronna worlds of The Secret of Mount Traygol and Vermin Rising are not naturally occurring but the product of massive engineering projects. Freeman Dyson first envisioned the possibility of a sphere completely surrounding a star and capturing all its energy, but had no specific plans on how to construct one. It may be that in the sequel (which is even longer) we will discover what engineering was required to construct the 'Pela' as he calls this environment, but as of the end of this story, the environment was treated as natural. Even were such a sphere constructed, the star at its core is still producing gravity and the sphere around it must resist that gravity somehow so the sphere's interior would not be a zero g environment. In my afor-mentioned stories there are references to the Rikavik Dyson sphere, but that is completly artificial, produced by a civilization millions of years in advance of our own. It is made up of individually orbiting planets that are steered using immense forces to keep their orbits stable and they pass no closer to each other than the Earth and the moon.

In addition, the proofreading is not up to professional level. There are quite a few missing words, words with the wrong tense and errors of that nature. None of it makes it difficult to read, but it is noticable. There is one sexual episode in the story, and a normal amount of talk about it, it's not totally neutered like most free sci-fi. There is some violence but no gore. There are space battles that are more realistic than average. In spite of the fact that I couldn't quite call it perfect, it is one of the best free sci-fi stories I've ever read and quite a bit better than most of the pros turn out.

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The Cyber Chronicles - Book I - Queen of Arlin – T.C. Southwell

*** Sex = 1, action = 8, prose = 8

This is the start of a series and the remainder of the series is not free. This book is not a standalone story. The whole series is about a Cyber, which is a warrior cloned from a former great warrior, augmented both biologically and surgically and controlled by a supercomputer welded to his forehead. The original personality (soul) of the clone is still resident but has no control of the body. It can still see what's happening, feel all the pain, but of course the computer can't. In the story the supercomputer is damaged and the human soul regains control of the body.

The plot is about a young (17 Earth years) queen of a medieval country who's father dies before she is married off. In their society women have no rights and whoever can get to her first can claim her and therefore the nation she is the queen of. All the local kings are unacceptable to her so she sacrifices her entire military trying to drive them off and when that fails, tries to escape. To help her escape she is assigned the cyber as her protector, and they go off on a series of violent adventures trying to keep away from the most brutal of the kings vying for her kingdom.

The queen, though beautiful (of course) is an absolute monster, arrogant, stubborn, unable to listen to advice. She does not have any idea what the cyber is, what he is capable of and what torture she puts him thru to carry out her orders. She seems to think he is some kind of machine, but we see that she treats all commoners as if they have no feelings or humanity, a lot like many of our billionaires treat the common people today. When the human soul finally gains control of the body, he tries to explain his reality to her, and the reality beyond this backward planet but she doesn't even know the words and thinks he's speaking a foreign language, sort of like Nulf and Rianten in Vermin Rising only the queen doesn't seem to make any effort to understand. The soul in the cyber does not have total control of his body back and the computer will not let him just leave the queen, and she will never listen to reason, thus earning them continued action.

There are a few places when one or the other of them notice the physical attractiveness of each other but nothing ever comes of it. It probably does, in a later volume, but not in this one. As mentioned earlier, this ends in the middle of the story, at a sort of cliff hanger, very much designed to get you to buy later installments. If you want this kind of action, this seems to be the series for you. I haven't read any later installments, but the blubs say it continues pretty seamlessly, one adventure after another thruout the series and the queen stays with him the whole time and of course they fall in love. It's well written and proofread and probably fun if you don't mind the violence.

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The Devil's Concubine – Jill Braden

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

Not sure whether to call this sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal or what. It's an interesting world where there are many races of humans, all derived from a common ancestor it seems, but many of the races can transform into other creatures like wereworlves and sea dragons. Some have venomous fangs but otherwise look normal. They appear to be able to interbreed, or at least they can mate with each other because the 'Devil' is a werewolf and his concubine is one with venomous fangs. The setting is lavishly well done with thick and consistant atmosphere. It's an impoverished pastoral island reminiscent of the far east in the early 20th century. The highest technology is a teletype, firearms and engines are barely known. There is both Earth native and alien life. If it was truely sci-fi, this would be a planet long after the collapse of the empire that had recovered from a long dark age, but it really doesn't seem to have the history for that.

The devil is a drug lord holding the island's underclass in an iron grip. The island is ruled by a colonial power, and another race is trying to infiltrate. The plot is the devil's concubine trying to figure out what the infiltrators are up to while trying to prevent the colonial power and the drug lord from doing more damage to her people. It's relatively convoluted and moves fast enough to keep the average person's interest. There are quite a few murders and a battle scene near the end so the violence level is moderate and some of it is gruesome but if this was a movie it would not be violent enough to be shown in multiplex theaters. There is also too much feeling for the victims for Hollywood. There was an incident in the concubine's past where she killed many werewolves that were massacring her people and she finds out later that she may not have killed the right ones but may have been manipulated by the drug lord to kill his enemies which causes her great regret.

The proofreading is excellent, I was on pg 119 before I noticed a missing word. I wasn't conscious of any other errors. That's better than most professionally published works today. There is some sex in the story but it's not explicit enough to make it unsuitable for young people. The book could have been a four star except that at one point she used a plot device that I consider cheating. With no prior notice, one of the people turns to a sea dragon to save the day. If we knew in advance he could do that it wouldn't look like she just made it up on the spot to get out of a jam. There are two others in the series (so far) and a preview of the second which seems like a continuation of the first. Since they are not free, I won't review them, but if you like this one they will probably be worth it.

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The Dung Ball Chronicles – Wayne V. Miller

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

Don't let the name put you off, this is not about a planet made of dung or anything like that. It's not even science fiction, because it is mainly about an aspiring science fiction writer in the here and now. A mainsteam story about a sci-fi writer is not sci-fi, even if the writer comes to believe it, as he does. Like The Second Expedition and others of the Gordon's Lamp series, it is mainly about how one tells what is real and what isn't. In this case none of the characters are virtual or enter any kind of virtual reality. In this the cause seems to be insanity brought on by the pace of change in the modern world. This was written early in the smart phone era, but it is not the pace of technological change that brings on insanity, it's the pace of social change.

The sci-fi story or stories within this novel concern a person who was abducted from Earth and brought to a world inhabited by large insect-like creatures. It is a world with higher gravity than Earth so that the abductee cannot walk without mechanical aids. It is big, ancient, uninhabitable on the surface and ruled by a clique that has been in power for 25,000 Earth years. There are no other humans there and by the time he gets there they have regressed to the point where they can't return him to Earth. His 'jailer' is a bug female who is attempting to bring religion back into their society.

In a story that starts out separate, there is a being (claiming to be human), a billion years old who discovered an infinite free energy source and can now project his thoughts to any place and time in the universe. There is a secret society on Earth in the here and now working to invent that energy source, and another secret society trying to fight it. Nothing about those conspiracies make them sci-fi. A story about people who believe in UFO's etc. is not sci-fi unless an actual UFO apears in the story. He also runs into a reporter trying to prove the existence of Sasquatch. That does not make it sci-fi either unless Sasquatch actually appears. He does not.

The story starts with the main character trying to help his son with a school science project about large preditors in the Chapel Hill N.C. area. What they find leads to the possibility of what he called 'The Bog Monster' when playing with his son years ago. That took off, causing a lot more harm than it should have, attracting media attention (that reporter among others), a spritual medium and causing a lot of grief with his wife. Thru the first section of the book he remains sure he is writing the story of the abductee, and it remains separate from the bog monster.

In the second half of the book we discover more of his real problem, and it's his wife. She's having, or had, an affair, and she takes it out on him. She exhibits the classic behavior of a woman who wants the big powerful male for sex and adventure and a meek, selfless mouse to earn the pay, raise the kids, etc. These women exist, but they are more common in fiction than in real life. He does not have enough self esteem to stand up to her, and thus his mind collapses. I have seen this at close range in real life. A healthy guy would have said, 'Take a hike bitch,' and have done with it, but he retreated into his imagination and dreams. That made the situation worse because, of course, she couldn't stand the idea that he might have any imagination at all.

Because he had put some of the story on line, the conspiracy folks were able to find it and were able to trap him in their game. It might have been good fun for them, but for the main character it was more 'evidence' that his story was real. In the end the abductee in his story was give a drug in a form that looked like dung balls, that would return him to Earth mentally, letting him dream he was back home when he was really still on the bug world. And in the end, the main character seems to believe that he is that abductee, living in a drug dream for the remainder of his life.

I've given away the whole plot, but the plot is nothing in this, it is all a chronicle of mental decay brought on by an inability to deal with the world as it is, inability a make his own way in the world. The real purpose of the story is probably the long discussions of philosophy and religion that many of the characters get into. There is also a lot more that I've left out, his son's worry about technology taking over too much of our lives, probably brought on by watching his peers disappear into their phones. There's the way the rabid right has latched on to ridiculous conspiracy theories and how people can become caught up in a roll playing game to the point where they no longer know it's a game. It's a long story but I enjoyed it. It's low on violence though the alien planet is depressing, but worth reading as a chronicle of mental collapse in the modern age. But it is not sci-fi.

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The Emperor's Edge – Lindsay Buroker

*** Sex = 2, action = 7, prose = 9

This is the first in a series, the others of which aren't free but if they are as entertaining as this they are probably worth the price, though I won't review them because this site is about free sci-fi only. This is the second by this author I've come across and I'm convinced that she's as good as all but the very top of the paid sci-fi market, especially today. This is similar to the other I read, 'Balanced on the Blade's Edge' in that it takes place on a planet in the steam age where there is magic but in a society that does not use magic and where it is a capital offence to do so. This is not the same location as the other, but could very well be on the same planet, which could be Earth because it's all Earth based life, or could be one which was colonized and terraformed by Earth folk in the past. Also like the other, this story takes place in the cold and snow.

The plot is about a plan to subdue and/or assassinate the Emperor of the nation where this takes place and put a more compliant person on the throne, one who will not be trying to give the common people a fair deal and even bring about democracy. The plotters all know that democracy is impossible as long as there is greed, alpha males and testosterone in the world. Our own problems in 2020 may be proving them right, we'll see how it plays out but democracies are failing the world over at this time. The main characters are a policewoman who uncovers the plot, a deadly assassin who has worked for one of the conspirators and the young and idealistic emperor himself. There are several others that she recruits to help her defeat the conspiracy that are also quite realistic. In this story, as in the other, the 'bad guys' are a little stereotypical and unremittingly evil, like the satan-spawn who is destroying America's democracy today.

The other characters in the story are often just cannon fodder. If there was less violence I would have given this four stars but there are hundreds dead both from interpersonal violence and attacks by a magical monster. Some of the scenes are pretty gory, not as bad as some others I've come across but more than I personally like to read. Also the story isn't violence for the sake of violence like in 'Chasing the Jewelled Throne' or 'The Psychian Chronicles' for instance. Unlike those, the violence here is used to heighten the tension in the suspence. There is one major twist in the story but unfortunately there were too many clues that it was coming so the reaction when it happens is more like 'finally!' instead of 'WHAT!?'

Unlike 'Balanced on the Blade's Edge,' there isn't much sex in this story. The main character notices some feelings and one of the guys she recruits thinks he's God's gift to women but nothing actually happens. The prose and proofreading are excellent, professional grade thruout. I noticed only one case of two words being repeated. This story had a couple passages that might be construed as a message, the line about democracy being impossible, and the observation that extreme wealth is never enough and in fact only seems to breed more greed. Neither of these is really developed and I'm recommending this only for its entertainment value.

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The Empty Door – E.R. Mason

*** Sex = 4, action = 5, prose = 8

This is the first in a series and introduces the Cassell's, professor, Cassiopia and the TEL 100D robot, along with Scott Markman, a detective working for the same university the Professor does. The plot of this first novel in the series concerns a door to 'Dreamland' that the professor has created. Scott is called in to investigate his disappearance, he has gone into Dreamland and never come out. The premise is that the universe on the far side of the door is created by the subconscious of the person going thru the door. Of course it turns out that the only way to get the professor back is to chase him into Dreamland and have a series of adventures therein.

There are some inconsitencies in the premise. Some worlds created require knowledge that the player doesn't have. People may enter each other's dreams. People who are in Dreamland may have doubles who come back out and get the real person into trouble. Electronic devices, even film cameras will not work there, but the robot does. At one point he attempts to equate Dreamland with heaven. Oh if only my dreams were heavenly. The dreams of these players are not very heavenly either.

These problems are minor, it is an entertaining story and quite well written. There are a few missing words, some missing or extra suffixes and a conversation where you are not told who's speaking. You can figure it out, but it is not stated. Cassiopia and Scott come to care for each other, though they follow the romance formula and try to deny it. They do get it on in Dreamland however but he doesn't think it is really her at the time. Their affair is realistic enough for Earth humans, but not for the modified humans of Kassidor. The characters are all pretty well done. The professor is a bit of a stereotype and some of the villains are also but the main characters are quite real and realistic.

In a way Dreamland is like the simulated worlds of the Angels in the Gordon's lamp series, shown most in Tangle in the Dark except in the Gordon's Lamp simulation it is the conscious mind that directs the universe and not the subconscious. It is similar in that each may have their own universe unless they are in physical contact when going thru the door.

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The First Human War – Frank Calgagno Jr.

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

This is the first in a series and the others are not free. It is a 'young adult' novel and presumably series and I think for that reason the relationships are platonic. All the action is in the first part of the book which includes some realistic space battles and some realistic time delays, not as realistic as in 'Revelation Space' by Allistair Reynolds, but better than most. All this ends when the real story begins.

The plot is about a group of teens who were touring a prototype advanced sentient warship when the enemy attacked. The only adult aboard is killed and the kids are whisked away to an unknown destination with no one aboard who knows how the ship works, the intelligence of the ship comatose with memories erased, the data banks, engines and weapons of the ship inaccessible and food running low. And that's the good news.

The bad news, and the main reason this is a two star not a three is that one of them is the most obnoxious, evil, slime-crawling, disgusting character I've ever seen in print. The notion that a group of adolescents could let such a piece of shit exist in their midst just boggles the mind. Where and when I was fourteen that piece of scum would have been beaten to a pulp the first day. Still, somehow, the only person I can think of who's as evil and repellant to the core (Donald Trump) somehow managed to survive to adulthood. (This was written prior to 2016.) Like America, the kids let him become captain and then their real troubles begin when he tries to murder the boy he perceives as his only rival for command. And only rival for the lone girl on the mission, but the readers aren't old enough for that yet. I know this character is there just to push these buttons and he does it well, pushing mine to the point where I don't think it is a good idea to expose young people to that kind of festering evil, even in a villain. I think it is a very bad idea to expose young people to characters who cannot see the evil in him and take no action to stop him. They are almost as bad enablers as Mitch McConnel. The A.H. acts a tiny bit better once they make him captain, but that is all a smoke screen, he does his worst while making them think he's improving. But you won't really know how that works out without paying $2.99.

The pretty good science in the beginning of the book does not hold thru the whole book. The FTL speeds that they have earlier are not matched as it gets later, their ship takes five hundred years to go six hundred and something light years while earlier in the story they are able to do better than twice the speed of light. Why even bother with FTL if all you're going to get is 1.3c?

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The First Indigan – Charles Kaluza

*** Sex = 4, action = 4, prose = 8

This is an 'Uplift' story, a-la Brin in some ways. After a nuclear war, aliens intervene and require a human crew to man a starship they build in Earth orbit and send on a mission to modify a nearby pre-sentient species into an intelligent species. The story never actually gets you to the planet they live on and you never actually meet the aliens in this story. The species that humans are asked to help along are too similar to humans to be believable. The whole story is actually the engineering and medical challenges of building the ship and journeying a little more than half way there.

The initial construction of the starship is rather propellor-head. Construction is ahead of schedule and under budget. Most of the eventual crew is introduced at this time. The characters and their interaction is the strong point of the book. They are believable, with personalities, though some are not very unique, like the project engineer. In one of Kaluza's books the main character was too superhero but this time all are within the realm of possibilty, though many are heroic when called upon.

There are a few lapses of science that are a bit hard to swallow. They swing around Jupiter to use a gravitiational slingshot, but the g-forces are up to 15. In real life a ship doing this experiences no force but what its engines supply because the gravity of the planet acts on every molecule in the ship almost identically, differing only by the minute fraction that the planet's gravity differs from the closet point of the ship to the farthest. The same amount that your head feels lighter than your feet. (You can't feel that can you?) He also believes that humans would be subject to bone loss at 90% Earth normal gravity. He's a doctor, but I think he's wrong on that. I also think he's wrong in thinking that a normal healthy person (Who's half Sherpa by the way) would have trouble adapting to an oxygen concentration equivilent to 15,000 feet altitude on Earth. She might tire more easily for a time, but I doubt there would be any serious health consequnces, even long term, because many Sherpa's and many Bolivians never descend to an altitude that low. The Kassikan does not count as habitable any area over the equivilent of 13,700 feet on Earth but that is because of the temperature swings brought on by the 84 hour 'day'. There is a glancing mention of entanglement and particle pair messaging that isn't as accurate as one can learn in Wikipwedia.

There is some affection and sex in the story, but you are not there on the scene and it is probably the least examined aspect of the social situation on the mission. Because he's a doctor, the medical aspects of having a half-alien baby are front and center. This baby was created genetically and NOT by mating with an alien. This hybrid is called an Indigan and thus the name of the story. The successful birth of this baby would have been the end of the story if they were not attacked by another group of aliens to provide some action. Fans of old-time space opera with a strong medical component will be entertained and maybe even enlightened by this book.

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The Frontier Archives – Dyego Alehandro

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

A collection of four short stories that take place on some frontier worlds outside the Empire's control. It is billed as a dystopian place, but it's not as bad as most. The first srtory is about a smuggler who falls in love with a cargo merchant who wasn't what she seemed. The second story is about a gambler trying to get revenge on another gambler who drove his father to suicide. The third is about a gang of pickpockets and con artists trying to bring down a provincial governor. This has a similar plot structure to the first. The fourth is about space EMT's. Not bad for a short story collection, good twists, good world building and character building in such a short space.

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The Game – Terry Schott

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

A story about children being educated by letting them live a series of whole life simulations. These simulations are called 'The Game'. They can interact with each other and in case there was any doubt, the simulated world they live in is called Earth and the 'real' world they come back to when they finish a 'play' (a life in other words) is called Tygon. Tygon seems to be exactly like Earth but so little of it is shown that it is hard to say. Many people make most of their income in The Game as they are being educated and have little purpose once they 'graduate' and no longer play. Most of the people of Tygon spend all their time watching the game and betting on the game. One gets points in the game mainly by attracting an audience. I think this is significant to the meaning of the story, it is like attracting eyeballs to ads.

The plot has three main characters, the guy in real life who invented the game and owns the company that runs it, and a couple of kids who are players in the game. The company owner is sponsoring one of them and hopes to make him complete this play (life) as the number one rated player and thus make them each a fortune. The girl of the couple is one who once played well and then had a disasterous play that made her unable to play again. Instead the 'mainframe' which is the computer the game runs on, lets her play anyway.

There is a fair amount of religion in the story. The people in the story have noticed some simulation artifacts and attributed them to 'God' and thus they have religion. The people of Tygon do not at the start, but later take it up because of the people in the game. The characters in the game start a religion based on life being nothing but a game. The top player, in a previous play (life) figured out that Earth is a simulation and wrote a book about it. That book becomes the basis of their new religion.

That's probably giving away too much of the plot, but it brings us to the real meaning of the story, at least in my mind. He makes some claim to saying we can no longer tell which is the real world and which is the virtual, as in Zhlindu, Tangle in the Dark and Vermin Rising but I think his main point has to do with the fact that the people of Tygon have given up their interest in the real world and spend all their time vircariously on Earth by watching The Game. I think that is an indictment of the amount of time we spend on-line, away from real interection with real people. It may be about all on-line time, or it may be about the amount of time many of us spend sucked into video games. I see this all the time among young people, some of whom have no use for their real world body other than as a device to carry their phone around.

The science is pretty shaky but not front and center so, for the most part, there is nothing to worry about. He's many many decimal places off in the number of bits processed by the human mind and by a computer. In 1991 the 68020 that I worked with at the time processed about a billion bits per second. To run this simulation, or those in the Gordon's Lamp series would take more than a dozen decimal places more processing power than that. Though it's not mentioned in the story, the classical method of generating a simulated environment with polygons, textures and shaders is woefully inadequate for a simulation of Earth or the universes in Gordon's Lamp. His figure for the processing power of the human conscious mind is more like the processing power of a single neuron. Another problem with the science is that the simulation moves thru time about 250 times faster than the real world. That's faster than the fast forward on an old VHS tape. I wonder how anyone is able to watch it?

Though much of the story is about the love between the two simulated characters you never see or hear about anything more sexual than an amazing kiss. There is an attempted murder and a murder in the story but very little violence or any other action. The prose and proofreading is fine, I noticed one repeated word. If the prose is good enough to just read without trying to puzzle out what it's trying to say and the proofreading is good enough that it doesn't stop you, a lot of small errors can flow thru without notice. The story sort-of ends in this book, but this book is more of a set-up for the remainder of the series which is not free. If it weren't for the message about the on-line world, this would be a 2 star because other than the meaning, it's not very entertaining. I'm not sure he has anything more meaningful to say in the rest of the series.

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The Ghosts of Earth – Paul Dore

** Sex = 1, action = 4, prose = 5

This was put up on smashwords in 2009 and is said to be the first of a six part series but I found no trace of any others, either free or pay. The book ends in a way that makes it seem like this is the end of everything, so you won't miss the other five. It gets started with a recap of the formation of the universe, some of it correct, some not. There are then a few short stories that don't seem to be related to the main story. The main plot is about a civilization living underground that is prey to an insatiable hunger. They are also in the midst of a prophecy coming true that they believe is going to transform them conpletely. The story itself is not bad, if a little tedious at times. I won't give away the plot in case someone wants to read it.

The book tries to be profound. Many of the characters have powerful dreams, especially later in the book. I believe the 'great hunger' is a symbol for the greed and wastefulness that is destroying our civilization today. This is supposed to take place long after our civilization has passed away and been forgotten. The civilization at the time is at about the technology level of the mid to late 1800's. It is only sketched and not drawn in much detail. That of the underground dwellers is not detailed much more either. They appear to be ghosts, they also appear to be reincarnations of former surface dwellers. They differ from humans about as much as the average sci-fi alien, in other words, something that could be acheived by a Hollywood makeup artist.

I found two major problems with the book. The first is, there are no paragraphs. All conversations are run on, it's often hard to tell who's speaking. There are blank lines at least, and he doesn't change point of view in the middle of a paragraph but he does change point of view without telling you who the new narrator is, which is sometimes pretty confusing. The other main problem, he goes to great lengths to sound both erudite and archaic, to the point where it gets down right annoying. You've seen people like this before, ones who use a big word when a small one would be closer to the meaning.

There is relatively little violence. The characters do come in male and female though there is only one significant female character. One of the males is attracted to her but does nothing about it and really doesn't even think about her all that much. I think the attraction was a plot device which you will understand if you actually read the story. There are some who will probably get a lot more out of this than I did.

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The Glass Hummingbird – E.R. Mason

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

The third in the Cassiopia and Scott Markman series opens with them involved in a plane crash that seems to be in the mountains of Alaska at first, you don't find out til much later it is actually in West Virginia. That can be considered realistic because even in the heavily populated south of New England people have been lost in the woods for days. What is not so realistic is the heroic effort, no let's face it, impossible effort, that Cassiopia makes to drag Scott off the mountain and out of the woods. It is reminiscent of Desa's plight in 'The Pass,' part of The Further Adventures of Desa but much more superhuman and improbable.

The remaining plot of the story is mainly about trying to get Scott out of the coma he is in because of the injuries he sustained in the plane crash. That involves going back thru the dreamland gate, a terrorist plot to blow up Washington D.C. with an atomic bomb that Ann Rogers is in the middle of, and Tibetan monks on the astral plane. The story is not as violent as 'The Virtual Dead' or The Aurora City, except for the zombie attacks. Ann Roger's encounter with her father's killer is also quite violent but emotional.

Besides the superhuman climb off the mountain, there is fantasy in the issue of Scott's ring and some of the scenes with the Tibetan monks. It as not as far from reality as the average paranormal romance however. Also unlike other romance, in this one they've gotten past their self doubts and doubts of each other. It seems they have been together with some regularity now and even use the word 'love' but you are never present in the bedroom so this book is actually less sexy than the others. The prose is the same as the others, a few missing words, a few extra words but generally no problem. Three stars is 'good,' not great, but I feel it was more than worth the time. The lifelike 3D characters are probably it's strongest point. By this time you feel like you know them well.

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The Hummingbird Series - Books 1 - 6 – T.R. Nowry

This is a whole series all in one volume, two thousand pages altogether. I will review each story separartely however because I could very well forget the first by the time I get done with the second. It's near future sci-fi with it's attendant perils of not coming true in the time alloted, but as of now believable in some respects.

Book I - The Art of the Houdini Scientist

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

This is the story of an autistic girl genius and a hideously evil system and base commander that she is trapped by. The girl is one of a bunch of kids that were developed by genetic manipulation by the American military in a top secret project. Funding dried up and a new commander is brought in to either wind down the project or make it profitable. The children are two years old at the time and being force-taught in a very brutal military fashion. They are destined to be super soldiers. The project is completly illegal and he is given no official connection to the military.

He finds out early on that one of the girls is a super genius who draws crayon scribbles that show ways to grow corn and potatoes in the desert and later on an exoskeleton far in advance of anything the military has at the time. She is six years old before she speaks however, and thirteen before she makes her greatest invention, an airplane so advanced it has to come from an alien civilization thousands of years in advance of our own. This is in spite of having all kinds of problems with the other kids.

The girl however, wants to be set free and the commander can't do that because legally all the kids do not exist, he can't even let other military people know of their existence. The remainder of the story is his deterioration as he gets into an ever escalating test of wills with the girl. The commander knows of no other way to run things other than force and dominance. He doesn't understand the first thing about autism however and thinks that ever increasing force will somehow win her trust and loyalty. The author has a good working knowledge of how high-functioning autism works and knows that such tactics generally do not work at all, or if so, just cause the person to go along but without truely being broken to the other's will. The base commander exhibits the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He can't get out of his destructive spiral because of his absolute NEED to dominate. We have seen that a lot recently in our police, when force doesn't get them the results they want, they use more force. The same is true of Donald Trump who thinks people will stop rebelling against the excessive use of force if he uses more force. Of course psychiatrists have defined numerous mental conditions that he exhibits.

This has a lot to say about where our society is today. The autistic are 'thing's people. They can be excellent mechanics, builders, engineers, programmers, but cannot be swayed by social status. In the 20th century they were used as such and great advances were made in many fields of technology. Today however the money men consider technology 'done' and even fairly high functioning autistics are no longer employed, not because they can't do the work, but because the hiring process has become so dependent on social skills that they have no chance of getting a job. The results of this can be seen in every computer upgrade that's worse than the system it replaces, the idiotic insistance that security can be enhanced by connecting things to the internet like baby monitors for instance, and the 737Max. Our society still needs things people, but people who cannot be swayed by social status will not bow to brain-dead MBA's so the MBA's modify the hiring process so they can no longer be employed. I've witnessed the same script as this story in my work place before I retired, not as extreme of course, bosses in small companies cannot have recalcitrant employees raped and nearly beaten to death by a group of thugs.

The main problem with this story is it's not very believable. The technology the girl comes up with is unbelievable enough, but the way she builds it is instantaneously in huge electrical explosions. She won't tell anyone how it's done and when they ask she says the explosion creates a temporary wormhole that fetches the devices from a distant star. That was probably the most believable explanation there could be. Then there is the point that she becomes the best pilot in the world, something quite unlikely for someone on the autistic spectrum. There is a point where the kids are teens and they are put in co-ed rooms, something else I found rather unbelievable in today's America. On Kassidor this is common among that age group, but it is always voluntary. Our society does not have the Peace Plague, the Sterility Plague, the Species Immunity Complex and the Instinct, so that cannot work here unless you simply want to force the females to be brood mares. In spite of that (or maybe because of that) the only sex in the book is rape. One guy professes love for her, but he's really working for the base commander. He thinks he has actually fallen in love with her, but proves later on that he doesn't know what love is, like many teens, he's confused lust with love.

Book II - Patent Mine

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

This is pretty much a continuation of the previous book, dialing up the horror inflicted on the girl genius, adding a new love interest and proceeding to a very unsatisfying ending. In this the base commander comes more and more unglued while the girl escapes a couple times, then winds up re-joining the military when war breaks out with Iran. It is viral software she released in the first book that allows her to escape, but it also causes the war. The base commander disappears from the story when she escapes the second time, hopefully for good. His brutality is directed not only at her, but at any innocent civilian who gets in the way.

The girl has lost her autism in this book, something that is rather difficult to do. We can try, and most of us who are called 'high functioning' autistic can put up a pretty good fake in many casual situations, but our mirror neurons do not suddenly come to life and allow us to schmooze our way into public contact jobs or things of that nature. People who start off as she did, with uncontrollable movements, etc, rarely get to the point of being able to pull off even the most casual social situations.

Book III - Hell From a Well

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

This is the life of the reincarnation of the girl genius in some unnamed middle eastern country under a fundamentalist radical Islamist regime. It is disgustingly brutal, especially in it's treatment of women. There is a giant on the loose who leads their armies to conquer Europe, but you don't see any of that. I'm guessing he's someone who has recovered one of the exoskeletons from the previous books. He also requires everyone kill all wild birds and capture all hummingbirds and turn them in to the state. You do not see any reason for that in this story.

All you see is life in a primitive rural village where the girl's reincarnation lives. As an indictment of radical Islam's treatment of women it is strong, but as a story it is as numbing as the drudgery those women must endure. The genius never speaks in this tale, and invents very little since their society will allow no deviations from what was done in their glory days of the 11th and 12th centuries. The only sex in the story is a wife being forced and her reminiscence of how it was before the Islamists took over. The only action is a woman flogged nearly to death because her family had no women's clothing for her and another girl being stoned to death because she was accused of stealing a necklace and no grown man could speak up for her because her father was away at the time. All in all a very boring and depressing story, but I applaud the sentiment.

I've learned the hard way that the way to make a difference thru sci-fi is not to give a warning, but to tell a tale of how it could be better. In this case we should tell tales where women are equal, not just politically but socially, and I beleive almost every tale of Kassidor is that. If we wish to help people of color, do not write warnings of how bad it is, but write stories where they are included in a just and prosperous society as I've tried to do in From the Heartland. In that you might think of the first part of the story as a warning, and it reads as such for most of you but there really are people in this country who are desperate for just the utopia that Kansas has become in that story and as distasteful as it might be for you and I to live in such a place, they will not give us peace until they are allowed to live as they wish. There are even women who want to live that way, you see them at Trump rallies.

BookIV - The Heredity of Hummingbirds

* Sex = 1, Action = 3, Prose = 7

This is a story about a boy who can see the future of people he touches and a mean spirited girl who is assigned to bunk with him. It is in some respects all new characters from the previous books, but they are once again reincarnations of the main characters from Book II. By now we see a pattern developing of mean but highly capable girls and masochistic boys who are for some reason captivated by them. This one does not take place in Iran but in a much later time, far after the collapse of our civilization when the devastation wrought by the first girl's rogue software has become permanent and no metals can be used. It is in a world where fertile women, who are one in ten of the population, are forced to have as many children as possible, at least ten. The mean girl in this story is fertile and runs away. The male lead is helplessly in love with her and comes after her, even though she knows how to survive in the wild and he does not. Their flight is long and grueling and incredibly boring. They come across a couple wild children which the girl insists they take with them. Eventually they are captured by an impossibly brutal 'Emperor'. I say impossible because a few years of his regime would leave no population and thus no empire. They escape with the help of a superhuman warrior, possibly the one talked about but never seen in Book III. From then on they go on another numbingly boring chase that winds up at the base where this all started. The ending is so disgustingly violent and gross that I was sickened and therefore will not go on to the other two books in the series.

This book is also not as well written as the previous with missing blank lines and more cliched dialog. It uses quite a bit more supernatural forces, such as the girl's mind control of the boy making him her willing slave and the superhero who rescues them from the evil empire. This series started out with some promise, and had it gone in a different direction, could have been one of the better ones in free sci-fi. Instead it turned toward ever more boring, cruel, depressing and disgusting paths, becoming by the end of this book one I strongly discourage one from picking up.

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The Lexal Affair – DM Arnold

**** 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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The Lodging for the Rose Series – A.F. Witzsche

This is not actually a review but a warning because I was not actually able to read this. There is some 'story' to this but it is mainly an essay on his ideas about sexuality, human nature, the cause and nature of empires and a whole lot of other observations and opinions about the human condition. I started out trying to think of it as a story, but there is not enough story in it to really critique in that manner.

As far as the ideas expressed, some work, some don't. In some ways he's trying to bring back parts of the counterculture of the 60's and 70's. That culture had a lot of good ideas, the best of which was an end to war. Other good ones, equality for all races and genders, less reliance on status symbols, being friends with nature and the environment, and so on. One other he has in his book, which he must support because I can't see any other reason for it being in there, is a form of promiscuity. As we learned in the 1960's and 1970's, this runs contrary to human instinct. In the Kassidor stories, to make this happen and create a persistant culture like the hippie movement tried to create, I had to use an artificial genetic modification to human nature. Without that, once we start to think about reproduction, monogamy is all that works. For ephemerals (which we all are and his characters seem to be) monogamy and marriage are the only things that work for the continuation of the species. See Love in Exile. Eternal youth, an end to violence and coertion, extermination of STD's and modification of human instinct are all required before large scale promiscuity can work for us.

In the parts I read (sections of two books) he did not say anything about the alpha male system. He has a lot to say about empires and their evils, but he doesn't understand that they are caused by the alpha male drive for dominance and not economics, religion or several other suspected causes. Alpha males may use those things as excuses, but they are really acting under control of the hind-brain and rationalizing their instinctive need to dominate others with whatever excuse comes to hand.

I got as far as the notion that by force of will we can teleport to any place and time in the universe. There was no explanation of the mechanism for this, as far as I was able to push anyway. It goes into a lot about spirituality, to the point where I think he's going to try and make the case that there really is no objective reality. I know there are some who believe that, but I don't. I could have pressed on if he was making a logical and consistent case for that belief, but the book began to wander into a random series of rants about one thing or another. He lost consistency in who was saying what and began to let any character take any viewpoint so that it seemed this should have been just an essay and not try to trick us into thinking it was a story. Yes, a story can expound a point of view, I do it myself, but I at least try to keep the story going. Maybe I fail, but I do try.

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The Lost Colony – DM Arnold

**** 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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The Lost Legend – Richard Alonzo

** 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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The Lost Star's Sea – C. Litka

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

This is the sequel to 'The Bright Black Sea' and together they make one of the most monumental works in the free sci-fi universe and one of the best. It's a very long story, more of a series like the 'Seeds of a Lost Empire' series by Anne Spackman, the Hyperion series by Dan simmons or the Gordon's Lamp series found on this site. A story you're going to live in awhile and one you may be sorry to see end.

There is not really one plot, but a series of related episodes, like in The Aldeb Wars, but in this case all are narrated in the first person by the same character. There is one other character that persists thru them all, one who had a large part in 'The Bright Black Sea', the woman he's come to love. This character has a lot in common with the love interests in his other stories, 'A Summer in Amber' and 'Sailing to Redoubt' but in this one her dangerousness is more extreme as is the effort he expends to win her. There are many other important and interesting characters, many of the women also in the same vein. In the last few chapters almost all the important characters from both books run into each other again in a heart-warming reunion. The heart-stopping action of the earlier episodes gives way to some milder adventures and a grand expose of human history thruout the Pela and the Nine Star Nebula, explaining all the major unknowns of history and culture (but not the science).

But the characters and the plot are not the main attraction. The main attraction is the setting, as it is on Kassidor. In this case the setting is a form of Dyson sphere filled with air, with more-or-less zero gravity thruout and filled with 'islands' of solid ground ranging in size from large boulders to the size of small moons. They may be separated by thousands of miles of empty air or they may be close enough that vines and jungle may tie them together. They may be inhabited by primitive savages, medieval kingdoms, advanced nations or what appear to be different intelligent species with super powers. It is hard to describe the size of this environment, a Dyson sphere the size of Earth's orbit around the sun would have an area a hundred billion times the area of Earth. In this story the islands are sparce, but the land area of ten millon Earths is easily present.

It could be a lot of fun to live in such and environment, and there would be plenty of room for growth. The big problem with it, the science just isn't there. That such an object could occur naturally is outside the laws of physics. To create it would take complete control of gravity and nearly unlimited energy to maintain. When Dyson spheres are contructed they are probably swarms of independent bodies orbiting the central star, as in the Rikavik sphere which is mentioned in The Secret of Mount Traygol and Vermin Rising, and even that will require enormous energy expenditures to keep the orbits stable and avoid collisions. A sphere could be constructed of solid material, the strength requirements are not beyond real materials, but might require a significant fraction of the solid material in a galaxy. Such an object would have gravity in the interior equal to the gravity of the enclosed star, pulling down toward that star, and gravity on the outside equal to that of the star plus the sphere. It would be low, because of the vast radius. The gravity inside a hollow sphere is near zero, only the gravity of the mass inside the sphere. If the sphere were filled with gas dense enough to breath, it would collapse into a blue supergiant under its own weight in short order. If it were mainly nitrogen and oxygen it would go supernova in short order, because it would have no time on the main sequence. I hate to be a spoilsport because the environment makes such a great story and would be so much fun to live in. In order to read this we must accept it as fantasy and not science fiction.

There is one other glaring problem with this environment, the lack of foot fins or foot feathers. Other stories featuring zero gravity worlds with breathable air, such as Niven's 'Smoke Ring' and 'Inetgral Trees' have them. I got them from him to be used by the people in Pronna worlds, but they should be pretty obvious to all. They are like scuba flippers only larger and allow people to swim thru the air with very little effort and faster than walking. That no one in the Pela invented them is just impossible. There is no explanation of why no one uses them. Their lack might be so he could use the plot device of tossing someone off the boat so they are helpless hanging in the air.

In spite of the problems with science, treat it as a fantasy and it is a great epic, one of the best in free sci-fi.

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The Phoenix Conspiracy – Richard Sanders

**** Sex = 2, action = 7, prose = 9

This is a grand space opera in the days of the Empire sometime between 'Star Wars' and 'Dune'. It is a tale of intrigue, plots within plots and shifting alliances with tense and relatively realistic space battles, everything one could want in a space opera. But there's more, contaigious werewolves and vampires, a secret meeting with a princess, collapsing stars and a resurgent terrorist organization that seems to know everyone's secrets. This is a mystery as much as a military adventure and one must pay attention to small clues as they come by. Some are meaningful in this volume, but some don't come to fruition until later volumes of the series.

The plot begins with a young captain of an Intelligence (not 'intelligent' but 'intelligence', as in spycraft) starship is tasked with finding and capturing the Empire's most powerful warship which has been commandeered by a rogue captain who has destroyed three freighters from a neighboring, non-human civilization. The main character is a rather rowdy, undisciplined guy who runs a loose but effective ship. He is given a straight-laced but beautiful woman from a different branch of the service as his second in command, one who just happens to a be a former lover of the rogue captain.

As they begin to track the rogue ship down, the captain comes to believe there is more to this than simply a rogue captain. Meetings with a crime boss, a werewolf and a band of terrorists convince him that there is more to it than that and he begins to try to get at the truth rather than single-mindedly pursue the missing ship. This puts him at odds with his straight-laced XO and in the conflict, she seduces him, leading to the only sexual episode in the story. From then on there is a struggle for control of the ship, as well as the struggle against the conspiracy which imperils the Empire.

The story seems to be all pure entertainment except for one small part where the XO ponders the idea that all the charming, good looking men are jerks and she wonders why. The answer is trivial, because they can be. Plain-looking men can't get away with it.

The proofreading is professional grade, as is the prose. The only down side, the story is not at all complete in this volume and the remaining books in the series are unreasonably priced at $8.99. That is a print-on-demand paperback price.

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The Offices of M. Coopersmith – James Hampton

*** Sex = 2, action = 5, prose = 9

Short story about an alien living among us and a teenage couple who are picking up a yearbook donation from him when aliens attack. It's cute and heartwarming.

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The Price of Ascendance – Matt Sayer

*** Sex = 2, action = 8, prose = 7

This is a pretty good story, a bit childish at times with a female lead who's too flighty, emotional and nearly always in a panic. The proofreading is good enough but not faultless but the language is often rather simplistic. The plot is full of action, tension and drama but sometimes a bit overstated. The setting is a rather punkish, semi-dystopian city at some indefinite time in the future between 'Blade Runner' and 'Adventures in the Forbidden Zone'. It's all sets, there is no real economy or sociology behind it, but it works well enough to tell the story. Tech and hacking are part of the story and done fairly realistically but this is to be expected because the author says he is a code jockey himself.

The plot is central to the story. A city is under the shadow of a more advanced city suspended in the air a few miles above it. The upper city, Arc City, is a utopia where the best and the brightest go on the 21st birthday to be enhanced and live the good life, bringing mankind forward into a brighter future, or so the propaganda goes. A boy and a girl go to their tests for admission to the upper city (ascendance) on the same day, neither expecting to be accepted. The girl is, but balks at going so the medic administering the test decides to drug her with a sedative, just as the boy comes in. He sees it and intervenes, starting a great chase that takes up the whole book. They find, of course, that the city of the ascended is not what they'd been told, that there is a nefarious plot going on and that there is a secret organization trying to combat the ascended. It's pretty much non-stop action once they get started, with a fair amount of violence but little spatter and gore. Of course they develop feelings for each other but do nothing more than kiss so this won't educate the youngsters in anything their parents are afraid of. The story does have an ending in this volume, but leaves room for a sequel.

There seems to be some meaning behind this also. The sides in the conflict represent two views of how humanity can progress in the future with the ascendant representing the side of biological enhancement and the main characters and the secret organization representing the side of electro-mechanical enhancement. In this story the biological side performs the greater atrocities and is lead by a freaking madman almost as evil as Donald Trump. The secret organization is not without it own over-zealous leader however so that neither side comes off as all right or all wrong, as it should be. The Second Expedition tackles the same issue (among others) with the emphasis reversed. What is important in either side being right is not whether they pick biological or electro-mechanical enhancements to move humanity forward, but what their motivations are. There can be no doubt that on Earth either method will be used to further the power of the group in power. The biggest fantasy of Kassidor is that a powerful group could use its power to further the cause of the common man as the wizards of the Kassikan did. In real life it is the demagogs and dictators who will modify the human species to serve their own ends.

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The Psychian Chronicles Book I The Kimoshiran Form – Timothy Bryant

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

If this really was a sixth grade writing project it should have good grades for length, but it should fail on puntuation, grammar, proofreading etc. If it really was a sixth grade writing project the author should be watched, if there are any weapons in the house they should be removed. I have never seen such enthusiastic glorification of violence. Fighting is not fun kid, but you'll probably find that out soon enough.

I'm not going to bother with the plot, characters, etc. The book should not be read, especially by the junior high students who seem to be the audience.

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The Replica – Ferro Gabro (Enzo Marconi)

** 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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The Right People – Adam Rakunas

** Sex = 3, action = 4, prose = 8

This is a near future short story set in Southern California. It concerns a couple kids who are operating a secret sex toy ring and one of them running for student body president. In spite of the author's claim that it's erotica, it's not sexy at all. It's more violent than sexy, but no more violent than the average high school bully. It's a bit funny in spots and short enough that you don't have to invest much time if it turns out you don't think it's entertaining. Some might be a little squeamish at the dorky sex toys they purvey and some might object to a word here or there in the language.

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The Rune House – L. J. Hutton

**** 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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The Runner – Peter J. Ponzo

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

I was really hoping this would be a good story, but alas, it's got a lot of problems. The plot is a series of episodes in the life of a little black boy found on a planet where mining of magic crystals is taking place. One of the episodes actually happens before he is found, a conflict with an evil, power-mad administrator who wants to take over the colony. Thruout all of it there is a menace approaching that eats stars, a menace which everyone manages to ignore thru about nine tenths of the book. Some of the episodes involve the last Africans on Earth and some involve an African colony on another planet. Eventually the characters do notice the star eater and do take action. It's about as much of a struggle as making sourdough bread.

The main problem with the story is the complete lack of understanding of elementary astrophysics. If you are going to write believeable stories about flying around in starships you should spend a few hours at least learning the difference between stars and galaxies and planets. You should know that most stars are within galaxies, galaxies are many orders of magnitude farther away than stars, and a little bit about how big planets are. Both the planets with large parts in this story seem to be about three to four square miles in extent. There is one settlement on each. Instrument scans from orbit can pick up a single human anywhere on the planet in seconds. Watch some of the video from the space station on you-tube and see if that still makes sense.

I'm thinking, from the sound of the dialog, that the author is about fourteen, if so, this is a good start. Keep at it, keep learning. If you want to know how big a planet is, read everything on this site, or even better, understand that everything ever written that is not sci-fi or fantasy takes place on this one blue dot of a planet orbiting a single star two thirds of the way out in a rather undistinguished galaxy. Not just all the fiction, but all the non-fiction besides. If you want to write fantasy in sci-fi clothing, like 'The Runner' is, Litka's The Lost Star's Sea is a good example. In there is a universe large enough to live in without banging your elbows on the walls at every turn. If you want to write real sci-fi, read Niven, Bear, Benford, etc. If you want to write great spiritual Sci-fi with an African perspective, I know of no better example than Octavia E. Butler. The works of these professionals can be found at the library.

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The Secrets of Silverwind – Richard L. Sanders

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

This is the author's favorite story of all he's written. That is probably because of the strong emotional content and the story of redemption. I certainly hope it's not for the gruesome violence and dismal setting.

The plot is a man who has lost his memories, set on a planet trapped in a post-apocolyptic dystopia. As he's lead around by various factions and forces, he's told that he is really a great hero who killed the arch villain of the world in a fight he barely remembers. As he regains more of his memories, and his fighting skills, he helps the government defeat a corrupt police force, getting wounded in the process. While healing he falls in love with the princess of a city that they are pledged to free from an evil rebel warlord. He is emotionally taxed by knowing the princess is already engaged to one of the royals in the city he's currently in. Then he finds that he's already married, then he finds his wife is already dead. But this isn't the end of his emotional turmoil, to say more would spoil the plot entirely.

Yes, the emotional tale is strong, one of the strongest I've seen, even more so than Kessil's despair in Abomination, but the violence and despair are too crushing for me to really enjoy the story. It could have been told with a lot less gore, especially the final scene. It is not as if there was ever any question in your mind how the final scene has to end.

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The Shadow of Armageddon – Jim Lemay

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

The story is post-apocolyptic and violent, though not as violent as some. In this the apocalypse was caused by a pandemic but it was written before the corona virus or Trump, but it predicted his reaction, divide the country further and make it worse. The first part of the story is full of flashbacks because it would have been too long to start it at the first events in the plot.

The plot is not about the pandemic and how to survive it, but about life twelve years later. Civilization has all but collapsed and a big industry among the survivors is finding objects of value in the ruins and bringing them to various flea markets to sell. There are many gangs doing that, some more honest than others. The main character's gang and another have entered a feud to the death and the main character's gang is on the run. The leader of the other gang, meanwhile, has established himself as the warlord of the ruins of Columbia Missouri and is oppressing the townspeople and the surrounding farms.

The setting is good, the dialog is mostly in the dialect of presumably central Missouri rednecks. I've not come across accents that thick in the couple months I once spent in the state, but that was back in 1968, things may be different now, but they sound more like Arkansas to me. Besides the dialect, there are a few genuine proofreading errors, but all in all the dialect, whatever it is, is done very well and consistently. The guy who was supposed to be from New York, not so well, sounding like a guy from New Jersey trying to fake a Boston accent.

The plot and the setting are not the heart of the story, the heart of the story is the characters, especially the young boy the gang takes on. There are many colorful people and not all of them are stereotypes. Most of them were adults before the plague and the main character delivers a few meaningful muses on the end of civilization and the savagery that has resulted. He is troubled by having to kill people who are trying to kill him. Only late in the story does he step up and realize that letting some of the evil doers live is actually the greater evil, though it still bothers him.

The people in the story have retained their sexuality, though you are present at nothing more than talk and a few kisses. Teenage boys still talk about it and teenage girls still try to sneak away from their parents to find it, pretty much consistent with the Missouri I saw fifty some years ago. All in all I think this ranks with 'Hawk's Legend' by Robert A.J. Turnbull Jr. as one of the best post-apocalypic tales.

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The Soul Reader – Bonnie Hatley-Oesch

*** Sex = 3, action = 6, prose = 8

This begins with a girl who can read minds hiding from an evil emperor in a time and place more like Hunger Games or Dominion than Star Wars. There is no space travel and the technology in use was about 1980's or so. There were some primitive hand-held computers. The plot is about trying to overthrow the emperor, but as much about the affair between the girl and the guy she helps rescue from the emperor's torture chamber. There is the typical romance novel denying of feelings, and that denial causes military problems for the revolution.

There seems to be an anti-facist message in here, even though it was written before 2016, the evil emperor is like Trump in that he will hurt his own regime just to be mean, and will lie even when the truth would help him. That is all typical facist stuff however, Trump has not added one play to Hitler's/Putin's/Stalin's playbook.

There is no sex beyond kissing, there's quite a bit of violence but not just violence for the sake of violence. There was one place where I noticed there was no blank line even though she could have started a new chapter at that point, but other than that I noticed no glaring proofreading errors.

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The Telstar – Samuel J. Addison

** Sex = 0, action = 4, prose = 5

One could say this is a story about the paradoxes of time travel, or one could say it is a spoof on a story of the paradoxes of time travel. It is probably meant to be humorous and might be to some, sorry I missed it. You might say it's also a spoof of absurdist philosophy because one character does get completly lost in it, to the point where his head literally explodes. Yeah, it's not a scientifically accurate story, not even as scientificly accurate as 'Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. Then again, it might be an ode to the joy of infinite loops, or I may have missed the point entirely.

The plot is rather hard to describe. Most of it takes place in an isolated time capsule housing a robot, a Commadore 64 computer running a very primitive artificial intelligence program and a succession of people snagged from various times as the capsule ocsillates back and forth thru time. The denizens include at various times the inventor of the robot, the programmer of the very primitive artificial intelligence program and a ridiculously dumb and ignorant Appalachian kid. That's about all I can say about the plot. Several people die in the story, one is shot and one is bludgeoned to death with a can of beans. No female characters actually appear in the story and only a couple are mentioned. A kid I know once sent in a review of a better story in this sub-genre that I have since read, 'Buddy Holly is Alive on and Well on Ganymede' by Bradley Denton.

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The Trilisk Ruins – Micheal McCloskey

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

A story about an illegal interstellar archeology team that makes its living finding alien artifacts and selling them on the black market. The Trilisks were an advanced but now extinct interstellar civilization. This is in a universe where humans know of three other technological species, all extinct. This is also a universe in which the Space Force is a very authoritarian organization, what would be called 'The Empire' in 'Star Wars'.

They find a Trilisk installation, one that is still operational. It continually changes on them and they get lost and lose a couple team members. They also find a live alien, one from a civilization humans have not discovered yet. I was glad to find that the alien as truly alien, not just an actor in a baggy suit. It didn't even communicate with sound, but with motions like sign language or like the language of the kedas of Kassidor. Most of the story is them trying to find a way out of the Trilisk site. The later part of the is about the star base the alien brings them to and the battle with the Space Force that occurs once the Space Force finds them. There are passages from the alien's point of view and they are pretty well done.

The main characters do have sex but you are not present when it happens. You see some thoughts of the characters about their attraction to each other with the briefest nod to the romance novel formula but it is not a major part of the story. There is some violence and some is a bit gross. The battles are realistic enough but there are not a lot of space battles, most of the fighting is on the alien base with hand weapons. There is no special message. This ends like it is the start of a series but I saw no evidence that it is.

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The Wandering Island Factory – T. R. Nowry

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

This story is a well disguised rant about global warming. The plot is a young man working at a factory making ships and islands out of artificial pumice using lava from a Hawaiian volcano. I don't know if it is possible to find materials that can work with molten lava, but I can accept that part of the premise. He has a girlfriend who was sexually abused by a coach and thus will not do anything physical with him beyond a kiss on the lips. When civilization collapses they take a barge that factory has made and try to sail from Hawaii to California.

Quite early in the story he begins ecology bashing by making a pitch for ocean thermal energy and claiming it is not used because of political protests, not that I've heard of any. All I've heard is that ocean thermal energy doesn't make any economic sense, but I haven't looked into it. If it works, fine. What doesn't work is the notion that solar output is the reason for climate change. Solar output has changed recently, this is something I have looked into. Solar output is down. We have passed the 400 year warm cycle and are now early in a 400 year cool cycle. Were it not for the increased carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels we would be going into another Little Ice Age.

Instead he has solar output increase -After the climate has already changed by the way- and that causes sea levels to rise at a rate that is just not possible without heating the Earth enough to boil the oceans. It will take the ice caps a few thousand years to melt. The total sea level rise if all the ice on Earth melts is three hundred and something feet, but none of this elementary science is taken into account. I don't think that was because it was needed by the plot, the plot is too thin to be the excuse for any lapse of science. But of course, climate change deniers don't beleive in science.

The further rants about the only goal of the ecologists is to destroy the economy and reduce living standards is total B.S., they want a habitable planet for their grandchildren, something climate change deniers don't care about. His notion that sea level rise will destroy civilization is untenable. The man he probably voted for is destroying civilization a lot more than sea level rise. Famines and migrations brought on by climate change will do a lot more damage to civilization than sea level rise. The pandemic we are in as I write this, coupled with Trump and Bolsanaro, is doing more harm to civilization than climate change and may yet be the apocalypse that brings it down.

There is a more evil side to climate change deniers. The suffering brought on by climate change will mainly be borne by people of color in the tropical parts of the planet. Even though other areas will warm more, the most vulnerable are being plagued with more droughts, storms and pestilence. Since climate change deniers are usually from the rabid right, who are also often violent racists, it is quite likely that a great many climate change deniers are also racists and glad to see the people of Africa and Latin America suffer. That is much more likely than climate scientists are only trying to detroy the economy and decrease living standards. Anyone aware of what is going on in society knows that living standards are declining because of rising inequality.

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The War of Civlar – Isuru Abeysinghe

* Sex = 2, action = 5, prose = 6

In 2250 the world seems to be divided into two entities. Civlar is a dystopia of sex and drugs, The Realm is a dystopia of brutal fundamentalism. Neither is rendered in any detail or realism. There is no real overall plot to the story, it is just a few episodes in the war between them. The prose is spotty

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The Warden Threat – D.L. Morrese

*** Sex = 2, action = 4, prose = 7

This takes place on a world where the Empire is long gone and forgotten. There are some artifacts remaining but no one recognizes them. The 'Warden' in the title of the story is a giant stone statue that some claim has supernatural powers. There are some androids and a robot dog remaining, but you don't see the dog in this story. The planet is in other ways at a level of technology about equivilent to the 1400's.

The plot is about the third prince of the largest nation on the continent trying to go out and meet and understand the common folk of the country. In doing so he comes across the threat of a neighboring country bringing the Warden to life and attacking them. He goes to investigate and finds no basis for the rumor. In trying to warn his father, the king, that the rumor is false, he comes across a racist plot to cause a war. The races in this are more like the Dwarves and the Elves than black and white, but the racism is the same. It's just as mindless and disgusting in this story as it is in real life.

The story has some humorous spots, to me it is much funnier than 'The Telstar' reviewed above, which was probably intended to be comedy. This succeeds much better. The prince starts out as a very naive teenager hungry for adventure and glory but halfway thru the story he is starting to mature. I don't know how he does by the end because only half the story is in this volume. The second half, 'The Warden War,' is technically not free, but you set the price. There is no sex in the story but one incident of a girl trying to seduce him. The proofreading is okay but there are occasional missing words that are pretty noticable. It is likely this could have been a four star if it was all in one volume and if he gets together with the messenger at the end.

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The Virtual Dead – E.R. Mason

*** Sex = 2, action = 8, prose = 8

This is the second in the Cassiopia, Scott Markman series. In this the sensesuit and the tip of the organization behind it is discovered by the feds. Scott is brought in to try and infiltrate that organization. This story introduces the Ann Rogers character, an FBI agent. The sensesuit is a device that puts one in a super realistic virtual reality, covering the senses of smell, taste and touch as well as sight and sound. It contains devices that can cause one to actually be injured and killed in the game.

Of course Scott gets into great difficulty in the game, and in real life too when investigating the real world people involved. There is a lot more violence in this than in the first episode, enough so that one wonders why he would ever be stupid enough to put that suit back on. Again some of the villains are very stereotyped, mostly the minor ones. This story uses the Romance formula of excessive worry if the other feels the same and they fall victim to pride and try to pretend they aren't falling for each other. Thankfully it's only a few pages and not the hundred or more in most formula Romance.

This story is as well written and proofread as the first (The Empty Door). I don't like violence so I didn't like it as much as the first but many will probably think it is better. In this Scott discovers what is really going on but the feds make him keep it under wraps.

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The Yeomen of England – Christopher Nuttal

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

One must remember all thru this that it is a story derived from a video game and that explains why so much doesn't make any sense from a scientific viewpoint. It is an invasion of Earth story, once again by a species 15 minutes more advanced than we are. They are more than that over us in space and in the air, and we can't fight them there, but they prefer to fight on the ground where they have very little advantage. At least they are not humans in baggy suits, they are carnivorous centaurs, most of which are dumb, with a few leaders who are as intelligent as humans, though you never get to know any of them. Their purpose on Earth is to eat humans.

So remember, it's all a game. Don't try to figure out how a species can evolve that is so intent on eating other intelligent life that they will travel light years and die by the millions just to consume them. In real life, this would not make any sense at all. Just as it woud make no sense to fight a ground war when all your advantages are in space and in the air.

There is another race of aliens involved, ones who look too much like humans to be beleiveable, a species that is basically Elves with piranha teeth. They arrive four or five years before the carnivores and warn humanity of their approach. Humans eventually find out that they are really acting at cross purposes, for they rule this part of the galaxy and are using the carnivorous centaurs to 'soften up' humans so they can dominate us. It is rumored that they may have even created the carnivores for that purpose. They can't conquer us themselves because they are subject to something a lot like the Instinct of Kassidor, a property of their psyche that makes them insane if they try to use violence themselves.

The execution of the story is much more engaging and realistic than the premise. The characters are pretty lifelike, the prose is good, the proofreading is good enough to stay out of the way and the action is exciting. There are many points of view in the story, some are main characters but you see many scenes from the point of view of minor characters. Unfortunately many of those scenes end in the death of the narrator. The characters have normal sexuality, they are not neutered fighting machines as in so much free sci-fi. There are some decent looks into Islamic society, probably not as accurate as someone born to it might express it, but as well as someone on the outside could describe it.

It is probably not possible to write a realistic invasion of Earth story. The first thing we would have to consider is what would be the motivation of a species to come light years to invade a planet that is already inhabited by a technological species? If it is to consume the flesh of the inhabitants it could only be for sport, as in the Rikaviks mentioned in The Secret of Mount Traygol and Vermin Rising. It is far too expensive to be profitable as a part of the economy. Since technological species seem to be rare, and planets seem to be common, it would make no sense for a species to try and claim a planet that already houses a technological species when there are likely to be hundreds or thousands of closer planets without a species that can offer any resistance. It is more likely that the invading species would not notice that humans possess technology and we would simply be considered part of the mess to be removed in their equivilent of a terraforming process. It is also possible that the invading species is not really technological, but come to Earth by chance as the Aldebs did to Kiandutan in The Aldeb Wars.

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They Call the Wind Muryah – Gregory Marshall Smith

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

Fairly short story of an exploration party on an Earth-like planet that meets a woman from a previous expedition that was presumed lost. The planet is very perfect but seems to have a very strong Gaia-like presence that can support life or combat it. The story is mainly about the conflict between a very strict by-the-book engineer and the remainder of the crew. He sees them as having too much fun and not concentrating on their mission, so much so that he comes off sounding like a Calvinist. He manages to turn the planet's spirit aganist them and that turns them all to conflict.

The story is not very scientific, of course. It even has this newly discovered planet infested with sharks! There are liaisons between some members of the crew but nothing a child couldn't see. The prose and proofreading are good enough that they don't get in the way. Most of the file is actually the first sixteen chapters of a non-free book he has written about vampire hunters.

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This Blue Ball – Wayne V. Miller

*** Sex = 3, action = 4, prose = 8

This is a story about alien contact, but much different from most. The contact is only via a communication medium. We see nothing of the alien, learn nothing about the alien while the alien learns quite a bit about us. Most of the story is about government agents trying to stop the contact and the dire consequences should the people making contact get caught.

There are two levels of story in this. There is a narrator, who is supposed to be documenting the people who experienced the alien contact. The narrator claims to be a high powered hacker who we, and the government, will never find. He claims he is not the main character but he knows too many of his character's thoughts to be convincing as a mere documentarian. At times the narrator notices his own inconsistencies in telling the tale. Claims it's to throw his persuers off the trail.

In the story itself, the main character is not the hero type, but a rather pathetic loner who's real aim is to get an ex-girlfriend back. Later on we find she never really was a girlfriend, just a one night stand that he wished was more. The only reason she called him was because her son's computer monitor (an antique CRT) suffered some strange damage. In his attempts to figure out what happened, and thus have more access to the woman, he comes across the alien communication.

There is mention of various forms of pathetic sexuality, but nothing very interesting. There is no actual violence, but much worry about it. There is no actual resolution of anything. It reads a lot like a conspiracy theory in that way, lots of speculation but nothing definite. Some of the computerese makes sense but the method of communication seems to have no basis in physics, other than throwing the words 'quantum mechanics' at it. The story is mainly psychological, worry about getting the woman to care for him, worry about getting caught, lots of dwelling on the mental states of some not very interesting or especially wholesome people.

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Throwing Snowballs at Xanadu – Bartholomew Throckmorton

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

Fairly short story of a couple who have found the first habitable planet, only to find it is going to be impacted by a couple comets. The action of the story is them trying to divert the comets and the danger that puts them in. It's light-hearted, not very scientific and entertaining enough.

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Thump – Andrew McEwan

** Sex = 3, action = 6, prose = 6

It's hard to say what this story is really about. It's hard to follow, jumps around in time and place, sometimes without even a blank line to let you know. It's hard to say whether it is sci-fi or fantasy, whether the worlds are real or simulated. It is not clear which characters are real, which are simulated, which are hallucinations or which are robots. It's not clear who's on what side, what their actual agenda is, whether you are in a dream sequence, a flashback or live action. With all that said, this is the most concise, logical and straightforward story by this author I've come across to date. Some of his others appear to have been created by picking words at random from the dictionary and copying them onto the page.

I think the plot starts with a crewmember of a starship who wants to have his own ship some day. At one point, in the future, in a dream, in a flashback or something, he steals a collapsed star from a space station that he can use as the heart of an engine for his own ship. At another time they stop to mine an asteroid for water when the captain disappears, leaving his crew to be captured by a religious order who's purpose is to destroy the universe so they can start over. They run afoul of a space pirate with what seem to be supernatural powers, a dictator of a cluster of worlds, various armed groups, a few fell beasts and a series of natural cataclysms. At first the main character is transported from one continuum to another via a giant spiral horn, later on via bodies of water, and eventually, at random. He may have used some mechanism because time and time again he wakes up in a new scene with no memory of how he got there. Thru it all one of his crew members first saves him a few times and then tries to kill or capture him a few times. And quite often he's lead around by a succession of cats.

You are privy to a lot of his thoughts, most of them confused. You see him think and act rationally a few times, irrationally at others. He comes to the conclusion, eventually, that he can't tell what is real and what is not. If that is really the point of the story, I'm not sure. To me it looks like the point of the story is to try and say that the universe is not real. For a more realistic look at the problem of trying to determine what is real in a virtual world you can see Zhlindu, Tangle in the Dark or Vermin Rising.

There is a fair amount of mention of sex in the story, some prostitution, some rape, but nothing very explicit. The proofreading is not the greatest, there are missing words, wrong words and problems of that nature. There are a few missing blank lines but the prose score could have been an 8 with all that if the story was just a little easier to follow. It reminds me of hearing a story from someone very strung out on acid or coke and not making much sense. Even so, it could have been entertaining, but it's not. It's episode after episode of mainly the same old stuff so that after a while it really starts to drag.

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To the Stars – Thomas C. Stone

*** Sex = 4, action = 6, prose = 8

A well written and entertaining but fairly cliched space opera. Not very scientific but realistic in most other ways with good characters, good action and emotional realism. The premise that humans in the 2060's find a naturally occuring wormhole and use it to explore and colonize many planets is a bit of a stretch. No theory I know of allows for naturally occuring wormholes that are just lying around ready for use, and the notion that there will be humans from this civilization out there to use them seems ludicrous at this time. There are a few other 'I don't think so's in it like an M class star going nova a few light years away exterminating all life on a planet, it would take a supernova to do that and the universe is not old enough for red dwarfs to leave the main sequence.

The plot is an interstellar expedition, a captain with secret motives and a greedy corporation that sent them. There's a beautiful rich girl on the crew who for some unstated reason falls for the main character. There's two races of aliens, one humanoid and primitive, one slightly less humanoid but very advanced and instinctively hostile. There's a planet they find was terraformed with life that could have only originated on Earth a few million years ago. At least they know that, they don't just accept nearly Earth normal life as parallel evolution. The plot does come to a conclusion in this volume, but leads to a continuing saga that is not free and is not complete as of now. The second book is the only one out so far.

There is a normal, as in what you would find in real life, amount of sex in the story, but nothing explicit. There is some gruesome violence but not an excessive amount and the story is about more than body count even though only half the crew makes it back alive. The proofreading and grammar is not perfect but not an issue.

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Transplant – D.B. Reynolds-Moreton

** Sex = 3, action = 4, prose = 7

I'm pretty sure I read a version of this story, or a part of this story, ages ago. If not, then someone copied this story under a different name. It's a story of a generation ship, as in the well-known tale 'Rite of Passage'. Part of the story channels 'Rite of Passage' to some extent but in the guise of exploring the ship rather than exploring one's soul. The ship is largely automated and the gist of the story is that the ship is breaking down and the crew has no idea how to deal with it because they have been served by the machines for so long they don't know how to do much of anything for themselves. The second half of the story details what happens after their arrival at their destination, an unexpected one which I won't spoil. They have quite a few adventures there but do get a colony established, but because they were able to do so little for themselves, find themselves slipping down the evolutionary ladder, physically as well as culturally.

The execution of the story is not up to the premise. A really powerful tale, on the order of 'Rite of Passage' could be told on this premise. It could have had a lot to say about regression, as in 'Lord of the Flies' and it could have had a lot more to say about the demise of our current civilization. Instead, everything is rather superficial, there no depth of emotion, even among married couples having children. There's quite a few proofreading errors, the prose is rather juvenile and most of the members of the small party never get names or speaking parts. At least there are no problems with the science because there is no science, it's exactly what it was in 1998 when the book was written. Computers but no smart phones. Unfortunately, if you think about it, that gives away the big twist in the story.

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