Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Masterworks Spotlight: Downward to the Earth

22 May 2015

In the period between 1967 and 1972 there’s a very good argument for declaring Robert Silverberg the best science fiction writer in the world. In half a dozen years of extraordinary creative output, Silverberg produced thirteen Hugo-nominated novels, novellas and stories, winning twice; thirteen Nebula-nominated novels, novellas and stories, winning three times; and a John W. Campbell Award-winner.

The works he produced in this period are still some of the stand-out books of the genre: Thorns, Nightwings, A Time of Changes, Dying Inside and The Book of Skulls, to name just a few. And, of course, Downward to the Earth . . .

 

One man alone in an alien landscape – SF’s Heart of Darkness by one of the field’s acknowledged greats.

One man must make a journey across a once colonised alien planet. Abandoned by man when it was discovered that the species there were actually sentient, the planet is now a place of mystery. A mystery that obsesses the lone traveller Gundersen and takes him on a long trek to attempt to share the religious rebirthing of the aliens. A journey that offers redemption from guilt and sin.

This is one of Robert Silverberg’s most intense novels and draws heavily on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness . It puts the reader at the heart of the experience and forces them to ask what they would do in the circumstances.


Downward to the Earth is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook. You can read more about Robert Silverberg in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Title Spotlight: Childhood’s End

21 May 2015

Our current Title Spotlight comes with a short visual presentation for your entertainment!


Childhood’s End is Arthur C. Clarke‘s transcendent masterpiece, the book that shows most clerly the influence of Olaf Stapledon on his writing.  This book took the top of my head off when I first read it as a callow teenager. Beginning as an alien invasion story (of a sort) and containing one of the all-time great set pieces in written SF – an image so striking and irresistible that the producers of Independence Day should pay Clarke’s estate a royalty every time their movie is shown – it then moves off, via a poignant coming-of-age vignette, to cover no less a canvas than the ultimate destiny of the human race. And all in under 250 pages.

I look forward to SyFy’s upcoming adaptation with a peculiar mix of excitement and trepidation.


Childhood’s End is available as an SF Masterworks hardback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Arthur C. Clarke’s books at 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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Madness or Genius?

20 May 2015

In this fast-moving, modern world we inhabit, there is an ever-increasing amount of information to sort through and process. Broadcast media, newspapers, magazines, social media, online news, mobile devices – all bombarding us with information at a dizzying rate.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, we’re subjected to an equally-daunting torrent of advertising, with every retailer we’ve ever looked up even once on Google hurling invocations to buy their products into our inboxes, feeds and timelines; through our letter boxes, on our voicemail, intruding on our mobiles via SMS.

And then – yet another layer – the spam: automated, semi-literate garbage, spewed by bots to fill up any miniscule corner of our lives that aren’t already reeling from informational and retail overload.  Or is it?  Cory Doctorow once metioned to me that he felt the world’s first emergent AI would come not from the lab of some big-brained computer scientists but would derive from spambots’ ever-evolving quest to produce word salad that can defeat your computer’s spam filter.

I don’t know whether that’s (a) true, (b) impossible or (c) has already happened, but I do know that if one takes a step back and looks at some spam without viewing it through the grumpy you’re-wasting-my-time filter, some of it is quite lyrical. Look:

A person necessarily help to make seriously posts I’d state.
This is the first time I frequented your website page and so far?
I amazed with the analysis you made to make this
actual submit amazing. Excellent task!

Not quite a haiku, but there’s a certain mad poetry to it.

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Posted in Commentary, Whimsy
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On This Day: James Tiptree, Jr

19 May 2015

On this day, in 1987, Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon – better known to the wider world as James Tiptree, Jr – died in tragic circumstances.

Alice Sheldon wrote most of her fiction as James Tiptree, Jr, making a point about sexist assumptions and also keeping her US government employers from knowing her business. Most of her books are collections of short stories, of which Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is considered to be definitive. Sheldon’s best stories combine radical feminism with a tough-minded tragic view of life; even virtuous characters are exposed as unwitting beneficiaries of disgusting socio-economic systems. Even good men are complicit in women’s oppression, as in her most famous stories ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ and ‘Houston, Houston, Do you Read?’ or in ecocide. Much of her work, even at its most tragic, has an attractively ironic tone which sometimes becomes straightforwardly comedy – it is important to stress that Tiptree’s deep seriousness never becomes sombre or pompous. Her two novels Up the Walls of the World and Brightness Falls from the Air are both remarkable transfigurations of stock space opera material – the former deals with a vast destroying being, sympathetic aliens at risk of destruction by it and human telepaths trying to make contact across the gulf of stars.

To chart the end of her life, we can do no better than to refer to her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

Alice Sheldon’s life, whose dramas had so visibly shaped the ten years of her prime as a writer, also ended in drama. She had been married to Huntington Sheldon since 1945. For some time it was believed that he contracted Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1980s. This seems not to have been true. Whatever the case, in 1987, herself in precarious health, she shot him (in apparent accordance with a pact they had much earlier agreed upon), telephoned his son and told him what she had done, and then killed herself. She was honoured with a posthumous Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award) in 2010 and inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.

And, of course, the James Tiptree, Jr Memorial Award was established in her honour, in 1991.

You can read more about James Tiptree, Jr in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook, and contains: 

The Last Flight of Doctor Ain
The Screwfly Solution
And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side
The Girl Who Was Plugged In
The Man Who Walked Home
And I Have Come upon This Place by Lost Ways
The Women Men Don’t See
Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!
Houston, Houston, Do You Read?
With Delicate Mad Hands
A Momentary Taste of Being
We Who Stole the Dream
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death
On the Last Afternoon
She Waits for All Men Born
Slow Music
And So On, and So On

 


 

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Gollancz’s Malcolm Edwards

15 May 2015

News was recently released to the book trade concerning upcoming changes to Gollancz. From the official press release:

MALCOLM EDWARDS APPOINTED CHAIRMAN OF GOLLANCZ AND CONSULTANT PUBLISHER OF ORION

David Young, CEO of The Orion Publishing Group announces today that Malcolm Edwards will be standing down as Deputy CEO and Publisher of Orion at the end of 2015 and will become Chairman of Gollancz and Consultant Publisher at Orion.

David Young says: ”Malcolm and I have been discussing for some time his desire to work a flexible week which will give him the freedom to work on fewer projects close to his heart and so, at the end of this year, he will move to become Chairman of Gollancz and Consultant Publisher at Orion.  I am delighted that we have been able to accommodate Malcolm’s wishes in a way that ensures that he remains at the heart of Orion’s publishing. 

“Malcolm is a remarkable publisher.  He is a formidable judge of publishing talent: during his career at Orion and HarperCollins he has worked with many bestselling writers including Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Anthony Horowitz, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and Kate Mosse, and has had particularly strong and long-lasting relationships with such writers as J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick and Alan Furst.  He has been a generous guide and mentor to many of the brightest editors and publishers in the industry.  We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his enormous contribution to Orion so far and in the years to come.”

Malcolm’s publishing career began at Gollancz in the 1970s. Having worked in a freelance capacity for three years, he became their general in-house editor in 1976, working across the entire range of their adult list.  He was appointed their sf editor in 1982, and quickly rose to Publishing Director and member of the board.  Among the writers he edited were Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Frank Herbert and Terry Pratchett. In 1989, he left to work at HarperCollins, where he became Deputy Managing Director of their Trade Division.  Among many other titles he was the editor for both Michael Dobbs’s House of Cards series and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, and he conceived the idea of reviving serial publishing which led to Stephen King’s The Green Mile.  He was named Editor of the Year at the 1995 British Book Awards.

He moved to Orion in 1998 to the newly created position of Managing Director and, in 2003, becoming Deputy Chief Executive and Publisher. Since then, Malcolm has had ultimate responsibility for all publishing and creative activities across the Orion Group. The digital initiatives – The Murder Room and The SF Gateway – are his brainchild.

Malcolm says:  “It’s particularly difficult to find a way of stepping off the management roundabout, and I’m grateful to David and Tim for devising an elegant formula which allows me to stay involved with those parts of publishing I still love, while stepping aside to allow some of my very talented colleagues to take on further responsibilities.”

Tim Hely Hutchinson says:” As Publisher and Deputy CEO, Malcolm is central to much of Orion’s success and I know I speak for his colleagues and for Orion’s authors when I say how pleased we are that this new arrangement ensures that he continues in a pivotal role at Orion while focusing, once again, on the house where he began his career.  Gollancz, already the pre-eminent list in sf publishing, is destined for even greater things under Malcolm’s Chairmanship. The SF Gateway and the Gollancz Festival (in its second year) are just recent two initiatives that embellish its reputation.  I often turn to Malcolm for his wise advice on a wide variety of subjects and I want to thank him warmly for his enormous contribution to Orion, to Hachette UK and for his ongoing commitment to the company.”

We’re sure you’ll join with us in congratulating Malcolm on extricating himself from all of those meetings!  But what does this mean for Gollancz and for the SF Gateway?  The answer is, we’re happy to say: a win!

While we’ll all miss Malcolm’s presence as Deputy CEO on a day-to-day basis, the fact that he’s going to be devoting more of his formidable publishing brain to Gollancz is an enormous benefit to us. He is, after all, the man who published Neuromancer and Mythago Wood within a few months of each other; who was a founder of Interzone; who published Terry Pratchett before he was … well, TERRY PRATCHETT; who has spent decades working with the finest authors and most influential agents in the publishing world; and who – for those looking for more recent achievements – conceived the SF Gateway project and acquired George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series for HarperVoyager.

And if that still doesn’t convey just how remarkable an influence Malcolm has had on SF publishing in general and Gollancz in particular, just pop over to his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and see for yourself!

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New Book Spotlight: Mockingbird

14 May 2015

Walter Tevis is the acclaimed author of The Hustler and The Colour of Money, both made into Oscar-winning films, and The Man Who Fell to Earthfilmed by Nicholas Roeg and featuring David Bowie in his first film role. One would think having penned three cult novels woudl be enough for anyone, Tevis is also the author of the SF classic Mockingbird, nominated for a Nebula Award and published in paperback in the SF Masterworks series. Gateway is delighted, now, to add an eBook edition . . .



The future is a grim place in which the declining human population wanders, drugged and lulled by electronic bliss. It’s a world without art, reading and children, a world where people would rather burn themselves alive than endure.

Even Spofforth, the most perfect machine ever created, cannot bear it and seeks only that which he cannot have – to cease to be. But there is hope for the future in the passion and joy that a man and woman discover in love and in books, hope even for Spofforth.

A haunting novel, reverberating with anguish but also celebrating love and the magic of a dream.

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Happy Birthday, Stephen R. Donaldson!

13 May 2015

Thanks to the all-seeing eye of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and its indispensable On This Day function, we see that today is Stephen R. Donaldson‘s birthday.

As I’m sure we all know, Stephen Donaldson burst onto the scene in 1977 with his extraordinary debut trilogy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. It was an astonishingly assured and – let’s not deny it – bleak trilogy, that seemed intent on casting as much as possible of the prevailing ‘rules’ of high fantasy through a glass darkly. Followed by The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogy and the Mordant’s Need diptych, these works established a mature and important voice in the rapidly-developing fantasy landscape of the ’70s & ’80s. Donaldson then moved on to the Science Fictional Gap series in the ’90s before returning to The Land in the twenty-first century with The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Stephen R. Donaldson‘s most recent book is The Last Dark, the final volume of the The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, available in paperback and as an eBook.

You can find Stephen R. Donaldson‘s books on his author page on the Orion website, and read more about him at his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Stephen R. Donaldson is one of the most important writers in modern fantasy and we salute him on the occasion of his birthday!

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On This Day: Philip Wylie

12 May 2015

On this day in 1902, Philip Gordon Wylie was born and the world as we know it was changed forever.

Wait. What?

Yeah. Philip Wylie. You know: he of When Worlds Collide fame? Filmed in 1951 by George Pal and later reimagined as Deep Impact?  He wrote the influential non-fiction book Generation of Vipers, and screenplays for numerous films, including Island of Lost Souls (adapted from The Island of Dr Moreau) and The Invisible Man. That Philip Wylie.

But, of course, those aren’t the history-changing works we’re referring to. In 1930 Philip Wylie published a novel titled Gladiator, the tale of a young man endowed in the womb with superhuman strength and near-invulnerability by his scientist father. Young Hugo Danner soon discovers that he is physically superior to his fellow man – he can jump higher than a house, run faster than a train, is practically impervious to harm, as if he were made of iron. He is, in effect, a super-man, and it’s here that Wylie’s importance to 20th century popular culture can be seen.

In his 1932 fanzine Science-Fiction, eighteen-year-old Jerry Siegel reviewed Gladiator, and it’s difficult to see how it wasn’t an influence on the character he and illustrator Joe Shuster would create six years later for National Comics (later to become DC Comics): Superman. And Superman, of course, began the fashion for outlandishly-attired ‘superheroes’, which have dominated the comcs field ever since and, for the last decade or so, dominated the movie business.

Indeed, so powerful is the influence of Gladiator on the world of superheroes that acclaimed writer Roy Thomas, when needing to re-imagine the Golden Age of WWII-era heroes in the wake of DC’s continuity-busting ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, turned to the novel and its protagonist, Hugo Danner, to develop a new history of DC’s wartime heroes. That tale can be found in DC’s The Young All-Stars, the successor to All-Star Squadron – both series worthy of gracing any comics fan’s long box.

So: Happy Birthday, Philip Wylie – and thanks for the inspiration!

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On This Day: Frank Frazetta

10 May 2015

On this day, five years ago, one of the most influential artists in the fantasy field passed away, in Fort Meyers, Florida.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes:

A native New Yorker, he studied at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, at the age of sixteen, began drawing professionally for Comics. He worked on the comic strips Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Flash Gordon, and (for nine years) Li’l Abner, and briefly drew his own comic strip, Johnny Comet. He also contributed to comic books published by DC Comics, EC Comics, and other companies; ironically, the most popular Superhero that he drew, DC’s the Shining Knight, had his body almost completely covered by armour, in stark contrast to the loinclothed barbarians that would come to define his popular image.

Although he would continue to work in comics until the ’60s, Frazetta will forever be identified with book covers. Beginning with cover and interior art for Ace‘s reissues of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Tarzan books, he practically invented the now-clichéd bare-chested, loin-clothed barbarian warrior. It has been said that the definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger; if that’s so, then surely fantasy art’s equivalent is the person who can hear the words ‘Conan the barbarian’ without thinking of Frank Frazetta.

Frazetta was fantasy art’s first superstar. By the end of the ’60s he was in demand to paint movie posters and album covers (ask your parents, kids!) as well as book covers, and his style gave rise to a myriad imitators. If a publisher couldn’t get Frazetta, their art directors would be instructed to find someone who could imitate his style. In the ’80s he worked with Ralph Bakshi to produce fantasy film Fire and Ice. But for your humble correspondent, he will forever be inked with the Hyborean Age:

Truly, Frank Frazetta was the first giant to bestride the SFF art world, destined to tread the jewelled kingdoms of lesser artists beneath his sandled feet.

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New Book Spotlight: The Ragged World by Judith Moffett

8 May 2015

Gateway is delighted to present Judith Moffett‘s The Ragged World, the first book of The Holy Ground TrilogyJudith Moffett won the inaugural Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 1987 for her short story ‘Surviving’, and followed that up with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1988. She has also been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and James Tiptree, Jr Memorial Awards.


In the early years of the twenty-first century, Earth teetered on the brink of ecological destruction. Then the alien Hefn came, determined to save the dying Earth – and to the Hefn, the ends always justified the means. Humans were given nine years to correct their mistakes – alone, with no recourse to the Hefn’s advanced technology. If by then the Earth’s ecology had not stabilized, the Hefn would solve the problem for good . . . by eliminating humans entirely.

But slowly, against their will, some of the Hefn became deeply involved with their human counterparts. And to the handful of people who came to know them, the Hefn made a great difference: as mentors, researchers, rulers . . . and saviors. But could those few friendships sway the Hefn to help save a despoiled planet – and the human race?


You can read more about Judith Moffett in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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