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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Taking light steps when climbing Gold Mountain

Have peachwood sword; will NOT travel.

Our tight-knit community of readers gathered to discuss another tight-knit community, the Chinese immigrants and offspring of San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1898, the setting of M. H. Boroson’s debut novel, The Girl with Ghost Eyes.  As a debut novel, it does show the kinds of flaws that are frequently seen in first published works.  Boroson can “tell” more than “show”, particularly with his protagonist, Li-lin, the widowed daughter of an imperious, important Daoist priest.  Struggling to get out from under his shadow, and that of her dead, heroic husband, Li-lin comes to embrace those elements of Chinatown that normally would be her adversaries, including a rival tong boss, a tiger spirit trying to become a Buddhist monk, and the sentient eyeball of her father (sacrificed to save her from being trapped in Limbo, now enjoying taking baths in cups of tea).  Continue reading

J. R. R. Tolkien under glass

Bilbo and eagle

Bilbo having a quiet lie-in, accompanied by a mighty Eagle.

Sean McLachlan on Black Gate on-line magazine gives a nice report on the extensive exhibition of the works of Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien that are currently displayed at Oxford’s Bodleian libraries.  The exhibit, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, includes the Professor’s own artifacts, such as his working draft of the map of Middle-Earth (individual sheets of paper taped together as it grew in the telling, along with the occasional burn from his pipe), a typed page of his prose translation of Beowulf, the first of his Father Christmas letters written for his children, and many, many of his watercolors, going back to his college days when he was portraying the Elvish city of Kor in Valinor, as well as fan letters (some in Elvish runes, and one from Queen Margrethe of Denmark with her own chapter illustrations for The Lord of the Rings) and collaborations with other artists, like the recently discovered annotated map of Middle-Earth that the Professor worked on with illustrator Pauline Baynes to create the poster map of Middle-Earth.

Annotated map of Middle Earth, with notes written by Tolkien and Pauline Baynes

The finished poster, illustrated by Ms. Baynes

The Bodleian exhibition will be open until October 28, 2018, and then, wonder of wonders, the exhibition will cross the Pond to the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC, from January 25 to May 12, 2019.  The Bodleian ad copy for the exhibition calls it a “once-in-a-generation” event. For those of us of “a certain age”, who treasure our old Ballantine LotR paperbacks (or even the “pirated” Ace editions), this show may be more of a “once-in-a-lifetime” occasion, one surely not to be missed.

NYT Reviews War with the Newts

big_valka-s-mloky-DrJ-183310img_492869_orig82 years after first publication, the New York Times has gotten around to reviewing Karl Capek’s “War with the Newts.”

Capek is, of course, the inventor of the word ‘robot’, which he first used in his novel “R.U.R.

“War with the Newts” is a more mature novel than “R.U.R.”

A disenchanted sea captain goes into an exploitative partnership with a race of amphibians. All goes well … initially.

The book has been described as the pioneer of all anti-fascist and anti-militarist science fiction.

According to Ben Dolnick of the Times:

“War with the Newts” is a funny, bizarre, dystopian masterpiece, and Capek deserves a place on the Mount Rushmore of authorial seers, right alongside George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Margaret Atwood.

Next up from the New York Times:

  • Nazi Germany invades Rhineland
  • The Hoover Dam is completed
  • Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” debuts
  • Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is published

Once a king, always a king, but once a knight is enough

Quite a good picture of Belvedere Castle in Central Park, actually, with the San Remo looming behind.

With a good dose of August chasing the Beamers into the chilly embrace of Panera’s, the subject of this month’s book, King Arthur Pendragon (or Arthur Penn to his new NYC constituents), brought out some heated discussion, much along the lines of whether we do need a “once and future king” in these unsettled times.  Having elected one Chief Executive whose claim on the office was his complete inexperience with politics, would the Beamers want yet another? Continue reading

I, romantic

When it comes to matters of the heart, it appears that those of us with positronic brains are the most level-headed.  New research on the romantic awareness of American adults shows that readers of sf and fantasy are the least likely to submit to a number of romantic illusions (or “myths” as the study authors deemed them), as reported by Tom Jacobs in the news section of Pacific Standard magazine.

Comparing their adherence to 5 “unrealistic relationship beliefs”, sf/f readers were only above-average in believing in the possibility (or pursuit) of sexual perfection between partners.  Romance readers were also only likely to endorse the idea that the sexes are fundamentally different, but readers of “literary” fiction (and those high-brows know who they are!) fell for 4 out of the 5 “myths”.

Stranger cover

After all, what was the ’60s “bible” for Free Love? It was much more Mr. Spock than Dr. Spock!

The study authors caution that they are showing a connection, not a cause-effect relationship, so the sf/f genres may appeal to people who already have more realistic expectations about romantic relationships.  However, the article does cite a 2017 study that indicates sf/f readers are more open-minded and less rigid in their moral codes, possibly as a result of being exposed to so many “alien” cultures and lifestyles in their reading.

So, weep not for the lonely, unloved sf/f geek.  S/he is doing better than most at navigating the tricky currents of the Ocean of Love.  As Mr. Jacobs puts it, “it apparently helps to have J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin as your unofficial couples counselor.”

The last beach book you will ever read

On the Beach cover

Subtlety, 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

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