Aloha!

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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The last beach book you will ever read

Subtly, thy name is 1950s paperback covers!

With typical Beamer bravado, we took to the sandy expanses down by the ocean on a summery day to enjoy the End of The World, as detailed in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach.  A quiet, inexorable submarine ride set in a post-atomic war Australia, this 1957 novel takes a chilling premise about the globe-circling radioactive cloud slowly closing in on the last humans and makes it very personable. Would Beamers stick around until the bitter end, or would we bail out (like many of the characters) before it got too painful? Continue reading

Would you like to swing on a comet?

On Gizmodo, George Dvorsky is reporting that the European Space Agency has opened up its picture archive from the Rosetta orbiter and Philae lander that spent 2 years exploring the surface and dust clouds surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov – Gerasimenko.  Included in the collection are a series of photos, edited into a “flip-book” movie of Rosetta’s final approach and landing on the comet:

The bi-lobed comet, which orbits the Sun every 6.5 years and is sometimes described as looking like a rubber ducky, formed from 2 distinct bodies that collided and fused billions of years ago.  During its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun), 67P/C-G warmed up and expelled jets of dust and gas, all of which was captured by Rosetta’s instruments, along with detecting traces of phosphorus and glycine (a simple amino acid), suggesting that life may have been seeded by comet impacts on the young Earth.

Love to see the bathtub that could hold this rubber ducky!
Photo credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Though maybe not water, as Rosetta also discovered that 67P/C-G’s water is much heavier, containing more deuterium (molecular hydrogen with a neutron in its nucleus) than the water in Earth’s oceans.

The beast who shouted “Love!” at the heart of science fiction

“My name is Harlan Ellison, writer of writers! Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Photo credit: {{Image fairuse|http://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/intelligencer/2013/07/17/17-harlan-ellison.o.jpg/a_250x0.jpg}}

Harlan Ellison is dead, alas!  He passed over in his sleep this Thursday, June 28, 2018, after heart surgery and a stroke in 2014 that had left him confined to his Hollywood home.  He was highly decorated as a writer, winning 8 Hugo Awards for short stories and screenplays, along with 4 Nebulas and the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America title of Grandmaster.  He was also a noted editor, putting together the seminal New Wave anthologies, Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.

He was also a highly polarizing figure in the sf/f field, both for his opinionated stances on matters of recognition and for his pugnacious behavior.  He fought hard for screenwriter credits and royalties, complaining that there are no movie “auteurs” (directors) who could work without a screenplay in hand.  Or, as he told it, “What does a dumb blonde do in Hollywood?  She sleeps with the screenwriter.”  More notoriously, at the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention, he groped Connie Willis on stage during the Hugo Awards ceremony.

I had the opportunity to hear him as the Guest of Honor at the first Readercon that I attended (Readercon 11, 1999), and I can remember him stating that he would travel to the far ends of the Earth to collect $5 owed to him.  As well as whipping up the crowd against Alice Turner, editor of fiction for Playboy magazine, who did not buy a story from him.  Admittedly, it was a good story, “Mephisto in Onyx”, but Ms. Turner has a right to her opinion, and I speak from experience, having had her critique a story of mine.

His own epitaph, “For a brief time, I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered”, is concise but a bit too short to really capture all the things that he was and how he mattered to the fields of speculative fiction. His better legacy is a raft of sharp, short shocks in prose and a long crusade to make writers, particularly writers of our favorite genres, matter.

And in the end, it is still the irony of his life that mattered most:

The Three Laws, as law?

Possibly the most famous legal formulation within science fiction are Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Now, according to Leroy Kettle reporting in Dave Langford’s monthly sf potpourri, Ansible, the European Union is discussing adding the Three Laws as Essential Health and Safety Requirements within the overall EU Machinery Directive.

Machinery directive

Rockwell Automation is thinking about the EU Machinery Directive. Bet they are in favor of the Three Laws of Robotics being added in.

As far as I can tell, no consideration is being made about how robots would deal with Brexit, though I would argue that they would perforce oppose it, based on the First Law.

Swing low, sweet cities

Wherein the Bridge to Nowhere, sponsored by an Alaskan pol, takes us to the stars.

Coming in from a warm, Spring day, when the first fruits are starting to be picked, the Beamers instead contemplated the “decline of the West” and its replacement by the entire rest of the Galaxy, as depicted in James Blish’s classic novels of itinerant metropolises, Cities in Flight.  Our schedule only called for the first of the 4-novel omnibus, They Shall Have Stars, but several of us continued further into the saga, though not always to our satisfaction. Continue reading

When the great ones come and go

Dozois-and-Swanwick-2

Gardner Dozois (seated) and Michael Swanwick prepare for a night of New York Review of SF readings at Brooklyn Commons, October 3, 2017. Photo: Mike Glyer, File 770.com (http://file770.com/?p=38141)

Locus magazine has posted a short note from noted sf/f author Michael Swanwick that celebrated editor and writer Gardner Dozois has died from an “overwhelming systemic infection”.  Mr. Dozois had a history of heart problems, necessitating bypass surgery and a defibrillator implant in 2007, but his hospitalization was not thought to be life-threatening.

Best known for his 20 years as editor-in-chief of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, from 1984 to 2004, for which he garnered 15 Hugo Awards, Mr. Dozois was an award-winning author, taking short-story Nebulas in 1983 (“The Peacemaker”) and 1984 (“Morning Child”).  After retiring from Asimov’s, he continued editing his popular The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies, as well as devoting more time to his fiction.  “Contrafactual”, his alt-history of an American Civil War where Robert Lee went guerrilla rather than surrender (and narrated by a young Minnesota newsman “Cliff”, an alt-history Clifford D. Simak), won the 2006 Sidewise Award for “short form” alt-history.

Mr. Dozois was part of the generation of sf writers who came out of the Vietnam War era, along with Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) and David Drake (Hammer’s Slammers), though his fiction tends more to the clash of ideas than of weapons, and theological ideas, at that.  “The Peacemaker”, for example, is a post-apocalyptic flooded world where the rural folks revive the old tradition of appeasing angry waters with blood.  “Morning Child” is a father-and-son road trip through a post-war landscape, where the life cycles are altered and alternating, during “the Last Days”.

being gardner dozois

Swanwick looks inside Dozois’s mind to find out where the stories come from, in Being Gardner Dozois

Tied to his unsparing perspective on humanity’s inability to outgrow or out-tinker our way up from a basic, bestial nature, is his flat-out love for all of those human natures being natural.  The narrator of “A Special Kind of Morning”, one of the rebels trying to bring down the corporate overlords, says, at the end of his battle:

“I’d learned two things: that everybody is human, and that the universe doesn’t care one way or another; only people do … So, empathy’s the thing that binds life together; it’s the flame we share against fear.  Warmth’s the only answer to the old, cold questions.”

And what kind of morning is special?  “It’s always a beautiful morning somewhere, even on the day you die.”

Dragon Doggerel from Dr. Seuss

A fragment from Masterharper Geisel of Pern:

(with apologies to Anne McCaffrey)

LEARN ON PERN

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Dragon

One dragon
Two dragon
Green dragon
Blue dragon.

Bronze dragon
Gold dragon
New dragon
Old dragon.

This one has a horse-like head.
This one has a wide wing spread.
And all of them
Like to be fed.

Yes. Some are brown. And some are blue.
Some are old. And some are new.

Some are led
And some are head
But all of them like burning thread.

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‘Nother dragon

Why do they
Like burning thread?
I think I know.
It could be bred.

Some are fast
And some are slow.
The slow one has
No chance as beau.

From there to here,
From here to there.
Flying things
Are everywhere.

Here are some
Who like to fly.
They fly so high
In the hot, hot sky.

Oh me! Oh my!
Oh me! Oh my!
What a lot
Of flying things go by.

Some have two turns
And some have four.
Some have six turns
And some have more.

Where do they come from? I can’t say.
But I bet recombinant DNA.

We see them come.
We see them go.

Yet another dragon

Some are fast.
And some are slow.

Some flame hot
And some flame cold.
Not one of them
Will likely smolder.
Don’t ask me why.
Go ask your holder.

Oh, here and there!
Oh, there and here!
What a lot
Of dragons in the weyr.

 

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Bonus from G’lett Burgess

I never rode a Dragon Gold,

I’d really like to ride one;

But if I am to be consoled,

To me, a Bronze, provide one.

 

Be sure to check out Eugene’s meeting notes on the Beamers’ May 2018 reading of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight.

Judging a book, oh yes, by its cover

David Pelham’s minimalist cover for a book of baroque prose and violence.

The Nerdwriter video blog on Youtube spends some time gushing over the glories of science fiction cover illustrations and the illustrators who created them (and the art directors who commissioned such high art for such “low” pulp fiction) in a recent essay, The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers:

Nerdwriter does a capable job (in 5:20 minutes) of sketching in the history and evolution of sf covers, starting with the first superstar artist, Frank R. Paul, and gliding up to the early 1970s.  If he omits the current geniuses, such as Michael Whelan and Donato Giancola, well, we may not need much of a guide to today’s masters as we do to yesterday’s wizards of color and form.

Catch the pearl and ride the dragon’s wings

Taking flight with the art of Michael Whelan

Clattering through a busy May day, the Beamers met to take a ride on the backs of dragons on the planet Pern.  Like dragons themselves, a curious hybrid of science (as a possible folk memory of dinosaurs) and fantasy, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey won science fiction awards and helped set off a wave of dragon-focused fantasies like Naomi Novik’s Napoleonic-era Temeraire books.  But did the Beamers take to this odd combination or did we decide it being neither fish nor fowl made it too awkward to enjoy? Continue reading

The One Point Five Foot Shelf of Books

harvardHarvard University president Charles W. Eliot once suggested that a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf.

These ain’t them. But some of them are classics; and some of them might be classics some day. Without further ado, here are the science fiction, fantasy, horror and related books that I am interested in reading in the next year or so.

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