Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Masterworks Spotlight: The Midwich Cuckoos

26 September 2016

Our latest SF Masterwork spotlight is a favourite of many at Gateway Towers: John Wyndham’s classic tale of strange alien children in our midst. The Midwich Cuckoos is a masterpiece of paranoia and suspense . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos

In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed – except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers, just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.


The Midwich Cuckoos is available as an SF Masterworks hardback. You can also find SF Masterworks editions of The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids via John Wyndham’s Author Page on the Orion website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


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Gateway Essentials: Fritz Leiber

23 September 2016

It is a well-established article of faith that if you love modern epic or high fantasy, then you acknowledge a debt to J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings. But what if your tastes run more to heroic fantasy or sword-and-sorcery? Or contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy? To which antecedents do you tip your hat in those cases? Obviously, there are a number of options for such a wide spread of subgenres but, as it happens, you could probably save yourself a lot of legwork by just saying ‘Thank you, Fritz Leiber’.

How so? Well, he published Conjure Wife in Unknown Worlds in 1943 (expanded and released as a stand-alone novel ten years later), a dark tale of witchcraft in contemporary small-town America. That’s forty years before Terri Windling‘s Borderland series of shared world anthologies was launched, and a good half a century before the first Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel. And Our Lady of Darkness (1977) brings the paranormal to the streets of modern-day San Francisco a decade ahead of the curve. That’s to name just two.

But his crowning glory and the series before which all fans of Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch should abase themselves (just kidding; reading the books will be sufficient – no need to abase!) is, of course, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Making their debut in the August 1939 issue of Unknown (as it was then), in Leiber’s first published story, ‘Two Sought Adventure’, the nimble thief and the giant barbarian are the forerunners of recent fantasy’s morally grey protagonists. Shunning the clichés of fantasy like a thief shuns the light, Leiber guides Fafhrd and the Mouser through the gritty, decadent streets of Lankhmar – the prototype for every mediaeval fantasy city from Thieves’ World to Ankh-Morpork – feasting, drinking, wenching, fighting, winning and losing fortunes.

We heartily recommend letting Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser be your guides through the streets and alleys of Lankhmar. Just make sure your wallet is securely hidden. And you don’t drink anything you haven’t seen someone else drink first. Oh, and not in your best clothes, eh?  That’s the way.

The first three Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are shown above. You can find the rest of Fritz Leiber’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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Gateway Essentials: E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith

22 September 2016

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith (1890-1965)

It is, remarkably, more than 100 years since Edward Elmer Smith began writing The Skylark of Space, the first novel in the series which created and exemplified the term ‘space opera‘. Originally written with the help of a neighbour, Mrs Lee Hawkins Garby, who supplied feminine touches such as characterization, the novel could not find a publisher for more than a decade – until the first specialised American sf magazine, Amazing Stories, came into existence in 1926.  It was eventually published as a serial in 1928 and became an immediate sensation.  Smith – whose byline was initially his full name – had Ph.D appended by Amazing’s editor/publisher Hugo Gernsback and quickly became known to fans as ‘Doc’ Smith.  (Ironically, Smith’s Ph.D was in chemistry, and his most notable scientific achievement was devising a method whereby sugar clung to doughnuts.)

Amazing Stories

“Doc” Smith became the first superstar of the newly-fledged sf genre, and The Skylark of Space was followed by two further adventures:  Skylark Three (confusingly, the second novel) and Skylark of Valeron.  (A fourth Skylark novel, Skylark Duquesne, was not published till the mid-1960s.)

Successful as the Skylark series was, Smith’s biggest epic was still to come:  the Lensman sequence, which began in 1937 with Galactic Patrol, and which eventually ran to six main volumes (with a seventh associated book).  These were published in a limited edition box set in the 1950s, modestly titled The History of Civilization.

When John W. Campbell (Smith’s main rival as an author of galaxy-spanning space opera) turned from writing to editing at the end of 1937, and launched the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction‘ – introducing such authors as Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov – Smith’s supremacy started to recede, although his first period of popularity endured through most of the 1940s.

In the UK his books had a remarkable resurgence in popularity in the 1970s, when they were reissued in paperback with cover paintings by a new artist, Chris Foss, whose covers successfully evoked the scale and ambition of the stories.  So popular were they, that a series of posthumous sequels by other hands were published, based on scenarios written or suggested by Smith.

(Note:  the Lensman series will be republished by SF Gateway in early 2017.)

Where to start?  The Skylark quartet is – in a sense – the godfather of all wide-screen space opera up to and including modern masters like Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds.


You can find more of E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’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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H G Wells: 150th Anniversary

21 September 2016

It is 150 years ago, today, that the founding father of British Science Fiction was born, in Bromley in Kent. His father was a shopkeeper and professional cricketer and his mother a former domestic servant.  After working as a draper’s apprentice and pupil-teacher, Wells won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in 1884, studying biology under Thomas Huxley. He was awarded a first-class honours degree in biology and resumed teaching but had to retire owing to ill-health.

His first published work was a biology text book in 1893, but two years later he published the work that would make his name, The Time Machine. And the rest, as they say, is history . . .

The Island of Dr Moreau The Invisible Man
The Food of the Gods

It is simply impossible to overstate Wells’s importance to the SF field. To quote The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Wells was:

the most important of all nineteenth-century sf writers in English, both in the UK and in America, where his early sf was also widely published from 1895 on. His sf was also important later in the evolution of Genre SF in America, through the purchase in the 1920s of several of these early novels and tales by Hugo Gernsback for republication in Amazing and elsewhere. Throughout his UK career, until at least 1940, he remained central to the evolution of the Scientific Romance, his influence on J D Beresford, S Fowler Wright, Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C Clarke and later authors being unmistakable.

Happy 150th birthday, Mr Wells!

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Happy Birthday, George R. R. Martin!

20 September 2016

Today we wish a very Happy Birthday to one of the most successful Fantasy authors of all time, the Lord of Ice and Fire himself, George R. R. Martin!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last five years, you will be aware of the colossal hit television show Game of Thrones. And what you should also be aware of is that Game of Thrones derives its title from A Game of Thrones, the first book of George R. R. Martin‘s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Despite what you might have heard, though, George R. R. Martin actually wrote one or two other books before A Song of Ice and Fire. And some of them were very well received, such as World Fantasy Award nominees Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag, Hugo and BSFA Award-nominated Dying of the Light, and Locus Award-runner-up Windhaven, co-written with Lisa Tuttle. And he is also largely responsible for the Wild Cards shared world superhero series of novels and anthologies – soon to be adapted to a small screen near you!

Fevre Dream The Armageddon Rag Dying of the Light Windhaven

You can find more of George R. R. Martin’s work via the  Orion and Gateway websites, and read about him in his entry in The Encylopedia of Science Fiction.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE!

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Gateway Essentials: Norman Spinrad

19 September 2016

Norman Spinrad began publishing science fiction in 1963 and has been an important, if sometimes controversial, figure in the genre ever since. He was a regular contributor to New Worlds magazine and, ironically, the cause of its banning by W H Smith, which objected to the violence and profanity in his serialised novel Bug Jack Barron. Spinrad’s work has never shied away from the confrontational, be it casting Hitler as a spiteful pulp novelist or satirising the Church of Scientology.

We recommend these Gateway Essentials as the perfect places to start reading Norman Spinrad.

The Iron Dream in particular is a delight, a metanarrative set in a world in which Adolf Hitler, his political career unsuccessful, emigrated to New York to become a (very bad!) pulp SF writer.

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

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Masterworks Spotlight: Swastika Night

14 September 2016

It is the single most popular topic for alternative histories: what if the Nazis had won the Second World War. It usually turns upon the Jonbar Point of Hitler not committing suicide in 1945 – although, in Stephen Fry‘s excellent Making History, the Nazi victory is brought about by Hitler’s birth being prevented entirely. From Philip K. Dick‘s The Man in the High Castle to Robert Harris‘s Fatherland, some of our finest writers have turned their imaginations to the task of imagining what a world ruled by Nazis would look like.

All of these writers, though, had the advantage of hindsight. Having read the history books, seen the photographs and footage of the Nazi legacy, they had a solid basis from whcih to extrapolate. Imagine trying to write about a Nazi future in 1935 . . .


Swastika Night

Seven hundred years after Nazism conquered Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Adolf Hitler is worshipped as a diety: a seven-foot tall, blond god who personally won the war. The Japanese rule the Americas, Australia and Asia. Though Japan is the only rival superpower to the Nazi West, their inevitable wars always end in stalemate. The fascist Germans and Japanese suffer much difficulty in maintaining their populations, because of the physical degeneration of their women, who have been reduced to subhuman breeding stock.

Englishman Alfred Alfredson is on a German pilgrimage – an unusual act since, in Europe, the English are loathed because they were the last opponents of Nazi Germany in the war. So Alfred is surprised to be invited in to the home of noblem German knight – and he is astounded when shown a secret, historic photograph depicting Hitler and a girl before a crowd. He is shocked to learn that far from being a god, in reality Hitler was a small unprepossessing man with dark hair and a paunch.

And Alfred’s discovery may mean his death . . .


Katharine Burdekin‘s classic of feminist predictive fiction finally returns to the light. This remarkably prescient novel of the future under Nazism was written in 1935 and published in 1937 under the pseudonym Murray Constantine.

Swastika Night is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: September 2016

13 September 2016

 

 

‘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: ‘”Darn,” He Smiled’

When I was learning my craft as a science fiction writer, more than sixty years ago, there were two particularly ferocious critics to whom I paid very close attention: Damon Knight and James Blish. They were both skilled writers themselves, with a special area of excellence in the short story form. But they also wrote formidable reviews in which they shredded the work of their peers with uninhibited gusto and keen, cold insight.

Since I was only a beginner, and thus unlikely to become the subject of a Blish or Knight attack, I could read their critical essays with a certain detachment . . .

 

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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The Man Who Fell to Earth

9 September 2016

Walter Tevis‘s cult classic novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, published in 1963, enjoyed thirteen years of recognition in and of itself before becoming forever linked with (and, let’s face it, submerged beneath) Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film. You know the one: fellow by the name of David Bowie starred in it.

At the risk of being seen to add to that submergence (it’s a word!), we feel we should note that a restored 40th anniversary print of The Man Who Fell to Earth is opening today at the BFI Southbank and cinemas nationwide, to be followed by a DVD and Blu-ray release (in the UK) on 10th October by STUDIOCANAL.

And for those who like their films to play on the inside of their eyeballs rather than the outside, there’s always the book!

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Released as an SF Masterwork in May this year, it is a masterpiece of modern SF:

Beautiful science fiction…(Newton) acquires a moving, tragic force as the stranger, caught and destroyed in a strange land… The story of an extraterrestrial visitor from another planet is designed mainly to say something about life on this one.

The New York Times


An utterly realistic novel about an alien human on Earth … realistic enough to become a metaphor for something inside us all, some existential aloneness.

Norman Spinrad


The Man Who Fell to Earth is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Walter Tevis’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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New Title Spotlight: the Worm Ouroboros

8 September 2016

When J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was published, reviewers saw that there was only one book with which it could legitimately be compared: E.R. Eddison‘s classic fantasy adventure The Worm Ouroboros.

The Worm Ouroboros

Set on a distant planet of spectacular beauty and peopled by Lords and Kings, mighty warriors and raven-haired temptresses, Eddison’s extravagant story, of a great war for total domination, is an unforgettable work of splendour. A glorious, lush tale of a great war for domination set on a planet of spectacular beauty.


You can find more of E R Eddison’s works 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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