pennies One of the chief functions publishers serve is gatekeepers. Because they invest a lot of money into publishing and publicizing a given book, it is in their best interest to make sure that book is good.

Hence, with the understanding that not every book is to every reader’s taste, we rely on publishers to filter out the “slush” and give us books that are good to read.

But now the Internet has come out to play, and writers who do not want to have to bother with going through the traditional publishing structure can post what they write freely or inexpensively, or even self-publish it through Amazon.

Some have complained that this turns the Internet into one giant slushpile. However, others counter that this just means other methods of picking out the good stuff have to come to the fore. One such method is the trusted reviewer.

With that in mind, in these “Cheap Reads” columns I am going to pick out a few free or inexpensive e-books that are a bit off the beaten path, and that are certainly available for less than the $14.99 Macmillan wants to charge for e-books. I encourage other TeleRead contributors to do the same.

Henry Melton

In a way, I have already started doing this: Henry Melton is a great independently (self-)published writer, and I have reviewed six of his books: Emperor Dad, four others, and Golden Girl. (And I look forward to reading and reviewing his next, Pixie Dust, whenever it is available.)

Melton’s books can be had as Kindle or Mobi titles for much less than Amazon’s standard $9.99, or in autographed trade paperback in your hands (including shipping) for less than the cost of a Macmillan e-book.

But for this column, I am going to recommend some free Internet fiction: the “Paradise” series from

Paradise on Shifti

I have mentioned Shifti in my “Paleo E-Books” series as a site where people can post transformation-related stories. The stories may simply be ordinary treatments of what happens when a person is transformed into something else—or they may treat it as a fetish activity.

“Paradise” is mostly toward the “ordinary treatment” end of the scale—stories tend to be PG13-rated at most. While there are occasionally sexual situations, they are usually handled tastefully.

“Paradise” is a shared-universe setting, like some of the settings I mentioned in “Paleo E-Books”. Multiple writers write stories covering different areas and facets of the same world, with the setting creator JonBuck serving as gatekeeper and arbiter of what is or is not permitted.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have written a few stories in this setting myself—but mine are just mediocre while most of the rest of the writers’ are amazing.)

Paradise Premise

The premise of the series is that some unknown cause began changing people into anthropomorphic animals (i.e. “furries”), starting with a single person in 1987 and doubling every year. By 2004 there are over 130,000 of the Changed, and by 2020 they are projected to include the entire population of the earth. On top of the furry change, some of these people discover their gender has been changed as well.

The Changed have another problem: there is a “reality distortion field” in effect that prevents anyone except other Changed from seeing them as they truly are. Most of them learn early on that need to pretend that nothing is different about them or they will be thought strange (and possibly even institutionalized).

In this way, the series could be taken as a metaphor for what it is like to have a secret you must keep from all your friends and family—be that your sexual or gender preference, religious beliefs, political affiliation, or whatever. On the other hand, most of the writers probably just meant for events to be taken at face value, as in most SF or fantasy stories.

There are a number of stories and series written in this setting, many following the same pattern. A number of writers base their main characters on some aspect of themselves, including how their families would react to the changes that are happening to them. Some of these stories feel intensely personal.

Reading Paradise

The setting grew out of a story by JonBuck called “A Kind of Paradise”, but there have been stories written chronologically before it. My recommended way to read the setting is to go to the chronological story list, skip the first two stories (you can come back to them later if you like—they’re mediocre at best and not really a good introduction to the setting), and begin reading in chronological order with “Made Alone” by MatthiasRat, which begins a series by one of the setting’s best writers.

Almost all of these stories are extremely well-written and thought-provoking. Some of them may be a little rough around the edges, and a few (such as those first two I mention) are mediocre, but they are few and far between. The one downside is that many of the series don’t end so much as they wait to be continued, and sometimes writers may take a long time to come out with the next installment.

The stories may not be too easy to put on an e-book reader, though; they are posted in HTML format as wiki pages, and might require a bit of dedicated site-scooping. (If anyone can tell me the quickest and easiest way to create an e-book with all the listed stories as chapters, I would be happy to hear it.)

On the other hand, most of the stories are short enough that reading from a screen is not a major hardship—and, of course, there are apps such as InstaPaper to make reading easier on mobile devices.

Regardless, the “Paradise” setting is a great example of stories that do not have to go through a big publisher to be worth reading, and I highly recommend them.

And if you enjoy reading them enough—there is nothing to prevent you from writing more yourself.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail