Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: October 2014

2 October 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: Robert A. Heinlein, Author of The Martian Chronicles

Science fiction publishing in the United States was young when it was hit with its first gaudy plagiarism scandal. The August-September 1933 issue of Amazing Stories, one of the three major SF magazines of the day, carried a story called “Across the Ages,” by Allen Glasser. Glasser was one of the best-known figures of early science fiction fandom: he corresponded with everybody who mattered, he was the editor of The Planet, official organ of the first science fiction club, and now he was beginning to sell stories to the professional magazines. Imagine the shock and horror that swept through the little world of SF fandom when a knowledgeable reader revealed, a few months later, that Glasser’s story was a word-for-word plagiarism of “The Heat Wave” by Marion Ryan and Robert Ord, published in Munsey’s Magazine in 1929. Glasser abruptly vanished from the science fiction scene in which he had been so prominent.

 

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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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Space Merchants

1 October 2014

Before it was an online emporium of all things classic in the realm of SF – books, digests, film posters, etc – The Space Merchants was (and still is!) a hugely acclaimed science fictional classic, ruthlessly dissecting the run-amok consumerism that the authors could obviously see in nascent form in the post-war years. Sadly, in the six decades since Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth turned their scalpel-like satire on the world, things have got worse instead of better.

Pohl, of course, passed away only a year ago, and railed regularly and incisively against what he saw as modern society’s failures. One can only wonder, though, what Cyril Kornbluth (1923-1958) would make of this world, ruled by those who, to quote Wilde, know the price of everything and the value of nothing … ?

 

The ad man sets his sights on the gravy train that is Venus: unconquered and waiting to be populated by Earth’s capitalist-driven consumers.

It is the 20th Century, an advertisement-drenched world in which the big ad agencies dominate governments and everything else. Now Schoken Associates, one of the big players, has a new challenge for star copywriter Mitch Courtenay. Volunteers are needed to colonise Venus. It’s a hellhole, and nobody who knew anything about it would dream of signing up. But by the time Mitch has finished, they will be queuing to get on board the spaceships.

The Space Merchants is available as an SF Masterworks paperback. You can read more about Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth in their entries in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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Happy Birthday, Nicola Griffith!

30 September 2014

Today we wish a very Happy Birthday to Nebula and James Tiptree Jr Award-winner – and friend of SF Gateway – the wonderful Nicola Griffith

Nicola has won the World Fantasy Award, two Lambdas and two Gaylactic Spectrum Awards for her work as an editor, for the three Bending the Landscape anthologies – SF, Fantasy & Horror – edited with Stephen Pagel, but it is as an author that she is best known.

Her first novel, Ammonite (paperback | eBook), won the James Tiptree Jr and the Lambda Awards and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA Awards. Her second novel, Slow River (paperback | eBook), won the NebulaLambda and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. Both are available as SF Masterworks paperbacks and SF Gateway eBooks.

 

 

From all at SF Gateway and Gollancz: Happy Birthday Nicola!

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Author of the Month: Joe Haldeman

29 September 2014

Only a handful of writers have won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the same novel, twice. October’s Author of the Month is one of those writers, winning the 1976 Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Forever War, and repeating the feat two decades later with Forever Peace (1998 Hugo for best novel, 1999 Nebula for best novel).

It is, of course, the great Joe Haldeman, winner of five Hugo Awards (three for best novel), five Nebulas (three for best novel), a World Fantasy, a James Tiptree Jr Memorial and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, among many others.

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (SF Masterwork paperback | SF Gateway eBook) was the book chosen, back in the dim, barely-remembered years of the 20th century, to launch the SF Masterworks series, Gollancz’s collection of the great milestone novels of 20th science fiction, which is a fitting indication of the high regard in which it’s held. It’s a wonderful book – very much the antithesis to the prevailing wind of pro-war, gung-ho military SF that preceded it – very much informed by the author’s experiences during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

In The Forever War interstellar travel is effected by “collapsar jumps”, which are subjectively instantaneous but which in fact take many years to accomplish (> Relativity), so that they work as a kind of one-way Time Travel; propelled by this cruel device to temporally distant battle theatres on planet after planet, soldiers are doomed to total alienation from the civilization for which they are fighting, and if they make too large a jump face the risk of coming into battle with antiquated Weapons. Their deracination is savage, their camaraderie cynically manipulated. As a portrait of the experience of Vietnam the book is remarkable; as Military SF it is seminal.

~ from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

But Joe Haldeman is far more than ‘the guy who wrote The Forever War‘ – there’s Mindbridge (Hugo nominated), All My Sins Remembered, The Hemingway Hoax, Camouflage (Nebula and Tiptree winner), The Accidental Time Machine (Nebula nominated), the Carmen Dula sequence (Marsbound, Starbound, Earthbound – handily collected in our Joe Haldeman SF Gateway Omnibus), and a host of short fiction.

You can read about Joe Haldeman in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and find his work via his Author page on the SF Gateway websiteand for the month of October you’ll find all of our Joe Haldeman eBooks discounted, so there’s no excuse for not exploring the many worlds of a true Grand Master of Science Fiction.

 

Please note that we only have influence over UK pricing. This promotion may be taken up by our colleagues in other markets, but that is at the discretion of the local distributor.

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Hal Clement

26 September 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 acclaimed works of Hal Clement, for half a century one of hard SF’s most accomplished champions.

 

trade paperback | eBook

With degrees in astronomy, chemistry and education, it should come as no surprise that Harry Clement Stubbs – better known to SF readers as Hal Clement – produced some of the field’s most compelling, scientifically literate work.

This omnibus contains the clever alien-planet-with-a-twist novel Iceworld; the ground-breaking Cycle of Fire, with its 40-year-long seasons; and Close to Critical, from his celebrated Mesklin sequence.

 

You can find more of Hal Clement’s work via his Author page at the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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SFX Book Club: A Case of Conscience

25 September 2014

WARNING: TENUOUS LINK APPROACHING!

In the wake of the recent historic referendum on Scottish independence, we thought it only appropriate to consult a Scottish SF writer about a pivotal science fictional decision. So, without further ado (but with thanks to our good friends at SFX), here is the award-winning Ken MacLeod on James Blish‘s classic A Case of Conscience . . .

 

A Case of Conscience is a book in two parts, and a study in ambiguity. Much that happens in it can be interpreted in two opposing ways. Its villain is called Cleaver. Its readers divide too: some find it fascinating, others find it boring. It won a Hugo.

Two sciences underlie its fiction: biology and theology. They’re united in the hero: Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, a Jesuit and the biologist of a four-man team exploring Lithia. This extra-solar planet is inhabited by intelligent aliens. Their life-cycle seems to embody evidence for evolution – not a problem for Ruiz-Sanchez, whose Church has (in this fiction) amusingly ruled that the Earth was created with a fossil record already in place.

The Lithians aren’t just rational – they’re rationalist, having no supernatural beliefs. But they follow a moral code identical to that of Christianity. You might think Ruiz-Sanchez would be delighted by this. Instead, he’s disturbed.

In Catholic theology, a world without sin and without God just doesn’t compute. The pages in which this argument is spelled out are the heart of the book. The only explanation Ruiz-Sanchez can think of is that Lithia is a set-up by the Devil. But to believe that the  Devil can create is itself a heresy. Ruiz-Sanchez is caught in a dilemma. His anguish worsens as he accepts his parting gift from the Lithians: a fertilised Lithian egg. Part one (and the original 1953 novella, later expanded to novel length) ends with the slam of an airlock door.

Back on Earth, the arms race has given way to the Shelter Race, with most citizens living underground. Real power is no longer with governments but with bodies such as the New York Target Area Authority. Rome is still above ground. Ruiz-Sanchez pleads with the Pope, who gives him no easy answer. The neuroses of the Shelter State are diabolically exploited by the entity that hatches from the Lithian egg. In our age of reality TV and online demagogy, much of this rings true. The ending shows, elegantly and ambiguously, how Ruiz-Sanchez solves his problem. The solution is final.

A Case of Conscience is – like Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (published in 1959) – a flawed book too provoking to ignore, which has provoked replies and echoes down the years. Harry Harrison’s short, sharp “The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962) is a sceptic’s take on a similar situation; likewise Katherine MacLean’s “Unhuman Sacrifice” (1958). Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead (1986) ties a different knot of theology and xenobiology. My own “A Case of Consilience” (2005) puts a Presbyterian minister in a different theological quicksand.

The agnostic Blish continued his explorations of religious themes in the novels he later grouped with A Case of Conscience as After Such Knowledge: Doctor Mirabilis (1964), Black Easter (1968), and The Day After Judgement (1971). The first shows an eerie modernity in the ideas of the thirteenth century friar Roger Bacon; the latter two, black magic in a universe from which God has absented himself. All are intriguing reads. In his Cities in Flight series, Blish ends the universe in 4004 AD – a nod to Bishop Ussher, who dated its creation to 4004 BC. The latter date concludes Blish’s And All the Stars a Stage, in science fiction’s only successful use of that particular surprise ending.

Why do unbelievers read and write stories that take religion seriously and sympathetically? We share the world with our religious neighbours, and it’s salutary to see it through their eyes. A subject that has occupied some of the sharpest human intellects of  the past two millennia is a mine of ideas.

Theology can be seen as an exercise in world-building. The Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages took it to the edge of atheism, boldly speculating on such matters as the freedom of God. Is God free to give us a false revelation? William of Ockham, he
of the Razor, said yes.

Science fiction is often seen as hostile to religion – and, like science, it seldom is. It’s hostile to fundamentalism, but not to faith. Fundamentalism demands that we cover our eyes. Faith asks us to look at the universe in a different light.

 

A Case of Conscience is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of James Blish’s 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 Ken MacLeod 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.

Ken MacLeod’s latest novel is the acclaimed SF conspiracy thriller, Descent, which is available in hardback and as an eBook. Ken MacLeod blogs at The Early Days of a Better Nation, tweets as @amendlocke, and you can read more about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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On This Day: John Brunner

24 September 2014

HIPCRIME: You committed one when you opened this book. Keep it up. It’s our only hope.
~ The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad Mulligan

COINCIDENCE: You weren’t paying attention to the other half of what was happening.
~ The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad Mulligan

PATRIOTISM: A great British writer once said that if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying a friend he hoped he would have the decency to betray his country.
(Amen, brothers and sisters! Amen!)
~ The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad Mulligan

If you recognise these quotes, we congratulate you, for you are one of the enlightened souls who have read John Brunner‘s brilliantly fractured 1968 novel, Stand on Zanzibar, which won the Hugo Award and the BSFA Award. The creation of Stand on Zanzibar alone would be enough to ensure John Brunner entry into the pantheon of SF greats, but he produced many other fine and worthy works (which, coincidentally, you can find via his author page on the SF Gateway) such as The Shockwave Rider, in which he predicted the computer virus.

Stand on Zanzibar has recently been re-issued in the new SF Masterworks style, with a wonderfully insightful introduction from Ken MacLeod. This new edition is currently available only as a paperback, but we’re updating the eBook with a new cover and Ken’s introduction, and hope to have it on sale in the next week or so.

Also available, as we noted last week, is The John Brunner SF Gateway Omnibus, featuring The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and The Traveller in Black.

John Brunner passed away during the 1995 Glasgow Worldcon. Had he not, he would have been celebrating his 80th birthday today.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Greybeard

23 September 2014

Ecological disaster has left the English countryside a wasteland. Humanity faces extinction, unless Greybeard and his wife Martha are successful in their quest for the scarcest and most precious of resources: human children.

‘Mr Aldiss’ novel is suffused with grief at the loss of children . . . he uses the genre novel to explore themes of importance to him’
P. D. James

‘Unforgettable’
Kingsley Amis

‘A truly impressive achievement’
Observer

‘Beautifully structured’
Science Fiction: the 100 Best Novels

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

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Happy Birthday . . . to Whom?

22 September 2014

Today marks the birthdays of not one, but two figures who loom large over the landscape of modern fantasy literature.  It is no stretch to say that without them, the genre we know and love would be a very different beast. We’re talking pop-music-without-the-Beatles different. Physics-without-Einstein different. England-without-the-Norman-invasion different.

So, who are these fantasy behemoths?  Writers? Artists? Film-makers?

Nope.

We speak of none other than Bilbo Baggins, born to Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took on the 22nd September in the year 2890 of the Third Age of Middle Earth – or 1290 by Shire Reckoning – and his heir, Frodo, son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck, born on the 22nd September in the year 2968 of the Third Age of Middle Earth (1368 by Shire Reckoning).

Love it or loath it (and let the record state that the elves who run the SF Gateway are firmly in the former camp), no one can deny the incredible influence of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings upon modern fantasy, and central to that long tale of the finding and eventual destruction of the One Ring (and with its unmaking, the passing of the Third Age) are a couple of modest but courageous and resourceful hobbits.

Happy Birthday, Bilbo and Frodo.  We hope you’re enjoying a well-earned rest – and perhaps a puff of Old Toby.

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New Book of the Week: Beyond Lies the Wub

19 September 2014

Beyond Lies the Wub, the first volume of the collected stories of one of the twentieth century’s greatest SF writers, this is a matchless display of Philip K. Dick’s quirky, humorous, idiosyncratically philosophical world view. With one exception, all the stories of this volume were written over a nine-month period between 1951 and 1952, when Dick was making his first impact as a writer.

 

Beyond Lies the Wub (eBook | paperback) contains:

Stability
Roog
The Little Movement
Beyond Lies the Wub
The Gun
The Skull
The Defenders
Mr. Spaceship
Piper in the Woods
The Infinites
The Preserving Machine
Expendable
The Variable Man
The Indefatigable Frog
The Crystal Crypt
The Short Happy Life Of The Brown Oxford
The Builder
Meddler
Paycheck
The Great C
Out in the Garden
The King of the Elves
Colony
Prize Ship
Nanny

Further volumes in the series are:

Vol Two: Second Variety (eBook | paperback)
Vol Three: The Father-Thing (eBook | paperback)
Vol Four: Minority Report (eBook not yet published | paperback)
Vol Five: We Can Remember it for you Wholesale (eBook not yet published | paperback)

The Father-Thing  is scheduled for the end of this month, with We Can Remember it for you Wholesale following in November.

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