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Alan Brown

As the Computer Commands: The General, Book 1: The Forge by David Drake and S. M. Stirling

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

One thing I look for in summer reading is a story that keeps me turning pages, and there is nothing like the sense of jeopardy you find in military science fiction to keep the reader engaged. One of the better examples of this genre appearing in the 1990s was the General series, co-written by David Drake and S. M. Stirling. The books, loosely inspired by the adventures of the Roman general Belisarius, featured Raj Whitehall, an officer who develops a telepathic link with an ancient battle computer, and fights to restore space-faring civilization to a far-away world whose society has collapsed. The books were filled with action and adventure, and featured evocative descriptions, interesting characters and a compelling setting.

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A Prison Planet Full of Mystery: Jewels of the Dragon by Allen L. Wold

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, 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, especially during the summer, you want a book that’s chock-full of action and adventure…something that takes you for an exciting ride without requiring a lot of thinking. Looking for just such a book, I recently ran across Jewels of the Dragon on my bookshelf and realized that this competently written tale of adventure—an updated version of the planetary romance sub-genre—was exactly what I was looking for. It features a young man searching for his lost father on a lawless prison planet filled with mysterious ruins, monsters, and dangers—a perfect cure for boredom.

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In Service to God and Science: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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

Occasionally in the annals of science fiction, there have been books that broke out of the confines of the science fiction genre and gained the attention of a wider audience and respect from mainstream critics. One of these books is Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s touching tale A Canticle for Leibowitz. It is a beautifully written story that takes a dark view of humanity, but has at its center a lot of heart and hope.

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How the Space Race Might Have Happened: Space Platform and Space Tug by Murray Leinster

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

Today we’re going back to the 1950s to look at a pair of books by venerable science fiction author Murray Leinster that imagine what the early days of the space program would be like. We will follow the adventures of everyman Joe Kenmore, whose plans to play a small role in the effort expand beyond anything he could have imagined. The action never slows as the story barrels along at breakneck speed, and the technology depicted by Leinster veers from the wildly imaginative to some remarkably accurate predictions.

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Con Artists in Space: The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, 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 have long been a fan of author Harry Harrison, and among his most popular works is the tongue-in-cheek series that follows the adventures of con man and thief James Bolivar “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, also known as “The Stainless Steel Rat.” Today, we’ll look at the first published adventure of that colorful character.

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Robert A. Heinlein’s First Martian Foray: Red Planet

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

When I was young, Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels were among my favorites. But I only got my hands on about half of them. Over the past few years, I have been working to find them all, and one of the most recent I was able to read was Red Planet. Imagine my surprise to find that the Martian race that I had first encountered in Stranger in a Strange Land had been created over a decade earlier for Red Planet

In fact, while the novels are not otherwise connected, I have decided that Stranger in a Strange Land is actually a prequel to Red Planet.

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The Further Adventures of Professor Challenger by Arthur Conan Doyle

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

Recently, Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys reviewed a rather lurid story from Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Horror of the Heights,” about airborne jellyfish creatures threatening early aviators (see the review here). This story, with its pseudo-scientific premise, reminded a number of the commentators of Doyle’s always entertaining (and always irritating) character, Professor Challenger. And it occurred to me, even though I’ve reviewed his most famous adventure, The Lost World, that still leaves a lot of Professor Challenger to be explored. So, lets go back a hundred years, to a time when there were still unexplained corners of the Earth, and join the fun!

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The Pinnacle of Planetary Romance: The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

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

This book is the final volume of a trilogy that stands as Leigh Brackett’s most ambitious work of planetary romance. With scientific advances making the planets of our own solar system obsolete as settings for this type of adventure, she invented the planet of Skaith from scratch—and what a wonderful setting it was for a tale with epic scope, thrilling adventure, and even a timely moral for the readers.

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Road Trip Through Hell: Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

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

Author Roger Zelazny loved to use unlikely characters as protagonists. In Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin, a prince from a land of magic, talked and acted like someone out of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel. In Lord of Light, the powerful Enlightened One preferred to be called Sam. And in Damnation Alley, Zelazny set out to put the “anti” into “antihero” by picking Hell’s Angel and hardened criminal Hell Tanner for a heroic quest that takes him across the blasted landscape of a ruined United States. The result is a compelling look at what it means to be a hero, and stands as a perfect example of Zelazny’s trademark blend of poetic imagery and gritty action.

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Adventuring Through Myth and Story: The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, 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 Compleat Enchanter is a complete delight from beginning to end. The subtitle, The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea, does a pretty good job of summarizing what occurs: Psychologist Harold Shea discovers a means of using scientific formulae to transport himself to parallel worlds based on myth and fantasy. He can’t always control where he goes, can’t use technology from our world, and has only a sketchy ability to control the magic so common in these worlds. But everyone dreams of being able to jump into the middle of their favorite stories, and Harold Shea is able to do just that. With co-author Fletcher Pratt, L. Sprague de Camp gives us a series of adventures that sparkle with energy and humor—if these two weren’t having a ball when they wrote these, I’ll eat my hat.

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Those Pesky Earthlings: Pandora’s Legions by Christopher Anvil

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

It might seem counterintuitive, but there are many books about warfare that take a comedic approach. This is probably rooted in the kind of grim gallows humor often shared by people in a dark and dangerous situation. In Pandora’s Legions, the Earth is invaded by aliens who, despite some lucky scientific discoveries that gave them the capacity for interstellar travel, are less intelligent than the earthlings. Hilarity ensues when the invaders attempt to subdue an enemy that confounds their every effort—and when their policies of assimilation spread those pesky humans throughout their empire, they indeed begin to feel like they have opened the Pandora’s Box of human legend.

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Stark vs. the Curse of the Middle Volume: The Hounds of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

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

Today I’ll be looking at the second volume of Leigh Brackett’s Skaith series, The Hounds of Skaith. The middle of a trilogy is a tough spot for books, as they tend to lack the freshness and energy of a first volume and the satisfying finality of a third volume. If second books were athletes, they’d be the unsung player who sets up the hero who scores to win the game. In this case, however, thanks to the headlong energy of Brackett’s barbarian hero Eric John Stark, the introduction of some fierce animal sidekicks, and a steady unfolding of new insights into the mysterious planet Skaith, this book moves along at a good clip, keeping the reader engaged throughout.

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Laughing in the Face of Doom: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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

Adventure is often presented as serious business, but also benefits from being treated with a light touch. Humor can go a long way toward adding spice to any narrative. And when humor becomes the main dish, it can be a joy to behold. A perfect example is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the best-loved books in the pantheon of great science fiction. It has plenty of adventure, doom, destruction, narrow escapes, megastructures, innovative technology, a bit of romance, and lots and lots of jokes, puns, and absurd situations. Everything a science fiction reader would want, especially if they are willing to be heard laughing out loud while they read.

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Hi Stranger, New in Town?: Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

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

Everyone loves a good puzzle, or a story with a central mystery to unravel. And perhaps nothing is more mysterious than a first encounter situation. It’s that sense of mystery and wonder that drives the continuing popularity of shows like Ancient Aliens, even among people who doubt the basic premise of such investigations. Back in 1973, acclaimed author Arthur C. Clarke gave the world an excellent puzzle: the tale of a strange and gigantic object from beyond the solar system, an object that humans get only a few short days to explore. At the time, the book swept the year’s science fiction awards, and it still holds up well as a classic for today’s readers

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Spinning New Tales: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster and Han Solo at Star’s End by Brian Daley

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, 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 Star Wars movies are notable for spinning off into a wide variety of other media and related products, including TV shows, books, comic strips, comic books, radio dramas, toys, housewares, and other products. Since the series was largely modeled on the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, this is no surprise, as both of those properties were also adapted into a variety of formats and merchandise, something George Lucas certainly noticed and emulated. Today, I’m going to look at two of the first Star Wars tie-in books, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Han Solo at Stars’ End. These books, both excellent adventure stories, represent two very different approaches to media tie-in fiction

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