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Alan Brown

Are We Reading About a Hero or Terrorist? Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Can one man stand against an entire planet? You might not think so, until you consider the fact that a tiny wasp can distract a driver and cause him to destroy his vehicle. Many works of fiction center on irregular warfare, as the subject offers myriad opportunities for tension and excitement, and I can’t think of any premise as engaging and entertaining as this one. In portraying many of the tactics of irregular warfare, however, the book also takes us into morally dubious territory—a fact made even more clear in the wake of recent events.

Wasp, written by Eric Frank Russell in 1958, is a classic from science fiction’s golden age. The novel demonstrates the type of havoc that a well-trained agent can unleash behind enemy lines, and illustrates the tactics of irregular warfare in a way that is informative as any textbook. Russell’s voice keeps the narrative interesting and exciting, and it stands as one of his best-remembered works.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Finale: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Former Robot Scorned

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is wrapping up the final arc of Season Four. Except for Mack and Yo-Yo, all the agents have returned from the alternate reality of the Framework. But the former Life Model Decoy alternately called Aida, Ophelia, and Madame Hydra has also returned from the Framework. And in her incarnation as a human being, she has been infused not only with the powers of the dark dimension, but also of every Inhuman who fell into Hydra clutches in the Framework. Aida is assisted by the Superior, a disembodied head with murder on his mind, who can control any number of LMDs. Fortunately, Aida’s creation has also allowed the Ghost Rider to return to Earth, so he can give his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D. a hand. If the situation sounds crazy, that’s because it is—once again, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and only the plucky Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their allies stand between us and destruction!

[Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!]

Explore the Cosmos in 10 Classic Space Opera Universes

Space operas are fun—they vary greatly in theme and content, but all share a focus on the adventure and sense of wonder that brought so many of us to science fiction in the first place. Most science fiction readers, when asked to pick favorites, could name dozens of space opera universes, and ranking them subjectively is often like choosing between apples and oranges. So, I’m going to need help from the readers to ensure they all get their due. I’ll start off mentioning ten of my favorites, and then open the floor to you.

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Series: Space Opera Week

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

The authors of the Golden Age of science fiction, and their works in later years, were indelibly shaped by World War II. Many served in the Armed Forces, while others worked in laboratories or other support functions—Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and L. Sprague de Camp, for example, worked together at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Time passed, and in the 1970s a novel appeared, The Forever War, which was written by newcomer Joe Haldeman, a member of a new generation who was shaped by a very different war. The book, with its bleak assessment of the military and warfare in general, had a profound impact on the field. And today, as more and more people refer to our current conflict with terrorists as the Forever War, the book’s viewpoint is as relevant as ever.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: What the Hail, Hydra?

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for the final part of Season Four, a season divided into three Netflix-able chunks, and this arc has been set up in fine fashion. Life Model Decoy Aida has turned on Radcliffe, her creator. Her fellow LMDs, impersonating Mace, Coulson, Mack, Fitz and May, have taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. The real agents are strapped down in a former Soviet submarine, their minds trapped in the Framework, an alternate reality where people can live a life in which their greatest regret has been erased.

Only Daisy and Jemma have escaped with a small team aboard the Zephyr, along with the equipment they need to enter the Framework themselves. But what they find is not a world of happiness—instead, it’s a world ruled by the evil Agents of Hydra. The episode is entitled “What if…” and that’s the game the next few episodes will be playing. So let’s swallow the red pill, step through the looking glass, push forward the lever of our time machine, and dive down the rabbit hole into the world of the Framework!

[Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!]

Storming the Gates of Geekdom: Conan the Warrior by Robert E. Howard

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

I’m flexing the format of this series a bit this month to cover a book that isn’t science fiction, but is certainly full of alarums, excursions, and the stuff of excitement. In the late 1960s, a series of paperback books—with dynamic and evocative covers painted by Frank Frazetta at the peak of his talents—gave an old pulp character, Conan the Barbarian, new recognition. The wild success of paperback editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had revealed a desire for fantasy stories that publishers were eager to satisfy. And while Robert E. Howard had first written the adventures of Conan back in the 1930s, and the character had a strong cult following for decades, new editions of his adventures appeared on book racks in stores across America and gained wide popularity. Howard’s brand of fantasy stood out from the crowd. There were no elves and fairies in his work. Instead, he offered a lusty and vigorous hero who met all challenges, whether physical or magical, with his mighty strength, fighting skill, and cold steel.

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A Book To Make You Fall in Love with Science Fiction All Over Again: Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Sometimes a book comes along that completely knocks you off your feet. A perfect example is A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge. It takes all the tropes of space opera, but grounds them in interesting speculations about physics. It is a war story, but told from the viewpoint of refugees fleeing that conflict. It is a heroic quest, but set in a far future society that travels between stars. It pushes all the emotional buttons, and keeps you on the edge of your seat right up to the last page. If you haven’t read it, consider this article a taste of what you’ve been missing. If you have read it, join me for a fond visit to an old favorite. There are a few spoilers ahead, but relatively gentle ones that describe the setting without revealing the plot past the first few chapters.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Love in the Time of Robots (Full Spoilers!)

If you were waiting for an episode full of rip-snorting adventure on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this was your night. Last week’s episode ended with the reveal that four more key members of the team had been replaced by Life Model Decoy (LMD) robots: Director Mace, Coulson, Mack, and Daisy. Their bodies are strapped to tables in the evil Superior’s submarine alongside Agent May, with electrode caps on their heads that keep their minds occupied in the Framework, an alternate reality almost indistinguishable from reality. Fitz and Simmons, who’ve just detected the LMDs, don’t know what to do next. Between robot duplicates and alternate worlds, nothing is as it seems. Anything can happen.

Strap in, Agents, because pretty much everything DOES happen in this episode!

[Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!]

Assembly Line Adventures: On a Torn-Away World by Roy Rockwood

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

The early 20th Century was a time of marvels—and a time when mass production was putting those marvels in every home. When people think of assembly lines, they often think of Henry Ford and automobiles. But in the same era, a man named Edward Stratemeyer developed a formula for mass producing books for the juvenile market, and in doing so, revolutionized an industry. There were books for boys and girls; books filled with mystery, adventure, sports, humor, science, and science fiction: anything an inquisitive child would want, in a package that encouraged them to come back for more.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Manufactured That Way

The Ghost Rider has disappeared into another dimension, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns from the holiday break for the second part of Season Four. And though Ghost Rider’s evil Uncle Eli has been defeated, there are still lots of plot threads dangling: Jeff Mace, new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., remains a man of mystery, as does the Senator who was trying to pull his strings from behind the scenes. The mysterious new Inhuman that Simmons freed from his cocoon is still on the loose. And Aida, the Life Model Decoy (LMD) developed by Doctor Radcliffe, has radically changed since her exposure to the Darkhold, the magical book that corrupted Uncle Eli and his fellow scientists. Aida has developed a mind of her own and has kidnapped Agent May, replacing her with another LMD. Which of our agents might next be replaced with a robotic doppelgänger? Could Grant Ward come back in yet another incarnation? Let’s dive again into the world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

[Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!]

War Without Glory: The Forlorn Hope by David Drake

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

The United States is divided by concerns about a stagnant economy and trade imbalances. The nation is still conflicted about a long and inconclusive war. A charismatic and bellicose Republican has replaced the last President, a scholarly and thoughtful Democrat. The new President promises to increase military spending while cutting back on the bureaucracy and balancing the budget at the same time… That’s right, folks, it’s time to travel back to the 1980s, and look at a work of military science fiction from the Reagan Era.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Four Midseason Finale: Ghost Skulls Roasting on an Open Fire!

The holiday season approaches, and while folks pull decorations out of the back of the closet, search for the perfect gift, and put party dates on their calendars, the television networks try to hold onto our attention for a day or two more by bringing their fall story arcs to a close—usually with some big dramatic moment, or in the case of superhero and SF shows, some sort of shooting, explosions, flames, or earth-shattering kaboom. And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no different. Especially when it comes to this Winter Finale, at least in the flame department. Tonight’s episode is called “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” and the synopsis from ABC promised we would see “S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider find[ing] themselves unlikely allies when the lives of all of Los Angeles hang in the balance.”

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Gateways in the Library: The Beast Master by Andre Norton

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the most popular writers of “juvenile” science fiction was Andre Norton. We didn’t know much about the author at the time, but we all recognized the work and the themes. Worlds of adventure and mystery, danger and turmoil, exploration and triumph. The settings could be the realm of science fiction, or the magical worlds of fantasy. The protagonists were generally alone or in small numbers, pitted against hostile worlds and shadowy enemies. These books were gateways to adventure, and kept us turning pages, sometimes well past bedtime, with a flashlight under the covers.

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Hornblower in Space: Flandry of Terra by Poul Anderson

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Sometimes a cover painting is all it takes to reel you in. The paperback copy of Flandry of Terra had a glorious cover by Michael Whelan that metaphorically jumped off the shelf of the bookstore and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. While being a true and accurate depiction of characters from the story, the artwork also evoked some of Frank Frazetta’s best work: there was Flandry in a heroic pose, wearing cold weather gear and signaling to someone in the distance with his rifle, with a beautiful, similarly-clad woman crouching at his feet. A planetary ring arched in the background while airborne jellyfish floated above the wintry terrain. The author’s name was the icing on the cake: I was well acquainted with Poul Anderson’s work, and here was a whole new, exciting character—one who was completely unfamiliar to me. I had to buy this book, take it home, and see what I had been missing. And so it was, sometime in the early 1980s, that I first met Dominic Flandry. I was in for a treat.

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When Wishes Come True: Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

The early ’60s were a tough time to be a geek, in many ways. There was no computer industry, that great level playing field which allowed nerds with thick glasses to join the ranks of the rich and famous. There were a few science fiction movies around, and paperbacks and comics you could buy, but you generally didn’t want to be associated with those things, especially not if you had any hope of finding a date for Saturday night. Accordingly, there was a strong undercurrent of wish fulfillment in the science fiction of the day. Stories of heroes and heroines plucked from the mundane world to find adventure and excitement on another world, in another dimension, or in another time. And one of the best of them was a story by H. Beam Piper, about a corporal in the Pennsylvania State Police who is swept into another time, and a world far different than his own.

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