Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

Honor, Duty, and Space Navies at War: The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

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 more exciting than a good naval story: thrilling chases and escapes, the chess game of maneuver as forces close in on each other, and the fierce excitement of a pitched battle. Add to that tactical element the fate of nations and empires hanging in the balance, and you have all the ingredients of high adventure. It is no wonder that science fiction authors have used naval adventures as a template for space opera, and one of the most successful of these adventures has been the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell.
[Read more]

Joy and Pun-ishment: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson

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.

Not all bars are the same. Some cater to the elite, offering picturesque views and fancy cocktails. Some cater to the young, and are full of mirrors and flashing lights and pulsating music. Some cater to dockworkers and fishermen, looking to ease the pain of a hard work day with a stiff drink. Some will have a circle of musicians in the corner, lost in the music as they play their jigs and reels. And there are rumors that, in a nondescript corner of the suburban wilds of Long Island, there was once a magical bar called Callahan’s Place, where adventures were not just recounted—they were experienced. A bar where the unexpected was commonplace, the company was always good, the drinks were cheap, and most importantly, where the broken people of the world could gather and be made whole.

[Read more]

A Master Departs: A Spaceship for the King 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.

Jerry Pournelle’s A Spaceship for the King is one his earliest works, and has everything I look for when selecting fiction to highlight in this column; gripping portrayals of combat on both land and sea, political intrigue, and scientists working against impossible deadlines. When I heard that Pournelle had passed away in his sleep on 8 September 2017, I decided that a review of this book would be a good way to pay tribute to his life, his work, and his contribution to the field of science fiction.
[Read more]

Beer Run to a Parallel Universe: A Greater Infinity by Michael McCollum

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.

On a cold winter night, engineering student Duncan MacElroy is sent on a beer run by the UFO Spotter’s Club, a colorful group meeting in the rooming house he calls home. He is accompanied by a friend named Jane, a rather nondescript young woman. Then she saves him from a murder attempt by a group of Neanderthals with ray guns, revealing that she is the agent of an advanced civilization from an alternate timeline, and they end up on the run. The Neanderthals, who have been struggling with Homo sapiens for control of the multiverse, seem to have knowledge that Duncan may be pivotal to that struggle. And so begins a tale full of thoughtful scientific speculation, and a whole lot of fun…

[Read more]

Adventure Beneath Our Feet: Tarzan at the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most popular creation was Tarzan the jungle lord, who had many fantastic adventures with strange creatures and lost cities. Tarzan’s strangest adventure, however, came when he crossed over into another Burroughs series, and visited a mysterious world in the center of the Earth: the land of Pellucidar. There he found dinosaurs and saber-tooth tigers, lizard men and pirates, cavemen and pterodactyls. 

[Read more]

Science Fiction with Something for Everyone: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

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.

A Deepness in the Sky is one of those books that has it all: science that boggles the imagination; first contact with a singularly alien race; a fight for survival while trapped in a hostile environment; intrigue, betrayal, plots, counter-plots and revolution, even love stories. It’s no wonder the book won the Hugo in 1999—it’s one of those rare prequels that equals, if not surpasses, the excellence of the original.

[Read more]

Leigh Brackett’s Tales of Planetary Romance: Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars

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.

As the 20th Century unfolded, and explorers made their way to the furthest reaches of the Earth, it became increasingly clear that there were no lost civilizations or mysterious beasts lurking just around the corner. As a result, adventure stories that might have been set on the Earth in the past moved to the other planets of the Solar System, and the planetary romance genre was born. These tales were short on science, but long on adventure, battles, horror, and passion. One of the greatest practitioners in this genre was Leigh Brackett, and one of her greatest characters was the adventurer Eric John Stark.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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!]