Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

Love, Loss, and Adventure: The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

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.

In the 1960s, a time when female voices were underrepresented in science fiction, Anne McCaffrey was an exception. McCaffrey’s most famous books were the Dragonriders of Pern series (currently the subject of a Tor.com reread led by the incomparable Mari Ness). But, while the subject of only six short tales, one of McCaffrey’s most memorable characters was Helva (also called XH-834), who became known throughout the galaxy (and science fiction fandom) as The Ship Who Sang.

[Read more]

A Return to Classic SF: The Torch of Honor by Roger MacBride Allen

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.

Back in the 1980s, many of the authors from the Golden Age of Science Fiction had ended or were ending their careers. Newer authors were exploring new ground, and turning their backs on the old tropes of the past. Science fiction was beginning to look very different. But not all authors followed in this new direction. In his first novel, The Torch of Honor, Roger MacBride Allen instead hewed closely to the ideals of classic science fiction, with grand adventure overlaid upon some interesting scientific speculation. What he produced was a stirring tale of heroism and interplanetary warfare that still holds up today.

[Read more]

Sail into the Honorverse: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

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.

David Weber is one of today’s most popular military science fiction authors. Fans of this sub-genre like their stories not only full of action, but rich in detail and background information, and that’s what Weber delivers—especially in his Honor Harrington series, which follows a space navy officer clearly inspired by an earlier fictional creation, C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. The series has been extremely successful, and readers can look forward to spending a long time immersed in this fictional universe, or “Honorverse,” which now spans over thirty novels and story collections.

[Read more]

Buck to the Future: The Many Incarnations of Buck Rogers

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 we think about stories that brought science fiction to the attention of mass audiences, today we tend to think immediately of Star Wars. For decades before George Lucas brought his creation to the big screen, however, there was one character who stood at center stage: Anthony “Buck” Rogers. Because Buck has visited us in so many forms over the years, I’m going to look at three different works today. The first is Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan, a book combining the two novelettes from Amazing Stories that first introduced the character. Second is The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a selection of Buck Rogers newspaper comics from over the years, with a wonderful introduction by Ray Bradbury. And the third is a family heirloom, a “Big Little Book” that I inherited from my father: Buck Rogers in the City Below the Sea. [Read more]

Gone to the Dogs: City by Clifford D. Simak

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, a book hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s what happened to me when I read City by Clifford D. Simak. It didn’t have a lot of adventure, or mighty heroes, chases, or battles in it, but I still found it absolutely enthralling. The humans are probably the least interesting characters in the book, with a collection of robots, dogs, ants, and other creatures stealing the stage. It’s one of the first books I ever encountered that dealt with the ultimate fate of the human race, and left a big impression on my younger self. Re-reading it reminded me how much I enjoyed Simak’s fiction. His work is not as well remembered as it should be, and hopefully this review will do a little bit to rectify that problem.

[Read more]

Is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s All-Time Greatest Work?

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.

For good reason, Robert A. Heinlein is often called the Dean of Science Fiction Writers, having written so many excellent books on such a wide variety of topics… which can make it hard to pick a favorite. If you like military adventure, you have Starship Troopers. If you want a story centered around quasi-religious mysteries, you have Stranger in a Strange Land. Fans of agriculture (or Boy Scouts) have Farmer in the Sky. Fans of the theater have Double Star. Fans of dragons and swordplay have Glory Road. Fans of recursive and self-referential fiction have The Number of the Beast… and so it goes. My own favorite Heinlein novel, after much reflection, turns out to be The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, probably because of my interest in political science—and because it is simply such a well-constructed tale.

[Read more]

The Perfect Blend of Adventure and Romance in The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

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’m taking a look at the work of one of my favorite authors of all time, Lois McMaster Bujold. Instead of the more widely known Vorkosigan series, or her Five Gods and Penric stories, however, I’ll be discussing the first book of her Sharing Knife series—a prime example of how romantic themes can fit well into a science fiction or fantasy setting. A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, Bujold announced on her blog that “I am pleased to report that I have finished the first draft of a new novella in the world of The Sharing Knife. Functionally a novella, anyway; its length, at the moment, is a tad over 49,000 words, so it’s technically a short novel.” So, to get ready for the new story, let’s look back at the beginning with Book 1, The Beguilement.

[Read more]

How The Lord of the Rings Changed Publishing Forever

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’m going to do something a bit different, and look not just at a work of fiction, but at a specific edition of a book and its impact on the culture and on publishing. That book is the first official, authorized paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Sometimes, the right book comes along with the right message at the right time and ends up not only a literary classic, but a cultural phenomenon that ushers in a new age…

[Read more]

Back to the Old Ways: The Yngling by John Dalmas

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.

While science fiction most often looks toward the future, the past also calls our interest. Sometimes the stories involve travel back in time, but many tales are set after some sort of apocalypse, where mankind has fallen back into old ways. Those tales often have a medieval feel, with mighty swordsmen, menacing rulers, and quests for power. One such post-apocalyptic tale is the story of young Nils Jarnhann, also known as the Yngling, whose abilities included not only physical prowess, but paranormal powers as well. It’s a rousing tale that, unlike others from the 1960s, has held up well over time.

[Read more]

Updating Pulp Adventures: Two Captain Future Stories by Edmond Hamilton and Allen Steele

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.

We live in a world of “re-”: reboots, remakes, and reworkings of all manners of myth and entertainment. Sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly, old favorites are made new again—and often, they are all the worse for the wear, and the new version cannot stand up to the original. But such is not the case of the recent novel Avengers of the Moon, by Allen Steele, an adventure featuring the pulp hero Captain Future, which I will be comparing to the original novel which started the series, Captain Future and the Space Emperor by Edmond Hamilton. In this case, I’m pleased to report that the new book is a success—one in which we see the exuberant energy of the pulps channeled into a new and more scientifically plausible setting. [Read more]

“Wah-Hoo!”: Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos #13 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

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’m going to do something a little different: Instead of reviewing a favorite book, I’m going to review a favorite comic. Like countless people around the world, I was saddened to hear of Stan Lee’s recent death. As I paused to reflect on all his works meant to me, one comic book in particular stood out in my memory—an issue of the series Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos where they meet the superhero Captain America and his sidekick, Bucky. Others may better remember Spider-Man, or the Fantastic Four, or Hulk, or Daredevil, or the Mighty Thor, but to me, this issue reflects some aspects of Lee and his work that shouldn’t be overlooked.

[Read more]

Girl Power: The Telzey Amberdon Stories by James H. Schmitz

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.

In today’s science fiction, you don’t have to look too far to find well-realized female characters. But back in the early days of science fiction, such characters were rare: Even the leading female authors of the time often wrote stories featuring male protagonists. One notable exception to this practice was James H. Schmitz, and the most notable of his female characters was the telepath Telzey Amberdon, a teenager who grows during her adventures into quite a formidable person, and indeed, something more than human. I fondly remember discovering Telzey in the pages of Analog during my early days of reading science fiction, and recently decided to revisit my old favorite character. So I decided to read all of Schmitz’s Telzey stories in chronological order, and as I often do, I gained a whole new appreciation for the stories and the character in the process.

[Read more]

Science and a Thrilling Space Rescue: A Fall of Moondust 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.

Humanity has long referred to the flattest areas of the Moon as “seas.” And for a time, it was theorized that those seas might be covered with a dust so fine it would have the qualities of liquid—dust deep enough that it might swallow vehicles that landed upon it. That led to author Arthur C. Clarke wondering if you could build a craft that would “float” upon the dust…and what might happen if one of those vessels sank. While it is rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of Clarke and his major works, there are many who aren’t overly familiar with A Fall of Moondust, a novel that helped popularize science fiction at a time when the genre was still limited to a fervent but relatively small base of fans.

[Read more]

Fighter Pilots in Space: Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole

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 the reasons for the phenomenal success of the Star Wars movies is that they offer something for everyone. They are built around epic fantasy concepts like the hero’s journey and the adventures of a “chosen one.” They center on a power struggle between the Sith and the Jedi, beings with paranormal powers. They take us to worlds different than our own, and introduce us to a diverse range of alien races. They present a thrilling political struggle between freedom and tyranny. They are full of rogues and smugglers and other colorful characters. And, most importantly to me, they give us the chance to experience epic space battles, with the efforts of plucky space fighter pilots making up large part of the action. This week, Disney premiered a new animated show, Star Wars: Resistance, built around the adventures of fighter pilots. And this show follows in the footsteps of another Star Wars series also focused on pilots, books that brought us some glorious space combat back in the 1990s in a series that began with X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. [Read more]

Throw Out the Rules: The Probability Broach 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.

Today, we’re going to look back at the work of L. Neil Smith, an author whose fiction is full of “alarums and excursions.” The Probability Broach was his first novel, published by Del Rey books in 1980. The book takes its main character, a police detective named Win Bear, out of a dystopia with an oppressive government and thrusts him into an exciting alternate world that has very nearly dispensed with government altogether. Smith’s writing voice is witty, snarky, and entertaining, and there is always plenty of action to keep the story moving.

[Read more]

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.