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.


Order in the galaxy! Order!

Over on, sf author and lawyer Christopher Brown (Tropic of Kansas, Rule of Capture) has offered some insights on the roles (or absences) of the ideas of jurisprudence and its practitioners in science fiction. Rules we have (such as the Three “Laws” of Robotics, or the Prime Directive), but deeper consideration of how social mores are converted into actual, enforceable pieces of a legal code are in shorter supply.

In a future New Jersey, lawyers will play with us as wanton boys do with flies!

And will we use the same adversarial system of courtroom combat in a future that involves artificial intelligence for judging or juries, actual lie detectors, or altered forms of both crimes and punishments? Mr. Brown would not make definitive statements, but he does point out a goodly number of sf works and authors who are making such speculative stabs into the next iteration of human law courts (not to mention aliens, too, as he does with Frank Herbert’s The Dosadi Experiment, which involves the only human admitted to the bar of an alien species).

The biggest issue over which he worries is inherent opposition of a future-looking genre with a past-predicated profession (think of lawyers, see piles upon piles of dusty books!). Still, given the plethora of examples of notable and recent lawyers in (“… SPACE!”) in sf, he may not need to worry overmuch.

In space, everyone can see you steam

Austrian filmmakers Christian and Wolfgang Stangl have taken the 400,000 images taken by the European Space Agency (ESA) probe Rosetta as it rendezvoused with Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko from 2014 to 2016 and “built” a film from them. Lasting 3:26, the film, the Comet, brings to life the Rosetta mission and the encounter with a leftover piece of our early Solar System as it approaches the Sun and comes to steaming life as its ices heat up and explosively form a tail.

There is nowhere to hide in space, so flaunt whatever you can! Complex organic molecules are a nice choice.

When the legend becomes counterfactual

Beamer Fran again points our attention to an article by Lucas Adams in the NY Review of Books (mainstream cousin to our beloved NY Review of Science Fiction), reporting on an exhibition at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, SoHo) – “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now”. It contains 88 works, from fiction to illustration to film to music that “offer examples of how we might reimagine historical narratives in order to contend with the traumas of contemporary life.”

1964 film imagines a Britain under Nazi occupation, and was made by British teenagers. Good thing teenagers no longer worry about Nazis!

Some of our Usual Suspects are included, such as Joanna Russ’s multiversal feminist tale of one woman split over several different versions of the same life, The Female Man. Others are unusual yet welcome additions to the sub-genre of alt-history, like the music of Sun Ra, an African-American jazz composer whose Afro-futuristic approach came from his belief of having his own alternative history as a being of the Cosmos and not an oppressed Earthling.

Jack Kirby, assisted by Mark Englert, brings Lord of Light to life in 1978.

Of interest to us Beamers is the appearance of Jack Kirby’s storyboards for an unproduced film adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (the Beamer book for August 2019). Though not used for their intended purpose, they have their own alt-history, becoming key props in the CIA rescue mission of trapped American diplomats in Tehran, under the guise of making a sf epic called Argo.

Was it real, or just an analog?

Building that new age of sf, one Law of Robotics at a time …

With the swelter of another Jersey summer upon us, the Beamers bravely tackled the history of science fiction as laid out in Alec Nevala-Lee’s well-documented multiple biography Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  With all of its characters, personal and professional histories, anecdotes of fandom and conventions of long ago (all this and World War 2!), could we make sense of the history of the field or were we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?

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“Tranquility Base … the Eagle has landed.”

George Dvorsky on Gizmodo is highlighting a wonderful simulation of the Apollo 11 landing, created by NASA from the photos taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera (LROC). The actual landing sequence is taken from a time-lapse camera on the lander, the Eagle, mounted in co-pilot Buzz Aldrin’s window. So, no actual view exists of what Neil Armstrong saw as he manually touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, amid erroneous “low fuel” warnings, after taking control from a wonky auto-pilot that was aiming at a boulder-strewn crater (designated “West”).

Passing West crater (right), then Little West crater (left), the Eagle settled on the Moon (far left).
Photo: NASA (LROC)

For comparison, the NASA team also simulated the Aldrin view and placed it side-by-side with the 16mm camera footage (which “jumps” a bit, as the camera was recording 6 shots (or “frames”) per second). The fit between the two is very good, and the actual photos have the advantage of showing the Eagle “kicking up some dust” as Armstrong mentioned during its descent. The simulation has its own reward, as the final shots show the lower Eagle stage, still sitting on the Moon, 50 years after its big moment.

The other 51% of the universe

Beamer Fran points out that the New York Review of Books (distant cousin of my own beloved NY Review of Science Fiction) has posted Nicole Rudick’s insightful take on a new anthology of woman-written sf, The Future is Female!, edited by Lisa Yaszek. Curiously, the anthology only covers stories written up to 1969 (though it starts in 1928), so much of the sf of the Second Wave of women’s liberation is absent. But some of the sf feminist icons of the 1970s, such as Joanna Russ, Alice Sheldon (aka “James Tiptree Jr.”), and Ursula Le Guin, are included, as they had published by 1969.

Not a big step from protective coveralls to smothering coverups?

Ms. Rudick adds some solid sociological analysis to the chronicles of how women contributed to the sf genre and yet were (and still are) overlooked as part and parcel of the process that established sf stories as literary and popular successes. Without giving too much away, the key issue revolves around arenas for publication, with women getting stories into the pulps (albeit over resistance from influential editors like John W. Campbell, Jr.) but then not being included in the bigger selling, longer lasting hardcover anthologies. So, without more permanent records, their memories tended to fade.

Not that they went without a struggle nor a sense of comic disdain for their situation. As Leigh Brackett (novelist and screenwriter, veteran of the Pulp era and mentor to Ray Bradbury) noted:

I used to get letters in the letter columns of the old mags when I first began, saying that a woman couldn’t write Science Fiction, and I thought it was just about as sensible as saying that a one-legged man is incapable of playing the violin.

We may, with publications like The Future is Female!, finally start to hear the full symphony of sf.

Live long and prosper … on Mars

Over on Gizmodo, George Dvorsky is reporting on the latest Mars images sent back by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The one that catches the sf eye is this one:

And we thought San Francisco was to be StarFleet’s home ground!
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The unusual landscape feature is the “fossilized” remains of a sand dune, one that existed when lava flowed across the plains on which the dune stood, going around and not over the sand. Eventually, the same winds that created the crescent shape (“barchan” dunes) blew the sand out of its “footprint”, leaving the “dune cast” behind.

MRO is another Mars mission that has continued on past its original end date. Now on Year 13 of its 2-year mission life, MRO, like its hardy land-based rover cousins, keeps making discoveries that enrich our understanding and appreciation of the universe. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations!

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a lot of birds!

Apparently, all the birds in the sky are barn swallows …

For a mellow Spring evening, the Beamers turned their thoughts skyward to contemplate all the birds therein, inspired by Charlie Jane Anders’s first genre work, All the Birds in the Sky, a tale of magic and of science, together and in opposition, faced with the End of the World.  Would the Beamers prefer science to magic, or faith to knowledge?  Or would they have to make the choices at all?

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Snoopy, come home!

According to George Dvorsky on Gizmodo, a team of British astronomers led by Nick Howes of the Royal Astronomical Society is “98% certain” that, after 8 years of searching, they have located the Apollo 10 lander, which was discarded in space after the May 1969 mission that prepared the way for the July 1969 Apollo 11 landing.

The Apollo 10 lander in orbit, and *not* landing
Image: NASA

As a “snoop” for potential landing sites for Apollo 11, the Apollo 10 lander was naturally christened “Snoopy” (and the command module then became “Charlie Brown”), an honor that cartoonist Charles Schulz took to heart by creating a series of “astronaut Snoopy” cartoons and drawings about and for the mission.

Astronaut John Young displays the team “mascot” in space
Image: NASA

Howes suggests launching an intercept mission to image the vehicle, currently too far for typical telescopes to discern and its current trajectory is heading away from Earth. It will not be heading back our way for 18 years. Which could give us enough time to also plan to retrieve the wayward space relic, as a valuable piece of humanity’s first steps into space.

How can we ignore this most momentous moment in canine cosmic achievement?
Image: United Features Syndicate

Two shakes of a Squirrel Girl’s tale

She kicks butts and eats nuts! She’s the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (aka Doreen Green, computer science undergrad). And her story is nearing its end. Ryan North (author) and the current creative team with whom he works (artist Derek Charm, colorist Rico Renzi, editor Wil Moss) have given an exclusive interview to the A.V. Club’s Oliver Sava about the plan to conclude their amazingly popular and addictive saga of Doreen, her squirrel side-kick Tippy-Toe, roommate Nancy, allies Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk, former enemies like Kraven the Hunter and Galactus (yes, she beat him, too).

She’s outsmarted Victor von Doom, as well…
Image: Marvel Comics

As Sava notes, Squirrel Girl shows how the very traditional motifs and characters of the superhero genre can be neatly inverted without losing any of the drama, heroics, or (especially!) humor. Editor Moss adds:

Squirrel Girl’s greatest impact on Marvel Comics is that it’s proven there’s room for books that are different,” says Moss. “Editors and creative teams will always be able to point to the success that this book has had as reasoning for why a new book that doesn’t quite fit the mold is worth publishing. Those new audiences are out there.

With a total of 58 issues and an Original Graphic Novel (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe), as well as a spin-off series of YA novels by Shannon Hale, and a TV pilot (New Warriors), Doreen Green has proved that she is pretty darn resilient.

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