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demos review alien fiction and non-fiction (... eventually)

A Demo with high-energy-particle-science certification finds yet another slight anomaly in the results of his last experiment, just before the end of work for the day, and the week, is called. He expects it's probably just an equipment miscalibration... again, and, having spent quite long enough running the company particle accelerator with no terribly exciting discoveries, goes to teach theoretical physics instead after the weekend.

His successor shows up to work in the morning, decides to investigate further into the potential anomaly detected in the last session, and is a bit more observant, having previously worked in cryptography and information theory. Luckily, what turns out to be a signal from another world explains itself remarkably thoroughly. News of this discovery rapidly escalates through the research firm's administration and the national government, to the International Rights Commission, who promptly call an Intervention Committee meeting because that's the closest thing they have to a First Contact Committee.

The committee members that show up hastily draft a first contact message, and wait for a reply, eagerly anticipating scientific knowledge from the other world and any of its other neighbors. (After all, since they got to interworld communication before any of us did, it should let us skip a lot of physics research... or, in the event their physics are completely different, at least it'll give our anthropologists some much needed novelty, right?)

What they didn't expect was for the reply to contain a bewilderingly large archive of fiction and entertainment-nonfiction from across the multiverse, with a request for the Demo's contributions if they have any, and anything they might like to say about any of the included works.

Apparently publicly reviewing alien entertainment (in some cases as part of censorship regimes?) is a popular pastime. Well, sounds entertaining enough. (even if a few of these worlds seem a bit... concerning)

Most states decide to provide access to this archive both freely and free of charge, mainly because most other states are doing likewise and they don't want to face mass emigration just because they didn't let their people read the alien books. Replies, on the other hand, are currently subject to International Rights Commission approval.

(They'll get around to transmitting them eventually, I'm sure.)

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Here's the usual Grapeverse selection!

An epic poem about an ancient king, presented in the original with extensive annotations. Full translations are going to be legitimately tricky; it's long, it's gorgeous, and the poetic form is pretty strict and doesn't adapt well to the rhythms of other languages, but the writer keeps doing this thing where the rhyme scheme and meter highlight underlying thematic connections between different lines—anyway. The plot begins with an introductory section where the king is going around doing atrocities in a very badass ancient-legendary-figure sort of way, right up until a random peasant girl lights him on fire with her magic powers and he immediately falls madly in love and drops everything to beg her to marry him, then spends the next two-thirds of the poem gradually lightening up on the atrocities front, partly because he has now realized that peasants are people and partly because his wife keeps arguing with him and occasionally threatening to light him on fire again, which he always responds to with a confused mix of fear, adoration, and occasionally anger. The queen's power to set fire to her husband is depicted very obviously and straightforwardly, discussed in the text and the dialogue; the king's reciprocal power to have his wife executed is left completely to subtext and implication, only barely hinted at by means such as using epithets for her that emphasize her fearlessness whenever he gets angry. Accompanying notes explain that the poem is an allegory for real historical events, with the queen standing in for the entire Phoenix archetype, which did appear during that approximate historical era and did have those approximate powers and did have approximately that effect on ancient kings' tendency to oppress people although the exact mechanism was obviously very different.

Extremely well-researched historical fiction detailing the life of a high priestess of the River Kingdom who, by contrast to most high priestesses of the River Kingdom, did actual politics instead of spending all her time managing the movement of water. One gets the impression that the author wishes they could spend all their time managing the movement of water; lovingly detailed descriptions of River Kingdom plumbing and water management take up a solid third of the book, intermingled with plenty of inner monologue from the high priestess and lots of interactions with very well-fleshed-out side characters. An appendix carefully distinguishes side characters for whom there is historical evidence (and what that evidence covered) from side characters the author made up (and the census data and contemporary sources from which they extrapolated those characters' likely traits). An additional appendix tries to explain the context of the Ondine archetype so the aliens can properly appreciate it, but the author admits that they're not very good at explaining this sort of thing and recommends some other reference material to interested reader.

Porn about masochists with access to magical healing is its own entire genre but here is a widely acclaimed example, in which a [sadist who lives by themself in a castle they designed and built using magic] (this is a two-word phrase in the author's native language) gets an unexpected visitor and falls in love with them despite being sort of shaky on this whole 'human interaction' concept. Neither of them has much of a clue how to pursue a healthy relationship, but they are both highly motivated to figure it out, and they make it to the end of the book having successfully reinvented most of the basics from scratch and settling into a life together full of art and luxury and wholesome, loving, extremely gory sex. The climactic scene involves the introverted-sadist-architect breaking into tears about how much they love their partner and needing to be wrapped in blankets and snuggled until they calm down. The two of them are the only characters in the entire book, unless you count the introverted-sadist-architect's house as a third character, which you very well might given how much screentime it gets. The back of the book has a collection of author-approved fanart of the castle, added so the aliens can get a sense of the architectural styles involved that words alone would have trouble conveying.

A duology of very long fantasy novels, which turn out to be collectively about 40% appendix by pagecount. The appendices cover worldbuilding, conlangs, and a set of six different detailed maps of the world, each from the perspective of one of the major nations involved in the plot, all of which have subtle disagreements with each other on matters such as which landmarks are important, what they are called, and who owns them. The plot consists of a ragtag yet lovable ensemble cast, thrown together by circumstances beyond their control which accidentally leave them the only people in the world capable of saving it from a cataclysmic threat, having breakdowns about how they're not ready for this and then going ahead and doing their best anyway. In the end, they pull it off by the skin of their teeth and with rather more casualties than any of them are comfortable with. The second volume has a long denouement consisting mostly of our heroes leaning on each other and their friends and loved ones to help them cope with all their realistically-described trauma once the crisis is over; the last chapter concludes when they're all psychologically stable again and leading healthy, thriving lives, and the epilogue shows a bittersweet scene of the six of them holding a private memorial ceremony together ten years later, after which they are going to attend a massive celebration being held in their honour on the anniversary of their success.

A work of interactive fiction, in which the player's character appears wandering in a starlit desert with no memory of where they came from or how they got here. After finding and exploring a nearby ruin, you eventually stumble upon a talking statue of a beautiful winged person, and although the statue is very shy at first, eventually you can coax enough information out of them to realize that they're some sort of powerful magical being who has been horribly abused by people using them for personal gain. You, too, can horribly abuse them and use them for personal gain; or you can use them for personal gain in less gratuitously awful ways that they still pretty clearly find traumatizing; or you can try to befriend them; or you can try to befriend them but in a sex way; or you can ignore them and try to figure out a way to escape the mysterious magical ruins by yourself. The descriptions of the statue's reactions to trauma are uncompromisingly realistic; the descriptions of the statue's reactions to genuine friendship and love are heartbreakingly sweet. The story has multiple possible endings, depending on your relationship with the statue and on whether you choose to escape the mysterious ruin or not, plus the implicit non-ending of simply never deciding to take an ending option; it is only possible to remove the statue from the ruins by force or with maximum trust levels, and if you do it by force the statue crumbles to dust as soon as they cross the outer wall.


Watchmaker's Heart is considered the genre-ending book in the "creative angst" category.

It is about a young Sky* woman named Amethyst and her craft watchmaking business, which is barely profitable in the modern age despite the level of fine dexterity and mechanical knowledge involved. Watchmaking is Amethyst's lifepath, her passion; however, it doesn't help to support her polycule. Instead the majority of its income is maintained by her Earth, Violet, who works a boring but necessary clerical job in the civil service. Amethyst is sorrowful that she cannot ease Violet's burden of responsibility despite all her skills, and contemplates abandoning watchmaking for a more practical pursuit; however, Violet's other Sky, Oak, who is an archaeologist, encourages Amethyst to continue in her work to honor the past and keep the traditions of watchmaking alive. There is a flint-knapping scene where Amethyst tries and fails to make a stone tool out of chert; this is treated as both a spiritual challenge and a practical one. Most of the events of the book are colored heavily by Amethyst's sense of what is "proper" and "correct", which blurs the line between neurodiversity and spirituality; Amethyst speaks both to a secular therapist and a spiritual leader, and the accounts she gives of her reasoning and motivations differ significantly between the two professionals, neither one able to give a full accounting of the why or what of her condition. Ultimately, Amethyst comes to agree with Oak that the task of preserving the past must fall to someone, and talks to Violet about her worries and her feeling that she's failing her; Violet reassures Amethyst that as an Earth, she loves to come back from work each day to see a smile on Amethyst's face and a disassembled watch on her desk. Amethyst springs back into work, in a sudden creative frenzy that overlays a spiritual montage of significant moments from earlier in the work, and makes a pair of custom watches specifically for her and her Earth. She mounts them on long necklaces, and bashfully presents one to Violet, and asks to be her Kept.** Violet accepts; they kiss, and the novel fades to black. There is an official erotica patch which intersperses several key sex scenes into the novel (between all three members of the polycule, separately and together) and includes the implied sex scene after Violet and Amethyst exchange necklaces. All the erotica is realistic, detailed, and built into the spiritual and emotional journey of the protagonists, though relatively vanilla as this is not primarily a kink work.


*Skies, on Heart, are the majority; they are those who work on passion projects, cannot deal with boring mundane work easily, and are generally supported by their polycule's Earth until their passions mature.

**Heart's population are generally polyamorous, but particularly deep relationships, especially ones with a high degree of commitment and trust, are sometimes recognized as a Keeper and Kept by the exchanging of necklaces. This is generally an unequal but reciprocal relationship, with the Keeper pledging to look after and protect the Kept, who pledges loyalty and service. Most polycules center on a central Keeper/Kept pair.


A working group has been put together to curate a collection of some the Union's most significant or impressive works. These are some of the selections they've made for fiction. (The form of the submission is a box containing paper books, naturally.) Excepting the book of lies, all are certified for accuracy*.

A fantasy novel in which people have physical 'souls' which record their memories, instincts, and parts of their personalities. Moreover, it is possible to 'eat' the soul of a dead person and gain some of their memories and instincts. Since this is transitive, and most souls are eaten after death, some small part of most people lives on for hundreds or thousands of years after their death, although transmission is lossy. The story who follows a young monk and his life in a monastery (which is equal parts academic and spiritual). One day, returning from an errand, he discovers that the entire monastery has been slaughtered by an errant monster. Alarmed, he hastily eats as many of the souls of the dead that he can before they expire, almost one hundred in total. This is many more than most people ever consume, and for the rest of the story he is afflicted by mysterious visions and impulses. In the aftermath of the massacre, he travels to the nearest military outpost to report the attack, only to discover that they too have been overrun. Soon learning that a large group of monsters have penetrated civilization's defensive lines and are now heading inwards, towards populated areas, he sets off for the nearby large city to warn them. Along the way, the intuition borne of the souls he consumed helps him narrowly avert disaster several times, and he comes to trust it. After reaching the city, he helps organize its defense, and distinguishes himself. After the crisis is resolved, he is recognized as an exceptionally wise and resourceful leader, and accepts a position on the city's ruling council.

A memoir written by a woman who grew up as a member of one of the last isolated primitive tribes of the great river forest. When she is a young woman, a group of Hadarite missionaries arrive, bearing gifts. Once they learn the language, they tell stories of faraway lands, vast cities, great wealth, and an incredible amount of knowledge about the natural world. Most of her tribe is skeptical, but she, ever curious, listens to them with rapt attention. After a year, they depart. She chooses to accompany them to the city, leaving her old life and family behind. Over the next several years, she attends a school, and learns a great number of things---the knowledge of more than a thousand years of civilization—very, very fast. The book describes in detail her thoughts and inner experience, and what it was like for her life and view of the world change so much so quickly. She seems to have found it both overwhelming and exhilarating. During her time in the city, she also comes to grips with an entirely foreign culture, and the book recounts various stories of misunderstandings or confusions on her part or on the part of others, not used to people with her background. These events are not only humorous, but also offer a deep look into both cultures, and the unstated assumptions and beliefs that underlie them. (This book is popular in the Union for its rare perspective on Hadarite culture, and the curators expect that, for similar reasons, it will be useful to help other worlds understand that culture.) The increased comfort and security available to her in her new life is also a significant change, although she seems to find this less important than what she's learning. After studying for several years, she returns home to visit. After so long, and dressed in foreign clothing, they do not recognize her at first. When they do, they welcome her back, and ask her about her travels. She struggles to recount the most magnificent things she's seen or learned, but finds it difficult to communicate why they mean so much to her when her audience lacks the background knowledge to understand. In her time away, she has grown accustomed to Hadarite culture, and must make an effort to remember what it was like to be so different, to know so little. Realizing that she cannot go back to the life she once had, she departs for good. It is a bittersweet farewell. She returns to the city, begins a career as a biologist, and (as described by the afterword) eventually makes several significant discoveries and is acclaimed as one of the greatest minds of her era.

This book isn't fiction, precisely, but it's definitely not nonfiction either. The most common religion on Olam, called Hadar, is centrally about truth. A fringe sect (allegedly) believes that the best way to learn truth is to be exposed to lies—the trickier the better—examine them, and learn from them how to overcome illusions. This book, written by a member of that sect, is one of the most acclaimed examples of what are known as 'books of lies'. Not everything is a lie, of course, or else you would be able to reverse them and consistently discover what the author really thinks. Instead, the book is a careful mixture of truths and falsehoods, some more obvious than others. It combines various arguments about philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history into a strangely persuasive theory of everything. This book is clearly labeled as not-reliably-true, and the included advice recommends reading this carefully, treating it as a challenge to discern which parts of it are true and which are false, and avoiding drawing any strong conclusions from the text, even if you're pretty sure you've got it right. The curators have included an 'answer sheet', containing the priesthood's best judgments about which parts are true and where the deceptions lie (although it is strongly cautioned that they could have missed something). It is strongly recommended not to distribute these answers, except to a small group of sanity-checkers who will be in a position to notice if your extra-dimensional civilization has a special vulnerability to any of the deceptions contained herein. If used in accordance with the provided instructions, the curators expect this book to be much more valuable as a learning exercise than it is dangerous.

(There are other books of lies, designed to be deceptive taking into account that you expect to be deceived, those are much more dangerous and the curators thought it best not to send any to other worlds just yet.)

A book of post-post-apocalyptic speculative fiction (set on Olam) in which, in the aftermath of an improbably dangerous plague that killed most of the population, the survivors rebuild civilization. It follows seven characters from all around the world, of various ages, genders, and social roles, over a period of several decades. In this period, substantial recovery and reconstruction takes place, and isolated lands come back into contact with one another. Many decades of separation—and varying consequences of and reactions to the plague and its aftermath—cause the already distinct cultures of these various lands to diverge further. When characters from these separate populations meet, they are struck by the differences between them, and seek to understand each other and draw together despite those differences. The book focuses most on its examination of the cultural and economic consequences of the plague, and contains several appendixes detailing the timeline of events, how the economic and cultural conditions changed over time, and why they changed in those ways. The plot, in comparison, is rather straightforward and unsurprising.

*'Accuracy' in this context, seems to be related to how safe it is to draw conclusions about the world from a work. In the case of fiction, it mainly has to do if the work's implicit or explicit models of psychology, sociology, economics, biology, etc. are accurate.


A tale for young workers about a new mushroom farmer who is very unhappy with her* job and desperately wants to change it and become an explorer, but feels like she must stay in her current job for the good of her hive! The story details her becoming less happy and satisfied, until she eventually makes new friends in her fiction-reading group who encourage her to tell the hive-manager that she’s unhappy and wants to switch jobs. She does this, and becomes much happier, and finds a new valuable type of fungus for the colony, that is eventually used to make a new kind of antibacterial. It is clearly written with a moral lesson to tell people about your problems and not just tough them out.


A very complicated political novel with around 600,000 words, featuring nine diplomats from three different hives navigating a tension-filled debate about the morality of executions, while also trying to make the most advantageous trade deals, with several backroom discussions between every combination of hives at different points, embarrassing interpersonal drama, and a tremendous amount of dramatic irony.


A rules and lore book for a tabletop RPG, featuring several books of additional content based on other series, and a wide variety of different powersets. Nearly three hundred different personality traits are listed in the original alone, all with various mechanical benefits and downsides. 


An collection including seven novels, three books of short stories, four series about the most popular alternate universes, a collection of poetry, half a dozen epistolary books, and an annotated book of music scores. An additional eight powersets, 412 character traits, and new faction-loyalty and relationship mechanics for the RPG above are included, all inspired by this series. The base series is about a worker, named Halru, who is taken as a war-prisoner by a rival hive as slave labor and is forced to care for their grubs. Two of her limbs are cut off, and she generally has a terrible time doing awful labor under threat of death. Her best friend, Terilu, sets off on an extremely dangerous and ill-advised quest to rescue her, which at various points includes having a riddling contest with a dragon to gain fire breathing, bargaining with a Fairy Queen to gain wings, fighting a variety of creatures, secretly training under five separate rival hives to become a master of all five styles of spearfighting, and generally becoming a really powerful and dangerous warrior. She then rescues her best friend, and they return home, only to find themselves dealing with complex social dynamics now that Halru is maimed, which means that she is lower status in Semi-Generic!Fantasy!Past world. They cuddle a lot, talk about their feelings, play around with various power dynamics, and become lifepartners.

An included note says that while slavery and treating maimed people worse is something that happened in the past, they definitely don’t do it in the modern era, because that’s horrendously unethical.


A treatise that appears to be passionately arguing that people who don’t like arguing don’t have a mental illness. The fact that some people might think that is considered extremely obvious. It’s noted to have been very controversial, and one of the first modern anti-discriminatory arguments, written around four hundred years ago.


A collection of official treaties and documents detailing an agreement between 264 hives, agreeing for favorable trading treaties, shared-science knowledge, and common ethical laws. The reason for the censorship is the included law against all slavery as an “ethical abomination, and all who are complicit should feel the strongest self-betrayal.”


A slightly complicated political novel, classified as “short,” with only 70,000 words and three subplots. In this one, one of the hives is secretly preparing to wage war on both hives and framing it on the other, and is thwarted when one of the ambassadors has a crisis of faith, which is detailed in full. She defects, tells the others about the evil plans, and gets lots of cuddles with her new friends.



Grapeverse, Item 5

<A stream VOD of two men and a woman playing the game together, titled "Grapeverse Desert Statue Game [Best Ending, Fewest Moves]". The VOD is marked as requiring a competency certificate in handling-depictions-of-sex to view in the country the streaming service operates in, a restriction which was applied automatically when the game's category was selected. The streamers and chat are generally in agreement that the statue is "best waifu". Also, apparently what the game's speedrunning community has unilaterally declared the best ending despite signs that the authors might have intended that to be ambiguous is "befriend the statue in a sex way, then escape the ruin". The commentary is deeply insightful into the technical workings of the game's systems, and at least puts in an effort towards displaying insight into the narrative and social ramifications.>


A realistic mystery novel for adults involving the murder of one member of a company's internal policies board. A witness claims to have seen someone dressed as a certain employee and sharing her fur color standing over the body. The main investigation dives into seeking out other people who might dress similarly and who have similar fur colors, as well as the exact internal policies of the company and whether or not the employees would have a reason to protest against them, and whether or not anyone would have a personal grudge against the particular victim. In the end, the case is cracked when the witness is revealed to have an undiagnosed form of colorblindness that widens the suspect pool, allowing them to find the actual killer. The killer is revealed to have been attempting to have a civil discussion about a certain company policy, but constant insulting needling from the victim led to them snapping and escalating to murder. Their sentence is partly decided on with input from the deceased's family, and in the end a short jail sentence and therapy for those violent urges are the final conclusion. Interestingly enough, at no point is someone deliberately framing the first suspect suggested as a hypothesis.

There is also a version of the above novel that's intended for younger readers. Several of the suspects are removed from the plot to shorten the book, although the main forensics and investigation methods are still described in detail. The main plot difference lies in the ending, where the murder is framed more as a fight gone wrong, and much more detail is given on the need to control those impulses, as well as methods for doing so.

A nonrealistic fantasy culture-clash novel for all ages about two species, both somewhat distinct from grayliens, where one group is obligate carnivores and the other herbivores. The book focuses on a herbivore ambassador to the carnivore city, and alternates between surreal illustrations that the herbivore is telepathically transmitting back home, narrative from the perspective of the ambassador's host as they try to be a good host, and various records of the minutes of the council meetings on each side. The herbivores are generally presented as overly paranoid and hypervigilant, with the ambassador constantly distorting the actual events as something horrifying, although there are also some hints that the carnivore host is being overly positive about some things themself, and the two slowly get to understand each other better and better. The climax involves the herbivores nearly declaring war on the carnivore city when they believe their ambassador has been murdered, and the carnivores preparing for war due to an unintentional insult, but by now the host and ambassador have become fast friends/romantic interests (it's not entirely clear and could go either way) and manage to stop the war from erupting. The last scene is the herbivore ambassador carefully trying a meat dish, a callback to a previous discussion about the two species having an omnivorous common ancestor.

A semirealistic trilogy of novels for all ages taking place in a prehistoric setting, with the first one being about a pair of protagonists fleeing their original pride (an archaic word that has connotations of both "harem" and "housemates"*) where they are both considered low-status, and finally finding a place to settle down and create a New Pride with just the two of them. The second describes how the protagonists have to deal with having their first litter, and the needs of their children for both privacy and safety. Several comments are made about how the original pride structure had its uses. Eventually, they reconnect with several of the friends they made in the previous book, who join the protagonists in their childcare duties. The maned protagonist worried that he** might become a tyrant like the original pride leader, but he is reassured that the division of power here is already different, and furthermore that he himself is not that type of person. The book ends with the characters declaring themselves to have formed a New Pride. The third book is about the New Pride's interactions with other nearby prides and individuals, as well as the slow development of various romances within the pride and a few more children being born, and eventually ends with the first use of the modern word "housemates." Various appendices describe the inaccuracies in the novels, such as how research has shown that most prides were not as tyrannical as the first, as well as the fact that the change from prides to the current standard of living probably took much longer than a single generation, as well as the linguistic drift which means the final book's ending is unlikely to be how the term was actually coined.

*This term shows up quite often in graylien novels, and it seems that generally their family setups are assumed to have multiple adults living together to split various duties. It can have connotations of polyamorous relationships in some usages, though it can also refer to a found family.
**This pronoun does not quite map to the typical Earthling concept of gender, but has a closer match to a certain social role that maps somewhat to the Earthling concept of "male lion." Previously in the first book, a different pronoun was used for both protagonists while they were still living in their original pride.


Heart, Watchmaker's Heart

What a heartwarming story about a person who is only slightly more dysfunctional than average (albeit also a lot more dedicated to one project).

Fans of such things have, naturally, written and/or drawn a significant quantity of additional post-story slice-of-life fic and smut.

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