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Alan Brown

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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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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