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Alan Brown

Revenge, Robbery, and Redemption: Space Viking 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.

This is the hundredth review in the Front Lines and Frontiers series, and I thought I would mark that occasion by finding a book I loved from my early teens, jam-packed with action and adventure, from one of my favorite authors; a story that fits the charter for this column to a T. Accordingly, I present to you one of H. Beam Piper’s classic novels, Space Viking—a tale of vengeance, plunder, rescues, space battles and derring-do.

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Planetary Romance Under the Clouds: Pirates of Venus 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.

Later in his career, after creating a host of memorable characters like Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs decided to create a new character, Carson Napier, and send him to the planet Venus, to journey through planetary and literary territory Burroughs had not yet explored. Some people feel this new planetary adventurer didn’t measure up to his predecessor, John Carter, but Carson Napier was a unique character whose adventures I always enjoyed. And when you are looking for a good summer reading book, you can’t go wrong with one about pirates…

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The Star-Shattering Conclusion: Children of the Lens by E. E. “Doc” 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.

Holy Klono’s Gadolinium Guts! The Lensmen are back at work, and it’s a good thing, because evil is afoot. We’ve finished with the trilogy of books that followed the career of Lensman Second Stage Kimball Kinnison, but the series still has some gas in the tank. Kim and his fellow Lensmen, while getting a little long in the tooth, are still active. And the Kinnison family now has a bunch of kids, who are more than living up to the family tradition. Not so surprisingly (since it’s happened with every book of the series), the final boss battle of the last book turned out to be only another rung in the ladder of evil that is Boskone, and there is more work to be done…

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Adventure Takes Center Stage: Swords Against Tomorrow, Edited by Robert Hoskins

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.

Browsing through my local used bookstore recently, I ran across an old anthology from 1970 with a cover blurb promising “Heroic Tales told by Lin Carter, Fritz Leiber, John Jakes, Leigh Brackett, and a novella by Poul Anderson.” Just those names alone were enough to draw me in, especially when a scan of the table of contents showed I had only read one of the stories listed. I have also been on a Leigh Brackett kick lately—having encountered only a few of her works in my youth, I’ve been making up for that by grabbing everything I can find with her name on it. The collection turned out to be well worth my time and full of fun adventure stories, even though only three out of the five stories actually feature heroes who wield swords!

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Series Finale: All’s Well That Ends Well

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have reached the end of their final season—a season which involved them traveling through time, visiting key moments in S.H.I.E.L.D. history, and as always, saving the world from destruction. The two-hour grand finale featured all the ingredients of previous season-ending episodes, including evil aliens, setbacks, tricky plots and counterplots, big fight scenes, and clever quips. It also had a much bigger budget for special effects, a cast and crew that have honed their skills for seven seasons, and writers that were more than happy to give the fans a happy ending. This was a show determined to go out on the top of its game!

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A Post-Apocalyptic Quest Through the Wilderness: Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier

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 1974, I was a sophomore in college, and always looking for a good paperback to distract me from my homework. I found one that looked promising, with a rather audacious cover blurb: “In a holocaust world of strange beasts and savage men, he rode out. As fantastic a chronicle as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” (It’s almost impossible to read that without doing an impression of the guy who used to do voiceovers for all the blockbuster action movie trailers.) So, I decided to give it a try, and was glad I did. It became an instant favorite: a fast-paced adventure built around a compelling character facing impossible odds.

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By Klono’s Golden Gills!: Second Stage Lensmen by E. E. “Doc” 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.

Second Stage Lensman is the third book of Smith’s original trilogy chronicling the story of Lensman extraordinaire Kimball Kinnison, the star-traveling lawman. The first book, Galactic Patrol, followed his meteoric rise through the ranks. The second book, Gray Lensman, followed the efforts of the Lensmen as they tracked the evil forces of Boskone to a planet in the Second Galaxy, obliterating it between two mobile planets. At the end of that novel, Kim was ready to take a well-earned rest and marry his sweetheart, Clarissa MacDougall. But this book starts with a telepathic call from Arisia, warning that his job is far from done. Once again, Doc Smith cranks up the stakes for our favorite adventurer. You can tell the pressure is rising because Kim, who swears by the spacer god Klono when surprised or under stress, drops the “K” word left and right in this book!

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SF Adventure With a Bit of Everything: Gryphon by Crawford Kilian

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 look at something that is increasingly rare in the field of science fiction and fantasy, rare even when it first appeared in 1989—a standalone book that is not part of a series, and tells a satisfying story without the need for a sequel. That book is Gryphon, by Crawford Kilian, an author who is not as widely known today as some of the other writers we’ve discussed in this column, but who has written some very entertaining fiction over the years. This audacious novel has a little bit of everything: space opera, battles, alien invasions, moving planets, ecological destruction, mind control, scientific breakthroughs, and a young protagonist who grows and matures during his travels. The book also examines some pretty deep themes, but never lets the philosophy overwhelm the action. I find summer a good time for reading, and this book is a great example of what I look for—a real page-turning adventure.

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Space Opera Done Right: Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

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.

Primary Inversion, published by Tor Books in 1995, was one of those debut novels that caused the science fiction field to sit up and take notice. It had a little bit of everything: There were star-spanning empires, battling space fighters, technological speculation rooted in cutting-edge science, paranormal powers, romance, drama, and adventure. The headstrong female main character was well realized and appealing. Stanley Schmidt, then editor of Analog, provided a cover blurb that read, “An impressive first novel….Really new science that just might be possible.” The author, Catherine Asaro, showed from the very start that she was going to be a formidable presence in the science fiction community for quite some time.

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A Smorgasbord of Classic SF: Three Times Infinity

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 at a collection featuring three strikingly different tales by some of the best authors in science fiction: “Lorelei of the Red Mist” by Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, “The Golden Helix” by Theodore Sturgeon, and “Destination Moon” by Robert A. Heinlein. The first story I had long heard about but never encountered. The second is a tale I read when I was too young to appreciate it, which chilled me to the bone. And the third is a story written in conjunction with the movie Destination Moon, which Heinlein worked on; I’d seen the movie, but don’t remember ever having read the story.

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More Action, More Science, More Thrills: Gray Lensman by E. E. “Doc” 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 look at Gray Lensman, the next installment of the continuing adventures of Kimball Kinnison, star-traveling lawman extraordinaire. In the last installment, Galactic Patrol, immediately upon being commissioned as a Lensman, Kinnison rocketed up through the ranks, helped in the development of new weapons system, discovered powers that no other Lensman had yet unlocked, and single-handedly killed Helmuth, the leader of the evil Boskonian space pirates. There were secret missions and space battles galore. But if you think Doc Smith had written himself into a corner, you’ve got another think coming: Even bigger and more exciting adventures are ahead for our plucky adventurer.

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Bringing Stories to Life: The World of Science Fiction and Fantasy Model Building

Science fiction and fantasy fans love to dream about things that never existed. And some of them enjoy bringing objects and ideas from their imagination to life. Whether working from kits or making something from scratch, there is a great deal of enjoyment to be gained from model building, and satisfaction in seeing a finished project. This is a great time for those who enjoy the hobby: the internet has provided ways to share information with other modelers and to shop for kits and products from around the world, and the new technology of 3D printing has opened up even more ways to bring imaginary things to life. So if, like a lot of people these days, you have some extra time on your hands, you might want to look into model building

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: All Good Things Must Come to an End

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are back for one final season. During the previous season, the team beat back a monster that consumed planets, only to have the alien race called Chronicoms target the Earth for disrupting the space-time continuum. The team found themselves shifted in time to New York City in 1931, and now it’s up to Mack, Yo-Yo, May, Fitz, Simmons, Deke, Daisy, and a robotic version of Coulson to save the world one more time. There are hints that their travels during the season will take them to different time periods, and their mission will be intertwined with the origins and history of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. It looks like we are in for a season filled with action, guest stars, and more than a little fan service!

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

Physician as Paladin, Facing Plague and Pandemic: Med Ship by Murray Leinster

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.

If and when mankind spreads to the stars, many of the problems we experience on Earth will follow us to new worlds. Medical issues could become more complex as we encounter whole new ecologies. And sharing medical knowledge could be complicated by the vastness of space. In the mid-20th century, Murray Leinster, one of the most entertaining and creative of science fiction’s early masters, imagined a cadre of uniformed public health officers who travel the stars like the knights errant of ancient legend, helping the needy and righting wrongs. At this moment in time, as we face a worldwide pandemic, these tales and the lessons they contain have suddenly become very timely.

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Mercenaries and the Future of Humanity: Tactics of Mistake by Gordon R. Dickson

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 at Gordon R. Dickson’s Tactics of Mistake, a seminal tale in his Childe Cycle series, focusing on his most famous creation, the Dorsai mercenaries. This book is full of action and adventure, but also full of musings on history, tactics and strategy, as well as a dollop of speculation on the evolution of human paranormal abilities. It is a quick read that gallops right along, with the scope of the story growing larger with every battle. Its protagonist, Colonel Cletus Grahame, is a fascinating creation, both compelling and infuriating—not only to the other characters in the book, but to the reader as well.

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