Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

Cuteness vs. Corporate Evil: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

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.

Science fiction is noted for the amazing diversity of its alien beings. More than a few of them are scary, or cruel, or heartless…not the type of creatures you would want to meet in a dark alley or forest. Those nasty ones definitely outnumber cute and friendly aliens. But one alien race, the Fuzzies, stands out for its excessive cuteness—an element that could easily overwhelm any tale including them. Rather than wallowing in cuteness, however, H. Beam Piper’s classic book Little Fuzzy turns out to be quite a tough tale about corporate greed and the power of people brave enough to stand against it.

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Destruction and Renewal: Nova by Samuel R. Delany

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.

There are authors who work with the stuff of legends and make it new and fresh and all their own. There are authors who make their prose sing like it was poetry, and authors whose work explores the cosmos in spaceships, dealing with physics and astronomy. And in a few rare cases, there are authors who bring all those elements together into something magical. One of those authors is Samuel R. Delany, whose book Nova is a classic of the genre.

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Dinosaurs in the Amazon: The Lost World 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.

Today we’ll be going on an adventure with the best character ever created by Arthur Conan Doyle. And I’m not talking about a detective. We’re going to be following the vain, volatile, and brilliant Professor Challenger as he and his plucky companions travel up the Amazon River to a remote plateau where creatures from prehistoric times still walk among more modern beasts. A land filled with exciting discoveries, but also deadly danger. The land of The Lost World.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Mid-Season Premiere: Stuck in the Middle with You

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has kicked off what appears to be the final story arc of Season Five with the team returning to present-day Earth from a future where the planet was destroyed, having saved what was left of the human race from their Kree oppressors before they left. Now they need to stop that Earth-ending disaster from ever happening—but they’ve returned to a world where S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles, and they’re hunted fugitives. It looks like their mantra in this final arc of the season will be one previously used by the X-Men in the comic books: “Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”

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

Adventures in London Below: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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.

Variety is the spice of life, and sometimes even a hard science fiction fan like me looks toward the world of fantasy for something different. And if you’re going to dabble in another genre, you might as well start with the best. So today we’re visiting Neverwhere, a seminal novel by Neil Gaiman, one of the best fantasy writers in the world, whose work has been delighting readers for decades. The book takes us to the mysterious world of London Below, a community that exists unknown to the inhabitants of the mundane city above it.

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Creator of Worlds: Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

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.

Science fiction is a broad category of literature: you can have stories set in the far future, the present day, or the distant past (and even mix these together in a time travel tale). You can set your story right here on Earth, on a distant planet, or some more exotic place. Or you can create a world to your own specifications. Your protagonists can be human, alien, animal, vegetable, mineral, or some combination thereof. But there is one thing that binds all these stories together, and it is printed right up front, “on the tin,” so to speak. That is science. And in writing stories about the hard sciences, no one did it better than Hal Clement.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Mid-Season Finale: Back from the Future!

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reaches the end of the first story arc of Season Five with the team struggling to return to present-day Earth from a future where the planet has been destroyed, and to save the remnants of the human race before they leave. But even if they can get home, they will be returning to a world where they are hunted fugitives…

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

Classic SF for Young Readers: The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey and Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg

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 paths to science fiction fandom are numerous. Some people are hooked by a movie, a paperback picked up at an airport, a TV show, a book loaned by a friend, or a musty-smelling stack of magazines in the corner of a basement, and the joys of reading open up to them. For many years, a major source of books for young readers has been the Scholastic Corporation. They distribute books and educational materials by mail order, through book fairs, and more recently via the internet, and among these offerings have been many science fiction and fantasy tales. Today, I’m looking at two I read in elementary school, The Runaway Robot and Revolt on Alpha C.

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C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith Stories: Pulp Hero vs. Cosmic Horrors

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.

There was a day when magazine racks were far larger than they are today, and choices were far more varied. If you wanted science fiction adventure, you could read Planet Stories or Amazing Stories. If you wanted stories with science and rivets, you could read Astounding Science Fiction. For Earthbound adventures you could read Doc Savage Magazine, Argosy, or Blue Book. And if you wanted horror stories, your first choice was Weird Tales. The stories in that magazine ranged from the pure horror of H. P. Lovecraft and the barbarian tales of Robert E. Howard to the planetary adventures of C. L. Moore, and her protagonist Northwest Smith. But while the adventures of Northwest Smith might bear a superficial resemblance to those you would find in Planet Stories, there were darker themes lurking beneath the surface.

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Revisiting Ringworld: Larry Niven’s Timeless Classic

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.

There is nothing quite like reading about the act of exploration: tales of expeditions up mysterious jungle rivers, archaeologists in lost cities, spelunkers in caverns deep beneath the earth, or scientists pursuing the latest discovery. And in science fiction, there is a special type of story that evokes a particular sense of wonder, the Big Dumb Object, or BDO, story. A giant artifact is found, with no one around to explain it, and our heroes must puzzle out its origin and its purpose. And one of the best of these tales is Larry Niven’s groundbreaking novel, Ringworld.

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Quality over Quantity: The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum

Sometimes, a story hits you like a ton of bricks, and you immediately resolve to look for more by that author. For me, “A Martian Odyssey,” by Stanley G. Weinbaum was one of those stories. I read it in an anthology I’d found at the library, but couldn’t find other books by him on the shelves. Years later, though, I came across a collection with his name on it and immediately shelled out $1.65 to purchase it. And then found out about Weinbaum’s untimely death, which explained why I couldn’t find any of his other works. It was soon apparent that he was not a “one-hit wonder,” as every story in the collection was worth reading.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Premiere: Agents in Spaaaaaace!

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for Season Five…but they are not returning to Earth. Instead, most of Coulson’s team find themselves transported to a mysterious ship in outer space—filled with people who see Coulson and the team as mythical heroes, and with monsters that want to kill them.

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

Dolphins and Chimps and Aliens, Oh My! Startide Rising by David Brin

Everyone loves dolphins. And chimps. And everyone loves spaceships. And adventures. So, in the mid-1980s, when David Brin put dolphins, chimps, and humans in spaceships, and dropped them into the middle of a rip-snorting adventure, I (and a lot of other people) immediately jumped on board. And what a wonderful ride it was.

I have loved dolphins for a long time. My first encounter with them, outside of pictures in books, was on the TV show Flipper, which aired in the mid-1960s. My first real-life encounter with dolphins was at the Florida Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. And when I served in the Coast Guard, nothing made a day at sea better than when a pod of them would approach the cutter and dance on the bow wave. Dolphins often look like they are unfettered by gravity as they cut through the seas or launch themselves into the air—so picturing dolphins in space is not hard at all. I don’t know how or where David Brin first encountered dolphins (although I imagine, as a Californian, he had opportunities to do so). But his science fiction influences are clear. After reading Startide Rising, I suspected that Brin, like me, grew up reading all sorts of Golden Age science fiction, books by folks like Clarke, Asimov, Anderson, Bester, Wells, Blish, and Heinlein, something I recently confirmed by poking around on his website. Few books written in the 1980s did as good a job as Brin’s work of recreating the good old “sense of wonder” that I remember from my youth.

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Lessons in Chivalry (and Chauvinism): Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

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.

There are many gateways into science fiction—books that are our first encounter with a world of limitless possibilities. And because we generally experience them when we are young and impressionable, these books have a lasting impact that can continue for a lifetime. In the late 20th Century, among the most common gateways to SF were the “juvenile” books of Robert A. Heinlein. The one that had the biggest impression on me opened with a boy collecting coupons from wrappers on bars of soap, which starts him on a journey that extends beyond our galaxy. Wearing his space suit like a knight of old would wear armor, young Clifford “Kip” Russell sets out on a quest that will ultimately become entangled with the fate of all mankind.

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The Little Series That Could: Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

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.

Some feel that the heart of science fiction is science—the universe and how it works. But others use the universe and technology simply as a canvas on which to paint their stories. Often, these tales are space opera, full of action and adventure. But over the past few decades, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been writing books that, while they also brim with action and adventure, have the human heart at their center; stories which are built around love and family. So, let’s step into their Liaden Universe, as rich and well-imagined a setting as any in science fiction.

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