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Alan Brown

Humorous Twists and Razor-Sharp Wit: The Square Root of Man by William Tenn

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 of the best science fiction authors focused on shorter works, especially back in the days when magazines were the primary market for the genre. And unfortunately, many of those authors tended to disappear from the reading public’s attention far too quickly. One such author is William Tenn (the pen name for Philip Klass). In the days after World War II, he appeared frequently in the pages of magazines like Astounding, Galaxy, Planet Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories, becoming known for his wit, humor, and the quality of his writing.

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Aimless Ambling Around Amtor: The Venus Series 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.

Edgar Rice Burroughs is the author of some of my favorite summer reading ever. In my youth, reading his novels was a rite of passage for youngsters, especially boys. The books are full of nonstop action and adventure, whether you are reading the adventures of Carson Napier of Venus, John Carter of Mars, or Jason Gridley of Pellucidar. The books are certainly a bit dated by today’s standards, but are largely fun and easy to read. Last summer, I revisited the first book in his Venus series, and this year decided to read the rest of the books in the series back-to-back. This approach made his books’ strengths evident, but unfortunately also emphasized their quirks and shortcomings.

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Man in the Mirror: Worlds of the Imperium and The Other Side of Time by Keith Laumer

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 taking a look at two alternate world books by Keith Laumer, from the days when novels were short and briskly paced. And Laumer was a master of that form. I’d been searching for some good summer reading, and these certainly fit the bill. The books are full of alternate versions of people we recognize from our own history, and the hero even gets to meet an alternate version of himself at one point. What can be more fun than playing the game of “what if…?”

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The Horrors of War: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake

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 world, and indeed the wider universe of our imagination, can be a frightening place. And among the most horrible places, real or fictional, is the battlefield. The very real horrors of war dwarf even the most terrible of fantastic monsters, even the uncaring and powerful Cthulhu. And one of the science fiction authors most adept at capturing those horrors effectively is David Drake.

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A New World Awaits: Xenozoic by Mark Schultz

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.

Toward the end of the 20th Century, comic book creators began to balk at the way they were compensated. The companies paid them flat fees for their work, and they had no control over, or revenue from, the product they produced. Even if they developed a best-selling character, or a storyline later used in a movie, they had already been paid for their work, and that was that. Some creators started publishing their own work, and companies like Dark Horse, while printing the comics, allowed creators to retain control of their work, and share in the profits.

One artist who stood out from the crowded field of independents was Mark Schultz, who created a comic called Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and later called Xenozoic (legal issues having created difficulties in the use of the brand name Cadillac). The story is set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic world, where humanity has just emerged from underground bunkers to find the Earth lush with plants and animals that had long been extinct. The art is evocative, the characters larger than life, and the stories burst with energy, adventure, and most importantly, lots of dinosaurs.

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As Unpredictable as Humans: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

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 revisiting a classic collection of tales from one of the giants of the science fiction field, Isaac Asimov. As a writer, Asimov loved coming up with a good puzzle or conundrum that required a solution, and some of his best known works address the creation of machines whose operation was guided by logic. Despite their logical nature, however, the robots in the stories included in I, Robot prove to be just as unpredictable as humans, giving the characters plenty of mysteries to grapple with

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Oops, I Just Bought a Planet: Norstrilia by Cordwainer 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.

One of the lesser-known gems of the science fiction world in the mid-20th century is the work of author Cordwainer Smith. He brought an international flavor to a science fiction field that, for all its creativity, was deeply rooted in the culture and conventions of the United States. His stories of the Instrumentality of Mankind were intriguing, giving the reader science fiction tales with the storytelling conventions of fantasy and legend. And in the centerpiece of this future history, the novel Norstrilia, he brought young and naïve Rod McBan to the mysterious and dangerous planet called Earth.

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Scorched With Great Heat: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

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 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up, the issue of nuclear war was not just on people’s minds, it was a kind of mania that gripped the nation. I was one of the people caught up in that fear, and when I read Alas, Babylon at what was probably too young an age, the book was seared into my memory. Apparently, I was not alone, as the book went on to be a perennial best seller. Current events, which have revived concerns over nuclear weapons, brought the story to mind, so I dug a copy out of the basement to see how it held up.

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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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