Aloha!

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.

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Dragon Doggerel from Dr. Seuss

A fragment from Masterharper Geisel of Pern:

(with apologies to Anne McCaffrey)

LEARN ON PERN

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Dragon

One dragon
Two dragon
Green dragon
Blue dragon.

Bronze dragon
Gold dragon
New dragon
Old dragon.

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.

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‘Nother dragon

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.
Flying things
Are everywhere.

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.

Yet another dragon

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.

 

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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.

 

Be sure to check out Eugene’s meeting notes on the Beamers’ May 2018 reading of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight.

Judging a book, oh yes, by its cover

David Pelham’s minimalist cover for a book of baroque prose and violence.

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.

Catch the pearl and ride the dragon’s wings

Taking flight with the art of Michael Whelan

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

The One Point Five Foot Shelf of Books

harvardHarvard 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.

Oy, Robot!

A post about a long lost draft of Isaac Asimov’s Evidence, a story in his classic book I, Robot. (See Eugene’s meeting notes from May 2015.)

According to Wikipedia:

isaac-asimov1

Isaac Asimov

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.

Continue reading

Unto us, a daughter is given

Victorian London, crime, strange cases; I wonder who might be walking down Baker Street?

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

Back to the Futurians

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.

Would you buy a dead genre from these guys?
Left to right: Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim.
Photo Credit: Jack Robins (1939)

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.”

Making their mark, far from home

The NASA New Horizons Pluto fly-by team proposed naming a dozen features on Charon, the largest of Pluto’s 5 moons, and those names, now approved by the International Astronomical Union, will be very familiar to fans of science fiction, reports Matt Williams on Universe Today.

Beamer favorite Octavia Butler is recognized with her own peak, Butler Mons.  The mighty duo who brought us 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick and author Sir Arthur Clarke, are also honored with nearby prominences (Kubrick Mons, Clarke Montes).  Numerous craters are taking on the names of fictional sf folk, so expect to see Stanislaw Lem’s fatalistic spacefarer, Pirx the Pilot, Jules Verne’s indomitable submariner, Capt. Nemo, and L. Frank Baum’s far traveling Dorothy, also named across the landscape.

Not too long ago, we did not even know Pluto had moons, much less think that one day we would be naming features on these tiny, distant dots.
Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab/Southwest Research Institute

And while a moon may seem slightly less estimable as a carrier for our heroes, Charon is large enough, in comparison to Pluto, that the center of gravity of its orbit is actually outside Pluto, making it more of a binary dwarf planet than a satellite. Whatever we call it, I have a feeling that Ms. Butler and friends are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Looking backward, dangerously

Dangerous Visions cover

When Leo and Diane Dillon are your artists, everything, no matter how dangerous, just looks better.

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

The universe of Science Fiction, from A to Z

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.

How can you not trust a book with cover art by Frank Paul?

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.

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