Robert David Reed (born October 9, 1956) is a Hugo Award-winning (and frequently Hugo Award-nominated) American Science Fiction author from Nebraska. He has written over 200 (mostly unconnected) short stories, though he does write stories in his Great Ship universe. Many of his works feature forms of Immortality and The Singularity, and often deal with how it affects culture.
The Great Ship universe takes place in the far future, where a human probe discovers an abandoned ship, larger than Jupiter, streaking in towards the Milky Way. The ship is claimed by humanity, and boosted into orbit moving through the Milky Way, where it functions like a large, mobile pleasure world. The wealthiest, nearly-immortal beings in the galaxy boost towards the ship on thin torchships, and buy berths using bits of technology and information.
Some of Reed's older, out-of-print short stories can be read for free on his website.
Not to be confused with the man named Brady.
The Great Ship universe:
- Marrow (2000) note
- The Well of Stars (2004)
- The Memory of Sky (2014)
- Dozens of short stories such as The Remoras and Aeon's Child. Most are collected in the e-book The Greatship
Independent novels :
- The Leeshore (1987)
- The Hormone Jungle (1988)
- Black Milk (1989)
- Down The Bright Way (1991)
- The Remarkables (1992)
- Beyond The Veil Of Stars (1994)
- An Exaltation Of Larks (1995)
- Beneath the Gated Sky (Sequel to Beyond the Veil of Stars, 1997)
- Sister Alice (2003)
- The Flavors of My Genius (Limited edition chapbook, 2006)
Short story collections :
- The Dragons of Springplace (1999)
- The Cuckoo's Boys (2005)
- Eater-Of-Bone (2012)
Reed's stand-alone novels feature the following tropes:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: One of the more advanced Earths in Down the Bright Way was attacked by corrupted Von Neumann mining ships. The normally pacifistic Wanderers had no inhibitions about destroying the corrupt machines.
- All Planets Are Earth-Like: In The Remarkables, every planet of sufficient mass is terraformed to be idyllic and park-like.
- Alternate Universe: In Down the Bright Way, the universes extend in two directions out from each other — "left" and "right". Each universe is slightly different from the next, or radically different due to divergence.
- Becoming the Mask: Kyle in Down the Bright Way impersonates Wanderers, and considers his "new" life to be far better than before he started acting like a Wanderer.
- Benevolent Alien Invasion: The Wanderers in Down the Bright Way try to stabilize the politics of the Earths that they visit, re-introduce extinct species, and slowly introduce new sciences.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: The Alteretics in The Leeshore conscript civilians and captured soldiers into being fanatical, cannibal soldiers via Emotion Control and Mind Rape. The Alliance similarly uses Emotion Control, though in a much more benign way, to subtly reinforce certain emotions and mindsets in their soldiers — though this often makes them very bloodthirsty.
- Body Surf: Moliak in Down the Bright Way kidnaps Wanderers, and overwrite their hard-memories with his own.
- Brain Uploading: Down the Bright Way has hard-memory, which are ceramic solid state hard drives implanted into the skull. When a Wanderer is near death, their memories are automatically backed up into the hard memory, which is more durable than their fleshy body is. The Founder's Archives are composed of millions of uploaded Founders, who use elaborate simulations to keep themselves entertained.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Jy in Down the Bright Way mentions how it would be easier to colonize the galaxy with Founder technology than it would be to colonize the different Earths of the Bright, due to the energy cost of interdimensional travel.
- Death World: Many Earths in Down the Bright Way have gone through intense nuclear wars, killing off the locals or everything living on the planet — leaving only their machines alive, to keep fighting and producing more weapons.
- Deus Est Machina: An artificial god is built in The Leeshore using what is essentially computronium. The god is not nice, though it is later revealed that the god isn't evil — it is simply being manipulated by the controlling priests.
- The Empath: Ranier in The Remarkables is sensitive to pain from other creatures with central nervous systems, due to self-replicating implants he received.
- Emotion Control: The "wires" in The Leeshore, which are used by both sides of the conflict. The good guys use it to subtly reinforce certain emotions in their soldiers and ensure loyalty — such as making them more courageous. The enemy use the device to essentially Mind Rape or "conscript" captured civilians soldiers into worshiping their artificial god and the priests; filling the conscript with joy whenever they please the controlling priest, or filling them with blinding rage when they think of their former allies.
- The Fog of Ages: The original Traveler, Jy, in Down The Bright Way is over a million years old, and must make constant decisions on what memories to keep or discard.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: In An Exaltation of Larks, travelers from the the heat-death of the universe have been slowly working their way back to the Big Bang. They go back in time about 15 months, uplift everything that would have died within the next 15 months, and wait until the heat death of the universe, then go backwards an additional 15 months from their previous jump.
- Hand Blast: An ability available to the fighting-gloves worn by Moliak and Cotton in Down the Bright Way.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The UnFound in Down the Bright Way, a highly advanced tribal society that knows nothing besides total war — everything not part of the tribe is an enemy and must be killed.
- Human Subspecies: Evolution diverged around the time of the great apes in Down the Bright Way, so there are at least a million subspecies of humanity. Most are largely similar to regular humans, but some (like the Founders) resemble apes in appearance more than humans.
- Hyperactive Metabolism: The residents of the Termite Mound in Down the Bright Way have a caste system, and each caste has genetic tailored metabolisms. Those born in the upper caste lives at extreme speed, constantly eating, and die of old age in their 20s, whereas the poor castes move glacially slow.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Cotton in Down the Bright Way.
- Living Gasbag: The Leeshore has a planet completely surrounded by biological gas bags so densely that sunlight never reaches the surface.
- Longevity Treatment: Poulsen treatments in The Remarkables can greatly expand one's lifespan (past the already improved ~150 years), but leaves visible marks — wrinkled hands and oddly colored skin.
- Perpetual Motion Machine: In An Exaltation Of Larks, time travelers from the heat death of the universe have been steadily making their way back to the Big Bang (at 15 month intervals) in order to tweak the laws of physics to make the entire universe a perpetual motion machine — rather than slowly succumbing to entropy, the universe will periodically collapse and then expand again.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The travelers in An Exaltation Of Larks have been steadily working their way back to the Big Bang, to physically alter the start of the universe in order to create a cyclic universe where it will periodically collapse and recreate itself, never allowing entropy to reach maximum.
- Starfish Alien: The Remarkables in The Remarkables. As larva, they're like squids. As a juvenile, they resemble dumpster-sized sea urchins, covered in poisonous barbs and griping tentacles. As adults, they are rooted into place and resemble an eyed willow tree with a mouth.
- The Stars Are Going Out: An Exaltation of Larks shows the heat death of the universe, where stars begin to decay and stellar formation stops completely, creating a dark, cold, and empty universe.
- Star Killing: Used by Moliak to wipe out the UnFound systems in Down The Bright Way — because the UnFound colonized every rock, comet, and planet that they can find, turning the star into essentially a giant bomb quickly became the most effective way to neutralize them.
- Terraform: Used in the Realm in The Remarkables to make colonized worlds peaceful, park-like copies of Earth.
- Time Abyss: Mr. Turtle in An Exaltation of Larks. He is at least a trillion years old — a time traveler from the end of the universe.
Reed's stand-alone short stories feature the following tropes:
- Aliens Are Bastards: In Five Thrillers, aliens wipe out human civilization with a solar flare just because they can.
- All Planets Are Earth-Like: A Billion Eves has the Ripper device, which transports a large area (anywhere from the size of a gas station to the size of a football field) into an adjacent universe. The story takes place in one of potentially thousands of settled Earths.
- Alternate History: The Boy has the daughter of god, which caused Christianity to become a matriarchal religion rather than patriarchal. When Islam appeared a few centuries later, with a male prophet, The Crusades were launched in the 7th century rather than in the 11th, which effectively wiped out Islam as a major entity. When the story takes place (some time in the 20th or 21st century), society is much like the era immediately following the American desegregation — men are effectively second class citizens.
- Apocalypse How: Earth in Waging Good was bombed into a dead husk by its rebelling colonies. The ground is described as being lifeless as the lunar regolith.
- Army of the Ages: In The Hoplite, a "quantum dilator" is used to implant the consciousness of long-dead warriors into newly cloned bodies. The warriors are given a suit of Powered Armor and no oversight when executing missions. The protagonist was a hoplite from Alexander the Great's army and works alongside an SS stormtrooper, a Crusader, a Aztec warrior, and a legionnaire. However, a civilian cast doubt on them being actual warriors from the past, claiming the "quantum dilator" is a buzzword and that they're just brainwashed.
- Balkanize Me: In The House Left Empty, a series of catastrophic EMP blasts and rogue viruses caused most government servers to go corrupt — including communication satellites. By the time the story takes place, most of the population live in "Self Governed" areas, which are essentially micronations. However, the government still apparently exists in some form, as the protagonist wonders why most people still file reports for the IRS.
- Brain Uploading:
- In Finished, the brain is uploaded in a destructive process when someone is "finished". The analyzed brain patterns and memories are inserted into a new, artificial body.
- In Winemaster, a large percentage of the educated population downloaded their personalities into tiny — and extremely fast — bodies. They live an hour like a person lives a year, and their brains are so compact that heavy atoms can erase memories, forcing them to enclose their tiny population centers with powerful magnetic shields.
- Cloning Blues: The Cuckoo's Boys revolves around the aftermath of a genius biologist creating a virus which impregnated ovulating women with his genetic code, effectively creating millions of copies of himself — the clones are born like normal people and are no different from a regular person aside from a higher average IQ, but since they share the same general appearance (that of their creator), they are targeted by fanatics.
- Death World: Earth in Waging Good has an atmosphere pumped full of microscopic war machines which enter the blood stream and violently explode in the head, viruses which infect pregnant women and turn the fetus into a poison factory or Tyke-Bomb, good ol' radiation, and chemical warfare agents.
- Emergency Presidential Address: Five Thrillers ends with the President telling whoever is listening to murder, steal, and loot as it's the only way to survive the incoming solar flare.
- Fetus Terrible: In Waging Good, the Earth's atmosphere is full of a variety of deadly nanomachines and tailored viruses after losing a war with its former colonies on the Moon and beyond. One type of artificial virus targets unborn children, mutating them into hellish abominations that hide poison factories in their stomachs or bladed monsters which try kill anything they see as soon as they are born. Because of this, Earth has "Jurors", people who test any newborn children as soon as they pop out. If they appear subverted, the Juror crushes their head against the nearest wall or table.
- Generation Ship:
- Appears in The Children's Crusade, which is crewed by robots, with the colonists being essentially cargo.
- A Buick functions like a Generation Ship in Winemaster — the inhabitants, robots with human minds, live extremely fast, so several dozen generations go by during its drive from the United States to Canada.
- Interstellar Weapon: Five Thrillers ends with aliens firing a bus-sized object at the sun to cause an enormous stellar event to wipe out all life in the solar system
- In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Stated by the immortal robotic crew of the Generation Ship in Chrysalis — they were programmed to believe that all sentient races eventually destroy themselves in devastating interstellar wars, after fleeing the ruins of the solar system after humanity's final, apocalyptic war.
- Matter Replicator: In The House Left Empty, most homes after the collapse of most of the world's governments have their own miniature "factories" that contain million of miniature robots, which can manufacture a wide variety of goods when given a supply of matter. Simple food items, plastics, and metals are all within its reach. The protagonist rides in a copy of a 2021 Ferrari roadster which was built in pieces by a larger replicator. The story also shows the scientific uses of the devices — before the collapse, railguns fired what were essentially cannonballs packed with more powerful versions of the factory nanobots at distant worlds and asteroids, which would use solar power to break up minerals and use them to build up bases for future explorers.
- Mercy Kill: In the short story, Decency, a malfunctioning alien ship crash lands on Earth, leaving the pilot barely alive. A security guard at the compound where the alien is guarded and studied puts a bullet into its brain when he realizes it is suffering.
- Powered Armor: Soldiers in The Hoplite have a suit of power armor with a built-in railgun and a control system to call in artillery strikes and drone attacks.
- Precursors: The Makers in Down the Bright Way, who constructed the Bright, which connects all the separate Earths together.
- Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Played with in The Hoplite. The government uses a "quantum dilator" to snatch the souls of ancient brutal warriors for their cloned Doom Troops used to suppress the colonies. However, a civilian claims that the dilator is either fake, or that it just grabs the first random soul it finds, which is then brainwashed during cloning.
- Resurrected for a Job: The soldiers in The Hoplite were all long-dead, but their bones were dug up, used to clone a new body, and their memories retrieved using a device called the quantum-dilutor. All of the soldiers come from empires known for either their brutality or their cunning — Nazis, Mongolian warriors, Aztecs, and Romans are prime candidates for resurrection. The soldiers are used to subjugate rebellious regions.
- Solar Sail: A ruined alien solar sail ship crash lands on Earth in Decency.
- Uterine Replicator: Winemaster has one for the robotic humans. It builds a child in the standard, tiny robotic body, and configures neural pathways to be like that of a baby.
- Villain Protagonist: The protagonist in The Hoplite is a resurrected hoplite from Alexander the Great's army. He, and many other long dead warriors (A Mongol, a templar, a SS officer, etc.) have their long-dead memories implanted into cloned bodies. They are then given a suit of power armor and a railgun, and use them to subjugate communities on Earth and raid colonies on Alpha Centauri. The protagonist murders several innocent people and children in revenge for being betrayed.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: In the short story, Finished, the state of your mind when you are "finished" (given an artificial body) affects how you live the rest of your life, as the hard-memory in the artificial brain doesn't adapt. If you are finished in a happy mood, you'll typically be very happy. If you are finished while in horrible pain, you'll be in horrible pain as long as you are alive...