Thoughts from the SF Gateway

It’s a Science Fictional Day

30 June 2015

Today is one of those days when the science fictional world spills over into the real world.

First of all, today is Asteroid Day, a global event dedicated to increasing the awareness of asteroids and the very real – if statistically small – possibility of one of them impacting the Earth.  Asteroid Day is held on the anniversary of the Tunguska Event – when an object about 50 metres in diameter exploded over Siberia in 1908, releasing the destructive force of about 1,000 atomic bombs. Apparently, we can expect an asteroid about that size to hit the Earth every hundred-to-two-hundred years. So, 107 years after Tunguska, the clock’s tickin’ . . .

You can read more at The Guardian.

Secondly (if you’ll pardon the pun that isn’t completely obvious yet because there will be no context to the opening word of this sentence until we stop rabbiting on and actually get to the &%$# point), today is set aside for adding a ‘Leap Second’ (see? Told you there was a pun) to our calendar.  At midnight, tonight, the atomic clocks will read 23:59:60 before ticking forward to 00.00.00. This is because the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing, owing to tidal forces – a phenomenon known as ‘moon drag’. More at The Guardian (which is really rocking the science news today) and the BBC.

It’s a mark of how thoroughly depressing the news is at the moment that an article about a possible extinction-level event and another about the world we live on gradually losing spin can be viewed as a refreshing  change.

Watch out for asteroids – and spend your extra second well!

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Happy Birthday, Dave Duncan!

30 June 2015

Today marks the 82nd birthday of Dave Duncan, the much-loved author of almost four dozen novels – mostly Fantasy but a few SF, mostly in the early years of his career.  He has twice won the Aurora Award (Canada’s premier award for SF & Fantasy) in 1990 for West of January and in 2007 for Children of Chaos. Gateway publishes 32 of his books, including the acclaimed Seventh Sword series, beginning with The Reluctant Swordsman.

You can find Dave Duncan’s books via his Author page on the Gateway website, and read more about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Happy Birthday, Dave!

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On This Day: Ray Harryhausen

29 June 2015

On this day, in 1920, special effects legend Ray Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles, California.

For those raised on modern CGI techniques, for whom the likes of Pixar and ILM have always been there, it might be difficult to understand why this man is held in such estime. But for those of us who remember life before Spielberg and LucasRay Harryhausen was the god of special effects, raising the technique of stop motion photography to an art form.

From The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, in 1953, through The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and One Million Years B.C. to his swansong on 1981′s Clash of the Titans, he was the undisputed king of visual effects.

 

 

Awesome. Ray Harryhausen, we salute you!

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Space Probes

26 June 2015

Gateway is on record as being an ardent admirer of NASA and its wonderful Astronomy Picture of the Day site. Wanna know why?  Because this:

 

To boldly go . . .

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Masterworks Spotlight: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

25 June 2015

The World Fantasy Award-winning masterpiece from one of modern fantasy’s most original and lyrical voices.

Sybel, the beautiful great-granddaughter of the wizard Heald, has grown up on Eld Mountain with only the fantastic beasts summoned there by wizardry as companions. She cares nothing for humans until, when she is 16, a baby is brought for her to raise, a baby who awakens emotions that she has never known before.

But the baby is Tamlorn, the only son of King Drede, and, inevitably, Sybel becomes entangled in the human world of love, war and revenge – and only her beasts can save her from the ultimate destruction…


Winner of the first World Fantasy Award for best novel, in 1975, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook. You can read more about Patricia A. McKillip in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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100th Anniversary: Fred Hoyle

24 June 2015

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Sir Fred Hoyle, one of the world’s most distinguished astronomers. He was noted primarily for the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis, his support for the ‘Steady State‘ cosmological theory and for his rejection of the ‘Big Bang‘ theory, a term coined by him on BBC radio. Ironically, he meant it to be dismissive.

But in addition to his work as an astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle was a noted writer of science fiction, including a number of books co-written with his son Geoffrey Hoyle. His best-known work is probably the novel and BBC TV series A for Andromeda, co-written with John Elliot. Hoyle was knighted in 1972 and died in Bournemouth, in 2001, after a series of strokes.

Gateway celebrates the 100th anniversary of a great scientist and writer with the publication of nine eBooks:

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Sir Fred Hoyle!

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Happy Birthday, Richard Curtis!

23 June 2015

Today Gateway wishes a very Happy Birthday to gentleman, scholar, agent extraordinaire and publishing visionary, Richard Curtis.

Richard Curtis’s eponymous literary agency has counted many of the great and good of SF publishing over the more than forty year’s of its life, including Greg Bear, Harlan Ellison, Kim Harrison, Fritz Leiber, Pamela Sargent and Dan Simmons. Between 1980 and 1992, he wrote the Agent’s Corner column for Locus magazine, and for fifteen years he was the agent for SFWA.

But of special interest to Gateway readers is his clarity of vision with regard to the development of digital publishing. In 1999 – long before the eBook revolution really ignited – Richard established E-Reads, the first major digital-only publisher, in order to produce the eBook editions of his clients’ work, which he felt were not being treated seriously enough by the major publishing houses. Fast forward a dozen years or so, and E-Reads had grown to be so successful, demanding more and more time, that he felt the best thing to do for the list was to sell it to Open Road Media, where the resources existed to fully support the 1,200 or so eBooks in the list.

And many of those eBooks – some 500 in total – are currently published by us, under licence from E-Reads. As if that wasn’t reason enough to wish him well, Richard Curtis, unspoiled by years of success, remains one of the nicest men in publishing.

Happy Birthday, Richard!

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Masterworks Spotlight: Lavondyss

22 June 2015

Our current Masterworks Spotlight is the haunting sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood.

At the heart of the wildwood lies a place of mystery and legend, from which few return and none emerged unchanged: Lavondyss . . . the ultimate realm, the source of all myth.

When Harry Keeton disappeared into Ryhope Wood, his sister Tallis was just an infant. Now, thirteen years old, she hears him whispering to her from the Otherworld. He is in danger. He needs her held. Using masks, magic and clues left by her grandfather, she finds a way to enter the primitive forest and begin her search. Eventually she comes to Lavondyss itself, a realm both beautiful and deadly, a place in which she is changed forever . . .

Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award and is among the most praised post-war novels of the fantastical. In this haunting sequel, Lavondyss, we are returned to the Wildwood and the mythos that Holdstock has made his own.


Winner of the BSFA Award for best novel in 1989, Lavondyss is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook. You can read more about Robert Holdstock in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and at the official Robert Holdstock website.

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100th Anniversary: Julius Schwartz

19 June 2015

On this day, 100 years ago, Julius Schwartz was born in the Bronx, New York City. Throughout his long life, he was a fan, an editor, a literary agent  and a giant in the field of comics. If DC Comics had a counterpart to Marvel‘s Stan Lee, that man was Julius Schwartz.

While still in his teens, he met a fellow fan, Mort Weisinger, who would become a lifelong friend and DC colleague, and together they produced what might very well be the first fanzine: The Time Traveller (along with Forrest J. Ackerman, the original ‘super-fan’). Two years later, the two friends founded Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specifically dedicated to science fiction. Their clients included Alfred Bester, Otto Binder, Manly Wade Wellman  – all of whom Weisinger would later recruit to write for DC – Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury and John Russell Fearn.

In 1939, Schwartz was one of the organisers of the first Worldcon, in New York.

To butcher a sporting metaphor: if the game had finished then, you’d have named Schwartz Man of the Match, and declared him a legend of the game. But this was only half-time . . .

In 1944, Schwartz became an editor at DC Comics. A dozen years later, he spearheaded the reinvention of the superhero comic (moribund since the war) with the publication of  Showcase Comics #4, introducing a new, updated Flash (police scientist Barry Allen in place of college student Jay Garrick, for those as nerdy as we are about such things).  Similar re-inventions would follow quickly, with Golden Age characters such as Green Lantern and Hawkman losing their mystical origins and gaining new, scientific back stories. In 1961, under Schwartz’s editorship, the DC multiverse was created in the famous story ‘Flash of Two Worlds‘ (Flash #123).

Schwartz retired from DC in 1986, just as Marv Wolfman and George Perez‘s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths was consolidating his multiverse into a single narrative, but he remained a ‘goodwill ambasador’ and editor emeritus until his death from pneumonia in 2004.

If there could be considered to be a father of the Silver Age of comics, his name is Julius Schwartz.

Happy 100th Birthday, Julie.

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On This Day: Red Simonsen

18 June 2015

Back when the stars were young and dinosaurs walked the Earth, your humble correspondent used to play wargames every weekend. Sometimes they were historical boardgames, sometimes fantasy boardgames, other times they were RPGs. The group of friends I played with had a good range of games and we varied in our tastes – one was fond of Avalon Hill products (Third Reich being the favourite, followed closely by Kingmaker and War and Peace); another was busy building various armies of historical miniatures (remember: this was pre-internet, so these things were hard to track down); but me? My heart belonged to SPI.

My shelves were filled with SPI games: the more-sophisticated-than-D&D roleplaying system DragonQuest; John Carter, Warlord of Mars, with its brilliant hand-to-hand duelling system; Sorcerer, and its innovative colour-based combat system; Time Tripper, featuring chronally-displaced US infantrymen pitched against foes ancient and yet-to-be; and, of course, the wonderful Middle Earth wargame War of the Ring.

I gave SPI my unquestioning loyalty in the same way I did DC Comics; there’s no reason there had to be a Manichean choice but that’s the way I remember it. Although Avalon Hill was the dominant force in wargames at the time, fantasy gaming – at least, so it seemed to me – was more or less divided between its own Big Two of Simulations Publication, Inc. (SPI) and Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), and you were either DC or Marvel. SPI or TSR. As publishers of the ubiquitous Dungeons & Dragons, TSR had a major presence, with seemingly endless series of D&D expansion rules as well as genre-variants like Boot Hill (westerns), Gangbusters (prohibition-era gangsters) and Top Secret (spies).

SPI, though, had something that TSR couldn’t match: Ares Magazine. Launched in 1980, Ares was a kind of SF&F variant of SPI’s successful Strategy & Tactics military history and gaming magazine. Each issue of Ares contained games reviews, articles and short fiction – and a complete SF or fantasy wargame. I remember Albion (the game of Britain in a time of elves and trolls), Barbarian Kings (fantasy empires in conflict), Delta Vee (a space combat game that formed the tactical element of their SF RPG Universe) – even a game based on Harry Harrison‘s Stainless Steel Rat stories. Great fun!

But apart from allowing me to wallow in nostalgia, what exactly does any of the above have to do with the topic at hand? Simply this: that almost every one of the SPI games I mentioned above credited Redmond Simonsen as either artist or designer. He was the first name designer of wargames I had come across (apart from Gary Gygax, naturally) and I came to rely upon his name – or that of fellow SPI designer Greg Costikyan – as a guarantee of excellence.

Red Simonsen died in 2005 but, had he been spared, today would have been his 73rd birthday. That seems like a good day to say, on behalf of a much younger proto-me, ‘Happy Birthday, Red – and thanks for the adventures’.

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