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Alan Brown

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Hit and Two Misses: The Starchild Trilogy by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

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 revisit a trilogy by two authors, Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, who each had science fiction writing careers spanning more than seven decades. The first book, The Reefs of Space, is one of the first science fiction books I ever read, and every time anyone talks about the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, or indeed any trans-Neptunian object (TNO), those eponymous reefs are the first things that come to my mind. So, lets see how that book holds up upon re-reading after fifty years (pretty well, actually), and we’ll also look at two sequels that just recently came to my attention which don’t quite live up to the original (well, one out of three ain’t bad). Which raises the question—what does a reader do when bad books happen with good authors?

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Trailblazing through Time and Space: The Essential 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.

When I was a youngster reading my dad’s Analog back issues in the mid-1960s, there were many authors I enjoyed, including H. Beam Piper, Mack Reynolds, and Poul Anderson. Among them was an author named Murray Leinster, whose stories always felt fresh, always had an aspect that made you think, and often had a rather ironic or humorous view of the human condition. What I didn’t know was that this author had begun his writing career just after the First World War, back in the days before the genre was even popularly known as “science fiction.” It was a pleasure for me to take a trip down memory lane through the pages of one of those lovingly assembled anthologies from NESFA Press, First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. [Read more]

Crack Shots! Science! Exotic Locales! — The Don Sturdy Adventures by Victor Appleton

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 years spanning the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were a time of adventure. The last few blank spots on the map were being filled in by explorers, while the social science of archaeology was gaining attention, and struggling for respectability. And young readers who dreamed of adventure could read about a boy explorer in the tales of Don Sturdy, a series from the same Stratemeyer Syndicate that gave the world stories about Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. They were among the first—but far from the last—books I read that are fueled by tales of archaeological discovery and the mysterious lure of lost lands and ruined cities.

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Hard Science, Dizzying Scope: Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter

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 mid-1990s, many of my favorite authors were reaching the end of their careers, slowing down and writing less, and I was looking for new things to read. One of the authors who caught my eye at the local Waldenbooks was Stephen Baxter, a British writer whose work was just being published in the United States. His stories were epic in scope, rooted in the latest scientific theories, and full of the sense of wonder I was looking for. This was not an author who shied away from big ideas: His Xeelee series spanned not just the history of the world, or even the galaxy, but instead looked at the history of the universe itself, and the ultimate fate of humanity. His stories often left me dizzy and disoriented, as my mind attempted to grasp concepts that I had never previously considered.

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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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