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
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
On Tor.com, the introductions to the new 2-volume boxed set, The Hainish Novels & Stories, from the Library of America, have been posted. Written by Ms. Le Guin, they give background on how she wrote some of the groundbreaking sf of the 1960s and ’70s, like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. And how she *didn’t* write them, that is, as a coherent “future history”, leading her to dislike references to a “Hainish Cycle” of stories.
Plus, in the first introduction, she describes her own relationship to the speculative genres, both as fan and writer, and comparing them to her other love, Poetry:
Science fiction was, in this respect, like poetry, a field in which I was then also occasionally getting published: a living literature ignored by most Americans, but read passionately by those who read it. Both were small worlds, resounding with theories, arguments, friendships, rivalries, flights of praise and volleys of insults, and dominated by figures worshiped by their followers.
Science fiction proved to be the more receptive to her and to her work, though:
Many of the established figures of the genre were open-minded and generous, many of its readers were young and game for anything. So I had spent a lot of time on that planet.
In the second introduction, she discusses her return to the Hainish universe, and the fantasy archipelago Earthsea, after years of not thinking about them:
At the end of that ten-year exploration of my own inner territories, I was able to see my old Earthsea with new eyes, and to return to the worlds of the Hainish descent ready to play very freely with the imaginative opportunities they offered.
One reception offered to her, though, she found not to her liking, coming from her 1977 novel, The Word for World is Forest, about aliens who commune with a vast arboreal landscape that is under assault by Earthlings:
A final note on Word for World: a high-budget, highly successful film resembled the novel in so many ways that people have often assumed I had some part in making it. Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I had nothing at all to do with it.
In the long run, I suspect that Ms. Le Guin’s work will survive and thrive in the minds of readers, no matter how her images and imaginative cultures may be adopted and adapted in the speculative efforts of others.
For a pleasant August evening, the Beamers spent a pleasant couple of hours going over and under the various elements that Becky Chambers used to create her Wayfarer universe, as seen in her debut novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. While the destination of the crew is, indeed, a small, geologically active (hence “angry”) planet, and its inhabitants, the Toremi, are not particularly welcoming, we found a lot to enjoy in the book, and even more to discuss. Continue reading
NASA this week posted a job opening for a Planetary Protection Officer, a title that requires the holder to “the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.” Organic? Biological contamination? In space! Does this position sound tailor-made for Sigourney Weaver?
Actually, it is all about the tiny biota, bacteria and viruses, and mainly with keeping Earth organisms from hitching a ride and contaminating any extraterrestrial landscapes, thus making it harder to discover actual off-Earth life.
Dr. Catherine “Cassie” Conley, the current PPO and 6th to hold the title, is happy for the exposure but not so thrilled with the association to hostile E.T.s and xenomorphs: “We have no evidence that there has been an invasion of intelligent life,” Conley told Fortune in an interview on Friday. The objective is more about keeping NASA in compliance with the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. “It is extremely important that as we explore space that we do it in a careful way,” she said. “If you want to find life on other planets, you have to be careful not to find Earth life by accident.”
So, despite the 6-figure salary, the PPO is not likely to be suiting up in a cargo loader and going toe-to-toe with the Queen Mother alien any time soon.
In the summer swelter of mid-July, the Beamers cooled off with some beverages at Panera’s and with an epic quest across a mammoth planet that kept us distracted from the heat, all the way to Lord Valentine’s Castle. Robert Silverberg’s planetary romance was a bit radical when published in 1980, marking a major departure from the solid and experimental science fiction that he had been writing in the 1960s and ’70s. But the Beamers liked following the detour that his sf career took. Continue reading
I recently attended Readercon 28 in Quincy, Mass, and spent 4 days immersed in a sea of speculations on speculative fiction. (Seriously, the panel discussion “Problematizing Taxonomizing” was sub-titled “Maybe the Most Readercon Panel Ever”, for good reasons.)
Mixed in with all the heady and erudite discussions were readings, small-group sit-downs with authors (called “kaffeeklatsches”), autograph signings, award presentations (Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery, Shirley Jackson horror) a well-stocked book dealers’ room, an over-stocked hospitality suite, and plenty of space in which to meet and greet friends, old or new.
While much of the fun is spontaneous, some of it is programmed, particularly on Saturday evenings when the Most Readerconnish Miscellany is presented. This year, the British comedy quiz show, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, provided the framework for 2 hours of improv scenes, literary quips, and songs. Ah, the songs, a karaoke collision of geek culture with mainstream heavyweights to produce a sound and a vision all too wonderfully mashed-up to pass up. Crystal Huff, a con organizer (and co-chair of this year’s WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland!) recorded some of the merriment and posted the videos to Twitter.