Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Apparently it’s Hallowe’en . . .

31 October 2014

Those of you who have been reading the Gateway blog for a while might think there’s something familiar about this post. And you’d be right. What’s familiar is actually every single word that follows this first paragraph. Reason being, my attitude to Hallowe’en has not altered one whit since I wrote this last year – and if it ain’t broke, I see no reason to fix it!

So, it’s Hallowe’en again. To kids around the world, an opportunity to dress up in outlandish costumes and run round their neighbourhoods collecting treats. To supermarkets, that small window of opportunity between back-to-school and Christmas to tempt shoppers to part with more of their hard-earned cash for no real, valid reason. To some, a celebration of all that is ghostly and atmospheric about autumn. To others, an artificial ‘holiday’ imported from across the waves, with no real cultural cachet. To yet others, a transparent attempt by the established Christian church to simultaneously annex and disempower the Celtic feast of Samhain.

I must confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Hallowe’en, which probably stems from never having been a big fan of Horror as a genre (or subgenre, if you like). Notwithstanding an abiding respect and admiration for the dark fantasy of Ray Bradbury and the haunting, nostalgic charm of his October country, the whole horror thing has never really appealed. Sure, there are honourable exceptions – mainly for comics like DC Vertigo’s Hellblazer (as distinct from the New 52′s Constantine!) and Alan Moore‘s Swamp Thing – but by-and-large, much as I enjoy watching my kids have fun dressing up as witches and vampires and the like, I’m really pretty indifferent to Hallowe’en.

Of course, not everyone agrees . . .

 

See you on Samhain!

 

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A (New Yorker) Canticle for Leibowitz

30 October 2014

The excellent Charlie Panayiotou, film, manga and anime maven and Gollancz editor wrangler extraordinaire draws our attention to an excellent appreciation of Walter M. Miller Jr’s Hugo Award-winning classic A Canticle for Leibowitz in The New Yorker . . .

One of the American airmen who participated in the bombing of Monte Cassino was a young radio operator and tail gunner from Florida named Walter M. Miller, Jr. Miller, who enlisted in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, flew on more than fifty combat missions in B-25 Mitchells above the Mediterranean region and the Balkans. Following the war, he got married, studied engineering at the University of Texas, and converted to Catholicism. In the fifties, he began publishing stories and novellas in Amazing Stories, Galaxy, Astounding Science Fiction, and other magazines.

You can read the full article at The New Yorker‘s website.


Gollancz recently published a new SF Masterworks hardback edition of A Canticle for Leibowitz, with a customarily-excellent introduction by Ken MacLeod. You can read about Walter M. Miller Jr in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and read Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s insightful SFX Book Club article on A Canticle for Leibowitz on this very site.


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SF Gateway & Gollancz: the World Fantasy Award Winners

29 October 2014

So far this year, we’ve looked at how Gollancz and SF Gateway have fared in the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, John W. Campbell Memorial and British Fantasy Awards. Now, as we move towards the year’s end, it’s time to assess the World Fantasy Awards.

First presented in 1975, there have been – thanks to a number of ties – forty-four World Fantasy Awards for best novel, thus far; the 2014 award will bring the total to forty-five. Or forty-six. Who knows?

So, how did we go? At the risk of being accused of both arrogance and repetition, we are compelled to answer: very well, as you might expect!  Twenty of the forty-four winners to date are published by Gollancz and/or SF Gateway. A certain Vulcan of our mutual acquaintance might render that as a percentage of 45.45 recurring (Captain), but for our purposes we’re content to call it ‘almost half’. See for yourself:

1975   The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip
1978   Our Lady of Darkness, Fritz Leiber
1979
   Gloriana, Michael Moorcock
1980
   Watchtower, Elizabeth A. Lynn
1981
   The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe
1982   Little, Big, John Crowley
1984
   The Dragon Waiting, John M. Ford
1985   (tie) Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock
1986
   Song of Kali, Dan Simmons
1988   Replay, Ken Grimwood
1990
   Lyonesse: Madouc, Jack Vance
1991
   (tie) Thomas the Rhymer, Ellen Kushner
1991   (tie) Only Begotten Daughter, James Morrow
1993   Last Call, Tim Powers
1995   Towing Jehovah, James Morrow
1996
   The Prestige, Christopher Priest
1997
   Godmother Night, Rachel Pollack
2002
   The Other Wind, Ursula K. Le Guin
2003
   (tie) Ombria in Shadow, Patricia A. McKillip
2003
   (tie) The Facts of Life, Graham Joyce

Alright, there’s a slight cheat in there. Our new editions of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Little, Big are still a few months away. And we don’t actually publish Thomas the Rhymer, yet – but as we recently concluded an agreement to add it to our Fantasy Masterworks series next year, we’re claiming it. Anyone who has a problem with that can take it up with our solicitor. You might have heard of him – big guy, name of Fafhrd. Man of few words but a very effective litigator. So good luck with that . . .

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Fantasy Masterworks: the List So Far . . .

28 October 2014

As we approach the 2014 World Fantasy Convention, held this year in Washington D.C., we thought it might be a good time to bring you all up-to-date with the re-launched Fantasy Masterworks series.

Et voila!

October 2013: Aegypt by John Crowley [paperback | eBook]
October 2013: The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard [paperback | eBook]
October 2013: Last Call by Tim Powers [paperback | eBook]
November 2013: The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy [paperback | eBook]
December 2013: The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson [paperback | eBook]
March 2014: Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett [paperback | eBook]
June 2014: Votan and Other Novels by John James [paperback | eBooks: Votan; Not For All the Gold in Ireland; Men Went to Cattraeth]
August 2014: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson [paperback | eBook]
September 2014: Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. Mckillip [paperback | eBook]
October 2014: Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper [paperback | eBook]

And coming up on 27th November 2014: the magnificent Mythago Wood  by Robert Holdstock [paperback | eBook] – with a new introduciton by Neil Gaiman.

And that’s it for 2014. We’ve got more coming up next year, including some new editions (and introductions) for some old favourites as well as brand new acquisitions that didn’t appear in the Fantasy Masterworks’ previous livery. Once the schedule is fulling nailed down, we’ll publish 2015′s schedule on the blog.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Stand on Zanzibar

27 October 2014

I’ve written before about the wonderful authors I’ve been introduced to thanks to their appearances on panels at conventions, and the terrific books I’ve discovered the same way. One such book is our current SF Masterwork of the Week. I don’t remember the convention, to be honest – it was probably Conspiracy in 1987 – I just recall candidates for the title of Best SF Book Ever Written being discussed and, among the (to me at the time) usual candidates – the Dunes, the Left Hands of Darkness, the Forever Wars – was an unfamiliar (to me at the time) interloper. What was this Stand on Zanzibar of which they spoke?

Well, it was this . . .


There are seven billion-plus humans crowding the surface of 21st-century Earth. It is an age of intelligent computers, mass-market psychedelic drugs, politics conducted by assassination, scientists who burn incense to appease volcanoes . . . all the hysteria of a dangerously overcrowded world, portrayed in a dazzlingly inventive style.

Moving, sensory, impressionistic, as jagged as the times it portrays, this book is a real mind stretcher – and yet beautifully orchestrated to give a vivid picture of the whole.

Employing an audacious range of literary techniques, John Brunner has created a future world as real as this morning’s newspaper . . .



Stand on Zanzibar is available in a new SF Masterworks paperback edition, with a wonderfully insightful introduction by Ken MacLeod, and the SF Gateway eBook has been updated to include the new cover and introduction. You can find more of John Brunner’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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New Book of the Week: Saturn Patrol

23 October 2014

Back in the ’50s, when novels could be 40,000 words long and the pulps ruled the world, publishing was a very different beast than it is now.  Dozens of short, purpose-written books were published out each month, in popular genres such as Romance, Crime, War Stories, Westerns and, of course, Science Fiction. The writers for these pulps would churn out stories at prodigious rates, to be published under house names for a set fee, with the copyright owned by the publisher. Many a fine SF writer got their start writing these work-for-hire books but, in return for the regular pay cheque, they were subject to the whims of their employers.

One of these whims involved approaching the production process in a slightly idiosyncratic manner – take, for instance, E. C. Tubb’s first novel, Saturn Patrol. This is the story the way we heard it:

Tubb had written a space adventure to be published under the Curtis Warren house name King Lang. The publisher wanted to call it ‘Saturn Patrol’, but that was news to Tubb. He pointed out that the story didn’t take place anywhere near Saturn – the ringed planet didn’t even feature.

‘That’s too bad, because I’ve already had the cover printed. Look: Saturn Patrol.’

So Tubb did the only thing he could think of that didn’t involve writing a whole new story (and losing both time and money as a consequence). He went back to his story and added a line to the second paragraph:

The ship stood like a dirty finger, poised on the landing field at the edge of town. Once sleek sides were marked and scarred, stained with tarnish and mottled with poorly applied patches. One fin was twisted, and the plastic of ports and turrets clouded with flight strain and neglect. Yet, despite the general air of decay, something of the original beauty still showed. The clean, utilitarian lines of a perfect machine in the long curves, the subtle swellings of the venturis could still be seen.
     Gregg Harmond, who had once served on many a fine spaceship in the now defunct Saturn Patrol, could see it. He thought now: “It’s the loveliest thing ever made.”

Mission accomplished.

 

Saturn Patrol is our New Book of the Week. You can find more of E. C. Tubb’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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On This Day: Doris Lessing

22 October 2014

On this day in 1919, Doris May Taylor Lessing was born in Kermanshah, in what is now Iran, but was then Persia. She spent her early life in Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia), moving to the UK in 1949, where she almost immediately set about building her astonishing body of work.

A serial collector of literary awards, beginning with the 1954 Somerset Maugham Award and culminating, of course, with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, Doris Lessing was a literary giant. She is all the more remarkable for having built such a career and repuation while unashamedly writing science fiction along side her mimetic works. Dare we suggest that if more ‘literary’ writers had the same good grace to acknowledge the toolkit from which they liberally borrowed ideas, the world would be – if only ever so slightly – a fairer place.

Happy Birthday, Doris Lessing, we salute you!

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Richard Cowper

21 October 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to one of the unique voices of British science fiction, John Middleton Murry, Jr, who wrote his best work under the pen name Richard Cowper.


The son of the famous critic John Middleton Murry, Cowper announced himself to the science fiction world in 1967 with Breakthrough, which found favour for a subtlety and richness of characterisation not seen in most contemporary SF. The idea of a transformed future England became his signature leitmotif and it is this theme that informs the Corlay tales contained in this omnibus. This is the complete Corlay sequence, featuring introductory novella ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ and novels The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship and A Tapestry of Time.


You can find more of Richard Cowper’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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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Penultimate Truth

20 October 2014

A masterly tale of political deception from the most significant writer of SF in the 20th century.

World War III is raging – or so the millions of people crammed in their underground tanks believe. For fifteen years, subterranean humanity has been fed on daily broadcasts of a never-ending nuclear destruction, sustained by a belief in the all powerful Protector.

Now someone has gone to the surface and found no destruction, no war. The authorities have been telling a massive lie. Now the search begins to find out why.


The Penultimate Truth is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Philip K. Dick’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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SF Masterwork of the Week: Pavane

17 October 2014

Our SF Masterwork of the week is acknowledged as one of the earliest and still one of the finest alternate histories ever written. And who better to take us on a guided tour of this very different Britain than a writer who knows a thing or two himself about counterfactuals – the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author of The Separation (among many, many fine works), Christopher Priest . . .


Although it was written more than 40 years ago, Keith Roberts’s novel Pavane remains one of the finest science fantasy novels of all time. More than that, it’s a novel capable of being judged by the highest standards, in-genre or outside. You can say of many novels that they are well written, well told, unusual in subject matter, deeply serious, highly entertaining, a feat of sustained imagination, original, moving, gripping, and so on – it is vanishingly rare to find all such qualities in one place.

Pavane first appeared in 1966 as a series of five long short stories in Impulse magazine. They produced a flood of letters from its readers, who wanted to know more about not only the author (who was then almost unknown) but also about the Dorset landscape and people described in the stories. Odd and intriguing clues were scattered about: it was obviously fiction, but what were the facts behind the stories? A modern reader feels the same intrigue.

A book version came along about two years after the stories appeared. More recent editions have included a sixth story, “The White Boat”, which Roberts wrote a little later.

The novel opens with a brief historical note: “On a warm July evening of the year 1588, in the royal palace of Greenwich, London, a woman lay dying.” The woman is Queen Elizabeth I, and her assassination opens the way to a successful invasion by the Spanish, and Britain falling under the rule of the Pope.

Thus the scene is set for an alternative history scenario. By 1968, when the novel proper begins, England is a feudal place of wild heaths and thriving forests, towns with Latinate names, medieval castles, rural communities and craft industries. Taxes are raised as tributes and tithes. The repressive rule of the church in Rome means that most modern technology doesn’t exist, or knowledge of it has been suppressed because it’s deemed heretical. There are no telephones, radio, TV, aircraft – a handful of cars owned by the wealthy chug along on under-powered two-stroke engines, using sails if there’s a following wind. Goods are transported in huge road-trains hauled by steam traction engines. There’s no broadband – messages are sent by clacking vanes on semaphore towers.

The first story, “The Lady Margaret”, sets the tone of the book: it’s a detailed, authentic-seeming description of a young haulier taking his road-train across Dorset on a delivery trip. Almost nothing happens: he sets out from Durnovaria (Dorchester) late on a cold winter’s afternoon, he delivers goods to a depot in Poole, he calls in to see a girlfriend in Swanage on the way home. He picks up a new load. While crossing the heaths he suffers a violent attack by a gang of routiers – during this he contributes to the death of his best friend.

By the time you’ve finished the opening story, Roberts’s simple but magnificent prose has built up a compelling picture of what it feels like to live and work in this society. The story is full of allusions and references, some of them mysterious (at first), but most of them deftly sketching in the extraordinarily rich details of the world. You learn what it’s like to fire up a traction engine; you feel the wintry cold of the footplate, the dark mysteries of the heaths, the sensual smells and sights of the towns. You believe in the characters and start to care about them.

Five more episodes remain, and the world of Pavane continues to unfold like the stately dance its name implies. You realise that the story of this humdrum but beautiful traction engine is where the society itself starts to change: heresies are about to break out; the repression from Rome will self-destruct. Marvellous scenes and revelations are to come, and it’s not for me to spoil them for you here.

The novel seems to be at first, and of course it is, an alternative history. But later it changes, becomes something more. The end is oblique: we follow the events clearly enough, but the consequences of those events indicate more of a parallel history, a statement about our own modern world.

Pavane is the sort of novel that readers are always instinctively searching for, and which many writers would give the good part of an arm to be able to write. Keith Roberts never wrote a better novel than this, but then few other writers have come close to it either.


Pavane is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Keith Roberts’ work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


This piece was written by Christopher Priest 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.

Christopher Priest‘s latest novel is the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA and John W. Campbell Memorial Award-shortlisted, The Adjacent, which is available in paperback and as an eBook. His website is www.christopher-priest.co.uk. You can find his work via the Orion website and you can read more about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.



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