Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: December 2016

9 December 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: ‘Dead as a Dodo’

Dead as a dodo! It’s a proverbial phrase that everybody knows. It means defunct, deceased, vanished, demised . . . extinct. But is the dodo destined to stay forever dead? Are there plans afoot to bring it back from extinction in all its ungainly splendor? Most of us have our first encounter with the dodo when reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not long after Alice falls down the rabbit hole, briefly turns into a giantess, and weeps herself into a deep pool of tears, she finds herself swimming about with a little group of bedraggled creatures who have also fallen into the pool – a Mouse, a Duck, an Eaglet, a Lory (the capital letters are Lewis Carroll’s) and, yes, a Dodo. I had to go to the dictionary just now to find out what a lory is – a parrot-like Asian bird with brilliant plumage – but I have known since childhood about the dodo, because Sir John Tenniel, who did the classic illustrations for the Alice books, shows us one in an unforgettable drawing for Chapter Three: a huge, ungainly, splay-toed bird, round as a sack, with a bulging chest, short, stubby legs, and an immense head that had a black bill ending in a great snubbed hook.

 

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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On This Day: Georges Méliès

8 December 2016

On this day, 155 years ago, Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès was born in Paris, and future generations of SF fans were made happy. He was an illusionist and film director, and is renowned as a pioneer of the early days of cinema – particularly in the use of special effects such as time-lapse photography and multuiple exposure.

His films A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904) are considered among the most important of film’s early forays into science fiction and left us with one of 20th century cinemas enduring images:

He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2015.

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Gateway Essentials: Gene Wolfe

7 December 2016

‘Genius’ is an overused word in modern cultural life, but occasionally it is bestowed reasonably and accurately, with little or no dissent. One such case is Gene Wolfe, described by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as quite possibly the SF field’s most important author.

Winner of two Nebulas, four World Fantasy Awards, a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, a BFS, a BSFA and six Locus Awards – not to mention the SFWA Grand Master and World Fantasy Life Achievement Awards –Gene Wolfe is one the giants of the genre.  We’ve sung his praises many times on the Gateway blog – here, here and here, to name but a few instances – and you can also see what no less a publication than The New Yorker thinks.

So: there’s no question but that you should read Gene Wolfe; the only question is where to start.  We have three books in the SF Masterworks range that we think make excellent introductions to Wolfe’s work:

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that there are no eBook editions of Shadow and Claw or Sword and Citadel. That’s because we’ve made them available individually, under their original, wonderfully evocative titles: The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch.

Needless to say, we recommend them all highly.

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On This Day: Walter B. Gibson Died

6 December 2016

Walter B. Gibson may not be terribly well known, today, but for almost twenty years around the middle of last century, he was one of the most popular authors in the world. Writing under a bewildering aray of house names – John Abbington, Andy Adams, Ishi Black, Douglas Brown, C B Crowe, Felix Fairfax, Wilber Gaston, Maborushi Kineji, Gautier LeBrun, Rufus Perry, and P L Raymond just to name a few – Gibson was a prolific contributor the the hugely popular pulp magazines of the ’30s and ’40s. He remains best known, though, as Maxwell Grant.

Still doesn’t ring a bell?  Try this . . .

How about now?

As noted in the indispensable Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

Gibson wrote almost 300 novels as Grant, 282 of them for the celebrated pulp magazine The Shadow (325 issues 1931-1949), whose hero The Shadow – originating in a 1930 radio series – is a mysterious vigilante who often walks by night, and whose powers – his Invisibility is not in the end created out of his magician’s bag of tricks but is clearly an sf/supernatural power, as are his feats of Hypnosis – gradually became understandable as fantastic. The famous catchphrase which begins each episode in the Radio serial – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows”, first pronounced basso profundo by Orson Welles on 26 September 1937 – clearly conveys more than the overview of a secular crime fighter.

Podcasts of Orson Welles’ The Shadow radio plays are freely available at sites such as Old Radio World.

Interestingly, for the pulp historians among you, the house name of Maxwell Grant was also adopted by one Lester Dent, who used it to write a single story, The Golden Vulture, in 1938.  Dent, of course, is best known under the house name Kenneth Robeson, in which guise he wrote almost 140 issues of one of the other great pulps of the time, Doc Savage.

For those interested in the pulp era in general but in Maxwell Grant and Lester Dent particularly, you could do a lot worse than read Paul Malmont‘s wonderful 2007 novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Highly recommended.

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Masterworks Spotlight: Sword and Citadel

5 December 2016

A couple of weeks ago, we were singing the praises of Shadow and Claw, the first half of Gene Wolfe‘s masterpiece The Book of the New Sun. Shadow and Claw contains BSFA and World Fantasy Award-winner The Shadow of the Torturer and Nebula Award-winner The Claw of the Conciliator.

Now, we’re delighted to be presenting the second half Wolfe’s acclaimed quartet, Sword and Citadel: The Book of the New Sun Volume 2, comprising the British Fantasy Award-winning The Sword of the Lictor and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winning The Citadel of the Autarch.

We don’t really have anything to add to the post on Shadow and Claw, which was, after all, less than two weeks ago, excpet to ask, with all due respect and affection, if you haven’t read this masterpiece . . .

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!!!

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Gateway Essentials: John Crowley

1 December 2016

John Crowley was born in 1942 and has worked in documentary films and TV since 1966. The Deep, his first SF novel, was published in 1975 and was followed by Beasts, Engine Summer and Great Work of Time. In his later work, Little, Big, Aegypt and Love and Sleep, he has moved into writing fantasy to great critical acclaim.

He won the World Fantasy Award in 1982 for Little, Big, in 1990 for novella ‘Great Worl of Time’ and in 2006 was given the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

There are some people – and I’m one of them – for whom life consists only of passing time between novels by John Crowley

Michael Chabon

Heady praise. So where does one start? As ever, we think the Masterworks provides the perfect starting point – and in this instance you have your choice of SF or Fantasy:

And if when you’re still hungry for more, we recommend Love and Sleep.

You can find these and more of John Crowley’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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Remembering Robert Holdstock

29 November 2016

It is that sad day once again, when we remember one of our great friends who is no longer with us.  Hard to believe it’s seven years since Robert Holdstock made his last, final journey into the Wildwood. We still miss him.

Frustratingly, this year’s anniversary also coincided with some security updates, which ran over time and locked us out of the blog for almost a week. Access has returned now, but it leaves us with little time to do justice to one of modern Fantasy’s great writers in a new post. Rather than go without marking the day, we hope you’ll bear with us as we re-post a remembrance from a few years ago . . .



It’s three seven years ago, today, that Robert Holdstock passed away. Some four months after the publication of what would be his final novel – fittingly, a Ryhope Wood tale – the fantasy genre lost one of its modern masters, and those of us who were lucky enough to know the man as well as the books, lost a great friend.

Rob was a World Fantasy Award-winner for best novel, with Mythago Wood, and best novella, with ‘The Ragthorn’, co-written with Garry Kilworth. He won the BSFA Award four times – twice for short fiction, with ‘The Ragthorn’ and the original ‘Mythago Wood’ novella, and twice for best novel, with Mythago Wood and sequel Lavondyss. Celtika, his extraordinary tale of Merlin, centuries before the time of Arthur, won the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for best novel translated into French.

In 2010, the British Fantasy Society posthumously gave him the Karl Edward Wagner Award for Special Achievement, and earlier this year the same body announced that its best novel award would henceforth be split into two categories: the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel and the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel. I can’t think of a better candidate to be permanently associated with the best in British Fantasy.

I’ll be raising a glass to Rob, this evening, in memory of great conversations over burgers and Belgian beer, and I’m sure many of you will be remembering him in other ways – not least, by reading or re-reading his wonderful books – but I leave you with this rather haunting tribute I found while gathering links for this post:

 

The riders had gone, clattering up the path to the castle and the woods beyond. But long after the pyre had burned to ash the boy was still crouched within the shrine cave, following with his gaze the trail of the drifting smoke, out across the forest, to the distance, to the setting sun, to the unknown regions of the west.

He wondered how to journey there.

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Gateway Essentials: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

28 November 2016

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild (2006) and is one of only two women ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention (2003). In 1995, she was the only novelist guest of the Romanian government for the First World Dracula Congress, sponsored by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the Romanian Bureau of Tourism and the Romanian Ministry of Culture.

Although her early work was SF, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is best known as the creator of the heroic vampire, the Count Saint-Germain. With her creation of Saint-Germain, she delved into history and vampiric literature and subverted the standard myth to invent the first vampire who was more honorable, humane, and heroic than most of the humans around him. She fully meshed the vampire with romance and accurately detailed historical fiction and filtered it through a feminist perspective that both the giving of sustenance and its taking were of equal erotic potency.

A professional writer since 1968, Yarbro has worked in a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to westerns, from young adult adventure to historical horror, publishing dozens of books.

So where to begin? Call us predictable, but when an author has a signature series so well known that it has dominated her career for decades . . . we’d start there!

Hotel Transylvania is the first of the Comte Saint-Germain novels, and is followed by over two dozen further volumes, of which Gateway is please dto have the first two: The Palace & Blood Games.

You can find more of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’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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Gateway Essentials: Poul Anderson

25 November 2016

Poul William Anderson was born ninety years ago, today, in Bristol, Pennsylvania, so it seems an appropriate time to give his work the ‘Essentials treatment’ . . .

Born of Scandinavian parents, Anderson lived in Denmark briefly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He was a SFWA Grand Master, winner of seven Hugo Awards and three Nebulas – and was Greg Bear‘s father-in-law!

Unlike most of his peers, Poul 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.

It is one of the oddities of the award process that his major works of fantasy were not recognised with wins or nominations by the various Fantasy Awards. SF-Fantasy fusion The High Crusade was shortlisted for the 1961 Hugo Award, but the seminal Norse fantasy The Broken Sword – hailed by no less 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 was added to Gollancz’s re-launched Fantasy Masterworks series last year.

So, with a career spanning over half a century, where should one begin?  With his Masterworks, of course: Tau Zero in the SF Masterworks, and The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions in the Fantasy Masterworks.

And then move on to our specially selected Gateway Essentials, including the acclaimed Flandry books, starting with Flandry of Terra and Ensign Flandry:

There’s also one of Anderson’s own favourites, Brain Wave, a novel about the effects of the sudden increase in the intelligence of all life on Earth (yes, please!); knights-vs-aliens romp The High Crusade; the saga of immortals among us,  The Boat of a Million Years and Time Patrol, a collection of Anderson’s stories following the guardians of the timeways:

 

 

You can find these and more of Poul Anderson’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: Forrest J. Ackerman

24 November 2016

On this day, one hundred yeasrs ago, Forrest J. Ackerman was born, in Los Angeles, California.

Although he was, throughout a long life dedicated to science fiction, an author, editor and agent, ‘Forry’ Ackerman is sadly little known to modern fans – which is a great shame because he led the way for all of us. An active member of fandom from his early teens, Ackerman had his first fan letter published in Science Wonder Quarterly in 1929 and served as an editor of The Time Traveller, often cited as the first Fanzine.

He was probably the first ‘fan as celebrity’  – or Big Name Fan – and was recognised with a unique Hugo Award in 1953 for Number One Fan Personality, and was awarded a World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2002. He is credited with coining the term ‘Sci-Fi’ for his beloved genre, and attended the first Worldcon in New York in 1939, where he wore the first ‘futuristic costume’ and, in effect, inventing Cosplay.

An enthusiastic collector of books and paraphernalia, his Hollywood home became a museum of sorts for SF fans, whom he generously welcomed into his house to explore his collection of over 300,000 items. It is estimated that some 50,000 fans attended his open house events over the second half of the twentieth century. His 1997 illustrated book Forrest J. Ackerman’s World of Science Fiction features hundreds of colour photos of his collection, and is an entertaining informal history if the field.

Forrest J Ackerman at his Ackermansion, 1990 – photo by Alan Light

 

In 2003, Ackerman spoke of ‘hitting 100 and becoming the George Burns of science fiction’ but it was not to be. His health failed and, in December 2008, he passed away at the age of 92.

 
 

Happy 100th Birthday, Forry. And thanks for sharing your passion.

 
 

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