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
With weather not conducive to raising crops, the Beamers met to discuss Leah Bobet’s novel about life on the farm after the Big Bad has been beaten, An Inheritance of Ashes. Caught up in the family drama of the Hoffmann sisters and their struggles with missing husband, mysterious stranger, and recurring incursions of little monsters, the Beamers were able to forget the outside chills and concentrate on what really matters: is it science fiction or fantasy? Continue reading
The biggest news in planetary exploration came out in February when astronomers announced that the TRAPPIST-1 system contained 7 terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets in orbit around their ultra-cool dwarf star, a little less than 40 light-years from Terra Firma.
Named for the telescope that discovered the first 3 worlds in 2015 (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetIsmals Small Telescope) operated by the University of Liege, Belgium, the system ultimately owes its name to another Belgian source of pride, the strong ales brewed by Trappist monks, some of which was used in celebration over the discovery.
NASA has an interest as well, with the Spitzer Space Telescope providing the evidence for the latest 4 TRAPPIST planets. In recognition, the Exoplanet Travel Bureau has prepared a tourist poster to get people excited about a visit to TRAPPIST-1. And a short visit can still last “years”. With orbits ranging from 1.5 to 18.5 days, the years really fly by in the TRAPPIST system.
NASA’s Cassini probe, enjoying its last few orbits of Saturn, has been deployed to intercept many of the ringed planet’s orbital features at close range. On March 7, it came close to the “shepherd” moon, Pan, and revealed its unusual shape.
Pan has a large bulge (technically, an equatorial accretion disk) from the ring particles that it “sweeps up” in its orbit, removing enough material to make a distinctive opening in the bright A ring, called Enke’s Gap (or, earlier, Division). Named in honor of astronomer Johann Enke, who did not actually observe it, it was theorized by the 1980s to be home to a moonlet that was gravitationally knocking out ring particles, a theory that was confirmed in 1990 through study of Voyager 2’s 1981 photos of the ring.
But none of the original discovery team, looking at Voyager’s “dot”, would have guessed that the moonlet was a space-based ravioli.
Matt Williams on the Universal Science website has reported that a NASA study of terraforming Mars presented at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop suggests that a major factor in restoring an atmosphere and, eventually, oceans, could be an inflatable, magnetic-field generating structure placed at the Lagrange L1 point, gravitationally balanced on the line between Mars and the Sun.
By deflecting the Solar wind and Solar radiation, the magnetic dipole shield would stop the stripping away of the Martian atmosphere, which is replenished by volcanic outgassing. In consequence, the atmosphere would thicken and trigger a warming of the planet, possibly as much as 4 degrees C. (~7 degrees F.). That round of warming could be enough to melt the frozen carbon dioxide at the northern Martian pole, further warming Mars and leading to melting of the polar water ice. As much as 1/7th of Mars’s original oceans may thus return.
A shielded, warmed Mars with a thickened atmosphere and free-standing water would be much easier for humans to explore and, eventually, to take up residence. And the entire process may be accomplished in a matter of decades, putting in range of the lifetimes of many of us.
The full presentation, given by Jim Green, Director of the workshop sponsor, NASA’s Planetary Science Division, is available on-line: A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration.
Ty Franck and Dan Abraham’s popular space opera series, The Expanse, is about to come full circle, from game to book to TV show, and now back to game. In a well-detailed interview with the authors, Andrew Liptak, writing on the Barnes & Noble blog site, tells of how Ty Franck, a successful entrepreneur, was inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, to dream of a mid-future Solar System with various planetary factions being infiltrated by an alien virus. Played as an on-line role-playing game, Franck’s scenario featured the crew of a water hauler, the Rocinante, getting pulled into the intrigue and the conflicts.
Meanwhile, when Franck’s wife enrolled at the University of New Mexico, he joined a local writer’s group, Critical Mass, and began running a role-playing game for some of its members, including George R.R. Martin. Martin’s assistant, Dan Abraham, was also interested and joined Franck’s space opera game as down-and-out detective named Miller. No wonder that Abraham wrote the Miller chapters when they decided to collaborate on a novel set in The Expanse universe.
And the TV show stayed faithful to Franck’s original game vision. On a visit to the set, two of the original players remarked that the spaceship and colonized asteroid interiors looked almost exactly as they imagined the rooms and spaces to look when they were playing Franck’s game almost 10 years earlier.
Now, Beth Elderkin on io9 reports that WizKids, best known for their collectible superhero miniatures games HeroClix, is preparing to create a 2-4 player card-driven strategy game where players vie for domination of the Solar System as Earth, Mars, the Outer Planets Alliance, or everyone’s favorite mega-corp, Protogen. Come June (and go $50), The Expanse can be spread out on every fan’s gaming table in addition to being on their televisions and computer monitors.
Coming off a week of 60-degree days mingled with 8-10″ of snow, the Beamers traversed a strange and sometimes dangerous terrain to reach their Safe Place (Panera’s), where they would sing 175 verses of praise or criticism (OK, more of the latter than the former) to Barbara Gowdy’s character study of elephants in Central Africa, The White Bone. Where would their wanderings in search of this mythic compass take them?
[Update: Conservation biologist Sam Wasser, Univ. of Washington, is using DNA from elephant dung to help locate poaching “hot spots”, which continue to be a problem as illegal ivory prices hit $1,000/lb. and herds are still being massacred.]
Chinese artist/designer/architect Jian Guo, who works primarily with sf/fantasy subjects, has been working on a series of prints of the not-too-mundane bodies of the Solar System. Using a flat, tessellated style that resembles the pieces of stained glass used in decorative and sacred architecture, the portraits of Sun, planets, and associated friends (the Moon, the heart-struck dwarf Pluto) are surrounded by astronaut and spacecraft figures, giving us some hope that the celestial spheres will not always be alone in their revolutions.
Mr. Guo’s sf/f art and the opportunity to purchase prints of his illustrations can be found on his Deviant Art pages.
In an interview with NY Times lead book critic Michiko Kakutani, President Obama discusses the books that he read while serving as Leader of the Free World. One series that helped him gain perspective on his political troubles was Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past (known best by its first novel, The Three-Body Problem):
It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping –
Kakutani: It’s really about the fate of the universe.
Exactly. The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty – not something to worry about. The aliens are about to invade! [Laughter].
Mr. Obama further reveals that he is pen-pals with novelist Marilynne Robinson (best known for her spiritual generational novel, Gilead). And his most recently finished novel was Colson Whitehead’s Civil War fantasy, The Underground Railroad.
Given his reading preferences, I would certainly invite Mr. Obama to a Beamers meeting. Maybe if we can get the Whitehead novel on the schedule and Mr. Obama is in the area …
At the start of a new year, the Beamers turned resolutely toward the Future. Not a cheery Future, alas, but a realistic one of wars over water rights, right here in the US. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife depicts the struggles to survive in a drying Southwest, where states launch military raids to prevent other states from getting a drop to drink, and refugees mass at borders, desperate to migrate away from the perpetual deserts that used to be Texas and New Mexico. But, would the Beamers be willing to accept any of them? Continue reading
In the New Statesman, speculative fiction grandmaster Michael Moorcock reminisces on his friendship with grandmaster Arthur C. Clarke, and in particular about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which film did not turn out to be the quasi-documentary on space travel that Sir Arthur was hoping it would be. Unfortunately for the British author, noted for the rigorous scientific backgrounds of his fiction, the American director, Stanley Kubrick, favored elusive, ambiguous imagery over plain-spoken narrations, as Moorcock details in the introduction to a new edition of Clarke’s novel published by the Folio Society.
Though unable to watch the pre-release cut of the movie, upset by Kubrick’s cuts of his voice-over work and inclusion of scenes that emphasized the tedium of space travel, Clarke was reconciled by the success of the film, which translated into the success of his novel and a demand for sequels to draw out answers from Kubrick’s unexplained images. “Each man was able to produce his own preferred version,” Moorcock concludes, thus forestalling yet another “book or movie?” debate.