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 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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
When humans travel to the stars, we expect it to take a long, long time to get there. One science fiction solution to the problem of the journey outlasting a lifetime is to have the ship’s crew do what humans do so well, be fruitful and multiply. But how do the expedition members stick with the program, generation after generation, especially for those “middle children” who neither start nor finish the mission? Marina Lostetter’s debut novel, Noumenon, gave us some answers, and the Beamers shot back with questions of our own. Continue reading
Ursula K. Le Guin, grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy, has died, age 88, at her home in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Le Guin wrote major works of speculative fiction that explored gender, politics, the survival of persecuted beliefs, the Jungian shadow-self. And dragons.
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!”