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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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 ...

Destruction and Renewal: Nova by Samuel R. Delany

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.

There are authors who work with the stuff of legends and make it new and fresh and all their own. There are authors who make their prose sing like it was poetry, and authors whose work explores the cosmos in spaceships, dealing with physics and astronomy. And in a few rare cases, there are authors who bring all those elements together into something magical. One of those authors is Samuel R. Delany, whose book Nova is a classic of the genre.

Delany, still in his 20s, burst onto the science fiction scene of the 1960s ...

Dinosaurs in the Amazon: The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

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’ll be going on an adventure with the best character ever created by Arthur Conan Doyle. And I’m not talking about a detective. We’re going to be following the vain, volatile, and brilliant Professor Challenger as he and his plucky companions travel up the Amazon River to a remote plateau where creatures from prehistoric times still walk among more modern beasts. A land filled with exciting discoveries, but also deadly danger. The land of The Lost World.

I know I’m in the minority with my lack of love for Sherlock Holmes. I see the ...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Mid-Season Premiere: Stuck in the Middle with You

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has kicked off what appears to be the final story arc of Season Five with the team returning to present-day Earth from a future where the planet was destroyed, having saved what was left of the human race from their Kree oppressors before they left. Now they need to stop that Earth-ending disaster from ever happening—but they’ve returned to a world where S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles, and they’re hunted fugitives. It looks like their mantra in this final arc of the season will be one previously used by the X-Men in the comic books: “Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been in dire straits before, but their current difficulties look even worse than the situation they faced in the future. They ...

Adventures in London Below: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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.

Variety is the spice of life, and sometimes even a hard science fiction fan like me looks toward the world of fantasy for something different. And if you’re going to dabble in another genre, you might as well start with the best. So today we’re visiting Neverwhere, a seminal novel by Neil Gaiman, one of the best fantasy writers in the world, whose work has been delighting readers for decades. The book takes us to the mysterious world of London Below, a community that exists unknown to the inhabitants of the mundane city above ...

Neil Gaiman headshot Kyle Cassidy
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman illustrated Chris Riddell
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman BBC Radio audio drama
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back Neil Gaiman BBC Radio audio drama

Creator of Worlds: Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

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 a broad category of literature: you can have stories set in the far future, the present day, or the distant past (and even mix these together in a time travel tale). You can set your story right here on Earth, on a distant planet, or some more exotic place. Or you can create a world to your own specifications. Your protagonists can be human, alien, animal, vegetable, mineral, or some combination thereof. But there is one thing that binds all these stories together, and it is printed right up front, “on the ...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Mid-Season Finale: Back from the Future!

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reaches the end of the first story arc of Season Five with the team struggling to return to present-day Earth from a future where the planet has been destroyed, and to save the remnants of the human race before they leave. But even if they can get home, they will be returning to a world where they are hunted fugitives…

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appear to be trapped in a time travel loop. It’s fitting this this initial arc ended on February 2, because time loops have been associated with the day ever since the classic movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, appeared in 1993 (and you can read an excellent Tor article on time loops here).

 

Time Travel in Marvel Comics

Before this season, the TV version of Agents of S.H.I....

Classic SF for Young Readers: The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey and Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg

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 paths to science fiction fandom are numerous. Some people are hooked by a movie, a paperback picked up at an airport, a TV show, a book loaned by a friend, or a musty-smelling stack of magazines in the corner of a basement, and the joys of reading open up to them. For many years, a major source of books for young readers has been the Scholastic Corporation. They distribute books and educational materials by mail order, through book fairs, and more recently via the internet, and among these offerings have been many science fiction ...

C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith Stories: Pulp Hero vs. Cosmic Horrors

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.

There was a day when magazine racks were far larger than they are today, and choices were far more varied. If you wanted science fiction adventure, you could read Planet Stories or Amazing Stories. If you wanted stories with science and rivets, you could read Astounding Science Fiction. For Earthbound adventures you could read Doc Savage Magazine, Argosy, or Blue Book. And if you wanted horror stories, your first choice was Weird Tales. The stories in that magazine ranged from the pure horror of H. P. Lovecraft and the barbarian tales of Robert ...

Revisiting Ringworld: Larry Niven’s Timeless Classic

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.

There is nothing quite like reading about the act of exploration: tales of expeditions up mysterious jungle rivers, archaeologists in lost cities, spelunkers in caverns deep beneath the earth, or scientists pursuing the latest discovery. And in science fiction, there is a special type of story that evokes a particular sense of wonder, the Big Dumb Object, or BDO, story. A giant artifact is found, with no one around to explain it, and our heroes must puzzle out its origin and its purpose. And one of the best of these tales is Larry Niven’s groundbreaking ...