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

All are welcome to join us at our monthly meetings. This is us and this is what we will be reading and discussing.

Infectious Fiction #10

This is the Tenth Post of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.

And, as some people have requested, it’s the last post listing disease-bearing books.

Which is not to say that there may not be future posts. Because sometimes it takes a long time to get to ‘last’.

Consider Fermat’s Last Theorem. One way to state it:

For positive integers a, b and c,
there are no solutions to
a^n + b^n = c^n,
for any integer n greater than 2.

Pierre de Fermat first suggested the theorem in the margin of Arithmetica, an ancient Greek text on mathematics, around the year 1637. He famously claimed that he had a proof, but it was just a bit too large to fit into the margin. He didn’t. But no worries. The lack of a proof was a prime mover in the development of number theory for over three centuries. And Fermat’s Last Theorem was finally proved in 1994 by British mathematician Andrew Wiles.

Mathematics… is a bit like discovering oil…. But mathematics has one great advantage over oil, in that no one has yet… found a way that you can keep using the same oil forever.

(The Beamers’ book of the month in July 2012 was The Last Theorem by the great Arthur C. Clarke and the great Frederik — Clarke has his ‘C’ — Pohl. We gave it not-so-great reviews.)

While there are many classic works of science fiction and fantasy with ‘end’ or ‘last’ in their titles, there are remarkably very few with ‘final’. (And, yes, I’m discounting the Final Fantasy series and the Trek novels as non-classics.)

final programmeArthur C. Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey, the fourth Space Odyssey book. The body of Frank Poole, lost for a thousand years since the computer HAL caused his death en route to Jupiter, is retrieved, revived and enhanced. Only Poole can resolve the terrifying truth of the Monoliths’ mission.

Gordon R. Dickson’s The Final Encyclopedia, the sixth Dorsai book. (This should not be confused with Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica, allegedly created on the planet Terminus.) The human race is split into three cultures: the Friendlies, fanatic in their faith; the truth-seeking Exotics; and the warrior Dorsai. But now humanity is threatened by the power-hungry Others, whose triumph would end all human progress. 

Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme, an Eternal Champion book and the first Jerry Cornelius story. Jerry Cornelius is a scientist, rock star, and assassin. He is the hippest adventurer of them all: tripping through a pop art nightmare in which kidnappings, murder, sex and drugs are a daily occurrence. Along with his savvy and ruthless partner-in-chaos, Cornelius is on a mission to control a revolutionary code for creating the ultimate human being, a modern messiah— the final programme.

Not interested in ‘final’ works? Then try one of these viral works — all of them, classics — published between the years 1353(!) and 1944, with links mostly to Watchung Booksellers. (The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth posts were to works published more recently.)

last manForever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. 1944. 16-year-old Amber survives the Great Plague and Fire of London. Banned in the ’40s.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter. 1939 . The relationship between a newspaper woman and a soldier during the influenza epidemic of 1918. By the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a National Book Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal Award for Fiction.

They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell. 1937. Robert must protect his mother, especially since the deadly, influenza epidemic of 1918 is ravaging their small Midwestern town. “Rare…exquisite…a cameo-like perfection.”- The New York Herald Tribune

plague yearThe White Plague by Karel Capek. 1937. In an unnamed country that greatly resembles Germany, an uncurable disease is selectively killing off people older than 45. By the creator of R.U.R. and the coiner of the word ‘robot’.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London. 1912. The story takes place in 2073, sixty years after an uncontrollable epidemic, the Red Death, has depopulated the planet. By the creator of White Fang and The Call of the Wild.

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. 1827. Well-known for its remarkable account of the Italian Plague of 1629-1631, and its devastating impact on Milan.

decameronThe Last Man by Mary Shelley. 1826. A novel of a future world ravaged by a plague. By the creator of Frankenstein and the mother of science fiction.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. 1722. One man’s experiences of the year 1665 in which the bubonic plague struck the city of London. By the creator of Robinson Crusoe.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. 1353. In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside. They amuse themselves by each telling a story a day. A towering monument of European literature and a masterpiece of imaginative narrative.

Sources: Bookshop Blog, Electric Literature, Entertainment, Esquire, Haaretz, Headstuff, iNews, New York Times, Penguin Random House, The Star, Vanity Fair, The Virology Bookshop, Vulture, What Should I Read Next?


Hugo Award Finalists – Free Online

hugo_smJJ of File 770 has posted links to places that the Hugo Award finalists may be read or heard, in full or in part, for free.

The Nominees for Novels:

For the rest of the finalists, click here.

Lord of the Rings Zoom Session

Infectious Fiction #9

This is Post Nine of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.

The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat is a 1974 animated comedy directed by Robert Taylor. It is a purported sequel to the 1972 Fritz the Cat directed by Ralph Bakshi. While the original was based on Robert Crumb’s character and comics, the “sequel” basically just uses the character without any of Crumb’s stories. Nine Lives has a rating of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, the original, 60%. You do the math.

Crumb and friends

Crumb and friends

In 2017, Crumb’s original cover art for the 1969 Fritz the Cat collection sold at auction for $717,000, the then highest sale price for any piece of American comics art.

Crumb was a pioneer in underground comix and the creator of Angelfood McSpade, Mr. Natural and the Snoid, among others. He was the driving force behind Zap Comix. In 2009, Crumb adapted in its entirety the biblical Book of Genesis, “a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions.”

The comics are where all the crazy subconscious stuff comes out. R. Crumb

bakshi and friends

Bakshi and friends

Ralph Bakshi is the director of animated and live-action films. His first film was Fritz the Cat, which had the distinction of being the first animation to receive an X rating from the MPAA. He also directed the films Heavy Traffic, Wizards, American Pop, Fire and Ice, Cool World and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). On television, he was the director and producer of the 1987 Mighty Mouse and the 1994 Cool and the Crazy.

Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings included cel animation, live-action footage and rotoscoping, a technique in which animators trace over live-action footage, frame by frame. It covered only half of the Tolkien trilogy, as the studio refused to fund the second half. Although the 1978 film was a financial success, it got mixed reviews from the critics. The film went on to become a cult classic.

What’s most important in animation is the emotions and the ideas being portrayed.
I’m a great believer of energy and emotion.  R. Bakshi

It’s been reported that Peter Jackson was inspired by Bakshi’s version in making his  Lord of The Rings trilogy. Undoubtedly, there are certain camera angles and shots that appear in both versions.

Regardless of the version, LOTR is full of ‘nines’. There are the nine rings given to mortal men doomed to die — who later become the nine Nazgul or Black Riders — and there are the nine walkers, the members of the Fellowship. And let’s not forget Frodo of the Nine Fingers or Bilbo’s age of 99 when he adopted Frodo.

The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. J.R.R. Tolkien

Jackson also created a trilogy from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The less said about that, the better. Jackson’s version has none of the charm of the controversial 1977 Rankin-Bass television movie or even the 1985 intellectual property infringing Russian version.

Not interested in underground comix or Middle-earth? Then try one of these novels — quite a few of them, classics — published between the years 1947 and 1981, with links mostly to Watchung Booksellers. (The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth posts were to works published between 1982 and 2020.)

citiesThe Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz. 1981. A mother sets out on a quest to find out if her son died or if he is still alive. The baddie is a brain-eating virus named Wuhan-400.

Cities of the Red Night by William S Burroughs. 1981. The population of a modern inferno is afflicted with the epidemic of a radioactive virus. An opium-infused apocalyptic vision. Norman Mailer had this to say about Burroughs, “The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.”

The Stand by Stephen King. 1978. A pandemic of a weaponized strain of influenza that kills almost the entire world population. The few survivors, united in groups, establish a new social system and engage in confrontation with each other. It’s hard to escape mention of this book in the press these days.

legendEmpty World by John Christopher. 1977. When a deadly virus kills off most of the world’s population, a teenage boy tries to survive in a seemingly empty England.

Slapstick, or Lonesome No More by Kurt Vonnegut. 1976. Following the scourging of the US by two lethal diseases, the President of the US and his sister scheme to end loneliness. From the creator of The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughter-House Five.

The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell. 1973. In1857, with India on the brink of a violent and bloody mutiny, life is orderly and genteel for the British. Then the sepoys at the nearest military cantonment rise in revolt, and the British community retreats with shock into the Residency. Winner of the Booker Prize.

plagueThe Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. 1969. A team of scientists investigates the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism in New Mexico. One of the most popular writers in the world, Crichton’s books have been made into 13 films.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. 1954. Robert Neville appears to be the sole survivor of a pandemic that has killed most of the human population and turned the remainder into vampires. Winner of the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award for best vampire novel of the century. The Beamers’ meeting notes.

The Plague by Albert Camus. 1947. The story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. Literature!!! Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker: “The plague … exposes existing fractures in societies, in class structure and individual character; under stress, we see who we really are.”

Sources: Bookshop Blog, Electric Literature, Entertainment, Esquire, Haaretz, Headstuff, iNews, New York Times, Penguin Random House, The Star, Vanity Fair, The Virology Bookshop, Vulture, What Should I Read Next?


Don’t Panic

May 25th is Towel Day.StayInForTowelDay1000x665

By this brush, I paint!

120 pages of the art of the Fantastic, for the fantastic price of $39.95

John O’Neill, publisher/editor-in-chief of Black Gate magazine, is happy (nay, giddy!) to report that David Spurlock, working with the Frazetta Museum, has undertaken to revive a classic collection of artwork by Frank Frazetta, in a larger, more lushly produced format. Coming from Vanguard on May 30, The Fantastic Paintings of Frank Frazetta brings together both previously published and unpublished works by the artist deemed “the Rembrandt of barbarians” (according to Forbes, in an article titled “Schwarzenegger’s Sargent”.

No fantasy fan lived through the 1970s without knowing these volumes.

Fantasy fans of “a certain age” will immediately catch the homage that Spurlock makes with his cover choice. The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, a series of 5 volumes coming from Rufus Publications starting in 1975, sold in the millions of copies and became the genre art equivalent of the soft-rock sounds of Frampton Comes Alive (1976). Love it, hate it, but could not ignore it.

Not just barbarians, but buccaneers, blade-wielders, and beasts!

Infectious Fiction #8

This is Post Eight of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.

To paraphrase the pig triumvirate of George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. Whatever goes upon eight legs, is a stranger.

Two legs, bad; four legs, good; eight legs, well…?

What has eight legs? Spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites and the microscopic moss piglets tardigrades. Not the best start.

But what else has eight legs? Odin’s flying horse Sleipnir And you can keep your Pegasus and your Shadowfax; in Norse mythology, Sleipnir is described as the best of all horses. He is also the son of Loki and the stallion Svaðilfari. (It’s complicated.)

Spiders mostly have a reputation for being gruesome and ghastly. There’s Shelob in the Lord of the Rings, as well as her mother, Ungoliant. And there’s Aragog and his spawn in the Harry Potter series.

charlotte's web

Garth Williams, Illustrator

But there’s also Charlotte A. Cavatica — yes, that’s her full name — of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The book was published in 1952, and according to Publishers Weekly, it is the best-selling children’s paperback of all time. That didn’t stop the fine people of Kansas from banning the book in 2006 because “taking animals are blasphemous Continue reading

Unicorn Tapestries at the Met Cloisters

When a hole eats a hole

Because the Universe is stranger than we can imagine, it winds up featuring massive objects that operate on scales that dwarf not just human achievement, but even the significance of our entire galaxy. Case in point, OJ 287.

As reported by Phil Plait in his “Bad Astronomy” blog on, OJ 287 is a cosmic object called a “blazar”, a particularly active type of quasar, whose supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the galactic nucleus unleashes enough energetic radiation that we can comfortably (and safely) see it from 3.5 billion light-years away. But twice every 12 years, OJ 287 flares up in the visible light portion of the spectrum.

Astronomers have theorized that the SMBH at OJ 287’s core (weighing in at 18.4 billion times the mass of our Sun) has a binary buddy, another SMBH (totaling a mere 150 million Solar masses – by comparison, the Milky Way’s SMBH is a tiny 4 million Solar masses). The smaller SMBH orbits the larger one, and it periodically crashes through the accumulated material in equatorial orbit around the giant SMBH, known as its accretion disk.

Artistic illustration of OJ 287 binary black hole system.
Credit: Dey et al., Astrophysics Journal, 2018, 866, 11. (c)AAS, 2018

When the secondary SMBH collides, the “friction” of its passage through the dust cloud heats up the material enough to produce a visible light “flare” equivalent to a trillion (with a ‘t’!) stars, outshining most galaxies.

What makes this science story most wonderful is that these unimaginably mighty events are *predictable*, as astronomers, applying Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, were able work out not only the orbit but the precession as well; the central SMBH bends spacetime enough to shift the orbit by 39o each time the smaller SMBH passes by. The result was a predicted flare that was within 4 hours of the observed “spike” on July 31, 2019, in OJ 287’s light curve.

So even if we cannot imagine the wonders of the Universe before we discover them, we can train our imaginations to encompass the things that we do finally find.

Infectious Fiction #7

This is the Seventh Post of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.

The number seven is believed by many to be lucky. I don’t know about that, but perhaps that’s why there is a plethora of great and good films with ‘seven’ in their title.

I always liked movies. But I never truly appreciated them as art until I had an English teacher in high school who presented both film as high art and then-current music as poetry. It was in his class that I first saw The Seventh Seal and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood — his take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play. (And, heck, he even took us on a field trip to the City to see Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.) So, thank you, Dr. John Snyder.

I’ll give you a few more recommendations later in this post, but in the meantime, drop whatever you’re doing and watch these two great classics from the 1950’s.

The Seventh Seal (1957). Directed by Ingmar Bergman with Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjomstrand and Bengt Ekerot. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, and is considered one of the most influential films of all time.

A knight returning from the Crusades seeks answers about life, death and the existence of God as he plays chess against Death, a white-faced man wearing a dark cape, during the Black Plague.

According to the Guardian, “The chess game is a brilliant metaphor for man’s attempt to defy mortality’s gravity through his accomplishments, perhaps most vividly in the idea of artistic genius, the need to create a vital work which will survive the author’s death….The movie fiercely addresses itself to the agony of belief, the need to believe in a God who remains silent, mysterious, absent. It is a work of art that grabs the audience by the lapels, believers and unbelievers alike, and demands not answers, exactly, but an acknowledgement that this is the most important question, the only question: why does anything exist at all?”

“My indifference has shut me out. I live in a world of ghosts, a prisoner of dreams. I want God to put out his hand, show his face, speak to me. I cry out to him in the dark but there is no one there.”

Seven Samurai (1954). Directed by Akira Kurosawa with Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Keiko Tsushima. The film was named the greatest foreign-language film by the BBC film critics’ poll, and has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Kurasawa has been credited as the creator or inspiration of various genres: the heroic team assembled to carry out a mission, the spaghetti Western, Star Wars.

A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.

According to Roger Ebert, “[The movie] moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep. Nobody could photograph men in action better than Kurosawa.”

“This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.”

Timely words.

The Seventh Seal and Seven Samurai can both be viewed can be viewed on Amazon, the Criterion Channel, Kanopy and YouTube.

Let’s round out our Seven films with five more flicks:

  • Seven Days in May (1964). Directed by John Frankenheimer with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredrick March and Ava Gardner. United States military leaders plot to overthrow the President because he supports a nuclear disarmament treaty and they fear a Soviet sneak attack. Overshadowed by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, released a few weeks before.
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960). Directed by John Sturges with Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Eli Wallach. Seven gunfighters are hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their village from oppressive bandits. The Seven Samurai go west.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Directed by lots of people with lots of voice actors. Exiled into the dangerous forest by her wicked stepmother, a princess is rescued by seven dwarf miners who make her part of their household. The first feature length animation.
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Directed by Stanley Donen with Jane Powell and Howard Keel. In 1850 Oregon, when a backwoodsman brings a wife home to his farm, his six brothers decide that they want to get married too. Nominated for Best Picture Academy Award, but lost out to Eli Kazan’s On the Waterfront.
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955). Directed by Billy Wilder with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. When his family goes away for the summer, a hitherto faithful husband with an overactive imagination is tempted by a beautiful neighbor. Monroe, Wilder? ‘Nuf said.

Not interested in the best movies ever made? Then try one of these prose works, each published between the years 1992 and 1995, with links mostly to Watchung Booksellers. (The first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth posts were to works published from 1996 to 2020.)

blindnessVirus by Graham Watkins. 1995. Patients with a strange new disease are flooding into Duke Hospital. Dehydrated, sleep-deprived, wracked with opportunistic illnesses, they have starved themselves almost to death.

Pandora’s Clock by John J. Nance. 1995. A plane carrying a supervirus searches for a place to land.

Blindness by José Saramago. 1995. The story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. By the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman. 1994. As the Plague releases its horror over London’s streets, Penitence is forced to acknowledge that courage and a paradoxical decency are to be found among the wicked as much as the saintly.

hackerThe Hacker and the Ants by Rudy Von B Rucker. 1994. Something goes wrong and zillions of computer virus ants invade the net. By the two-time winner of the Philip K. Dick award.

Virus by Chuck Pfarrer. 1992. Something is alive inside the ship’s computers, and it’s building monstrous bodies for itself from pieces of machinery and the corpses of thackerhe hapless Chinese crew.

Venom Virus by Ric Parry. 1992. When terrorists infect a crowded 747 with a deadly new virus, Admiral Henry Clay Gifford enlists the aid of a brilliant toxicologist to stop the plague at its source.

ammoniteThe Melbourne Virus by Peter Leslie. 1992. A Scottish detective tracks an innocent tourist through Europe, trying to stop him from spreading a virus as fatal as the Black Death. He soon discovers that the tourist is really a vicious criminal.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. 1992. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, Hiro is on a search-and-destroy mission for the villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. One of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels.

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. 1992. Anthropologist is sent to the planet Jeep, populated only by women, to test a potential vaccine. Winner of the Lambda and Tiptree awards.

Sources: Bookshop Blog, Electric Literature, Entertainment, Esquire, Haaretz, Headstuff, iNews, New York Times, Penguin Random House, The Star, Vanity Fair, The Virology Bookshop, Vulture, What Should I Read Next?

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