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
On the split between seasons, the Beamers looked back at the Great Divide in science fiction, the breaking of the New Wave in the 1960s over the previous Golden Age, which washed in a host of literary experimentation and taboo busting stories. No book epitomizes the New Wave better than Harlan Ellison’s groundbreaking anthology, Dangerous Visions. But, given the 50 years of sf that have come since it was published in 1967, would the Beamers find ourselves romanced by a date with destiny or trapped in a dated relationship past its prime? Continue reading
Peter Nicholls, Australian editor, reviewer, critic, and historian of science fiction, has died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Nicholls is chiefly known for publishing the definitive Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. He was the principal editor on the first edition (1979), shared editorial direction on the second edition (1993) with John Clute, one of the leading critical theorists on the literature of “the fantastic”, and continued as Editor Emeritus as the work evolved into its on-line third edition (2011-). Every edition of the Encyclopedia won the Hugo for Best Related Work.
In eulogizing Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Clute wrote:
What can be said is that Peter, boisterously knowledgeable, dangerously brilliant, gemutlichly incapable of suffering fools, marked every aspect of the SFE over the four decades since Granada and Doubleday introduced that first triple-columned print edifice to a world of print. Though everything has changed in that world and in this book, in a sense nothing has: as he is with us in every page.
As an owner of both print editions (first and second) and a regular visitor to the on-line edition, I can attest that Mr. Nicholls provided sf/f fans with the most valuable of reference works as well as with many, many hours of simple, fun browsing pleasure.
When humans travel to the stars, we expect it to take a long, long time to get there. One science fiction solution to the problem of the journey outlasting a lifetime is to have the ship’s crew do what humans do so well, be fruitful and multiply. But how do the expedition members stick with the program, generation after generation, especially for those “middle children” who neither start nor finish the mission? Marina Lostetter’s debut novel, Noumenon, gave us some answers, and the Beamers shot back with questions of our own. Continue reading
Ursula K. Le Guin, grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy, has died, age 88, at her home in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Le Guin wrote major works of speculative fiction that explored gender, politics, the survival of persecuted beliefs, the Jungian shadow-self. And dragons.
For the beginning of a new year, the Beamers went back to a very fateful old year, following a Maine English teacher with a nostalgic love for the America of the ’50s and its president of the ’60s as detailed in Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Did the Beamers discover that root beer really did taste better back then? Or was the haze of those days much more smokestack soot than young puppy love?
Stephen King, a Beamer favorite and this month’s author (11/22/63 being the January Beamer selection), has been awarded the PEN America Literary Service Award for his contributions in opposing oppression and championing the best in humanity through his prose, his philanthropy, and his public support for freedom of expression on any and all topics. In 2016, the Service Award was given to J. K. Rowling.
Announcing the award for Mr. King, Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America, said:
Stephen has fearlessly used his bully pulpit as one of our country’s best-loved writers to speak out about the mounting threats to free expression and democracy that are endemic to our times. His vivid storytelling reaches across boundaries to captivate multitudes of readers, young and old, in this country and worldwide, across the political spectrum. He helps us all to confront our demons—whether a dancing clown or a tweeting president.
PEN America is one of over 100 chapters of an international literary association organized to fight for the freedom to write. In addition to the Service Award, it also offers Literary Awards for outstanding works in debut fiction, non-fiction, essays, translation, sports writing, science writing, biography, as well as an ‘open book’ category for any genre by writers of color. The 2017 Jill Stein Book Award winner was The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between, Hisham Matar’s memoir about searching for the reasons behind his father’s mysterious disappearance.
So, if Mars was “wet”, where did the water go? (And it may have been as much as 1/2 of the volume of Earth’s oceans.) Ryan Mandelbaum on Gizmodo reports on a recent model of Martian hydrology published in Nature by a group of Oxford geophysicists (or areophysicists, perhaps). In short, Mars has a higher percentage of iron in its interior than Earth does, and iron really likes to lock up water, or at least the oxygen component in water (see the phenomenon of rust, which accounts for much of the color of the “red” planet).
The key comes from Mars having a denser crust and a cooler under-crust (the mantle) that would transfer more water to the interior and allow it to react with the iron, capturing the oxygen and moving it away from the surface. This model needs to be tested against competing theories (like loss of water to space due to lower gravity and lack of a magnetic field to prevent atmospheric scouring by the Sun’s solar wind, or water locked up as sub-surface ice due to cooling from atmospheric changes). The article quotes Tomohiro Usui of Tokyo Institute of Technology from his commentary in Nature: “Subsurface exploration will be required to test both the hydrated-crust and ground-ice theories, and therefore shed light on the evolution of Martian water inventory.”
Which is a very sophisticated way of saying, “Let’s go to Mars!”
On Tor.com, writer and Doctor Who podcaster (Verity!) Tansy Rayner Roberts has posted a long and loving look at the varied careers of Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the 3rd (Pertwee) and 4th (Baker) Doctors, as well as lead human character in the abortive spin-off K9 and Company and her own Sarah Jane Adventures. Ending due to Ms. Sladen’s untimely death from cancer, The Sarah Jane Adventures helped fully establish her character as a “wonderful role model … a dynamic, older female action hero with brains”, Ms. Roberts avers.
What makes Sarah Jane worthy of such respect is her devotion to not only saving Earth from misguided alien encounters, but also saving the misguided from the consequences of their actions instead of punishing them for it. And all the while, maintaining her career as a well-paid journalist. All in all, not bad for a character seemingly destined to be the side-kick of the tin dog.
Coming up on the dark time of the year, with the longest nights, the Beamers took a trip into the darker recesses of fairy tales and folklore with Tanith Lee’s collection of revised tales, Redder Than Blood. Known for her wide-ranging interests and settings, Ms. Lee was one of the originators of the current fictional exercise of updating, inverting, and/or subverting the classic stories that provide Disney with so much family-friendly content. Would the Beamers find her a light in the darkness or be waylaid on the way to Grandma’s house? Continue reading
With the newly darkened evenings upon us, the Beamers looked back in time to the truly dark days of the Black Death (or “blue sickness”) as depicted in Connie Willis’s time travel novel, Doomsday Book, her piercing portrayal of the all-too-human tragedies that are so easily swept up in the great and momentous events of History. Would the Beamers untangle themselves from the modern world long enough to find and feel for characters whose world is as remote as any Mars base?