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Alan Brown

Stark vs. the Curse of the Middle Volume: The Hounds 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.

Today I’ll be looking at the second volume of Leigh Brackett’s Skaith series, The Hounds of Skaith. The middle of a trilogy is a tough spot for books, as they tend to lack the freshness and energy of a first volume and the satisfying finality of a third volume. If second books were athletes, they’d be the unsung player who sets up the hero who scores to win the game. In this case, however, thanks to the headlong energy of Brackett’s barbarian hero Eric John Stark, the introduction of some fierce animal sidekicks, and a steady unfolding of new insights into the mysterious planet Skaith, this book moves along at a good clip, keeping the reader engaged throughout.

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Laughing in the Face of Doom: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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 often presented as serious business, but also benefits from being treated with a light touch. Humor can go a long way toward adding spice to any narrative. And when humor becomes the main dish, it can be a joy to behold. A perfect example is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the best-loved books in the pantheon of great science fiction. It has plenty of adventure, doom, destruction, narrow escapes, megastructures, innovative technology, a bit of romance, and lots and lots of jokes, puns, and absurd situations. Everything a science fiction reader would want, especially if they are willing to be heard laughing out loud while they read.

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Hi Stranger, New in Town?: Rendezvous With Rama 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.

Everyone loves a good puzzle, or a story with a central mystery to unravel. And perhaps nothing is more mysterious than a first encounter situation. It’s that sense of mystery and wonder that drives the continuing popularity of shows like Ancient Aliens, even among people who doubt the basic premise of such investigations. Back in 1973, acclaimed author Arthur C. Clarke gave the world an excellent puzzle: the tale of a strange and gigantic object from beyond the solar system, an object that humans get only a few short days to explore. At the time, the book swept the year’s science fiction awards, and it still holds up well as a classic for today’s readers

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Spinning New Tales: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster and Han Solo at Star’s End by Brian Daley

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 Star Wars movies are notable for spinning off into a wide variety of other media and related products, including TV shows, books, comic strips, comic books, radio dramas, toys, housewares, and other products. Since the series was largely modeled on the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, this is no surprise, as both of those properties were also adapted into a variety of formats and merchandise, something George Lucas certainly noticed and emulated. Today, I’m going to look at two of the first Star Wars tie-in books, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Han Solo at Stars’ End. These books, both excellent adventure stories, represent two very different approaches to media tie-in fiction

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New Setting for an Old Hero: The Ginger Star 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.

Leigh Brackett was undoubtedly one of the most entertaining science fiction authors of the 20th century; while other authors shied away from the action and adventure that marked the pulp origins of the genre, she embraced those qualities. And late in her life, she returned to her roots and brought back one of her greatest heroes—in fact, one of the great protagonists of the entire planetary romance sub-genre—Eric John Stark. This wandering hero, raised by a primitive tribe and shaped by a lifetime of combat, might suffer setbacks and injuries, but remains a force of nature whose adventures never fail to entertain the reader.

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One Heck of a Summer Vacation: Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear

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.

Greg Bear is one of the most respected science fiction writers to emerge in the latter part of the 20th century, producing books on a great variety of subjects, in a wide range of settings, with all of them being well-constructed and engaging. So, when I saw that he had written a sequel to one of my favorite novels, The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, I knew it was a book I had to read. A tale of high adventure and dinosaurs, a chance to revisit one of my favorite fictional settings, written by a great author—how could I pass that up?

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The Science of Space: Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel by Willy Ley

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 column, up until now, has been devoted to exploring works of fiction. But looking around my den recently, I realized there have been many non-fiction books that influenced my view of the future. Today, I’m going to look at one of my early favorites, written by a pioneer of rocketry, Willy Ley. In the 1960s, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the space program, and I was fortunate to have a dad who worked in aerospace and was a collector of all sorts of fascinating books on scientific topics.

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Alien Abduction Meets Military History and Adventure: Janissaries 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.

One of my favorite science fiction writers has always been Jerry Pournelle. His politics were the polar opposite of my own, and he could be a curmudgeon at times, but he sure could write an engaging adventure story—especially one centered on military characters. One of his enduring creations is the series begun with the book Janissaries, which follows a group of mercenaries kidnapped from Earth by aliens and taken to fight on a far-away world. Author Jo Walton is also a big fan of this book, writing about Pournelle’s work in this review a few years ago on Tor.com, “He’s the best, especially when he’s writing on his own. He can bring tears to my eyes…”

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Adventure Rooted in Reality: Mars by Ben Bova

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, Ben Bova passed away, and science fiction lost a giant. As both a prolific writer, and an editor of Analog and Omni, he had a profound effect on the field. Reaction to his passing was remarkably positive, with a host of writers, editors, readers and fans sharing stories of how he impacted their lives. Today, I’m going to look at a book, Mars, which he wrote at the height of his career, one of the earliest works in what became known as his Grand Tour series, and a book that was acclaimed right from the start. After all, the book first appeared with a blurb from Arthur C. Clarke himself, “The definitive novel about our fascinating neighbor.”

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Pirates in Space: Henry Martyn 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.

This summer, I was reading a lot of pirate stories, and I had a hankering to read even more. So I looked on my shelves, and this book immediately caught my eye. I remembered it as being full of adventure, but also a brutal tale that does not shy away from the evils that breed and inform piracy. The author, L. Neil Smith, had long been known as a writer of adventures filled with libertarian political philosophy, but in this case, it’s the adventure that’s front and center.

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Adventure Tales From a Master: The Best of Leigh Brackett, Edited by Edmond Hamilton

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 Leigh Brackett, but rarely found her books on the shelves of bookstores. Every time I found one of her stories, usually in an anthology, I said to myself, “I need to keep my eye out for more of this.” In recent years, I’ve ordered a few of her books over the internet. And just a few weeks ago, at my local used bookstore, I found a treasure that had long eluded me: the Del Rey Books anthology The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by her husband, Edmond Hamilton. And what a joy it was to read. It contains a lot of classic planetary romance stories, along with strong samples of her other science fiction for good measure.

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Warfare, Wooing, and Whimsy: The Helmsman by Bill Baldwin

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.

Tales of sailing ships at war have always held an allure for seamen and landlubbers alike. One of the masters of the genre was C. S. Forester, whose character Horatio Hornblower, and the series of books that followed the character’s adventures, established a basic template used by many authors to create similar adventures. And that template was later taken to the stars with stories where spaceships replaced the sailing ships. One of my favorites of these was the Helmsman series that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. The author, Bill Baldwin, captured the adventurous spirit of the sea tales while adding a light-hearted touch that was all his own.

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A Little Something Extra: Masters of the Vortex 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.

Down in New Orleans, they have a term, “lagniappe,” which Google defines as “something given as a bonus or extra gift.” And that is a perfect description of the novel Masters of the Vortex. It is a book full of new characters and new “scientific” principles, set in the universe of the Lensmen, but not connected to the continuity of the main series of novels. And as it marks the final book in my reviews of the Lensman series, it also gives me a chance to look back at the series as a whole.

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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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