Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: The Broken Sword

20 August 2014

So what book would prompt no less a figure than the legendary Michael Moorcock to say ‘It has a wonderful, wild, manic originality, a driving story and a genuine feel of the grim realities informing Anglo-Saxon myth and legend which few other fantasies possess’?

What masterpiece would prompt the late, great Robert Holdstock to hail a ‘Fantasy of harsh truth and driving narrative, imbued with the energy and the wild beauty of the old Norse tales’?

Well, if you were paying attention to the title of this post, you’d know it is none other than Poul Anderson’s stunningly powerful Norse dark fantasy, The Broken Sword . . .

The sword Tyrfing has been broken to prevent it striking at the roots of Yggdrasil, the great tree that binds earth, heaven and hell together…

But now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves, who are heavily involved in their war against the trolls, and only Skafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade the mighty ice-giant, Bolverk, to make the sword Thor broke whole again. But things are never easy, and along the way Skafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard the changeling, who took his place in the world of men.

A superb dark fantasy of the highest, and most Norse, order. The Broken Sword is a fantasy masterpiece.

 

The Broken Sword is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

 

You can find more of Poul Anderson’s work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more bout him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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SF Gateway & Gollancz: the British Fantasy Award-Winners

19 August 2014

Well, we certainly do seem to be getting through the awards calendar, don’t we?  No sooner do we bid farewell to the Hugos for another year than the British Fantasy Awards begin to loom large in our future. Gollancz is delighted to have two authors shortlisted for the best novel awards*, this year: Joe Hill for NOS4R2 and Graham Joyce for The Year of the Ladybird. Best of luck to both – we have our fingers crossed for a tie!

So how have we fared in previous awards? We’re glad you asked . . .

1972 The Knight of the Swords, Michael Moorcock
1973 The King of the Swords, Michael Moorcock
1974 Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, Poul Anderson
1975 The Sword and the Stallion, Michael Moorcock
1976 The Hollow Lands, Michael Moorcock
1977 The Dragon and the George, Gordon R. Dickson
1979 The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (comprising Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War and The Power that Preserves), Stephen R. Donaldson
1983 The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe
1997 The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce
2009 Memoirs of a Master Forger, Graham Joyce
2013 Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce

Eleven out of forty-four. Not quite as high a percentage as some other awards, but a quarter of the prizes is still worth crowing about.

Next: we fall over and try to forget about awards until next year . . .


* As of 2013, the best novel award split into two: The August Derleth Award for best horror novel and the Robert Holdstock Award for best fantasy novel.

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SFX Book Club: The Shadow of the Torturer

18 August 2014

And so, by the time you read this, another Worldcon will be more or less over; another army of fans, authors, artists, editors and agents dispersed to return to everyday life.  It is, for me at least, both a relief (you can’t keep up a con-level of sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and alcohol abuse for much longer without suffering permanent consequences!) and a wrench (this is my tribe and I’ll miss them).

So in order to ameliorate that let-down a little, I thought it might be nice to reflect on a book that I first read as a direct result of finding the author interesting on panels at my first Worldcon, Aussiecon II, back in 1985.  The author is the genius known as Gene Wolfe, and the book is the masterpiece The Shadow of the Torturer . . .

 

All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it . . .

Discuss.

Only, if you’re Gene Wolfe, you don’t have to discuss, you simply state. But life isn’t that simple. The quote above might be Gene Wolfe talking about Neil Gaiman, but often the words quoted as Wolfe’s are actually those of his characters.

‘We say “I will” and “I will not” and imagine ourselves . . . our own masters, when the truth is our masters are sleeping.’

Who knows if those are also Wolfe’s thoughts? Come to that, who knows if they’re the real thoughts of his main characters? Since these often lie to themselves, to other characters, and to the reader (whom they frequently address directly).

When Gene Wolfe published The Shadow of the Torturer in 1980 he was senior editor on Plant Engineering magazine, had written a hundred or so SF short stories and won a Nebula in 1973 for ‘The Death of Doctor Island’. But nothing prepared readers for what was to come.

The Shadow of the Torturer is – for me – the definitive science fantasy novel. No-one did it better before Wolfe, and no-one has done it better since . . . including Gene Wolfe himself. From their richly textured world where ancient spaceships nestle as turrets in castles so old no-one can remember why they were built, to their casual description of torture as everyday business, the novels making up The Book of the New Sun – of which Shadow is the first – are brilliant monsters. Anguished, imagery-laden, and brilliant. But monstrous.

This is Catholic guilt meshed with the dying days of our world. A retelling of the Christ myth, by someone who knows its absolute truth. Or maybe it’s a retelling of the Apollo myth, with its pun on son/sun . . .

There are some basic rules to writing.

  1. Make your main character likeable.
  2. Don’t muddle your readers.
  3. Avoid flashbacks.
  4. If you must have flashbacks, signpost them (for example: ‘London 1983 was a very different place’).
  5. Don’t foreshadow and give away what will happen later.

Tutors recite these as if reading them from tablets of stone. Critics praise or damn based on how many are obeyed or broken. Gene Wolfe ignores them.

His main character is an apprentice torturer; the story slides backwards and forwards in time, told by an insane future emperor (think I, Claudius) and we know what’s going to happen next, because most of the time we’re told in advance.

The Shadow of the Torturer kicks off with the drowning and resurrection of Severian, its main character, flashes back, and then loops forward to a grave robbery, with the lightly decaying body of a woman being stolen by an aristocrat. No attempt is made to explain who people are, why they’re doing what they’re doing or even the geographical location the action is taking place. The language is dense, almost biblical.

In the first nine pages we’re given an inkling, but no more, of the politics and class underlying a world that is both past and future, fantastical and bound by the laws of science. Yet we know the world runs on rules, without knowing what the rules are. Because the first rule of world building is to make it real, and Gene Wolfe’s world seems so real it extends beyond the edges of the page.

Volume one of The Book of the New Sun won the World Fantasy Award and the British Science Fiction Award. Volume two won a Nebula and was shortlisted for the Hugo, while volumes three and four were both nominated for a Nebula, with the third being nominated for another Hugo.

Most novels can be pinned down to their time. The War of the Worlds is obviously late Victorian; Neuromancer is an obvious response to the Reaganomics. The Shadow of the Torturer could have been written in 1960 or it could have been written last year. It is one man’s vision of redemption. As personal as a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

(And yes, I know it owes a debt to Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, which turns up in Severian’s world as The Book of Gold. It’s what Wolfe did with the inspiration that makes it so unusual.)

 

The Shadow of the Torturer is available as an SF Gateway eBook and, with The Claw of the Conciliator, as The Book of the New Sun: Volume 1. You can read more about Gene Wolfe in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

This piece was written by Jon Courtenay Grimwood and appears courtesy of SFX magazine, where it was originally published as part of their regular SFX Book Club feature. You can subscribe to SFX magazine here and find more Book Club articles here.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Ashraf Bey trilogy. His latest novel is The Exiled Blade: Act Three of the Assassini, which is available in paperback and as an eBook.  His website is www.j-cg.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter @JonCG_novelist.

 

 

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Loncon Day Two

15 August 2014

So, it’s day two of LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, and things are starting to get underway.

Who’s attending this celebration of all things SFnal, who might be of interest to Gateway readers? We’re glad you asked. If you come down to ExCel today, you might very well run into Brian Aldiss, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Pat Cadigan, Paul Cornell, Christopher Evans, John Gribbin, Karen Haber, Joe Haldeman, Leigh Kennedy, David Langford, George R. R. Martin, Paul McAuley, Pat Murphy, John Norman, Christopher Priest, Robert Silverberg, Tricia Sullivan, Harry Turtledove, Ian Watson and Connie Willis.

But not all at once.

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LonCon3 is Here!

14 August 2014

The day has finally arrived: Worldcon is in town! LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention commences today at the ExCel Centre in London’s docklands and runs until Monday 18th.

In addition to a plethora (that’s an imperial plethora, by the way, from when the term actually meant something; none of your puny metric plethora) of visiting authors, artists, fans, editors and agents, there is a roll call of Guests of Honour of the highest order:

The late, great Iain M. Banks is (sadly) Guest of Honour in Memoriam.
Encyclopedist, critic and SF über-scholar, John Clute.
The artist whose titanic spaceships defined the genre for readers coming to SF in the’70s, Chris Foss.
The Hugo-nominated fan and Jeanne Gomoll, who has, among many other achievements, been involved with the highly-regarded WisCon since its inception.
Bestselling author of the Farseer Trilogy (again, among many other achievements), Robin Hobb.
Creator of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, the multi-talented writer and artist, Bryan Talbot.

And . . . last but far from least, Gollancz‘s own Malcolm Edwards, publisher, fan, BSFA Award-winning author, editor extraordinaire and one of the founders of the influential Interzone – among (you guessed it) many other achievements, one of which is the establishment of the prestigious SF Masterworks list.

And speaking of the Masterworks list, it has come to our attention that the clearly-tireless Peter Young has put together two issues of his fanzine Big Sky that are entirely devoted to reviews and commentary on the SF Masterworks series, as part of a special project to tie in with LonCon.  The list of contributors is, obviously, enormous, so rather than attempt to list them here and risk leaving someone out, we’ll simply exhort you to read them yourselves. The SF Masterworks special issues are numbers three [PDF] and four [PDF], but while you’re there, you might as well read ‘em all.

Happy Loncon, everyone!

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The Gollancz Festival

13 August 2014

Today, the SF Gateway is mostly busy at the inaugural Gollancz Festival.

LOOK!

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Doomsday Book

12 August 2014

Connie Willis has accumulated an extraordinary 11 Hugo and 7 Nebula Awards during her glittering career. She has twice won the Hugo and Nebula with the same book – in 2010 with Blackout/All Clear, and before that in 1992 with our SF Masterwork of the Week, Doomsday Book.

For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman travelling alone.

For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin – barely of age herself – finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours . . .

 

One of the major volumes of Willis’s time travel sequence (the others being Firewatch, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the two mentioned above: Blackout and All Clear), Doomsday Book is an extraordinary achievement by a writer at the peak of her powers. As Adam Roberts says in his introduction:

‘Like Shakespeare, she captures the mood of a time, the feel of medieval England, and she does so with remarkable vividness. To read Doomsday Book is to be drawn immersively into a world that is defined by its difference, both to the present and to the present’s ideas of how the past was. And because it feels real, we care about the people in it.’

Doomsday Book is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Connie Willis’s work via her Author page on the SF Gateway website and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Robert Silverberg

11 August 2014

It’s well and truly Robert Silverberg month here at SF Gateway. He’s a legend, one of SF’s all0time greats, and he’s currently in town for LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention!

From the groundbreaking digital initiative The SF Gateway, come three award-winning novels from the highly-decorated Robert Silverberg. A perfect introduction to one of the Grand Masters of SF.

As highly acclaimed as he is prolific, Robert Silverberg has won and been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards dozens of times as both writer and editor, and in 2004 received the SFWA Grand Master Award. This omnibus contains three of his award-winning novels: Nightwings, A Time of Changes and Lord Valentine’s Castle.

 

You can find more of Robert Silverberg’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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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Sheri S. Tepper

8 August 2014

From the groundbreaking digital initiative The SF Gateway, come three beguiling novels from Sheri S. Tepper, the acclaimed author of The Gate to Women’s Country and the Hugo-shortlisted Grass.

 

 

The author of several resoundingly acclaimed novels, including Beauty, which was voted Best Fantasy Novel of the Year by readers of Locus, Sheri S. Tepper is one of the few writers to have titles in both the SF and Fantasy Masterworks lists. This omnibus contains three of her acclaimed SF novels: After Long Silence, Shadow’s End and Six Moon Dance.

 

You can find more of Sheri S. Tepper’s work via her author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: August 2014

7 August 2014

 

‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov

 

 

Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: Flashing Before My Eyes

They say that when you’re dying your whole life flashes before your eyes in a matter of seconds. Maybe so, though I wonder how the reports of that phenomenon get back to us. In any case, last year in London I experienced a pretty serious medical event, which in many instances can be fatal, although, as you see, that isn’t how things worked out for me. What saved me was a bit of very good luck indeed – the fact that it happened in the presence of a couple of expert medical technicians who brought me through the whole affair swiftly and effectively. For thirty seconds or so I may well have been on my way to the next world – and then I was back, and here I am, and I hope to stay around for a while.

 

You can read the rest of the column here, and find Robert Silverberg’s eBooks here – including Reflections and Refractions, a collection of his non-fiction columns. Please note: each column will remain on the site for one month only.

 

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