Thoughts from the SF Gateway

From the Archives: In Praise of . . . The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

2 September 2014

SF Gateway’s respect and admiration for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction should be obvious – we did have the site built for them, after all – but we really couldn’t let our series of ‘In Praise of …’ posts go on any longer without featuring this most authoritative of all SF resources.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is an essential reference for us in compiling bibliographies, writing biographies, researching blog posts, gathering cover quotes, generating ideas for blog posts – and now the evil geniuses at the SFE have developed a classic SF cover gallery. Largely comprised of images scanned from the libraries of John Clute, Judith Clute and Roger Robinson, and coded by the SFE’s master of technology, David Langford, it launched on 15th May with over 1,800 covers and is now up to a staggering 5,142! Truly, it is a mix of nostalgia and wonder and a treasure trove of classic SF imagery.

You can read some explanatory notes here and visit the gallery itself here. And if you can do so without losing yourself for hours in the nostalgic glow of sense of wonder, you’re a better sentient being than we are.

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On This Day: Edgar Rice Burroughs

1 September 2014

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on this day in 1875, and although almost a century-and-a-half half passed since that day, if you were asked to tick off famous fictional characters on your fingers, chances are that before you made it to your second hand you’d name his signature character.

There’s a very good argument to be made for Tarzan of the Apes being the single most well-known character in all in 20th century fiction. And Edgar Rice Burroughs would be assured of his place in literary history just for that one creation – a true multimedia star of novels, film, radio, comics, television and games – but the one-time pencil sharpener salesman was no one-hit wonder.

Fans of classic science fiction (and we’d like to think we have one or two amongst our readers . . .) will know Burroughs for the creation of the ‘lost world‘ books beginning with The Land that Time Forgot, the hollow-Earth locale of Pellucidar, the Carson Napier of Venus series and, of course, the Barsoom books, featuring John Carter: Confederate captain and future Warlord of Mars.

These are pulp adventures of the first order – breathless, primary-coloured, wide-screen romps of the sort that once formed the bedrock of the entire genre. Larger-than-life heroes, impossibly beautiful heroines and melodramatically hateable villains chase each other across exotic landscapes in pursuit of goals that can only be painted in black and white terms. Like that other great pulp writer on the early 20th century, Robert E. Howard, Burroughs knew that the story was all – there’s no place for subtle shades of grey, here, as villains pursue vengeance and heroes salvation, and the reader clings on for dear life.

 

You can find Edgar Rice Burroughs’ titles via his author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about him at his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Posted in Authors, Commentary
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From the Archives: In Praise of . . . Interzone

29 August 2014

As we come to the end of a summer that’s seen London busy with the second Nine Worlds Geekfest, hosting the largest World Science Fiction Convention in history and put on the inaugural (and very successful!) Gollancz Festival, the gnomes who run the SF Gateway have need of a rest. But rather than leave you with only the whole rest of the internets to read, we thought we’d give a second airing to some earlier blog posts you might have missed first time ’round.

First up: In Praise of Interzone . . .

The history of classic science fiction (in which SF Gateway has some small interest …) is, in many ways, the history of the pulp magazines. From the beginning of the modern field, in which they were the only realistic avenue for publication, through the Golden Age as exemplified by John W. Campbell‘s influential run on Astounding Science Fiction, through to even the very recent past, when novels routinely appeared first in serialised form in Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to name but a few.

With the likes of Astounding, Startling Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction, F&SF, and later Asimov’s, all active and successful in the US, it’s easy to forget that the UK has its own proud tradition of SF magazines. And it would be wrong to do so for any number of reasons: primarily the ground-breaking, genre-defying run of New Worlds under Michael Moorcock‘s legendary editorship, and, of course, the longest-lived of the British SF magazines, Interzone, which has long been a source of short fiction to rival the best of any of the American magazines.

It is widely accepted that Interzone has launched the careers of a staggering number of now-established British SF greats. From Stephen Baxter, Nicola Griffith and Peter F. Hamilton, through Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald and Kim Newman, to Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross and Liz Williams, the ‘Interzone generation’ has dominated British SF for a generation. It’s arguable that only Campbell’s Astounding can lay claim to such a pedigree.

It would be invidious to attempt to draw out individual works for praise, but we can’t resist just one mention: in an issue of Interzone from a dozen years ago, SF Gateway’s own Ian Watson published a story called ‘Hijack Holiday‘; in it, a group of passengers on a flight to Paris think the terrorist attack mid-flight is a LARP-style piece of theatre for their entertainment, only to be proved – terminally – wrong, when the terrorists force the plane to crash into the Eiffel Tower. The cover date of that issue? April 2001. We take pains to insist that SF shouldn’t be judged as a predictive medium, but you wonder whether sometimes – sometimes – our writers are allowed a brief glimpse into the future . . .

So, on this, the occasion of founder David Pringle‘s 63rd birthday, SF Gateway salutes Interzone. May the next thirty years be as entertaining and influential as the last.

 

You can read more about Interzone, David Pringle and, indeed, all things SF at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Kate Wilhelm

28 August 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 work of Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author, Kate Wilhelm one of the field’s most influential authors

 

trade paperback | eBook

 

Kate Wilhelm has a reputation as one of the 20th century’s finest SF writers. Winner of the Hugo Award for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, she has produced an impressive body of work in the fields of SF and crime, and – along with her late husband, Damon Knight – has had a profound influence beyond her writing, through the Milford and Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshops. This omnibus contains novels The Clewiston Test and Welcome, Chaos and story collection The Infinity Box.

 

You can find more of Kate Wilhelm’s work via her Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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New Book of the Week: Godmother Night

27 August 2014

Our current New Book of the Week won the 1997 World Fantasy Award for best novel: Rachel Pollack‘s Godmother Night.

Almost a set of short stories, this novel breaks into discrete episodes, centered on identity, love, and death. Jaqe has no identity until she meets Laurie, introduced and named by Mother Night; in that moment, she knows herself, and that she loves Laurie. But once Mother Night has become part of their lives, Laurie and Jaqe and their daughter Kate cannot live as other people do. Knowing Death, inevitably each of them seeks to use the knowledge, to bargain with Death, and to change the terms in the balance of life and death in the world.Pollack’s characters, major and supporting, living, dead, and divine, are memorably human. As she transplants myths and folklore into a modern setting, she gives new life to old tales and a deeper meaning to a seemingly simple world.

 

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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Book of Skulls

26 August 2014

Continuing our Author of the Month-ish celebration of all things Robert Silverberg – we hope you heard him speak at LonCon, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention – our current SF Masterwork of the Week is the novel that, along with our earlier pick, Dying Inside, almost certainly split the vote for best novel at the 1973 Hugo Awards, leaving the author with the two best books on the ballot with nothing: The Book of Skulls.

Four students discover a manuscript, The Book of Skulls, which reveals the existence of a sect, now living in the Arizona desert, whose members can offer immortality to those who can complete its initiation rite. To their surprise, they discover that the sect exists, and is willing to accept them as acolytes.

But for each group of four who enter the rite, two must die in order for the others to succeed.

Shortlisted  for the Hugo Award for best novel.

Shortlisted for the Nebula Award for best novel.

 

The Book of Skulls is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook
 
 
You can find more of Robert Silverberg’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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The Best T-Shirt at Worldcon?

25 August 2014

As is ever the case at SF conventions, the quality of T-shirts on sale was high at last weekend’s London Worldcon – I came away with the excellent ‘SCIENCE: I’m one accident away from being a super villain’. But when all is said and done, I think this one was . . . if not the best, certainly the most apposite for a lazy bank holiday Monday:

 

 

So, if you’ll excuse me . . .

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Posted in Conventions, Whimsy
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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Philip Jose Farmer

22 August 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal sample introduction to the many worlds of Philip José Farmer, one of modern science fiction’s most original voices.

Philip José Farmer was given the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and named an SFWA Grand Master in the same year – a fitting recognition of his refusal to be pigeon-holed. Whether pushing the boundaries of sexual and religious themes or re-imagining pulp heroes for the modern age, Farmer’s restless imagination knew no bounds.

This omnibus contains The Maker of Universes, the first of the World of Tiers series; the Hugo Award-winning To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which opens the acclaimed Riverworld sequence; and the stand-alone space opera, The Unreasoning Mask.

 

You can find more of Philip José Farmer’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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Classic Sci-Fi Cinema

21 August 2014

We’ve just heard from the British Film Institute, which is running an autumn festival of films they thought would be of particular interest to SF Gateway readers.

SCI-FI: Days of Fear and Wonder,  running across the autumn, in cinemas and online on BFI Player, presented in partnership across the UK with the BFI’s Film Audience Network, features over one hundred film and television titles.

The programmer kicks off with three classics in three days at the end of next week:

On Thursday 28 August the earth will be unhinged from its axis with the screening of London-set classic, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Friday will see us attempt inter-galactic contact with The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starring David Bowie as a stranded alien. The weekend will conclude with a cult classic as we venture to planet Mongo on Saturday 30 August with Flash Gordon (1980).

You can find more details on the BFI‘s press release (PDF) and on their website.

 

Klaatu barada nikto!

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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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