Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Fantasy Masterworks Spotlight: Little, Big

27 February 2015

A magical, funny, eloquent, unforgettable fantasy about a house filled with enchantment and the strange folk who inhabit it. We are delighted to present this new edition of John Crowley’s World Fantasy Award-winning novel, with a new introduction by Graham Sleight.


Edgewood is many houses, all put inside each other, or across each other. It’s filled with and surrounded by mystery and enchantment: the further in you go, the bigger it gets.

Smoky Barnable, who has fallen in love with Daily Alice Drinkwater, comes to Edgewood, her family home, where he finds himself drawn into a world of magical strangeness.

Crowley’s work has a special alchemy – mixing the world we know with an imagined world which seems more true and real. Little, Big is eloquent, sensual, funny and unforgettable, a true Fantasy Masterwork.

N.B. The eBook edition will follow at the end of March.


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

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On This Day: Theodore Sturgeon

26 February 2015

On this day in 1918, Edward Hamilton Waldo – better known to the world as Theodore Sturgeon – was born  in New York City. Sturgeon was not a pseudonym; his name was legally changed after his parents’ divorce.

After selling his first SF story to Astounding in 1939, Sturgeon travelled for some years, only returning in earnest to his writing in 1946. He produced a great body of acclaimed short fiction as well as a number of novels, including More Than Human, which was awarded the 1954 retro-Hugo in 2004. In addition to coining Sturgeon’s Law – ’90% of everything is crud’ – he wrote the screenplays for seminal Star Trek episodes ‘Shore Leave’ and ‘Amok Time’, inventing the famous Vulcan mating ritual, the pon farr.

You can find more of Theodore Sturgeon’s work via his author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Gateway Omnibus Spotlight: Patricia McKillip (Vol. 1)

25 February 2015

From the vaults of The SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to the lyrical work of two-time World Fantasy Award-winning author, Patricia A. McKillip, one of modern fantasy’s most impressive and sophisticated voices.


trade paperback | eBook


Patricia A. McKillip is the author of a number of hugely acclaimed fantasies, including The Riddle-Master of Hed and its sequels, which have been compared to Gene Wolfe‘s epic Book of the New Sun, and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Ombria in Shadow, both of which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. She has won the Mythopoeic Award three times and in 2008 was given the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. This omnibus collects three of her later works: In the Forests of Serre, Alphabet of Thorn and The Bell at Sealey Head.

You can read more about Patricia McKillip in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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The SF Masterworks in 2015: the First Six Months

24 February 2015

Following on from our earlier – and, dare we say, very well-received – post on the complete SF Masterworks, we are delighted to bring you a list of the SF Masterworks you can expect over the first half of this year. The schedule for the second half of the year should settle down soon, and then we’ll bring you an update covering the entire year, but for now, we hope this will whet your appetites for another . . . *ahem* . . . vintage year . . .

 

12/03/2015 The Word for World is Forest Ursula K. Le Guin PB
09/04/2015 Hard to be a God Arkady & Boris Strugatsky PB
09/04/2015 Downward to the Earth Robert Silverberg PB
14/05/2015 Night Lamp Jack Vance PB
11/06/2015 Life During Wartime Lucius Shepard PB

 

Enjoy!

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Welcome to Gateway: Iain M. Banks & Jean M. Auel

23 February 2015

As noted last week, the Gateway’s list of authors has expanded as we added classic SF & Fantasy from our sister Hachette companies, Headline, Hodder & Stoughton and Orbit. It’s very exciting to be able welcome such a large number of wonderful authors all at once, and we thought we’d roll out the metaphorical red carpet by highlighting a couple of these new additions each week on our home page.

So, if you get yourself over to www.sfgateway.com, this week, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with The Clan of the Cave Bear scribe, Jean M. Auel, and the man with a fair claim to being the greatest British SF writer of the last thirty years, Iain M. Banks.

We’re delighted to welcome Jean M. Auel and Iain M. Banks to Gateway!

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On This Day: Richard Matheson

20 February 2015

On this day in 1926, Richard Burton Matheson was born, in Allendale, New Jersey.  Although a script writer of some note – including credits on Rod Serling‘s The Twilight Zone and Steven Spielberg‘s Duel (based on his own short story) – Matheson is now primarily remembered for his novels – in particular I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man.

I Am Legend, of course, has been filmed a number of times – as The Last Man on Earth in 1964; as The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, in 1971; and under its own title in 2007, with Will Smith in the lead role. The Shrinking Man was filmed in 1957 as The Incredible Shrinking Man. Matheson wrote the screenplay himself, and the film won a Hugo Award in 1958.

For more about Richard Matheson, we recommend his Author entry in the indispensable, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Happy Birthday, Rocket Boy!

19 February 2015

On this day, in 1943, Homer Hadley Hickam Jr was born. His is probably not a name that will be familiar to a great many of our readers, but we’d argue (politely but firmly) that it should be.

Homer H. Hickam, Jr wrote one of the stand-out books of 1998: Rocket Boys. It told the story of his formative years, growing up in a coal mining town in West Virginia. His home town of Coalwood was the sort of place where a boy went to school to learn to read and write and count, but only as a means of killing time until he was big enough to follow his daddy into the mines. The kind of place Hollywood has used a hundred times as the background for coming-of-age, that-might-have-been-your-life-but-it-won’t-be-mine, young-boy-rebels-against-his-father movies. No place, in short, for a young man who looked up at the night sky on October 4th, 1957 and decided that he wanted to be part of the Space Race.

We’d heartily recommend Rocket Boys to anyone who loves the Sense of Wonder space exploration stories of the Golden Age. Of course, we realise that for many people, reading time is in short supply and it’s hard enough to fit in all the books you know you want to read, without having to make room for ones you think you might enjoy. How lucky for those folks that the excellent Rocket Boys has been adapted by Captain America director Joe Johnston into the equally excellent film October Sky.

 

 

Spoiler alert: Hickam ended up working for NASA. And how he got there is a hell of a story – in book or film form.

Happy Birthday, Homer Hickam, Jr!

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Happy Birthday, Jean M. Auel

18 February 2015

Today we say Happy Birthday to Jean M. Auel, author of prehistoric fantasy series, Earth’s Children. Beginning with The Clan of the Cave Bear, filmed in 1986, and progressing through five sequels, Auel’s series has delighted readers the world over. And thanks to recent events, we can now direct you to her very own Gateway Author page.


Happy Birthday, Jean M. Auel.

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From the Attic X: Travel Light

17 February 2015

Imagine a world where a 1950s fantasy novel became first a cult classic and then a global bestseller setting trends for decades to come and spawning blockbuster movies.

The year was 1952 and the novel was Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison.  As with many other epic fantasy writers, Mitchison rooted her work in classical myths, Greek and Norse legends in particular.

Travel Light begins in almost fairy tale manner:

It is said that when the new Queen saw the old Queen’s baby daughter, she told the king that the brat must be got rid of at once.

So orders are issued to kill the baby but her nurse turns herself into a black bear and carries the child into the woods to safety.  The girl, Halla, is for a while raised amongst bears until the day a dragon appears and the nurse bear tells him the whole story.

Now, if there is one kind of human being which dragons dislike more than another it is the kind commonly called kings or heroes.  The reason is that they are almost always against dragons.

In this simple story telling fashion Naomi Mitchison charms the reader through Halla’s adoption by Uggi the Dragon, learning dragon tongue and being fireproofed in a ceremony involving three other dragons.  Halla grows up amongst dragons wondering why she’s a little bit different to those dragons.  So Halla Bearsbairn becomes Halla Heroesbane until once again her life changes with the arrival of the All-Father.

At this point we are less than a quarter of the way into this rapid light and dramatic novel.  Halla is sent by All-Father on a fantastic journey, riding a unicorn no less, until she arrives at the great city of Micklegard.  On the way she hears of the huge palace in Micklegard and the powerful Purple-born.

Page after page is full of Mitchison’s sly wit and acerbic observations.  She pokes at economics ‘always an important part of dragon history‘ and heroes such as ‘the man Beowulf, who had actually followed the poor old lady right into her house at the bottom of Terrible Mere and cut off her arm.’  Halla’s upbringing leads her to conceive of the Purple-born as the ‘Master Dragon of Micklegard. And indeed things were believed of the Purple-born that could not be believed of any man, and nothing was too strange but that it might happen within the bounds of that place.

Micklegard was the Viking name for Byzantium and Purple-born clearly refers to the Roman and later Byzantine emperors.  When Halla reaches the city Mitchison becomes explicitly critical of the Christian church:

‘A true Christian – then he is a poor man?’

‘No, no,’ said Father John.  ‘On the contrary, he is very rich.’

Reading a summary like this it might be easy to view Travel Light as a witty, comic satire on many of epic fantasy’s clichés but remember this was two years before The Lord of the Rings appeared.  However Mitchison was a friend of Tolkien, and it is likely she was aware of his work.  She was also a lifelong socialist and feminist whose other novels and volumes of autobiography contain radical ideas of sexuality and equality throughout.  Travel Light sits comfortably with these works.

When Halla’s friend Tarkan Der talks of marriage, she queries the need, and his assumption.

‘Why shall we be married?’

‘Because it is not right that we should travel together always and not be married,’ said Tarkan Der.

‘Perhaps I will not travel with you always,’ said Halla.

‘We will not always travel … You will like to live in a small house with me.’

‘I do not know at all,’ whispered Halla. … he was no more a dragon than he was a hero.

That exchange, and the others quoted, exemplify Naomi Mitchison‘s often scathing commentary on the assumptions of powerful figures, the viewpoints of privilege, and the true nature of heroes.  The god-like Purple-born is just a little man, dragons are not the purely venal creatures we are told, and as for unicorns?  You’ll have to find out yourself.

Many SF readers will be aware of Mitchison’s classic Memoirs of A Spacewoman, and her historical novels are well-known, but her fantasy work, including Travel Light, is forgotten.  I’d like to acknowledge SF author Amal el Mohtar for bringing it to my attention in her piece here: www.npr.org/2014/01/01/2583. As Amal suggests, how might our view of what Fantasy is have differed if Travel Light had become the touchstone that Tolkien became?  Tongue lightly in cheek I can’t resist wishing Mitchison’s 130 page novel had influenced certain current authors.  But seriously, Travel Light is a fun read, and a novel that will make you think differently about your next fantasy novel.

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On This Day: Iain M. Banks

16 February 2015

On this day in 1954, Iain Menzies Banks was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. Do we need to explain who Iain M. Banks is? No, we do not. For many years he was Britain’s bestselling SF writer, a literary novelist of distinction, named by The Times as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 and – as noted in a piece in The Guardian over the weekend, written by his close friend and fellow SF writer, Ken MacLeod – a poet.

If the fates had been kinder, Iain Banks would be celebrating his 61st birthday today – with a fine malt whisky, no doubt. He was taken from us far too soon, but we still have his books through which to remember him. Pick one up, read the first line and then try to put it down again – go on, just try:

This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game.

or

A little more than one hundred days into the fortieth year of her confinement, Dajeil Gelian was visited in her lonely tower overlooking the sea by an avatar of the great ship that was her home.

or

Near the time we both knew I would have to leave him, it was hard to tell which flashes were lightning and which came from the energy weapons of the Invisibles.

or especially

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

 

We bet you can’t.

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