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
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?
In 1974, BBC interviewer Robert Robinson unearthed the truth about Richard Adams’s lapine libido:
Perhaps the most interesting revelation is Mr. Adams recounting how the story of Watership Down started as a story to entertain his children during a drive to Stratford-on-Avon, making the rabbit reverie a mid-summer afternoon’s dream.
For the Folio Society publication of The Wizard of Earthsea (2015), British novelist David Mitchell, best known for his Cloud Atlas interwoven speculative tale, offered a heartfelt appreciation of Ms. Le Guin’s compelling fantasy creation, the archipelago of Earthsea:
Earthsea is a fantasy world, and proud of it, mapped by its creator in 1966–7 on a large sheet of butcher’s paper with crayons in a house full of young children. Earthsea has magic, dragons, its own myths and prehistory; but its magic is weighted with metaphysics, its dragons are psychodragons of air and mind, more akin to dangerous Chinese sages than Tolkien’s Smaug; and Earthsea is so human a world – with trade-routes, local politics, class hierarchies, infant mortality, abuse, addiction and slavery – that its fantastical elements feel almost quotidian.
Amid the welter of novels that feature vampires, the Beamers decided for October to go back to the founding classic of the genre, Dracula by Bram Stoker. An amazing assemblage of journal entries, travelogues, newspaper clippings, and lots of folklore, Stoker’s novel, published at the end of the Nineteenth century, moved a fictional fright out of its usual lairs of haunted castles and straight into the heart of his modern, imperial capital, London. Would it also move the fright into the slightly more modern haunts of Montclair? Continue reading
On a cool evening at the end of a Summer that is, the Beamers came together to step back to a Victorian London that never was but perhaps should have been. Natasha Pulley’s debut novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, unites the fabled capital of the British Empire with Irish revolutionaries, Japanese emigres, the magic of telegraphy, the miracles of clockwork animals, and an unusual love triangle, linked together by well-planned coincidence. Would the Beamers fall under its spell or would they prove too canny to let their socks be stolen by a mischievous wind-up octopus? Continue reading