Thoughts from the SF Gateway

On This Day: Poul Anderson Died

31 July 2015

On this day in the very science fictional year of 2001, Poul William Anderson died.

A wonderful author, Anderson was equally at home with SF and Fantasy. Although much of his work falls unambiguously into the science fiction category – including major works, the Flandry and Psychotechnic League series – he received a World Fantasy Award nomination for A Midsummer Tempest and won the British Fantasy Award, for Hrolf Kraki’s Saga.

Paradoxically, for an author so clearly skilled in constructing fantasy, his major works in the area were not recognised with wins or nominations by the major Fantasy Awards. SF-dressed-as-Fantasy The High Crusade was shortlisted for the 1961 Hugo Award, but the seminal Norse fantasy The Broken Sword – hailed by no less a critic than Michael Moorcock as one of the finest fantasies ever written – has troubled neither juries nor voters. It was, however, selected for inclusion in David Pringle‘s important Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and we were delighted to re-publishit in Gollancz’s re-launched Fantasy Masterworks series.

In addition to the SF Masterworks paperback edition of Tau Zero, the aforementioned Fantasy Masterworks paperback edition of The Broken Sword and a trade paperback Poul Anderson SF Gateway Omnibus, there are currently 78 Poul Anderson eBooks published by SF Gateway. You can find them via Poul Anderson’s Author page on the Gateway website, and read more about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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On This Day: James Blish

30 July 2015

On this day forty years ago, James Blish  died. For many years, in my early days as a science fiction reader, Blish was known to me for one thing only: he was the writer of the Star Trek novelisations I went through a phase of reading. I recall them being pretty good adaptations of classic Star Trek episodes, but certainly nothing exceptional enough to make me want to look up this Blish fellow and see what else he’d done.

Imagine my surprise when I picked up a discounted paperback, attracted by some typically arresting Chris Foss artwork and the very science fictional title The Testament of Andros, and found a familiar name at the top of the cover. It seemed this James Blish character wrote proper SF as well as tie-ins. Curious, I embarked on the collection – seeing as it was emblazoned with a flash proclaiming it ‘the best science fiction stories of James Blish’, I figured it should be interesting. And it certainly was!

To be honest, I don’t really remember the first story. This shouldn’t be seen as a fault inherent in the book – just a reflection of the fact that I read it in my early teens (which are longer ago than I care to admit) and time and many other novels and stories since have overwritten those memories. By rights, I probably shouldn’t remember any of the stories, so the fact that I remember two is a testament (pardon the pun) to Blish’s skill as a writer. Both ‘Surface Tension’ and the title story have stayed with me to this day – indeed, I voted for them both in the Best 20th Century Novelette category of the recent Locus poll.

Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to explain what each is about without some degree of spoiler, and I’d rather not do that; I’ll simply say urge you to seek them out. ‘Surface Tension’ is included in The Seedling Stars, and while ‘The Testament of Andros’ is not available from SF Gateway (yet!), it should be possible to track down a second-hand copy of the paperback.

Or, of course, you could try any one of the two score James Blish titles we have on the Gateway. A Case of Conscience won the Hugo Award, you know . . .

 

You can find James Blish’s books via his author page on the SF Gateway and read more about him in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

Honesty (and the very good chance of getting caught!) compels me to confess that this is a reposting of an earlier Gateway blog article; the reason for this is twofold: firstly, it still sums up my feelings and thoughts on the author and if it ain’t broke, I shouldn’t attempt to fix it; and secondly, even the elves of Gateway get a holiday every now and again, and I’m desperately trying to populate the blog before I go on mine!

 

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On This Day: NASA was Born

29 July 2015

On this day in 1958, the creation of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration was authorised by US congress.

Eleven years later – almost to the day – they did this:


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On This Day: Cyrano De Bergerac

28 July 2015

On this day in 1655, French soldier and writer, Cyrano de Bergerac, died in Sannois, near Paris. Although arguably best-known (if he is known at all) as ‘that swordsman with the big nose’ – and, among film aficionados, as the inspiration for the Steve Martin film Roxanne – Cyrano de Bergerac is a figure of some importance to SF fans. As a writer of interplanetary fantasy, his L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon), featured what is generally regarded as the first use of a rocket in European literature.

Cyrano de Bergerac: The form of his name under which French soldier and writer Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) is best known. He fought with the Gascon Guard but retired after sustaining bad wounds. He is famous as the hero of a play by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918), Cyrano de Bergerac (performed 1897; 1898), which made legends of his swordsmanship and the size of his nose. Only parts of his major work of Proto SF – the manuscript of which was significantly titled L’autre monde ou les états et empires de la lune, emphasizing his sense that his protagonist was not travelling to a mere satellite – were published in posthumous versions, censored (to tone down their heretical elements) by Cyrano de Bergerac’s timid friend, the cleric Henri le Bret (1618-1710).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (follow the link to read the rest of the article)


N.B. This post first published 28th July, 2014 on the SF Gateway blog.

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On This Day: the Loch Ness Monster

27 July 2015

On this day in 2003, the BBC reported (presumably with a straight face) that, despite cneturies of sightings, there was no monster in Loch Ness. This followed an investigation utilising 600 separate sonar beams and satellite navigation technology to ensure that every part of the loch was covered.

Bad news for cryptozoologists, conspiracy theorists and small children everywhere.  Good news for SF writers free to let their imagination loose?



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Something in the Water: Much Bornying

24 July 2015

As we’ve noted before, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction‘s excellent On This Day function makes for fascinating reading and, occasionally throws up days with an infeasibly high level of cool people being born. And, at the risk of disagreeing with the heir of Elendil, it is, in fact, this day.

For this day, 24th July, saw the birth, in 1802, of Alexandre Dumas – he of The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo (among many others) fame.  Many are the SF writers who have taken inspiration from Dumas – not least Alfred Bester, whose The Stars My Destination is very much an SFnal take on The Count of Monte Cristo.

In 1878, Edward Plunkett, Baron Dunsany – better known to the world at large as Lord Dunsany  was born. He was, of course, the author The King of Elfland’s Daughter (again, among many more).

Seventeen years later, it was Robert Graves turn to be bornied (or ‘born’ – really, can we grow up a bit? – Ed.), in Wimbledon, London. While a poet of great note and the author of accomplished fantasy (The Golden Fleece) and historical novels (I, Claudius), and non-fiction (The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth), he is probablty best remembered for his curation and analysis of The Greek Myths.

Finally, in 1939, Barry N. Malzberg, author, editor and walking encyclopedia of 20th century SF knowledge.

Quite a birth register for a single day. Clearly, there must have been something in the water . . .

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Masterworks Spotlight: Thomas the Rhymer

23 July 2015

Our second Fantasy Masterworks Spotlight is Ellen Kushner’s World Fantasy Award-winning retelling of the classic legend, with a new introduction by Lisa Tuttle.

A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate.

As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence – and captivity – he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

Award-winning author Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.

 

Thomas the Rhymer is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook. You can read more about Ellen Kushner in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

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Masterworks Spotlight: Grendel

22 July 2015

Our first Fantasy Masterworks spotlight is a brilliantly-executed retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster, Grendel, with a new introduction by Adam Roberts.

 

When Grendel is drawn up from the caves under the mere, where he lives with his bloated, inarticulate hag of a mother, into the fresh night air, it is to lay waste Hrothgar’s meadhall and heap destruction on the humans he finds there. What else can he do? For he is not like the men who busy themselves with God and love and beauty. He sees the infuriating human rage for order and recognises the meaninglessness of his own existence.

Grendel is John Gardner‘s masterpiece; it vividly reinvents the world of Beowulf. In Grendel himself, a creature of grotesque comedy, pain and disillusioned intelligence, Gardner has created the most unforgettable monster in fantasy.

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New Title Spotlight: The Iron Grail

21 July 2015

Long before King Arthur is born to rule England, the enchanter Merlin is caught up in a tangled web of magic andmayhem, treachery, truth and heady enchantment.

 

 

Seven centuries have passed since Merlin journeyed with Jason and his Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece. Merlin is immortal, but when he uses the charm that is knit deep in his bones, his body ages – and he has no wish to be old, so rather than squander his magic, he prefers to rely on his own intelligence and cunning.

Now the mage finds himself in Alba, the Island of Mists, beset by enemies both dead and Otherworldly, seeking both the children of the warlord Urtha, who have been kidnapped and taken to Ghostland, and Jason’s younger son, Kinos (Little Dreamer), hidden by his enchantress mother, Medea in the Otherworld.

And now Merlin must use not just his own cunning and centuries of knowledge, but also the magic that permeates his body if he is to save his friends from fates truly worse than death itself . . .

 

The Iron Grail is the second book in Robert Holdstock’s acclaimed Merlin Codex:

 

 

You can find more of Robert Holdstock’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: James Doohan Died

20 July 2015

Much has been written about the trinity at the centre of Star Trek –  Kirk, Spock and McCoy – but for some of us, the heart of the show (and certainly of the USS Enterprise) has always been Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott.

And, with all due respect to Simon Pegg, who has many fans at Gateway and Gollancz, there really is only one Scotty.

‘Oh, the equipment’s guaranteed, but I have my doubts about the stuff inside.’

‘I don’t know how much more emergency power we can take before we start to break up.’

‘I was driving starships, while your great-grandfather was still in diapers!’

‘The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank.’

‘I’m givin’ it all she’s got, Captain! If I push it any farther, the whole thing’ll blow!’

 

and, of course:

‘I cannae change the law of physics!’

 

James Doohan (3 March 1920 –  20 July 2005)

 

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