Gone to the Dogs: City by Clifford D. Simak


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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, a book hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s what happened to me when I read City by Clifford D. Simak. It didn’t have a lot of adventure, or mighty heroes, chases, or battles in it, but I still found it absolutely enthralling. The humans are probably the least interesting characters in the book, with a collection of robots, dogs, ants, and other creatures stealing the stage. It’s one of the first books I ever encountered that dealt with the ultimate fate of the human race, and left a big impression on my ...

Is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s All-Time Greatest Work?


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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.

For good reason, Robert A. Heinlein is often called the Dean of Science Fiction Writers, having written so many excellent books on such a wide variety of topics… which can make it hard to pick a favorite. If you like military adventure, you have Starship Troopers. If you want a story centered around quasi-religious mysteries, you have Stranger in a Strange Land. Fans of agriculture (or Boy Scouts) have Farmer in the Sky. Fans of the theater have Double Star. Fans of dragons and swordplay have Glory Road. Fans of recursive and self-referential fiction have ...

The Perfect Blend of Adventure and Romance in The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 the work of one of my favorite authors of all time, Lois McMaster Bujold. Instead of the more widely known Vorkosigan series, or her Five Gods and Penric stories, however, I’ll be discussing the first book of her Sharing Knife series—a prime example of how romantic themes can fit well into a science fiction or fantasy setting. A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, Bujold announced on her blog that “I am pleased to report that I have finished the first draft of a new novella in the world ...

How The Lord of the Rings Changed Publishing Forever


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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 do something a bit different, and look not just at a work of fiction, but at a specific edition of a book and its impact on the culture and on publishing. That book is the first official, authorized paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Sometimes, the right book comes along with the right message at the right time and ends up not only a literary classic, but a cultural phenomenon that ushers in a new age…

And when I talk about the book ushering ...

Back to the Old Ways: The Yngling by John Dalmas


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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.

While science fiction most often looks toward the future, the past also calls our interest. Sometimes the stories involve travel back in time, but many tales are set after some sort of apocalypse, where mankind has fallen back into old ways. Those tales often have a medieval feel, with mighty swordsmen, menacing rulers, and quests for power. One such post-apocalyptic tale is the story of young Nils Jarnhann, also known as the Yngling, whose abilities included not only physical prowess, but paranormal powers as well. It’s a rousing tale that, unlike others from the 1960s, ...

Girl Power: The Telzey Amberdon Stories by James H. Schmitz


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 today’s science fiction, you don’t have to look too far to find well-realized female characters. But back in the early days of science fiction, such characters were rare: Even the leading female authors of the time often wrote stories featuring male protagonists. One notable exception to this practice was James H. Schmitz, and the most notable of his female characters was the telepath Telzey Amberdon, a teenager who grows during her adventures into quite a formidable person, and indeed, something more than human. I fondly remember discovering Telzey in the pages of Analog during ...

Science and a Thrilling Space Rescue: A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke


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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.

Humanity has long referred to the flattest areas of the Moon as “seas.” And for a time, it was theorized that those seas might be covered with a dust so fine it would have the qualities of liquid—dust deep enough that it might swallow vehicles that landed upon it. That led to author Arthur C. Clarke wondering if you could build a craft that would “float” upon the dust…and what might happen if one of those vessels sank. While it is rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of Clarke and his major works, ...

Fighter Pilots in Space: Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 reasons for the phenomenal success of the Star Wars movies is that they offer something for everyone. They are built around epic fantasy concepts like the hero’s journey and the adventures of a “chosen one.” They center on a power struggle between the Sith and the Jedi, beings with paranormal powers. They take us to worlds different than our own, and introduce us to a diverse range of alien races. They present a thrilling political struggle between freedom and tyranny. They are full of rogues and smugglers and other colorful characters. ...

Throw Out the Rules: The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith


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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 back at the work of L. Neil Smith, an author whose fiction is full of “alarums and excursions.” The Probability Broach was his first novel, published by Del Rey books in 1980. The book takes its main character, a police detective named Win Bear, out of a dystopia with an oppressive government and thrusts him into an exciting alternate world that has very nearly dispensed with government altogether. Smith’s writing voice is witty, snarky, and entertaining, and there is always plenty of action to keep the story moving.

Of ...

A Hit and Two Misses: The Starchild Trilogy by Fredrick Pohl and Jack Williamson


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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 revisit a trilogy by two authors, Fredrick Pohl and Jack Williamson, who each had science fiction writing careers spanning more than seven decades. The first book, The Reefs of Space, is one of the first science fiction books I ever read, and every time anyone talks about the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, or indeed any trans-Neptunian object (TNO), those eponymous reefs are the first things that come to my mind. So, lets see how that book holds up upon re-reading after fifty years (pretty well, actually), and ...

Trailblazing through Time and Space: The Essential Murray Leinster


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 a youngster reading my dad’s Analog back issues in the mid-1960s, there were many authors I enjoyed, including H. Beam Piper, Mack Reynolds, and Poul Anderson. Among them was an author named Murray Leinster, whose stories always felt fresh, always had an aspect that made you think, and often had a rather ironic or humorous view of the human condition. What I didn’t know was that this author had begun his writing career just after the First World War, back in the days before the genre was even popularly known as “science ...

Crack Shots! Science! Exotic Locales! — The Don Sturdy Adventures by Victor Appleton


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 years spanning the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were a time of adventure. The last few blank spots on the map were being filled in by explorers, while the social science of archaeology was gaining attention, and struggling for respectability. And young readers who dreamed of adventure could read about a boy explorer in the tales of Don Sturdy, a series from the same Stratemeyer Syndicate that gave the world stories about Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. They were among the first—but far from the last—books I read ...

Hard Science, Dizzying Scope: Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 mid-1990s, many of my favorite authors were reaching the end of their careers, slowing down and writing less, and I was looking for new things to read. One of the authors who caught my eye at the local Waldenbooks was Stephen Baxter, a British writer whose work was just being published in the United States. His stories were epic in scope, rooted in the latest scientific theories, and full of the sense of wonder I was looking for. This was not an author who shied away from big ideas: His Xeelee series spanned ...

Rekindling Planetary Romance: Old Mars and Old Venus, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois


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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’s review looks at a pair of books that, despite being published in 2013 and 2015, harken back to an older style of science fiction, back to the days when Mars and Venus were depicted as not only habitable, but inhabited. Back when the planets were home to ancient races, decaying cities, mysteries and monsters. Back to the days before interplanetary probes brought back harsh truths about our neighbor planets. Back to the days of Old Mars and Old Venus.

The recent death of Gardner Dozois had me thinking about his many significant contributions to ...

Man Against Machine: Great Sky River by Gregory Benford


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 science fiction stories are, well, just more science fiction-y than other tales. The setting is further in the future, the location is further from our own out-of-the-way spiral arm of the galaxy, the protagonists are strange to us, and the antagonists are stranger still. We get a capital-letter, full dose of the SENSE OF WONDER that we love. And when you combine that with a story full of action, adventure, and jeopardy, you get something truly special. If you hadn’t guessed by now, Great Sky River by Gregory Benford, the subject of today’s review, ...

Immigrants in an Alien World: Zenna Henderson’s The People: No Different Flesh


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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 a cornerstone of all the books reviewed in this column. But not all adventures are big and flashy. Sometimes, the most intense experiences can arise right in your own neighborhood, right around the corner. And when I was growing up, some of the most memorable stories I encountered were Zenna Henderson’s stories of the “People.” They are rooted in the real world of the American West, but are stories of fantastic powers and alien beings; stories of outsiders, outcasts and immigrants, and the type of personal adventures that spoke to my adolescent ...

Not the Way I Remembered It: Raiders from the Rings by Alan E. Nourse


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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, you revisit an old favorite book from your childhood, and it feels comfortable and familiar. Other times, you put it down after re-reading, and ask, “Is that the same book I read all those years ago?” For me, one such book is Raiders from the Rings by Alan E. Nourse. I remembered it for the action, the exciting depictions of dodging asteroids while pursued by hostile forces. But while I did find that this time around, I also found a book with elements that reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Which ...

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Five Finale: Where’s the Kaboom?


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The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are quite familiar with saving the world, having thwarted villains like Hydra, Inhumans, Hive, and Life Model Decoys at the end of every season. But each time it’s been a bootstrap, do-or-die affair, with the outcome far from certain. In this season finale, having destroyed the alien Confederacy spaceship that hovered over the Earth, our heroes still faced the homegrown threat of Graviton—their old ally General Talbot, his mind fragmented by the process of gaining his gravitonium-fueled powers. Like cartoon character Marvin the Martian, many fans went into the episode bracing for “an Earth-shattering kaboom!”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are at the end of their fifth season, and everything has come down to this final dilemma. The pre-show ABC episode synopsis teased: “Coulson’s life or death is the challenge the team finds themselves in, as ...

Sailing to Bygone Days: S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time


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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 visit the first book in a long-running series that looks at two major questions: What would happen if people with the technology of today were transported to a world that lacked it? And what would happen if the world of today lost its technology? The answers, in the hands of author S.M. Stirling, provides the setting for some of the best action and adventure stories ever written. Island in the Sea of Time is the first book of S.M. Stirling’s Change series, a gripping story of ordinary people facing ...

Cuteness vs. Corporate Evil: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper


This post is by Alan Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 is noted for the amazing diversity of its alien beings. More than a few of them are scary, or cruel, or heartless…not the type of creatures you would want to meet in a dark alley or forest. Those nasty ones definitely outnumber cute and friendly aliens. But one alien race, the Fuzzies, stands out for its excessive cuteness—an element that could easily overwhelm any tale including them. Rather than wallowing in cuteness, however, H. Beam Piper’s classic book Little Fuzzy turns out to be quite a tough tale about corporate greed and the ...