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
Mired in a deep freeze, the bold Beamers of 2019 huddled together to consider a fantasy set in an archipelago of many islands, frequented by many goats. Ursula Le Guin’s seminal fantasy, intended for younger readers, A Wizard of Earthsea, sent us back and forth across her map and even off the eastern edge of it. Would the Beamers be able to find their way around the story of a young man atoning for his pride? Or would we be too proud ourselves to ask directions?
Author Alec Nevala-Lee (The Icon Thief) has written a study on the history of Astounding Science Fiction magazine (still published these days as Analog Science Fiction and Fact) during its “golden age” under John W. Campbell Jr. from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s. In a related article in the NY Times of Thursday, January 10, he traces the evolution of Astounding from 1930 to 1954, as it went from one of a collection of sf “pulp” outlets to become the leading periodical for the sf genre. And he illustrates its history by the cover artwork used, which includes several of the iconic images of sf, such as Frank Kelly Freas’s cover for the October 1953, which later became the cover illustration for the rock group Queen (fronted by Freddie Mercury) on their News of the World (1977) album.
[Tip of the hat to Beamer Fran W. who found the NY Times article and pointed it out to me.]
On Tor.com, Aidan Moher reports on an interview with Charles Vess, the artist chosen to illustrate the complete collection of Earthsea tales (The Books of Earthsea) published in October 2018 by Saga Press. One of the most important request that Ms. Le Guin made for the illustrations was that they show the everyday lives of her world and not only the awesome or terrible aspects of her fantasy archipelago. As Mr. Vess puts it most succinctly: “More goats, Charles! Put more goats in there.”
Not that Mr. Vess left out the more expected illustrations; Ged is, after all, a Dragon Lord (“When you meet a dragon, the question is will he eat you or will he talk to you. If you can be sure it is the latter and not the former, then you are a dragon lord.”):
As he noted in an interview with his hometown newspaper, Mr. Vess found the down-to-earth feeling of Earthsea quite congenial:
Though he is now referred to as a fantasy artist, Vess says he prefers the term “mythic artist”.
The word ‘fantasy’ conjures images of knights in blood-soaked armor battling dragons, Vess says, something seldom found in the illustrator’s own sweeping landscapes and fantastical portraits.
“One of the best things about mythic art or writing is its metaphors for life,” Vess says.
Dr. Nancy Roman, 93, often called the “mother” of the Hubble Space Telescope, died on December 25. The Washington Post posted a nice article by Emily Langer on her life and accomplishments. They noted that her dismay at the prospective lack of tenure for women Ph.Ds led her to become, instead, one of the first NASA employees. For 20 years, she served as chief of astronomy at NASA headquarters in DC. There, she helped open up space to astronomical research, including the first solar observation satellite in 1962.
Her biggest and best project was Hubble. As Ms Langer writes:
“During the 1960s and early 1970s there was no one at NASA who was more important in getting the first designs and concepts for Hubble funded and completed,” space historian Robert Zimmerman wrote in The Universe in a Mirror, an account of the creation of Hubble. “More importantly, it was [Dr. Roman] more than anyone who convinced the astronomical community to get behind space astronomy.”
For her work, Dr. Roman was given one of the highest honors that the geek community can bestow upon a deserving individual – her own LEGO figurine!
On Tor.com, James David Nicoll, sf/f book reviewer and notable author of a quote on the tendency of the English language to abscond words from other linguistic traditions (“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary”), has posted his own list of 100 science fiction and fantasy titles worthy of being read in 2019. (Or listened to, as one selection is Janelle Monae’s sf soul/funk opera, The ArchAndroid.)
Of note, 13 of these titles are already Beamer books past, and another 7 are books that have appeared on the “Under consideration” banner. Clearly, whenever Mr. Nicoll is in northern NJ on a 2nd Friday of the month, we need to invite him to drop by!
On the Black Gate web magazine, Bob Byrne is a new weekly re-read of all 21 of the original Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard. Each contributor to the series must take on the task of explaining and demonstrating why that week’s story is the BEST of all the Conan tales.
Mr. Byrne, the BG detective fiction maven (all things Sherlock Holmes, Solar Pons, plus hard-boiled pulp crime fighters), relates that the story assignments were made randomly, forcing the essayists to focus on the merits (and the demerits) of each work in order to build their “best of” cases. Which will likely be a tall order for certain pieces, well known to be among Howard’s weaker efforts (looking at you, “The God in the Bowl”), though Byrne did make a game attempt to introduce that story as a very early example of a police procedural, suggesting that the re-reads will be, at a minimum, creative interpretations of works long considered standard sword-and-sorcery material.
On io9, Germain Lussier gives a heads-up on a new art show by Craig Drake, a former Lucasfilm staffer who re-envisions many of the classic sf movies of the 1980s in a style reminiscent of the quintessential ’80s artist, Patrick Nagel. (At least to my old 1980s-era eyes.)
Mr. Drake’s show, Solo V, will run at the Hero Complex Gallery from December 14, 2018, to January 6, 2019, though the gallery will be closed several times for the year-end holidays.
While the intrepid io9 reporter has spent 31 hours in line to buy some of Mr. Drake’s artwork, prints of the gallery exhibit pieces are readily available on-line for less money and (much) less time.
For our year-end discussion, the Beamers took a leisurely tour through the tumultuous history of the Stephanides family, from war-torn Smyrna in 1922 through war-torn Detroit in 1967, ending up with a hard-won personal peace as the millennium turned. Aided by guest Beamer Marina C., our former bookstore Friday minder, we struggled to connect all the dots in Jeffrey Eugenides’s complicated narrative of one person’s journey from female childhood to male adulthood, Middlesex. Did we like the picture that we found when the lines were all drawn? Mostly, yes. Continue reading
The far-flung provinces of the Beamer Empire demanding attention, only a small cadre of Beamers were gathered on a rainy night in Montclair to plumb the depths of Charles Stross’s overstuffed hero sandwich of a book, The Atrocity Archives, first in his Laundry Files series. Aided by the able circuits of the IntraWeb, several of the missing Beamers (and one delayed Beamer) sent in their thoughts to help speed the discussion along. Would those messages be intercepted by hostile foreign intelligences looking to unleash unspeakable reading material on our stalwarts? Or did the messages get through loud and clear? Continue reading