Thoughts from the SF Gateway

SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Charles Sheffield

21 November 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to the extraordinary imagination of Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Award-winner Charles Sheffield.

Physicist and writer Charles Sheffield very quickly built a reputation for imaginative, cleverly-plotted hard SF. In his second novel he posited the concept of a space elevator simultaneously to – but independent of – Arthur C. Clarke. This omnibus contains three of his finest works: debut novel, Sight of Proteus; planetary romance, Summertide; and space opera, Cold as Ice.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Sarah Canary

20 November 2014

This week’s SF Masterwork of the Week comes from our Author of the Month, Karen Joy Fowler.  Set in the Old West in 1873, it is the strange, magical tale of Sarah Canary and the ragtag band of misfits and lovers she trails in her wake.

When black cloaked Sarah Canary wanders into a railway camp in the Washington territories in 1873, Chin Ah Kin is ordered by his uncle to escort “the ugliest woman he could imagine” away. Far away. But Chin soon becomes the follower. In the first of many such instances, they are separated, both resurfacing some days later at an insane asylum. Chin has run afoul of the law and Sarah has been committed for observation. Their escape from the asylum in the company of another inmate sets into motion a series of adventures and misadventures that are at once hilarious, deeply moving, and downright terrifying.

 

 

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From the Attic IX: This Map IS The Territory

19 November 2014

Rereading the stories of Karen Joy Fowler I am made aware of some things I already knew.  That is not entirely the paradox it seems.   In her collection Black Glass almost every story appears to incorporate an early statement asserting some degree of unreliability.

“One day Lily decided to be somebody else” (Lily Red)

“even if everything in it was true when written, it was entirely possible that none of it was true now” (Lieserl)

“I have learned to distrust words, even my own” (Letters From Home)

“Of course it was an illusion” (The Brew)

“I couldn’t tell you in what year or in what sequence anything happened, only in what season.”  (Go Back)

If such a pattern were not enough, Fowler admitted in an interview on Strange Horizons that she deliberately wrote her debut novel Sarah Canary with the intent that Science Fiction readers would read it as Science Fiction and mainstream readers would see mainstream fiction.  But this wilful ambiguity is not just a broadening of her market; it actually reflects a crucial aspect of Sarah Canary‘s meaning.  Set in the Pacific North West in 1873, Sarah Canary tells the story of the eponymous mystery woman who appears at a Chinese logging camp.  Through a series of occasionally too overtly staged set pieces Sarah Canary encounters, or more pertinently is encountered by, a motley collection of borderline outsiders who each see her, and attempt to exploit her, in their own ways.  The passive tense I used above is important I think because she never speaks and is drawn into events by those she meets.  As John Clute notes, Sarah Canary traces “the ways in which it might be possible to understand, and to misconstrue” but does it while “allowing no SF premise to shoulder into the knowledge of the text.”

It makes great aesthetic sense to me, therefore, that a novel about people imposing identity on the Other is created in such a way that readers impose genre upon it.  Sarah Canary is alien, strange and a tabula rasa to those who meet her, but is she an Alien?  Decide for yourself.

There are other Karen Joy Fowler stories that also approach genre SF tangentially at best, like Sarah Canary concealing their nature beneath delicate filigree realism.  “We discern symmetries, repetitions, and think we are seeing the pattern of our lives.  But the pattern is in the seeing, not in the dream.” (Sarah Canary)  Her stories are “part map, part picture” (Duplicity)  Her latest novel, the deeply moving and provocative We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and most shops are shelving it away from SF.

Most infamously Fowler’s controversial Nebula Award winning story “What I Didn’t See” has no SF elements in its body.  It is the story, told in hindsight, of an African expedition to view and hunt gorillas and a mysterious disappearance of one of the women in the party.  Fowler’s narrator challenges her own narrative at several points, questioning her memory and assuring us that her attitudes have changed over time.  Beneath that there is also an engagement with SF tropes, and we are informed of this by the titular echo of James Tiptree Jr‘s “The Women Men Don’t See” and our knowledge outwith the story of Tiptree’s anthropologist mother, Mary Hastings Bradley.  In the way the expedition leader views the women of his party I almost see Fowler putting into fiction parts of Joanna RussHow To Suppress Women’s Writing.  On all these levels it is a powerful, thoughtful, evocative and beautiful story, as so many of Fowler’s are.

That looking back in hindsight also typifies a lot of Fowler’s oeuvre.  Her novels after Sarah Canary, The Sweetheart Season (about WWII Women’s baseball) and Sister Noon (again in the 19th century) are historical set novels.  The Jane Austen Book Club may have a contemporary setting but obviously reflects back on Austen and the Regency era.  This use of studying romantic fiction as plot device accompanied by commentary is something Fowler also did in one of her most Science Fictional stories “The View from Venus.”  If these stories make it clear Fowler is invoking a dialogue between now and the past of these books, and between us and the books, that adds weight to the case for “What I Didn’t See” engaging with SF and Tiptree.

These historical stories are not nostalgic however, though moments of wistfulness for futures missed are inevitable if not predominant.  In ‘Lieserl’ Albert Einstein receives a series of letters from his wife Mileva about their daughter Lieserl who in real-life seems to vanish from the records.  Fowler plays with relativity here as scientific theory, metaphor and perhaps, pun, whilst her story explicitly records the neglect of the scientist for his wife and daughter.

They are the characters on the edge of existing narratives, frequently women, occasionally people of colour, that Fowler gives voice to.  Gulliver’s wife, left behind whilst he travels (The Travails); Tonto who defends the public hero at the same times as complaining about him, (The Faithful Companion At 40); the young Elizabeth I who “should have been a boy” (The Elizabeth Complex)

Karen Joy Fowler is a writer SF needs, a writer who probes at the genre and re-imagines its futures.  Her work engages with the world, with the genre and with the reader but, as noted, ambiguously and frequently asymptotically.  Relativity informs the plot of ‘Lieserl’ and Sarah Canary reflects perceptions of women in perceptions of a novel.  ‘Game Night At the Fox & Goose’ has clever dialogue where the bar patrons’ commentary on the football game can read as discussion of the pregnant protagonist’s predicament.  (As an aside this story has a lot of overlap, albeit from different perspective, with James Patrick Kelly’s “Dancing With Chairs” which was published the same month, Fowler in Interzone, Kelly in Asimov’s.)

So, Karen Joy Fowler, witty, ambiguous, engaging, informed; great prose, and unique approaches to old stories.  The old maps bore the legend “Here be Dragons”; well, there may or may not be dragons in Karen Joy Fowler‘s stories, but if you’d like a guide to take you off the edge of the map but who might leave you there to find a way back to what might not be quite where you departed from anyway, well Fowler is the one I choose.

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Picking Up Speed

17 November 2014

You might have noted – with some frustration – that the SF Gateway website has been slowing down of late; we certainly have. And if it’s frustrating for us, we can only imagine how annoying it is for you.

But fear not! Help is at hand!  Our excellent coding elves have been delving deep into the workings of the site and have managed to speed things up dramatically. The site is still not moving as fast as we’d like (because, let’s face it: were SF fans – anything less than FTL is slow for us) but this is a good start and more work is scheduled for the future. We know there are are Search and Forum issues, but we will soon have our best people (what? Elves are people too!) working on it.

Thanks for bearing with us through these hiccoughs (techoughs?). We hope to be providing regular good news over the coming months.

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Posted in Housekeeping
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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Body Snatchers

14 November 2014

The classic novel of paranoia immortalised on film as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Originally published in 1955 Jack Finney’s sinister SF tale has outgrown the initial debate about whether it satirized Communism or the conformity of US society at the time, to become a classic of paranoia; an examination of our fear of ‘the other’.

Most people know the story from seeing The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the classic 1978 remake (one of the few Hollwood remakes said to better than the original, made in 1956) starring Donald Sutherland.

Here’s your chance to read the original source; a story that has resonated with readers and viewers for more than 50 years.




The Body Snatchers is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.  You can find more of Jack Finney’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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Happy Birthday, Stephen Baxter!

13 November 2014

We are delighted to be wishing a very Happy Birthday to Gollancz’s very own Stephen Baxter, author extraordinaire, collaborator-to-the-stars, celebrity Liverpool supporter and one of the secret cabal of illuminati known only as The SF Gateway Advisory Board.

Steve is the author of (among many other works) the Xeelee and Time’s Tapestry sequences, the NASA Trilogy, the Disaster Diptych, the Time Odyssey trilogy with Sir Arthur C. Clarke and the Long Earth series with Sir Terry Pratchett. His latest work, Ultima, is published in hardback (and eBook) on 27th November, and is a follow-up to the acclaimed Proxima (paperback | eBook).

Six Hugo nominations, seven Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlistings, four BSFA Award wins (from eight nominations), two Philip K. Dick Awards and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award point to a writer at the very top of his game. But what those awards and nominations don’t tell you is that Stephen Baxter is one of the nicest men you could ever ask to meet.

From all your friends at Gollancz and the SF Gateway: Happy Birthday, Steve!

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Posted in Authors, Commentary
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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: The Land that Time Forgot

12 November 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to the fantastic worlds of one of the greatest adventure writers of all time, Edgar Rice Burroughs.


The son of a Civil War veteran, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a prolific writer for the early pulp magazines. Famous the world over as the creator of Tarzan – and in SF circles for his Martian tales featuring John Carter – Burroughs turned his talents to a bewildering array of settings – the African jungle, Mars, Venus, the Wild West . . . and the Land that Time Forgot.

This omnibus collects his tales of that lost world: The Land that Time ForgotThe People that Time Forgot and Out of Time’s Abyss.


You can find more of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 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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Remembrance Day

11 November 2014

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915

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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: November 2014

10 November 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: Re-reading S. Fowler Wright

The novel of the remote future has been my special favorite among science fiction genres since I first discovered H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine when I was ten or eleven years old, just after the Second World War. Wells’ vision of the vast vistas of time to come led me to seek out other books of the same type – Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, and, when I was about fourteen, S. Fowler Wright’s The World Below. They all made profound impressions on me, the Wright not the least. And so after many years I have given The World Below a second look. It proved to be both more and less than the book I remembered.

 

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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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: Ombria in Shadow

7 November 2014

Our latest Fantasy Masterwork of the Week won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 2002 – the second win for its author, the highly-acclaimed Patricia A. McKillip: Ombria in Shadow.

The Prince of Ombria is dying, and already his sinister great-aunt is plotting to seize power. The Black Pearl is feared throughout the land, and the city folk know her reign will be a terrible one. Only the prince’s son can stop her from seizing the throne but he’s just a boy – barely worth the trouble of doing away with.

Ombria, it seems, is doomed. And yet, beneath the streets, in a buried world of shadows and ghosts, a mysterious sorceress is weaving new spells, watched over by a girl sculpted entirely from wax . . .

 

‘A swift, dark dream of a book . . . masterfully turning old fairy tales on their heads’ ~ Locus

‘There are no better writers than Patricia A. McKillip’ ~ Stephen R. Donaldson

 

Ombria in Shadow is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. More of Patricia A. McKillip’s work will soon be available via her Author page on the SF Gateway website, and you can read about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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