Tor.com content by

Alan Brown

Dance, Transcendence, and the Unknown: Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance

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 author Spider Robinson and dancer Jeanne Robinson were both quite well established in their respective artistic fields, and in their marriage, when they decided to collaborate to produce a unique work: Stardance, a tale of bringing the art of dance into zero gravity, and also a story of first contact with alien beings. The story is a delight, full of passion and energy, while at the same time a thoughtful speculation on the impact the absence of gravity would have on the art form of dance.

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Consumerism Run Amok: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth

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 books I’d always intended to read, but only recently got around to, is the influential satire The Space Merchants, published in 1953. If you can imagine a dystopian future Earth run by descendants of the characters from Mad Men, you won’t be far from the setting the book portrays. And while the novel contains large dollops of social satire, it’s woven into a narrative that moves at a rapid clip, featuring quite a bit of action and adventure—more than one might expect from a story about a professional copywriter.

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Accidental Adventure: Adrift in the Stratosphere by “Professor” A. M. Low

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 early years of the 20th century, the literature now called science fiction was still in a relatively unformed and undisciplined state. Because scientists did not fully understand the nature of even the worlds of our own solar system, the speculation on what explorers would find there was not anchored to much in the way of fact. One might think a trained scientist might have done better than other pulp authors in concocting a plausible tale…but, as noted inventor and scientist Archibald Low’s Adrift in the Stratosphere shows, that was not always the case. The book’s narrative truly is “adrift” at times, as three young men who stumble into an experimental craft find themselves careening from one implausible episode to another.

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The Borders of Science: Neutron Star by Larry Niven

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 recently ran across Neutron Star, a short story collection by Larry Niven, in my favorite used bookstore. I had once owned the book, but my copy was long lost, and I remembered it fondly. I’ve read a lot of Niven’s work over the years, but he has tended to focus on longer works in recent years, and it had been a long time since I read any of his short stories. So I bought the book, and as I read it, I realized how much I enjoyed those shorter works—especially those where the protagonist faces a scientific puzzle, and must solve it to survive.

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Good Things Come in Small Packages: The Fabulous Flight by Robert Lawson

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 everyone’s young life, you encounter books you will remember forever. Sometimes you will keep the book, and even read it with your own children. Other times, it might be someone else’s book, or a library book, that you find once but never see again. One of those books I encountered in my past, and tried to find for years, was Robert Lawson’s The Fabulous Flight. It’s the story of a young boy who shrinks until he is only a few inches tall, befriends a seagull that takes him to Europe, and becomes an intelligence agent for the U.S. State Department. The premise sounds preposterous when reduced to a single sentence, but it turns out to be a captivating tale, full of clever details and subtle humor.

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A Man Out of Time: The Star Kings 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.

Today, as part of my ongoing efforts to examine notable works from the earlier days of science fiction, I’m taking a look at The Star Kings, a space opera adventure written by Edmond Hamilton. And it’s a good one—full of action, romance, and adventure. It’s a bit dated by modern standards, but has a compelling protagonist, a few interesting twists, and a story that kept me turning pages right up to the end

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Science Fiction Goes Mainstream: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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 from 1950, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, which broke through the barriers that confined science fiction to the pages of pulp magazines and brought it to the attention of a new, mainstream audience. With its biting social commentary on topics like mankind’s apparent determination to destroy both the planet and humanity itself, its roots in nostalgia for small-town America, and its evocative descriptions of a strange and enigmatic Martians, the book gained a wide readership. And while some of the future described by the stories is now behind us, and later probes proved that Mars is neither inhabited nor habitable, the book still has a lot to offer modern readers.

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A Fine Pair-O-Docs: Murder Melody by Kenneth Robeson and Escape From Loki by Philip José Farmer

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’ve long been a fan of the character Doc Savage, the famous pulp hero from the 1930s, and recently came across two books that stand out from his other adventures. The first, Murder Melody, is perhaps Doc’s most science-fictional adventure, and introduces a mysterious advanced race of humans who live in the center of the hollow Earth. The second, Escape From Loki, written by acclaimed science fiction author Philip José Farmer, looks back to how Doc first met his band of adventurers on the battlefields of the First World War. So let’s once again dip our toes into the always-entertaining world of one of fiction’s greatest doers of good deeds…

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Journeying through Literature: Silverlock by John Myers Myers

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 authors catch your attention because of a large body of work, but there are others who instantly vault into the front ranks on the strength of a single work. For me, one of those authors is John Myers Myers, whose book Silverlock became an instant favorite. The story follows a rather unlikeable protagonist shipwrecked on an island whose inhabitants are characters from stories, literature, and legend. If the premise sounds a bit strange at first, it ends up working very well—the book is a delight from beginning to end.

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Who Guards the Spaceways?: Interstellar Patrol by Christopher Anvil

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 Christopher Anvil is not widely known today, but in his heyday, he was a prolific author of short stories, many with a witty, tongue-in-cheek tone. Sometimes the satire was a bit heavy-handed, but his stories were always entertaining. Anvil loved to set up a scientific mystery that at first seemed to defy explanation or solution, and then have his characters work through the problem and overcome their challenges. Today I’ll be looking at Interstellar Patrol, a Baen anthology collecting several of his stories about, or at least related to, the eponymous group, which is called in to handle situations that baffle other agencies.

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A Deeper Shade of Purple Prose: The Legion of Space by 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.

Science fiction was born in the days of the pulp magazines, a time when those magazines were all competing for the attention of readers (and their nickels and dimes). The stories were designed to grab and hold the attention of a reader, and they did this with fast-paced adventures, lurid descriptions, and simplistic plots. One of the classic tales of this era was Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space, where the first trip to another star leads to a first contact situation. The aliens immediately decide to remake the Earth to their own specifications, even if that requires the eradication of the entire human race. Only a single ship and a handful of Legionnaires stands between humanity and genocide!

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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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