Greetings, Earthlings!

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.

We’d love to have you at our monthly Zoom meeting. Just contact us via the About the Beamers page and we’ll add you to the Zoom distribution list.

A star will shine on the hour of our meeting.

Seeing the Stars in the Darkness

A review of the award-winning The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Well, this book was a bit of a surprise to me. Judging by the name, I was expecting a tale set in space. Instead I received a very land-based story, one dealing with the trials and tribulations of a woman computer working for the book’s version of NASA, as she, among other women, tries to become an astronaut.

Humans in dresses and pants suits

As the author acknowledges, the book covers some of the same ground as Hidden Figures, the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was made into a movie that was nominated for numerous Academy awards for the year 2016. In this case the protagonist is Jewish, not black, though her religion plays little role in her acceptance as a computer nor her quest to become an astronaut. She does, however, face lots of bias because she is a woman. Although she can compute rings around any of the men, including her chief engineer husband, she is relegated to the role of computer.

The story takes place in an alternate universe, one in which a meteorite — not meteor, please — crashes into the Atlantic Ocean just to the east of Maryland in 1952, totally destroying the US government. Our hero does the computations and realizes that the meteor is a cataclysmic event, that due to the water vapor released into the atmosphere the planet’s climate will undergo drastic and life-ending changes. She, along with others but not all, see the need to quickly develop a way for humans to survive by escaping the dying earth.

By coincidence, I’m currently in the middle of Ben Bova’s Mars, the Beamers’ March selection, which with The Calculating Stars, deals with the politics of space missions. The human elements read truer in The Calculating Stars, though whether this is due to the gender of the author or the year of writing I couldn’t say. I suspect both.

I do have a couple of concerns. The novel takes place in the 1950’s and 60’s, addresses racism and sexism, and its two main characters are Jewish. Yet there is nary a hint of any anti-semitism directed against the protagonist or her husband. Less seriously, this book belongs to the alternate history genre. I wonder whether alternate history works must have only one trigger to generate an alternate world. In this case there are two; the meteor and the election of Dewey to the presidency instead of Truman.

The Calculating Stars was the winner of the Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards for best novel. It is the first of the Lady Astronaut trilogy, though it certainly stands on its own.

Where’s Alan Garner?

Our April 2021 selection is Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.

After our successful meetings with Yangsze Choo (The Night Tiger) and Alex Bledsoe (Wisp of the Thing), I’ve set my sights on having Mr. Garner attend our March meeting.

I channeled my inner Michael Mauser and traced Mr. Garner to Las Vegas. From there, I followed the trail to Bangkok, to Tijuana, and finally back to Las Vegas. There, I lost him.

Alan Garner (left) with wolfpack

If anyone has any thoughts as on how to proceed, I’d appreciate them.

Mars by Ben Bova: Zoom! Beam! Discuss!

The Beam Me Up Science Fiction Book Club will conduct a Zoom session on Mars by the recently deceased Ben Bova.

Please join the Beamers on Friday, March 12th, at 7 PM Eastern.

Mars should be readily available from your favorite new and used book stores and libraries in hard copy, and in paper, e-book and audio formats from your local library.

Jamie Waterman is a young Navaho geologist who is picked for the ground team of the first manned expedition to Mars. He will be joining an international team of astronauts and scientists. But once the crew land on the red planet, they soon discover they must battle not only the alien land on which they have invaded but earthbound bureaucrats as well. When they come face to face with a chasm ten times as deep and large as the Grand Canyon, all twenty-five astronauts must face the most shocking discovery of all . . .

“The science fiction author who will have the greatest effect on the world.” —Ray Bradbury

“A splendid book . . . Of his many books, Mars must be the most important.” —Arthur C. Clarke

The author of more than one hundred books, Bova also edited some of the genre’s best-known publications and served as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

If you’d like to participate (or just listen in), please contact us through the About the Beamers page or send me your email address via Messenger or Messages or modern dance performance. We’ll send you all you need to connect to the Zoom meeting.

We look forward to seeing you.

Stalking the wild emu

When the last leaf falls off the Widow Tree …

Drawn together by the warmth of storytelling, the Beamers gathered together apart by the magic of Zoom to discuss the magic of fairy that fills the hollers of eastern Tennessee, a land of folks who may prefer to keep to themselves but find the world starting to rush in.  Guiding us in our tour was the author, Alex Bledsoe, whose second novel of the Tufa, Wisp of a Thing, was our guidebook.  Would it prove to be a good map of the territory, or would the Beamers get lost in their own wanderings and wonderings about this displaced fairy tribe?

Continue reading

Between Things Known and Unknown

It’s January 2021 and we’ve closed the door on the Trump presidency and entered the time of the Biden administration. It’s a new world.

So, it’s perhaps fitting to read and consider Alix E. Harrow‘s debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

In the earliest years of the twentieth century, January Scaller’s father is an adventurer. He goes to foreign places and finds exotic artifacts for his benefactor William Cornelius Locke. Locke in turn takes care of January, helping her overcome her unruly ways and become a proper young lady. A stable arrangement, until January’s father fails to return from his latest adventure.

And then January discovers a Door, a Door between here and there.

But you still know about Doors, don’t you? Because there are ten thousand stories about ten thousand Doors, and we know them as well as we know our names. They lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, Atlantis and Lemuria, Heaven and Hell, to all the directions a compass could never take you, to elsewhere.

Thus begins January’s quest for her missing father. She’s aided by the discovery of a mysterious journal that turns out to be …. (Ah, but that would be telling too much.)

Ms. Harrow’s book is a tour de force. She’s created a hero — or is that heroes — that are complex and real. And a world — or is that worlds — that are equally so. These are rare feats for a first-time novelist.

I have but one noteworthy complaint, a complaint that may be dismissed by those of a more romantic ilk than me. Harrow’s characters are driven by love — that’s not my problem — but that love in many instances is seemingly unearned, it simply bolts out of the blue. But perhaps that’s only proper in a story that is, in essence, a faery story.

I look forward to more works from Ms Harrow.

It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.

Kate Campbell: Wrought Iron Fences

We don’t typically post musical performances or lyrics to songs. But I’m going to make an exception (and possibly — as a certain lawyer of our acquaintance might note — violate the blog’s terms of service). While we’re waiting to discuss Alex Bledsoe‘s Wisp of a Thing, why don’t y’all sit yourselves down and enjoy singer-songwriter Kate Campbell‘s Wrought Iron Fences, a song integral to Mr. Bledsoe’s book. Ms. Campbell writes and sings folk songs infused with undercurrents of delta blues, folk, pop, and country from the less-travelled back roads of the South.

Tangled vines cover the lattice
They creep and crawl around the house
Nobody lives there
Only ghosts hang around

I have seen hope and glory fade away
I’ve heard old folks talk of better days
And all that’s left to guard the remains
Are wrought iron fences

Sarah Mae bore two children
One died at birth and one at Shiloh
Now they’re on a hill long forgotten
Carved in stone

Years go by and everything changes
But nothing does

The left hand of first class

Ms. Le Guin, as photographed in 2006

The US Postal Service, the highest-rated agency of our federal government, is looking to honor one of the highest-rated authors of our sf/f genres, with a new Ursula Le Guin stamp to be issued in 2021. According to their news release (1/15/2021):

The 33rd stamp in the Literary Arts series honors Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), who expanded the scope of literature through novels and short stories that increased critical and popular appreciation of science fiction and fantasy. The stamp features a portrait of Le Guin based on a 2006 photograph. The background shows a scene from her landmark 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, in which an envoy from Earth named Genly Ai escapes from a prison camp across the wintry planet of Gethen with Estraven, a disgraced Gethenian politician. The artist for this stamp was Donato Giancola.

The bad news is the stamp is to be used for larger first-class mailings, bearing the designation “3 ounces”, which comes with a postage charge of 85¢. So if it is actual mailing use that one wants, I would suggest another new issue, “Sun Science”, a set of 20 images adapted from the measurements of our Sun made at differing wavelengths by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, up in geosynchronous orbit.

Call me sun-struck, but these are some pretty images of old Sol, created by USPS Art Director Antonio Alcala

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe: Zoom! Beam! Discuss!

The Beam Me Up Science Fiction Book Club will conduct a Zoom session on Alex Bledsoe‘s Wisp of a Thing.

Please join the Beamers on Friday, February 12th, at 7 PM Eastern.

Wisp of a Thing should be readily available from your favorite new and used book stores and libraries in hard copy, and in paper, e-book and audio formats from your local library.

Touched by a very public tragedy, musician Rob Quillen comes to Needsville, Tennessee, in search of a song that might ease his aching heart. All he knows of the mysterious and reclusive Tufa is what he has read on the Internet. Some people say that when the first white settlers came to the Appalachians centuries ago, they found the Tufa already there. Others hint that Tufa blood brings special gifts.

Rob finds both music and mystery in the mountains. Close-lipped locals guard their secrets, even as Rob gets caught up in a subtle power struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. A vacationing wife goes missing, raising suspicions of foul play, and a strange feral girl runs wild in the woods, howling in the night like a lost spirit. 

The Beamers were big fans of Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver as shown in our meeting notes.

If you’d like to participate (or just listen in), please contact us through the About the Beamers page or send me your email address via Messenger or Messages or just wave me down. We’ll send you all you need to connect to the Zoom meeting.

We look forward to seeing you.

Tiger, tiger, reading bright

Fearful symmetry, indeed, when one is missing a finger or toe

Within the confusion of a new year starting off with a lot of outside distractions, the Beamers choose to distract themselves with a visit to a different world, Malaysia in 1931, a multicultural mix of indigenous Malay, immigrant Chinese, and imperial British.  There, Ji Lin, a young woman trying to make her own way before her family decides for her, finds a finger in a bottle.  Amid a sudden rash of deaths, possibly by a tiger of supernatural origin, she must return the finger to its resting place and in turn settle the turmoil that upsets not only her immediate but also her extended family.  And amid the sudden questions and comments of the Beamers, the author herself had to settle those disputes that roil and boil the typical Beamer gathering.

Continue reading

Four legs good?

The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom has released a series of new coins to commemorate the 95th birthday of Queen Elizabeth. The £2 coin also honors science fiction author H. G. Wells with images inspired by 3 of his most famous works: The Time Machine (clock notation), The Invisible Man (filled clothing), and The War of the Worlds (Martian tripod war machines).

Pretty coin with pretty easy to spot iconic images for H.G. Wells’s famous fiction

The issue with the issue, about which numerous sf fans have complained, are the equally egregious errors that plague those images, such as the Invisible Man being a bit too “upscale” in his clothing. But fans are annoyed particularly by the “tripod”, which clearly has 4 legs instead of 3. Christopher Costello, the designer (note ‘CTC’) of the coin, explains that he was trying to synthesize a number of different designs for the Martian invaders found in early editions of The War of the Worlds, some of which feature 5 legs for other Martian vehicles.

At least the coin Martian war machine has legs, unlike the floating “manta rays” from the first movie adaptation in 1953, so we can be thankful for being that much closer to the novel. And it is a handsome coin. The sheep of Animal Farm would be pleased.

Tripod or tri-corner hat? You decide!
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