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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.

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Otherwise now engaged

The Motherboard (the governing body of the James Tiptree Literary Award Council) has just announced that the name of the award shall be changed to the Otherwise Award. Following the increasing unhappiness of recipients of the John W. Campbell Award with the unsavory views of its eponymous long-time influential sf editor leading to its name being changed to the Astounding Award, a similar discontent with the unsettling deaths of Alice Sheldon (“James Tiptree Jr.”) and her husband Huntington (“Ting”) in a suicide pact brought about this recent naming alteration.

The bare facts surrounding their deaths in 1987 are that Ting, in failing health, was shot by Ms. Sheldon, who then shot herself. What has been amplified recently are fears that Ting’s death was a caregiver murder rather than a consensual assisted suicide. Julie Phillips, author of the award-winning biography James Tiptree Jr.: the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, believes that Sheldons had discussed double suicide, though Ting may have done so to convince Alice “not yet”. She is not convinced that Ms. Sheldon acted solely on her own.

The Motherboard wants to honor Alice Sheldon, wants to honor the recipients of its award, wants to keep the playfulness that comes with an award that crowns its recipients with tiaras and raises its funds through bake sales. Above all, they want to keep the joy, if not the name. At the heart of their statement, they say:

In The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin writes: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”

This is love that we’re working with here. We love our award and the community that has grown from it.

And we love our supporters, and you love the Award too. And we want to reciprocate the hospitality you have shown us. Which involves not just logistical work, (figuratively) unlocking doors and setting up chairs and getting out food everyone can eat, but also the work of gesture, to emotionally convey “you are welcome here.”

So, the name changes, but not the spirit. The Motherboard invites past winners to name themselves (Tiptree, Otherwise) as they feel comfortable. And, above all the muss and fuss, Space Babe still guards us from orbit:

Order yours, today!

On the Others hand

Spells can kill, but so can bullets …

With a calm Autumn evening at hand, the Beamers flocked around the Panera tables to tackle a Russian novel, Night Watch, about the Others who walk among us and battle over the causes of Light and Dark, without our knowledge.  Or consent.  Did the Beamers consent to join the protagonist, a Light magician, in his quest for Love above Cause?  Or did we succumb to our baser instincts and turn to the Dark? 

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What the right hand does for the Left Hand

Lovely change of perspective from horizontal (front) to vertical (back

Andrew Liptak on Tor.com has pointed out the striking illustrations that artist J. Yang has created under the inspiration of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, including different cover illustrations and designs as well as interiors and character portraits.

A more detailed cover illustration

On the Tumblr page for the illustrations, Mr. Yang says that they completed the images in 3 days, propelled by an urge to draw mountains and “that woozy euphoric feeling you get midway through the book when it’s succeeded in making you throw away all your fucks™ about gender”. I believe I know what they mean!

Genly and Estraven, tackling the Ice, tackling their differences

Hello, Darkness, my old friend

Two of SF’s greatest sons collaborate on a story about 6 suns, 1 (or 2?) planets

With the end of Summer creeping in, the Beamers took a turn to the dark side, following in the footsteps of sf grandmasters Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, who jointly updated and expanded the Good Doctor’s classic “golden age” tale “Nightfall” to novel length.  Would the society of Beamers collapse under the threat of impending darkness, or would we find ourselves on a thrilling ride through the Tunnel of Mystery?

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An award by any other name …

Following Jeanette Ng’s outspoken criticism of the racism and fascism of famed sf editor John W. Campbell, the award given in his name to the best new sf/f writer of the past 2 years will be renamed the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. An announcement by Analog editor Trevor Quachri made on Tuesday, August 27, confirmed that Ms. Ng’s denunciation of Campbell, part of a growing tide of complaint against the influential editor’s very controversial stances on a myriad of social issues such as the 1970 Kent State student slayings, was the key factor in having Dell Magazines re-name the award. Andrew Liptak, on Tor.com, reports that news of the change is being widely welcomed by other winners of the award.

What would they have to say to each other, if they could meet in person?
Credit: Boundingintocomics.com

The day after the Campbell Award speech was given at the 2019 Dublin Worldcon, I had a chance to sit with Alec Nevala-Lee, author of Astounding, the recent literary biography of Campbell and his major contributors (Heinlein, Asimov, Hubbard). Mr. Nevala-Lee felt that his study on Campbell was also partly responsible for the current, negative focus on the famed founder of sf’s “Golden Age”, but he thought such attention was not unwarranted. Nor did he feel that a push to re-name the Best New Writer award would be unworthy. Similarly, he liked reading the work of Robert Heinlein, even if he would be uncomfortable to be in the same room with the fiercely opinionated “Dean” of sf. The heroes and legends of our genre have a much more varied and human aspect, it seems, full of the flaws and moral shortcomings which so many of us exhibit.

Whom gods destroy, they first make god

In the midst of the summer convention season, just after the Dublin Worldcon, the Beamers held their own confab on the mixing of science, fantasy, myth, religion, and humor, all of which may be found in Roger Zelazny’s 1968 Hugo winning novel of a Buddhist rebel taking on the Hindu gods, under the title Lord of Light.  Would the combination of such disparate elements form a perfectly seasoned curry to entice, or would they fail to blend and leave a farrago of flavors fighting for favor?

A meditation on Transcendentalism? With demons!
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Order in the galaxy! Order!

Over on Tor.com, 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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