1984: A space game revolutionises the perception of computer games. Elite by Bell and Braben offered near-complete freedom for players of the old BBC micro computers; one of the early wonders of programming, considering the nearly non-existent storage space and processing speed of the time. Whether one wanted to be a space trader, a scavenger or a ruthless fighter -- it was up to the player which role to choose, in a setting that contained eight different universes (charts) with hundrets of star systems each. Many years later, this legend sparked the development of a free offspring: "Oolite" is a recreation of the old Elite game, with fans still contributing new mods and extensions to the game.
Just as free as Oolite is the "Oolite saga" series, four novels written by Drew Wagar, available on his website for download as PDF. And just to have said it: It is a very entertaining, fast-paced action full of tension and interesting turns, a read all worth it! Grab it and read it.
The synopsis is quickly told: A hot headed trader girl meets a desperate scientist on the run who accidentially discovered a superior weapon of mass destruction. As mysterious murders start to occur, both get entangled in the intrigues and plans of galaxy-wide GalCop, and they are hunted by far superior powers. The Aliens of Elite, so called Thargoids, are at first more or less background flavour until they become the centre of all the action.
All in all, the series is staged as a classic space opera. And even though the Elite game offered only scarce variety in technical terms, Drew, inspired by the "Dark Wheel" short story accompanying the original game, manages brilliantly to conjure a true and complex SciFi feeling. With a focus on the characters -- always a good thing in my view -- the story unfolds, gains constantly in speed, and offers nice turns, secrets and intelligent solutions. As Drew wrote himself in the epilogue, the constellation of characters is quite typical. We have the hot-headed girl, a reckless flyer and, as it is, excellent combat pilot, who sports a very resolute self-esteem and no fear to express it if something doesn't go her way; the scientist, called "Harmless" by her, to whom she fancies quite a complicated relation: After he saved her from death in space, she accidentially nearly clubbed him to death, and although she feels sorry for that little misunderstanding, she is unnerved, if not enraged by his more cool-headed approach on problems. And of course there are the near-almighty counterparts that have to be defeated. The way of characterising the girl reminds of Ensign Holland in Donaldson's Gap series, though very opposite in her character.
Drew Wagar's Oolite Saga is a living example that free e-books can absolutely hold out on their own compared with books published by a publishing house. From a reader's standpoint, not only the Sci Fi fan gets hours of free excellent entertainment. From a professional view, the book is both very well proof-read, well formatted, and most of all the story is craft-wise very well told. From both views, Drews close contact with the fans of Oolite during the creation of the saga, listening to their suggestions, including their works on the timeline of events and in-game history is a great bonus. So if you didn't consider it already -- give it a go! If you like some relaxing space opera stuff, you certainly will not be disappointed.
And last, Drew Wagar got what he very well earned: He is the author of the official Elite: Dangerous novels, Reclamation and the upcoming Premonition. Those are to buy, but I am certain they are absolutely worth their money. Drew even reacts to developments in the Elite: Dangerous game universe, like including Fuel Rats, and seems to be heavily involved in in-game riddle and mystic stuff creation ... So, Drew has shown for free that he is in it with all his heart. Bit of a writer's dream there, really. Congratulations!
[⇒ PDFs of the four sequels]
Oh and if you are playing Elite: Dangerous, you may have encounters that are coming very close to highlights in written adventures ... breathtaking indeed. And those are not just the scripted ones, but offered by the game mechanics of this unique game ... for example when you get too close to a White Dwarf.
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