Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

Rekindling Planetary Romance: Old Mars and Old Venus, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

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’s review looks at a pair of books that, despite being published in 2013 and 2015, harken back to an older style of science fiction, back to the days when Mars and Venus were depicted as not only habitable, but inhabited. Back when the planets were home to ancient races, decaying cities, mysteries and monsters. Back to the days before interplanetary probes brought back harsh truths about our neighbor planets. Back to the days of Old Mars and Old Venus.

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The Father of Science Fiction: The Best of John W. 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.

In the 1930s, from the thriving jungles of the pulp magazines, a new field appeared. A number of names were bandied about before one coalesced: science fiction. And at the same time, one magazine, Astounding, and one editor, John W. Campbell, emerged as the leading voice in that new field. You could easily call Campbell the father of the science fiction field as we know it today. And like all fathers, his influence evokes a whole gamut of emotions.

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Man Against Machine: Great Sky River by Gregory Benford

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 science fiction stories are, well, just more science fiction-y than other tales. The setting is further in the future, the location is further from our own out-of-the-way spiral arm of the galaxy, the protagonists are strange to us, and the antagonists are stranger still. We get a capital-letter, full dose of the SENSE OF WONDER that we love. And when you combine that with a story full of action, adventure, and jeopardy, you get something truly special. If you hadn’t guessed by now, Great Sky River by Gregory Benford, the subject of today’s review, is one of my all time favorite novels for all of these reasons.

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Immigrants in an Alien World: Zenna Henderson’s The People: No Different Flesh

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 a cornerstone of all the books reviewed in this column. But not all adventures are big and flashy. Sometimes, the most intense experiences can arise right in your own neighborhood, right around the corner. And when I was growing up, some of the most memorable stories I encountered were Zenna Henderson’s stories of the “People.” They are rooted in the real world of the American West, but are stories of fantastic powers and alien beings; stories of outsiders, outcasts and immigrants, and the type of personal adventures that spoke to my adolescent heart.

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Not the Way I Remembered It: Raiders from the Rings by Alan E. Nourse

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, you revisit an old favorite book from your childhood, and it feels comfortable and familiar. Other times, you put it down after re-reading, and ask, “Is that the same book I read all those years ago?” For me, one such book is Raiders from the Rings by Alan E. Nourse. I remembered it for the action, the exciting depictions of dodging asteroids while pursued by hostile forces. But while I did find that this time around, I also found a book with elements that reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Which raised a question in my mind: how did this troubling subject matter end up in a 1960s juvenile novel?

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Five Finale: Where’s the Kaboom?

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are quite familiar with saving the world, having thwarted villains like Hydra, Inhumans, Hive, and Life Model Decoys at the end of every season. But each time it’s been a bootstrap, do-or-die affair, with the outcome far from certain. In this season finale, having destroyed the alien Confederacy spaceship that hovered over the Earth, our heroes still faced the homegrown threat of Graviton—their old ally General Talbot, his mind fragmented by the process of gaining his gravitonium-fueled powers. Like cartoon character Marvin the Martian, many fans went into the episode bracing for “an Earth-shattering kaboom!”

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Sailing to Bygone Days: S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time

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 visit the first book in a long-running series that looks at two major questions: What would happen if people with the technology of today were transported to a world that lacked it? And what would happen if the world of today lost its technology? The answers, in the hands of author S.M. Stirling, provides the setting for some of the best action and adventure stories ever written. Island in the Sea of Time is the first book of S.M. Stirling’s Change series, a gripping story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances, in some cases rising to the occasion and trying to do the right thing; in others, giving in to their worst impulses.

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Spies, Soldiers, and Cold War Cynicism: The Best of Mack Reynolds

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 the science in science fiction, we generally think of the hard sciences: physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc. Yet there are other sciences rooted in human behavior, sometimes sneeringly referred to as “softer” sciences, including economics, sociology and political science. One of the authors who specialized in incorporating these other sciences into his fiction in a way that was anything but soft was Mack Reynolds, one of the most prolific contributors to Analog in the 1960s. He would often punctuate a discussion of communist five-year plans or minimum basic incomes with a gun battle, or a romantic moment, or a chase scene. And while some of the settings in his work now seem dated, the issues he grapples with are still with us today, and worthy of our attention.

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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!]

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