Sunday, January 20, 2013

What are the best free books?

Quite a lot of the stuff that has been written is not currently under copyright (see the very existence of Project Gutenberg, for example) and some stuff is just copyleft as a matter of principle.

If you were recommending books from that set (the set of things that are not under copyright) what would you recommend?  What children's books, what fantasy or scifi or romance, or adventure, or [insert genre here]?

For that matter, are there any that stand out to you as the worst?  I remember hearing somewhere about a writer's circle that had a copies of what they considers to be the worlds worst books, and they had regular contests to see who could do a reading for the longest while keeping a straight face and not breaking down laughing.


  1. Not sure about "best", but there are quite a few I've enjoyed very greatly. Starting with Kipling...

    R. Austin Freeman's mysteries are great fun, though obviously somewhat antiquated. I read a lot of those a couple of years ago.

    Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories.

  2. Flatland's very good. It's rather short, though.

  3. I've enjoyed the Wodehouse 'Jeeves' books I've tried, if you want something light and funny with many well portrayed lady characters. Same for the Lyman Frank Baum 'Oz' books; I've only read the first so far, but I've heard the rest are solid children's fantasy too. And Dorothy does choose to leave Kansas.

    On the other hand, I just finished 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' and found it horrifyingly bad, apart from the odd nice turn of phrase.

  4. ...damn. I was going to recommend Med Ship, but then I remembered Baen's stopped giving out ebooks. (*insert grumbling about how I should have downloaded Cryoburn while I had the chance here*) Sure enough, it's $7 now. (I would probably buy it anyway if I were you, but that's not the point.)

    I don't read that many freely distributed books (I usually stick to blogs and fanfiction). I think the only other one I've actually read (there's a couple I plan to read sometime before the sun explodes) is Herland, which was neither good nor spectacularly bad. (She was probably trying to make some sort of feminist point, but I don't think it really worked out.)

    1. In terms of quality I found The Yellow Wallpaper to be infinitely better than Herland (same author), but very much not my kind of story.

      That said, other than finding it mediocre at best the only thing I remember about Herland is being completely weirded out at how a group of people who practice eugenics by intentionally inducing miscarriages in those they consider undesirable could be horrified at the prospect of abortions.

      Apparently there's some distinction between "We just try to get them to have a miscarriage," and "We just try to give them an abortion," that I was and am missing.

    2. he Cryoburn CD (and most of the others put out by Baen) is still available here:

      My Public Domain sci-fi recommendation is Little Fuzzy by H Beam Piper, available at Gutenberg. There are one or two other Piper books there - I really wish there were more. Unfortunately, the copyright status of a lot of Piper's works is a little awkward because he died without leaving a will or any next of kin.

    3. Yeah, anyone who thinks they might want any of the Baen CDs would be well-advised to download them now before Amazon - sorry, "an unnamed third party" - forces the remaining copies off the open net. For now they've just taken down individual file downloads, not the full CD images.

    4. [T]he Cryoburn CD (and most of the others put out by Baen) is still available here:

      Thank you. (Good thing I complained.)

      (Ah, so it was "The Mountains of Mourning" that I stumbled across wandering the Internet a few years ago, read, liked, and could never find again. (Didn't think to bookmark it at the time.) I'd been wondering.)

  5. Some of the Baen CDs are also available here.

    I like the Honor Harrington books, although some of the most recent ones suffer from the "editor unwilling to tell famous author to cut boring bits" problem.

    There are plenty of classics on Gutenberg: The Three Musketeers, all of Twain and Dickens, The Secret Adversary and The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, all the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jane Eyre, all of Edgar Allan Poe, and so forth.

    They also have all the early SF like Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as E. E. Smith and lots of the short stories published in the 1930s through the 1950s. I used to like those a lot, but it's been quite a long time since I read most of them, so I don't know whether they are any good.

    And of course Wodehouse, which have already been recommended.

    There used to be quite a lot of free books and stories online, but some of them seem to have vanished since I read them a couple years ago. The Internet Archive still has them though: for example, Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge and Inside Job by Connie Willis.

    Probably lots more too...