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Alan Brown

Conning a Galaxy: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

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 you love science fiction, and also medieval historical adventures, and enjoy a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I have the book for you! Poul Anderson’s classic novel, The High Crusade, perfectly blends all three elements, as hostile aliens invade England during the Middle Ages, finding to their dismay that the primitive humans are a force to be reckoned with. And when the humans commandeer the alien’s spaceship and take the fight to the enemy, they embark on one of the most audacious con games in the history of fiction…

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Heroing Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be: Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein

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.

At the height of Robert A. Heinlein’s career as a science fiction writer, he wrote a book, Glory Road, which stood out from all his previous work. It was more fantasy than science fiction, with all the trappings and tropes of a fantasy adventure and a heroic quest in a magical world. Wrapped around that exuberant center, however, was a rather downbeat view of life and society, and a deconstruction of some of those familiar fantasy tropes.

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Pesky Pirates and Purple Prose: Brigands of the Moon by Ray Cummings

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 book by Ray Cummings, an author who was ubiquitous in the pulps during the period between the World Wars of the 20th century, but who is not well remembered today. It’s a story of action and adventure, set on a space passenger liner caught up in a titanic struggle between worlds—a story where our heroes must contend with the titular Brigands of the Moon!

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A Glimpse Into the Calrissian Chronicles: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu 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.

I was recently browsing in my favorite used bookstore, and ran into a pristine copy of the trilogy of Lando Calrissian adventures written by L. Neil Smith back in 1983. I’ve always enjoyed Smith’s books, and while I can’t find my original copies, I remember this trilogy fondly. So I purchased the compilation in order to revisit these old favorites. Shortly after that, I heard the sad news that Smith had passed away on August 27, 2021. So this review will be not just a look at the first book in the trilogy, Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, but a farewell to one of my favorite authors.

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After the Fall: The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

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.

Over the past year or so, I have been delving into the works of Leigh Brackett, a science fiction pioneer best known for her swashbuckling tales of planetary adventure. As I researched her career, a book came up that I’d not heard of before—The Long Tomorrow, the tale of a young man coming of age in a United States struggling to survive the aftermath of an atomic war. So I tracked the novel down, ordered a copy online, and am glad I did. The book ranks not only among Brackett’s best work, but also among the best science fiction of that era. It describes a fantastic journey, yet remains utterly believable and deeply rooted in the real world.

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As the Computer Commands: The General, Book 1: The Forge by David Drake and S. M. Stirling

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 thing I look for in summer reading is a story that keeps me turning pages, and there is nothing like the sense of jeopardy you find in military science fiction to keep the reader engaged. One of the better examples of this genre appearing in the 1990s was the General series, co-written by David Drake and S. M. Stirling. The books, loosely inspired by the adventures of the Roman general Belisarius, featured Raj Whitehall, an officer who develops a telepathic link with an ancient battle computer, and fights to restore space-faring civilization to a far-away world whose society has collapsed. The books were filled with action and adventure, and featured evocative descriptions, interesting characters and a compelling setting.

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A Prison Planet Full of Mystery: Jewels of the Dragon by Allen L. Wold

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, especially during the summer, you want a book that’s chock-full of action and adventure…something that takes you for an exciting ride without requiring a lot of thinking. Looking for just such a book, I recently ran across Jewels of the Dragon on my bookshelf and realized that this competently written tale of adventure—an updated version of the planetary romance sub-genre—was exactly what I was looking for. It features a young man searching for his lost father on a lawless prison planet filled with mysterious ruins, monsters, and dangers—a perfect cure for boredom.

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In Service to God and Science: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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.

Occasionally in the annals of science fiction, there have been books that broke out of the confines of the science fiction genre and gained the attention of a wider audience and respect from mainstream critics. One of these books is Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s touching tale A Canticle for Leibowitz. It is a beautifully written story that takes a dark view of humanity, but has at its center a lot of heart and hope.

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How the Space Race Might Have Happened: Space Platform and Space Tug 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.

Today we’re going back to the 1950s to look at a pair of books by venerable science fiction author Murray Leinster that imagine what the early days of the space program would be like. We will follow the adventures of everyman Joe Kenmore, whose plans to play a small role in the effort expand beyond anything he could have imagined. The action never slows as the story barrels along at breakneck speed, and the technology depicted by Leinster veers from the wildly imaginative to some remarkably accurate predictions.

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Con Artists in Space: The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

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.

I have long been a fan of author Harry Harrison, and among his most popular works is the tongue-in-cheek series that follows the adventures of con man and thief James Bolivar “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, also known as “The Stainless Steel Rat.” Today, we’ll look at the first published adventure of that colorful character.

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Robert A. Heinlein’s First Martian Foray: Red Planet

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 young, Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels were among my favorites. But I only got my hands on about half of them. Over the past few years, I have been working to find them all, and one of the most recent I was able to read was Red Planet. Imagine my surprise to find that the Martian race that I had first encountered in Stranger in a Strange Land had been created over a decade earlier for Red Planet

In fact, while the novels are not otherwise connected, I have decided that Stranger in a Strange Land is actually a prequel to Red Planet.

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The Further Adventures of Professor Challenger 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.

Recently, Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys reviewed a rather lurid story from Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Horror of the Heights,” about airborne jellyfish creatures threatening early aviators (see the review here). This story, with its pseudo-scientific premise, reminded a number of the commentators of Doyle’s always entertaining (and always irritating) character, Professor Challenger. And it occurred to me, even though I’ve reviewed his most famous adventure, The Lost World, that still leaves a lot of Professor Challenger to be explored. So, lets go back a hundred years, to a time when there were still unexplained corners of the Earth, and join the fun!

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The Pinnacle of Planetary Romance: The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

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 book is the final volume of a trilogy that stands as Leigh Brackett’s most ambitious work of planetary romance. With scientific advances making the planets of our own solar system obsolete as settings for this type of adventure, she invented the planet of Skaith from scratch—and what a wonderful setting it was for a tale with epic scope, thrilling adventure, and even a timely moral for the readers.

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Road Trip Through Hell: Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

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.

Author Roger Zelazny loved to use unlikely characters as protagonists. In Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin, a prince from a land of magic, talked and acted like someone out of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel. In Lord of Light, the powerful Enlightened One preferred to be called Sam. And in Damnation Alley, Zelazny set out to put the “anti” into “antihero” by picking Hell’s Angel and hardened criminal Hell Tanner for a heroic quest that takes him across the blasted landscape of a ruined United States. The result is a compelling look at what it means to be a hero, and stands as a perfect example of Zelazny’s trademark blend of poetic imagery and gritty action.

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Adventuring Through Myth and Story: The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt

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 Compleat Enchanter is a complete delight from beginning to end. The subtitle, The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea, does a pretty good job of summarizing what occurs: Psychologist Harold Shea discovers a means of using scientific formulae to transport himself to parallel worlds based on myth and fantasy. He can’t always control where he goes, can’t use technology from our world, and has only a sketchy ability to control the magic so common in these worlds. But everyone dreams of being able to jump into the middle of their favorite stories, and Harold Shea is able to do just that. With co-author Fletcher Pratt, L. Sprague de Camp gives us a series of adventures that sparkle with energy and humor—if these two weren’t having a ball when they wrote these, I’ll eat my hat.

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