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
Possibly the most famous legal formulation within science fiction are Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now, according to Leroy Kettle reporting in Dave Langford’s monthly sf potpourri, Ansible, the European Union is discussing adding the Three Laws as Essential Health and Safety Requirements within the overall EU Machinery Directive.
As far as I can tell, no consideration is being made about how robots would deal with Brexit, though I would argue that they would perforce oppose it, based on the First Law.
Coming in from a warm, Spring day, when the first fruits are starting to be picked, the Beamers instead contemplated the “decline of the West” and its replacement by the entire rest of the Galaxy, as depicted in James Blish’s classic novels of itinerant metropolises, Cities in Flight. Our schedule only called for the first of the 4-novel omnibus, They Shall Have Stars, but several of us continued further into the saga, though not always to our satisfaction. Continue reading
Locus magazine has posted a short note from noted sf/f author Michael Swanwick that celebrated editor and writer Gardner Dozois has died from an “overwhelming systemic infection”. Mr. Dozois had a history of heart problems, necessitating bypass surgery and a defibrillator implant in 2007, but his hospitalization was not thought to be life-threatening.
Best known for his 20 years as editor-in-chief of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, from 1984 to 2004, for which he garnered 15 Hugo Awards, Mr. Dozois was an award-winning author, taking short-story Nebulas in 1983 (“The Peacemaker”) and 1984 (“Morning Child”). After retiring from Asimov’s, he continued editing his popular The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies, as well as devoting more time to his fiction. “Contrafactual”, his alt-history of an American Civil War where Robert Lee went guerrilla rather than surrender (and narrated by a young Minnesota newsman “Cliff”, an alt-history Clifford D. Simak), won the 2006 Sidewise Award for “short form” alt-history.
Mr. Dozois was part of the generation of sf writers who came out of the Vietnam War era, along with Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) and David Drake (Hammer’s Slammers), though his fiction tends more to the clash of ideas than of weapons, and theological ideas, at that. “The Peacemaker”, for example, is a post-apocalyptic flooded world where the rural folks revive the old tradition of appeasing angry waters with blood. “Morning Child” is a father-and-son road trip through a post-war landscape, where the life cycles are altered and alternating, during “the Last Days”.
Tied to his unsparing perspective on humanity’s inability to outgrow or out-tinker our way up from a basic, bestial nature, is his flat-out love for all of those human natures being natural. The narrator of “A Special Kind of Morning”, one of the rebels trying to bring down the corporate overlords, says, at the end of his battle:
“I’d learned two things: that everybody is human, and that the universe doesn’t care one way or another; only people do … So, empathy’s the thing that binds life together; it’s the flame we share against fear. Warmth’s the only answer to the old, cold questions.”
And what kind of morning is special? “It’s always a beautiful morning somewhere, even on the day you die.”
(with apologies to Anne McCaffrey)
LEARN ON PERN
This one has a horse-like head.
This one has a wide wing spread.
And all of them
Like to be fed.
Yes. Some are brown. And some are blue.
Some are old. And some are new.
Some are led
And some are head
But all of them like burning thread.
Why do they
Like burning thread?
I think I know.
It could be bred.
Some are fast
And some are slow.
The slow one has
No chance as beau.
From there to here,
From here to there.
Here are some
Who like to fly.
They fly so high
In the hot, hot sky.
Oh me! Oh my!
Oh me! Oh my!
What a lot
Of flying things go by.
Some have two turns
And some have four.
Some have six turns
And some have more.
Where do they come from? I can’t say.
But I bet recombinant DNA.
We see them come.
We see them go.
Some are fast.
And some are slow.
Some flame hot
And some flame cold.
Not one of them
Will likely smolder.
Don’t ask me why.
Go ask your holder.
Oh, here and there!
Oh, there and here!
What a lot
Of dragons in the weyr.
Bonus from G’lett Burgess
I never rode a Dragon Gold,
I’d really like to ride one;
But if I am to be consoled,
To me, a Bronze, provide one.
The Nerdwriter video blog on Youtube spends some time gushing over the glories of science fiction cover illustrations and the illustrators who created them (and the art directors who commissioned such high art for such “low” pulp fiction) in a recent essay, The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers:
Nerdwriter does a capable job (in 5:20 minutes) of sketching in the history and evolution of sf covers, starting with the first superstar artist, Frank R. Paul, and gliding up to the early 1970s. If he omits the current geniuses, such as Michael Whelan and Donato Giancola, well, we may not need much of a guide to today’s masters as we do to yesterday’s wizards of color and form.
Clattering through a busy May day, the Beamers met to take a ride on the backs of dragons on the planet Pern. Like dragons themselves, a curious hybrid of science (as a possible folk memory of dinosaurs) and fantasy, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey won science fiction awards and helped set off a wave of dragon-focused fantasies like Naomi Novik’s Napoleonic-era Temeraire books. But did the Beamers take to this odd combination or did we decide it being neither fish nor fowl made it too awkward to enjoy? Continue reading
Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot once suggested that a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf.
These ain’t them. But some of them are classics; and some of them might be classics some day. Without further ado, here are the science fiction, fantasy, horror and related books that I am interested in reading in the next year or so.
- Naomi Alderman; The Power; 2017; One of Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2017
- Poul Anderson; The Broken Sword; 1954; Moorcock: “Better than Tolkien”
- John Barth; Chimera; 1972; National Book Award winner. Postmodern rewriting of myths
- James P. Blaylock; The Aylesford Skull; 2015; Steampunk scientist solves mystery
- Jorge Luis Borges; Labyrinths; 1964; Classic work by Latin American author
- James Branch Cabell; Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice; 1923; Free on Project Gutenberg. Recognized as a landmark comic fantasy novel
- John Crowley; Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr; 2012; The first Crow in all history with his own name
- Charles de Lint; The Wind in His Heart; 2017; First non-YA novel in 8 years from the urban fantasy master
- James Frazier; The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (a new abridgement); 2009; Monumental study in comparative folklore, magic and religion
- Neil Gaiman; Norse Mythology; 2017; Witty take on the Eddas
- Daryl Gregory; Spoonbenders; 2017; NPR 2017 Best Book. Con man and psychic family
- Harry Harrison; Bill, the Galactic Hero; 1965; Shanghaied into the Space Troopers
- Joe Hill; NOS4A2 ; 2013; Horror from the son of Stephen King
- George R.R. Martin; Wild Cards I: Expanded Edition; 2010; Alien virus strikes Earth, creating Aces and Jokers
- Michael Moorcock; Elric: The Stealer of Souls; 2008?; The Eternal Champion and last emperor of Melniboné
- Claire North; The Sudden Appearance of Hope; 2016; Winner, 2017 World Fantasy Award
- James H. Schmitz; The Witches of Karres; 1968; Space opera with pirates and magic
- Charles Stross; The Atrocity Archives; 2004; Espionage and horror. First in Laundry series
- J.R.R. Tolkien; The Fall of Gondolin; 2018; From Turgon to Morgoth
- Jack Vance; Tales of the Dying Earth; 1950 …; George R.R. Martin: “greatest living SF writer”
- Colson Whitehead; The Underground Railroad; 2016; Pulitzer Prize winner. What if the UR was not a metaphor?
- Emily Wilson and Homer; The Odyssey; 2017; Fresh new translation
- Charles Yu; How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; 2011; Technician saves time travelers from themselves
According to Wikipedia:
I, Robot is a fixup of science fiction short stories … [that] originally appeared in the American magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1950 and were then compiled into a book for stand-alone publication by Gnome Press in 1950…. The stories are woven together by a framing narrative in which the fictional Dr. Susan Calvin tells each story to a reporter (who serves as the narrator) in the 21st century. Although the stories can be read separately, they share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality, and when combined they tell a larger story of Asimov’s fictional history of robotics.
I, Robot contains Runaround, the first story in which Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics appear.
For the first real Spring day of 2018, the Beamers took themselves to the fog and rain of Victorian London, chasing after the Whitechapel murders, in Theodora Goss’s debut novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. Gathering up a plethora of women from the speculative literature of the 19th Century, Ms. Goss spun the tales of the female figures who too often were only sidekicks and stand-ins. Would the Beamers find ourselves amused, amazed, or annoyed at how she mixed and matched the characters from disparate tales and different genres? Continue reading
During the recent kerfuffle over the Hugo Awards being gamed by a group of hard-core regressive readers of science fiction, one constant cry was their desire to return sf to its “purer” days of simple, action-adventure storytelling, unencumbered by progressive politics, or social commentary, or challenges to the dominant narrative. Oh, sad, silly puppies!
As Sean Guynes-Vishniac details in the LA Review of Books, science fiction in America, right from the start, was all about the Struggle. What struggle? The struggle to inject politics into science fiction, to keep it from becoming “devoid of a purpose beyond mere entertainment.” “The Science Fiction Age is … over!”, declaimed John Michel, complaining that it had died of “intellectual bankruptcy”. And the sf revolutionaries were making this proclamation in 1937, all of 11 years after Hugo Gernsback (he of the Award) started publishing the first commercial sf magazine, Amazing Stories, and 2 years before the first World Science Fiction Convention.
Who were the revolutionaries in question? They were the Futurians, a social organization of writers, editors, and fans who would go on to establish American sf as a significant niche within publishing, people like Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight (after whom the SFWA Grandmaster Award is named), Donald Wollheim (DAW Books), and Virginia Kidd (agent for Ursula Le Guin, Ann McCaffrey, Gene Wolfe). Though the Futurians only stayed together until 1945, breaking up during the post-WW2 backlash on all things left-progressive, their influence on American sf was deep.
And their struggle to make a progressive, social justice movement within science fiction faced much of the same opposition that tries to drag sf backwards today (looking at you, Puppies!) So, the Futurians may be gone, but it would be good for us to remember and honor their memories, as well as to carry on their program of challenging our complacency with the status quo and making a future “hospitable to the downtrodden.”