Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

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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New Setting for an Old Hero: The Ginger Star 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.

Leigh Brackett was undoubtedly one of the most entertaining science fiction authors of the 20th century; while other authors shied away from the action and adventure that marked the pulp origins of the genre, she embraced those qualities. And late in her life, she returned to her roots and brought back one of her greatest heroes—in fact, one of the great protagonists of the entire planetary romance sub-genre—Eric John Stark. This wandering hero, raised by a primitive tribe and shaped by a lifetime of combat, might suffer setbacks and injuries, but remains a force of nature whose adventures never fail to entertain the reader.

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One Heck of a Summer Vacation: Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear

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.

Greg Bear is one of the most respected science fiction writers to emerge in the latter part of the 20th century, producing books on a great variety of subjects, in a wide range of settings, with all of them being well-constructed and engaging. So, when I saw that he had written a sequel to one of my favorite novels, The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, I knew it was a book I had to read. A tale of high adventure and dinosaurs, a chance to revisit one of my favorite fictional settings, written by a great author—how could I pass that up?

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The Science of Space: Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel by Willy Ley

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 column, up until now, has been devoted to exploring works of fiction. But looking around my den recently, I realized there have been many non-fiction books that influenced my view of the future. Today, I’m going to look at one of my early favorites, written by a pioneer of rocketry, Willy Ley. In the 1960s, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the space program, and I was fortunate to have a dad who worked in aerospace and was a collector of all sorts of fascinating books on scientific topics.

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Alien Abduction Meets Military History and Adventure: Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle

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 of my favorite science fiction writers has always been Jerry Pournelle. His politics were the polar opposite of my own, and he could be a curmudgeon at times, but he sure could write an engaging adventure story—especially one centered on military characters. One of his enduring creations is the series begun with the book Janissaries, which follows a group of mercenaries kidnapped from Earth by aliens and taken to fight on a far-away world. Author Jo Walton is also a big fan of this book, writing about Pournelle’s work in this review a few years ago on Tor.com, “He’s the best, especially when he’s writing on his own. He can bring tears to my eyes…”

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Adventure Rooted in Reality: Mars by Ben Bova

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, Ben Bova passed away, and science fiction lost a giant. As both a prolific writer, and an editor of Analog and Omni, he had a profound effect on the field. Reaction to his passing was remarkably positive, with a host of writers, editors, readers and fans sharing stories of how he impacted their lives. Today, I’m going to look at a book, Mars, which he wrote at the height of his career, one of the earliest works in what became known as his Grand Tour series, and a book that was acclaimed right from the start. After all, the book first appeared with a blurb from Arthur C. Clarke himself, “The definitive novel about our fascinating neighbor.”

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Pirates in Space: Henry Martyn by L. Neil Smith

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 summer, I was reading a lot of pirate stories, and I had a hankering to read even more. So I looked on my shelves, and this book immediately caught my eye. I remembered it as being full of adventure, but also a brutal tale that does not shy away from the evils that breed and inform piracy. The author, L. Neil Smith, had long been known as a writer of adventures filled with libertarian political philosophy, but in this case, it’s the adventure that’s front and center.

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Adventure Tales From a Master: The Best of Leigh Brackett, Edited by Edmond Hamilton

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 Leigh Brackett, but rarely found her books on the shelves of bookstores. Every time I found one of her stories, usually in an anthology, I said to myself, “I need to keep my eye out for more of this.” In recent years, I’ve ordered a few of her books over the internet. And just a few weeks ago, at my local used bookstore, I found a treasure that had long eluded me: the Del Rey Books anthology The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by her husband, Edmond Hamilton. And what a joy it was to read. It contains a lot of classic planetary romance stories, along with strong samples of her other science fiction for good measure.

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