Welcome to the Beam Me Up Science Fiction Book Club blog!
“Live long and prosper!” G. Roddenberry
“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.” J.R.R. Tolkien
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” Dr. Lazarus of Tev’Meck
For a pleasant August evening, the Beamers spent a pleasant couple of hours going over and under the various elements that Becky Chambers used to create her Wayfarer universe, as seen in her debut novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. While the destination of the crew is, indeed, a small, geologically active (hence “angry”) planet, and its inhabitants, the Toremi, are not particularly welcoming, we found a lot to enjoy in the book, and even more to discuss. Continue reading
NASA this week posted a job opening for a Planetary Protection Officer, a title that requires the holder to “the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.” Organic? Biological contamination? In space! Does this position sound tailor-made for Sigourney Weaver?
Actually, it is all about the tiny biota, bacteria and viruses, and mainly with keeping Earth organisms from hitching a ride and contaminating any extraterrestrial landscapes, thus making it harder to discover actual off-Earth life.
Dr. Catherine “Cassie” Conley, the current PPO and 6th to hold the title, is happy for the exposure but not so thrilled with the association to hostile E.T.s and xenomorphs: “We have no evidence that there has been an invasion of intelligent life,” Conley told Fortune in an interview on Friday. The objective is more about keeping NASA in compliance with the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. “It is extremely important that as we explore space that we do it in a careful way,” she said. “If you want to find life on other planets, you have to be careful not to find Earth life by accident.”
So, despite the 6-figure salary, the PPO is not likely to be suiting up in a cargo loader and going toe-to-toe with the Queen Mother alien any time soon.
In the summer swelter of mid-July, the Beamers cooled off with some beverages at Panera’s and with an epic quest across a mammoth planet that kept us distracted from the heat, all the way to Lord Valentine’s Castle. Robert Silverberg’s planetary romance was a bit radical when published in 1980, marking a major departure from the solid and experimental science fiction that he had been writing in the 1960s and ’70s. But the Beamers liked following the detour that his sf career took. Continue reading
I recently attended Readercon 28 in Quincy, Mass, and spent 4 days immersed in a sea of speculations on speculative fiction. (Seriously, the panel discussion “Problematizing Taxonomizing” was sub-titled “Maybe the Most Readercon Panel Ever”, for good reasons.)
Mixed in with all the heady and erudite discussions were readings, small-group sit-downs with authors (called “kaffeeklatsches”), autograph signings, award presentations (Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery, Shirley Jackson horror) a well-stocked book dealers’ room, an over-stocked hospitality suite, and plenty of space in which to meet and greet friends, old or new.
While much of the fun is spontaneous, some of it is programmed, particularly on Saturday evenings when the Most Readerconnish Miscellany is presented. This year, the British comedy quiz show, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, provided the framework for 2 hours of improv scenes, literary quips, and songs. Ah, the songs, a karaoke collision of geek culture with mainstream heavyweights to produce a sound and a vision all too wonderfully mashed-up to pass up. Crystal Huff, a con organizer (and co-chair of this year’s WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland!) recorded some of the merriment and posted the videos to Twitter.
As part of their on-going H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos re-read on Tor.com, Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth added a Japanese anime to the list of Mythos-related works. Kishin Houkou Demonbane follows the adventures of Kurou, a down-on-his-luck private detective/sorcerer in Arkham, who finds (or is found by) a copy of the dread Necronomicon. In the form of a young, violet-haired woman with aqua eyes, who seals their mystical bond with a kiss. Her magic enables Kurou to pilot a mecha (big battlebot) named Demonbane, built to fight against the minions and mecha of the evil Black Lodge. Including an avatar of the Pnakotic Manuscripts (appearing as a Goth girl in black dress, black ribbons, and sapphire eyes).
Aside from the “chibi” (short/cute) versions of Mythos books, and Arkham looking more like Gotham City than HPL’s Salem-inspired locale, the anime does cram in an amazing amount of Mythos individuals, items, and lore. So, Mythos fans who can tolerate a bit (or a lot, actually) of mighty machines battling and some (or a lot, actually) “fan service” images (several big, umm, “forewords”, those magical books seem to have) are in for a surprisingly bright and intriguing take on the dark Great Old Ones and their forbidden tomes.
The next Doctor Who will be a woman, Jodie Whittaker. Ms. Whittaker, a native of Yorkshire, England, is known for appearing in Attack the Block (2011), One Day (2011) and St. Trinian’s (2007).
355 issues of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine are now available for reading online or downloading here.
According to Wikipedia:
“Galaxy Science Fiction was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1980. It was founded by an Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break into the American market. World Editions hired as editor H.L. Gold, who rapidly made Galaxy the leading science fiction (sf) magazine of its time, focusing on stories about social issues rather than technology.
“At its peak, Galaxy greatly influenced the science fiction field. It was regarded as one of the leading sf magazines almost from the start, and its influence did not wane until Pohl’s departure in 1969. Gold brought a “sophisticated intellectual subtlety” to magazine science fiction according to Pohl, who added that “after Galaxy it was impossible to go on being naive.” SF historian David Kyle agrees, commenting that “of all the editors in and out of the post-war scene, the most influential beyond any doubt was H. L. Gold”. Kyle suggests that the new direction Gold set “inevitably” led to the experimental New Wave, the defining science fiction literary movement of the 1960s.”
On the cusp of Summer, eight stalwart Beamers grappled with the flashing swords and dark sorceries of Fritz Leiber’s redoubtable pair, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Though, as in true Beamer fashion, many doubts about the pair were raised, particularly with regard to their paramours. Continue reading
In the May 2017 issue of Locus, Stefan Dziemianowicz reviews an alternative (or “lost”) version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, Dracula. Published in Iceland(!) in the early 1900s, with the title Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna), it differs from the traditional edition of Dracula published in England in 1897, in ways both small and large. The post title is the PoD quote better known in English as “Listen to them, the children of the night – what music they make!” The events in London are compressed into fewer chapters, while a Europe-wide conspiracy of the elites lead by the Count is added. But, the Icelandic edition boasts an introduction written by Bram Stoker himself for its publication, so it bears some level of authenticity.
For Dracula scholars, then, the question comes what text was the basis for the Icelandic version? An earlier draft, from which Stoker removed many of the “potboiler” political thriller elements and characters? Stoker’s wife published the story “Dracula’s Guest” as a chapter edited out of the final draft, but vampire fiction students speculate that it, too, is part of an earlier draft and not the final manuscript. So, horror fans may take an interest in this (possibly earlier) take on the iconic vampire of modern literature to glean insight into how the Count arose from the fertile ground of Bram Stoker’s imagination to stalk our nights.
NASA’s Juno probe is beginning to return data from its close-up views of Jupiter. Entering orbit around the gas giant on July 4, 2016, the craft maneuvered into its current pole-to-pole transits on August 27, achieving a low altitude of 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) above the Jovian cloud tops. Now, NASA has published the first 2 papers based on the data collected on that earliest fly-by.
So far, Juno has helped determine that Jupiter’s magnetic field is much less uniform, almost “lumpy”, which could indicate that it is generated much higher than the planetary core and thus subject to the planet’s dynamic atmospheric systems. Those systems are also coming under scrutiny, with the belts showing differing thicknesses (equatorial belt going down to the surface, while belts at other latitudes dissolve into other structures at depth).
Juno’s orbit swings around Jupiter every 53 days, spends 2 hours in proximity gathering data, and the 6 megabytes of data collected require 1.5 days to download. “Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused with a fire hose of Jovian science, and there’s always something new,” says Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), the principal investigator for the Juno mission. Up next is a fly-by of the Great Red Spot on July 11.