Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Something Wicked This Way Comes

30 August 2013

Following yesterday’s major release day for SF Gateway, when we added over 100 titles to our offering, we have a special treat. Published today, all on its lonesome as befits one of the greatest works of fantasy of all time, is none other than Ray Bradbury’s wonderful, darkly nostalgic masterpiece, Something Wicked This Way Comes ! We’re thrilled to be publishing this modern classic in eBook; many of the Gollancz team have previously praised the book over at the Gollancz blog, so rather than subject you to a repeat, we thought we’d give you a double dose of our new SFX Book Club feature and allow the excellent Dan Abnett to sing its praises . . .

 

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES Ray Bradbury

Though it would be an unfair generalisation to suggest that the great SF authors of the mid 20th century tended to be grand masters of idea and imagination rather than written technique and prose style, any readers encountering Ray Bradbury’s work are immediately aware that they are in the hands of a writer whose talent would stand out in any genre. Ray Bradbury is a great writer, full stop. His vocabulary is static-charged and luminous, his pacing deft and theatrical, his tone vivid and intoxicating. Not for nothing, when it came to handing out the soubriquets, was Ray Bradbury dubbed the poet laureate of SF.

That’s not to say that a reader comes to Ray Bradbury for fine writing rather than good ideas. Genre-defining concepts fill Bradbury’s backlist – in such novels as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, and short stories such as “A Sound Of Thunder” – despite the fact that Bradbury himself eschews the label “science fiction” for all his works (except Fahrenheit 451), preferring the term “fantasy”.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is undoubtedly fantasy, to which one would add the tags “horror”, “mystery” and “urban”. It is his most famous work thanks, perhaps, to the goose-bumping Macbeth quote it uses as a title, and while it might not be his very best (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine surpass it, in my opinion), it nevertheless represents a perfect key text.

Unlike several of his other famous books, which are ingeniously engineered orchestrations  of individual stories, Something Wicked was composed as a novel. Set in a small, midwestern town during one fulminous October, it tells the story of two 13-year-old boys and their nightmarish encounter with a travelling carnival. All of Bradbury’s fundamental themes are present, and deployed to maximum effect: Halloween, autumn, childhood, magic, books, electricity, showmanship, freaks and nostalgia. It is murky, gaudy and mysteriously sinister, an autumnal almost-sequel to the halcyon summer of his Dandelion Wine. It is about temptation and the loss of childhood, the effort of adolescence to achieve adulthood, and the struggle of maturity to recapture youth. It is filled with grotesque and macabre characters, none greater than Mr Dark, a carnival showman covered in tattoos. Dark is a rare, Faustian figure, a truly malevolent presence. Bradbury’s freakshow residents, grotesques and carny folk are often the most human and sympathetic characters in his stories.

Something Wicked is Norman Rockwell reflected by the distorting mirrors of a funfair. It is Edward Hopper and Grant Wood working on the same canvas. It is Walt Disney’s Freaks and Tod Browning’s Dumbo. It is an EC horror comic drawn by Charles M Schulz. It is an intense distillation of Bradbury’s trademark fiction, which is autobiographical, in as much as it celebrates and yearns for an imagined small-town Americana. The influence of his vision has permeated popular culture, from the midwestern childhood and magical funfair fascinations of Spielberg, and Stephen King in such places as It to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman cycle, movies like Big, and even the Pixar films. The subgenre of urban fantasy  has Bradbury foursquare in the roots of its family tree, and Bradbury’s own dissatisfaction with genre labels might be appeased by thinking of him as a pioneer of North American magical realism.

Real magic underlies everything. Bradbury confesses that he would have been a magician if writing hadn’t worked out, though one wonders whether he means sideshow huckstering or true sorcery. He claims his writing career was jumpstarted when, at the age of 12, he  was enjoined to “Live forever!” by a carnival entertainer called Mr Electrico, who wielded a sparking sword as a wand. It is hard to escape the feeling that one of the boys in Something Wicked is 12-year-old Ray himself, wide-eyed in simultaneous horror and exhilaration, his hair standing on end.

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes is available as an SF Gateway eBook and a Gollancz paperback.

 

This piece was written by Dan Abnett  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.

 

Dan Abnett is an award-winning comic book writer and New York Times bestselling novelist. Find him at www.danabnett.com, follow him on twitter at @vincentabnett and read more about him at his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

 

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August New Releases

29 August 2013

August is a bumper month for SF Gateway! Whatever that means. We’re appending ourselves to the front and rear of automobiles? Jimmy Anderson, James Pattinson and Dale Steyn are all lining up to bowl short at us? We don’t know. We just don’t know . . .

Sorry. I’ll start again. August is a bumper month for SF Gateway! We’re publishing well over 100 books this month (as you can see on the newly-updated checklist, downloadable here), including Brian Lumley‘s Vampire World trilogy, Time and Again by Jack Finney, Grunts by Mary Gentle, Michael Moorcock‘s Dancers at the End of Time and first Corum trilogies,  SF Masterworks Time is the Fire by Connie Willis and No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop, and a half dozen omnibuses.  Enjoy!

Oh, and there’s another highlight, but I’m not going to tell you about that until tomorrow. In the words of the great and wise Bugs Bunny: ain’t I a stinker?

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JACK VANCE: an Appreciation by Robert Silverberg

28 August 2013

Jack Vance began to make his mark in science fiction in 1950 and 1951, when I was a highly impressionable teenager gobbling up every issue of every s-f magazine as fast as I could find them on the newsstands – Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, Marvel Science Stories, and others of equally gaudy names.  I read them all, every word.  And gradually I began to pay special attention to one writer in particular, this man Vance.

His earliest stories, in the late 1940s, were clever but negligible pieces, most of them about an ingenious con man named Magnus Ridolph. But then came “New Bodies for Old” in Thrilling Wonder in the summer of 1950, “The Five Gold Bands” a few months later in Startling, and – the one that really bowled me over – a little paperback volume at the end of the year, The Dying Earth, made up of half a dozen dazzling short stories set in an unimaginably distant future era of wizardry and vengeance, rich with images of decay and decline, tumbled pillars, slumped pediments, crumbled inscriptions, the weary red sun looking down on the ancient cities of humanity.  After which came a torrent of brilliant novelettes and novellas – “Telek,” “Big Planet,” “Planet of the Damned,” “Abercrombie Station,” “The Houses of Iszm,” and on and on and on.  By the time Vance’s masterly novel To Live Forever appeared in September, 1956, I had come to regard him as one of the supreme masters of the s-f field, an opinion that I have never had reason to change.  There was a breadth of vision in his work, a philosophical density, that set it apart from most of what was being published then, and his sense of color and image, his power to evoke mood and texture and sensory detail, gave his work overwhelming impact.

In time I became a professional writer myself, and Vance’s books and stories came to exert a powerful influence over my style and narrative approach, something that a good many of my contemporaries in the field would also say about their own work.  In time, too, I met him – a burly, irreverent, boisterous man, not much like the austere, bookish sort I had imagined him to be – and a few years later I found myself living in the San Francisco Bay Area, just a couple of hilltops away from the secluded and rustic house that he had built with his own hands.  We became friends, and sustained that friendship over more than forty years; and I think our friendship came to have great importance to him as time went along and he lived on and on to a vast age and death robbed him of his friends of an earlier generation, Poul Anderson and Frank Herbert and others whose names mean little today, and as encroaching blindness rendered him housebound and deprived him of new input from the world beyond his home.

So every now and then I would make the short drive over to his house, and we would sit around his round dining-room table swapping tales of editors and agents and writers and fans while the single-malt Scotch flowed freely.  Or we would argue about jazz –Jack being an advocate of the earliest Dixieland, and I inclining toward the cooler, quieter jazz of later decades, for which he seemed to have only scorn.  Or we would discuss politics, an area where Jack held some startling views that he expressed with unforgettable pungency.  And sometimes he would play his ukulele for me, or his kazoo, or both at once, and I would listen with appreciation and amusement.

We were friends, yes, and colleagues, two veteran writers, each of whom held a high opinion of the other’s work.  But one thing I never told him was that as I sat there with him, friend and colleague and fellow Grand Master and all of that, I still carried within me memories of that impressionable teenage boy who had felt such keen delight as he read The Dying Earth and To Live Forever and all those great novelettes and novellas half a century earlier – and that sometimes I would forget that I was 70-something now, with a long career behind me, and he was 90-something, with an even longer career behind him. At such times I would feel like that boy of long ago once again, and some part of me would be overwhelmed with awe and wonder at the thought that I was actually sitting across the table from that master writer, that idol of my youth, that astounding creator of unforgettable worlds – Jack Vance.

This appreciation first appeared in Locus magazine, the newspaper of the science fiction field, and appears here courtesy of Robert Silverberg.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Time Machine

27 August 2013

The SF Masterwork of the Week for the end of August, is H. G. Wells‘ seminal time-travel novel, The Time Machine. Continuing our new regular feature – thanks to our good friends at SFX, who have kindly agreed to allow us to republish SFX Book Club articles covering our SF Masterworks and/or SF Gateway titles – this tour through one of the all-time classics of SF is guided by none other than Gollancz‘s very own master of time and space, Stephen Baxter . . .

 

THE TIME MACHINE  H. G. Wells

In his house in Richmond, a late-Victorian scientist we know only as the Time Traveller puts together a bicycle-like Time Machine: “The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came tomorrow . . . Presently a fresh series of impressions grew up on my mind – a certain curiosity and therewith a certain dread . . .”

HG Wells’s images of time travelling are memorably vivid, and were portrayed well in the 1960 Hollywood film. But consider the Traveller’s first reactions: curiosity and dread.

The Traveller arrives in the year 802,701 AD. England is like a dilapidated garden, peopled by the gentle, rather childlike Eloi. At first the Traveller thinks nature has been conquered, and humanity is decadent. But the Eloi are being kept alive by the Morlocks, who tend dimly-glimpsed machines in deep caverns. In return the Morlocks are using the Eloi as cattle. Both Eloi and Morlock are degraded forms, the long-term result of social discrimination.

The Time Machine was Wells’s very first novel, published when he was 29. On one level it’s a social parable, on another an evolutionary myth. Social division and the destiny of mankind were both central concerns for Wells.  But holding it all together is a quite terrific adventure story.

It’s not, however, as you might think, a tale of exploration. The Time Traveller is no explorer! He’s a gadgeteer; his interest is in his Machine rather than in the destination: “If you’ll stop to lunch, I’ll prove you this time travelling up to the hilt, specimens and all.” Remember he’s supposed to be a scientist. He takes no equipment – not even a camera, that first trip – and wanders about future England making random observations and social speculations. His reactions to Morlock and Eloi are more visceral than intellectual. He’s curious, but he’s a tourist, not an explorer – and perhaps the more likeable for it, and a good protagonist to deliver what Wells could see is the central source of wonder of the sub genre of future-time stories he was pioneering: to see what lies ahead, to see how it’s connected to my time.

But then the Morlocks take away the Machine. Suddenly the Traveller is stranded, and curiosity turns to dread. Stranding your characters is a simple narrative trick, familiar to any viewer of Doctor Who who can never understand why anybody would leave the safety of the TARDIS. As the characters struggle to get home you get a readymade plot. Wells did it again, stranding his narrator on The Island Of Doctor Moreau (1896). And then there’s The First Men In The Moon (1901): “’By the way,’ I said, ‘where exactly is the sphere?’”

Maybe these stranded heroes are reflections of Wells himself. According to scholar Warren Wagar the young Wells was “a short, fattish, broadshouldered man, his voice high and thin, his blue eyes bright and dreaming. He walked with a vulgar little bounce. He was the everlasting Cockney never able to forget years of hunger and ill health in a fin de siècle adolescence . . . he was the resentful ex-counter-jumper of the Southsea Drapery emporium . . .” Behold HG Wells, stranded among the snobs.

Arguably Wells had written all his best SF by 1901, aged only 35. After that he wrote novels of modern-day society and ambitious works of popular science and history, and built up a public reputation as a prophet of the future. But the raw power of his storytelling declined.

The Time Machine, however, lives on. It was a founding work of modern SF, and for its allegorical power has become recognised as fine literature beyond the genre boundaries. Above all it has endured because it’s just such a great story, with a tremendously sympathetic protagonist. It’s no wonder SFX picked the Time Traveller as one of its 20 greatest SF heroes (issue 211): “He’s both a dreamer and a man shaken by what he witnesses.” Indeed: curiosity and dread.

 

This piece was written by Stephen Baxter 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.

Stephen Baxter is the author of the epic Xeelee sequence and his forthcoming novel, Proxima, will be published on the 19th September in hardback, trade paperback and as an eBook. Stephen Baxter’s website is www.stephen-baxter.com, and you can find his books at his author page on the Orion website and read more about him in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

 

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Blast from the Past: Paul McAuley’s FAIRYLAND

26 August 2013

As today is a bank holiday in the UK, we thought we’d take it easy ourselves and re-present, for your reading pleasure and erudition, a blog post from the dim and distant past of . . . er . . . 2011.  Enter the time machine – IF YOU DARE!

[2011], in addition to marking 50 years of continuous, focussed SF publishing from Gollancz (we did mention that, didn’t we . . . ?), is the 25th anniversary of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction literature. As a long-standing champion of British SF, Gollancz is an enthusiastic supporter of the Arthur C. Clarke Award – as well as being the publisher of five of the last ten winners.

The earliest winner on our list is Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden, currently in our SF Masterworks series. That book, though, is a relatively recent addition and was originally published by another SF imprint. The first Gollancz-published book to win was Paul McAuley’s Fairyland. And since we have recently released Fairyland as an eBook – along with four other classic Paul McAuley novels: Four Hundred Billion Stars, Eternal Light, Red Dust and Pasquale’s Angel – we thought it appropriate to ask Paul for some thoughts the award and the book itself . . .

One of my walking routes from Islington into the centre of London takes me down the cheap, cheerful commercialism of Caledonian Road, along the towpath of the Regent’s canal (past converted Victorian warehouses, Battlebridge Basin (where, according to dubious legend, Queen Boudica made her last stand against the Romans) and the new headquarters of the Guardian newspaper), and then to Euston Road via St Pancras Station. The train shed abutting Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic pile has already been converted into a grand European terminus; the urban lofts along the roofline are occupied; only the regooding of the Grand Midland Hotel remains to be done. I take a personal interest in the progress of that regooding every time I pass: the first scene of my novel Fairyland is set in the Ladies’ Smoking Room of the Grand Midland.

Fairyland is, I suppose, my breakout novel. It’s set in a near future fractured by political upheaval and out-of-control biotech; its story, likewise fractured, is set in real places (London, Paris, Albania). And it’s written in the present tense. Partly to convey the urgent rush of its future; partly to cut it free from fixed history, to convey a sense of achronicity. Like London, the present of Fairyland is aimed at the future but contains all kinds of deep textures and structures from the past.

I wrote Fairyland in 1994; it was published in 1995; in 1996, it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best SF novel. When I began to write it, I was still working as a lecturer in St Andrews University; when it won the Clarke Award, I had resigned from my job, and was about to move to London. While the award didn’t give me the impetus to become a full-time writer, I did feel that it gave my decision some kind of validation. That was important, at the time. A nice big tick mark. It was also the first novel published by Gollancz to win the award; after formative years of reading Gollancz’s yellow-jacketed SF novels in my local library, it was very nice to be able to bring the award into the firm’s editorial offices. Finally, Fairyland was selected from a shortlist in which, for the first time in the history of the award, British writers outnumbered American writers. I like to think that, in some small way, it helped to contribute to the present heft and swagger of British SF.

What Paul is, of course, too modest to mention is that he, himself, is one of the leading lights of British SF of the last 25 years, his body of work making a significant contribution to the heft and swagger to which he refers. One of the finest writers of hard SF since the prime of Arthur C. Clarke, a founding father of the New Space Opera and one of the earliest exponents of the SF thriller, Paul McAuley has consistently produced science fiction of the highest order. Winner of all three major ‘eponymous’ SF awards – the Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and John W. Campbell – he is a writer anyone interested in SF, in general, and British SF in particular, should make a point of seeking out and reading.

Paul McAuley’s most recent novel, Evening’s Empires, is available as a hardback, trade paperback and eBook.

You can find his books here and here and read about him in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, here.

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Readers’ Choice: The Journal of Nicholas the American

23 August 2013

Back in March, when the year was young and the trees still bereft of leaves, we hosted a review of Josephine Saxton‘s Vector for Seven, the Readers’ Choice selection of Kev McVeigh, friend of this parish and well known to the SF Community at large.  The selection and the blog post went down a treat with our readers, so we’re delighted to present a second piece by Kev, this one singing the praises of Leigh Kennedy‘s debut novel The Journal of Nicholas the American. Enjoy . . .

 

Nicholas Dal has the family curse.  The pozhar-golava has affected the men of the Dal family going back generations to their Russian origins.  To cope with it Nicholas, or Kolya, drinks heavily and tries not to get too close to people.  This changes when he meets a young woman, Jack, and against his better judgement begins a relationship.

The curse is that Kolya senses other people’s feelings.  The word is barely used in this novel until the final few pages, but he is an empath.  This frequently overpowers Kolya, hence the drinking to dampen the sensations.  Pozhar-golava approximates to ‘Fire in the head’ and throughout his journals Kolya refers to the flames coming.  In one dramatic scene he collapses with a temperature of 107. Read more…

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SF Gateway Omnibus Schedule 2013

22 August 2013

Following a deluge of requests** we have decided to publish the schedule of SF Gateway omnibuses up to the end of the year. So, without further ado . . .


Available Now
Frank HerbertThe Dragon in the Sea; The Santaroga Barrier; The Dosadi Experiment
Gordon R. Dickson Tactics of Mistake; Time Storm; The Dragon and the George
Sheri S. Tepper After Long Silence; Shadow’s End; Six Moon Dance


August 2013

Bob ShawOrbitsville; A Wreath of Stars; The Ragged Astronauts
Joe HaldemanMarsbound; Starbound; Earthbound
Robert SilverbergNightwings; A Time of Changes; Lord Valentine’s Castle


September 2013

James BlishBlack Easter; The Day After Judgement; The Seedling Stars
Kate WilhelmThe Clewiston Test; The Infinity Box; Welcome, Chaos
Keith RobertsThe Chalk Giants; Kiteworld; The Grain Kings
James P. BlaylockThe Last Coin; The Paper Grail; All the Bells on Earth


October 2013

Jack VanceBig Planet; The Blue World; The Dragon Masters and Other Stories
Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Pellucidar – At the Earth’s Core; Pellucidar; Tanar of Pellucidar
E.E. ‘Doc’ SmithThe Skylark of Space; Skylark Three; Skylark of Valeron;
                         Skylark DuQuesne


November 2013

John SladekThe Reproductive System; The Muller-Fokker Effect; Tik-Tok
Robert HoldstockWhere Time Winds Blow; Earthwind; In the Valley of the Statues
Clifford D. SimakTime is the Simplest Thing; Way Station; A Choice of Gods
Poul AndersonBrain Wave; The Boat of a Million Years; The Guardians of Time


December 2013

Pat CadiganMindplayers; Fools; Tea from an Empty Cup
E. C. TubbThe Extra Man; The Space-Born; Fires of Satan
Henry KuttnerFury; Mutant; The Best of Henry Kuttner

 

We will try to keep to this schedule but we have very little leeway with these titles, so if one or two have something go wrong, we’re going to have little option but to move them back a bit in the year. There is a lot of work involved in these so please bear with us – and enjoy the omnibuses!
 
 
 
 
 


 
** Not so much a deluge, more like . . . OK, one – but it was really enthusiastic!

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More Moorcock

21 August 2013

We apologised a little while ago, for the delay in bringing you the eBook editions of our fantastic definitive versions of the works of Michael Moorcock.

We apologised for the delay, of course, but not for the extra care we’re taking to make sure we have the best possible eBooks available. A lot of work has gone into making these editions the ultimate collector’s items for fans of the great man – corrections carefully compiled over the years by Michael Moorcock and series editor John Davey have been incorporated, author’s preferred text instituted, favoured illustrations restored, internal chronology perfected (well, as much as it can be given the nature of the multiverse!), and we wanted to make sure this attention is also paid to the eBooks.

Now we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labours. Last week (the 15th, to be precise) we published the three volumes that make up The Dancers at the End of TimeAn Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands & The End of all Songs. And tomorrow we publish the first three books of Corum: The Knight of the SwordsThe Queen of the SwordsThe King of the Swords, which together comprise Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe.

The seven books of Hawkmoon, the first two Elric volumes and Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill’d Queen will not be far behind.

We are absolutely delighted to be Michael Moorcock‘s publishers and to be able to make his work available in digital editions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.

Michael Moorcock‘s eBooks can be found via his author page on the SF Gateway and his print books on the Orion website.  You can read more about him in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction or at his website, multiverse.org.

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Happy Birthday, Greg Bear!

20 August 2013

Multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Greg Bear turns 62 today. The author of such seminal Big Dumb Object novels as The Forge of God and Eon, bio-thriller Blood Music, claustrophobic space adventure Hull Zero Three and Stapledonian epic The City at the End of Time was born on this day in 1951.

Bear has moved Mars, tuned in to Darwin’s Radio, built on Asimov’s Foundations and pretty much mastered every subgenre he set out to explore. He is very much a giant of the modern field and we at Gollancz and SF Gateway are delighted to be his publishers.

And in addition to his own prodigious and decorated output, Greg Bear has another connection to SF Gateway: he is the son-in-law of the late great Poul Anderson, author of such SF classics as the Flandry of Terra novels, The High Crusade, the Psychotechnic League, the Time Patrol . . . we could go on but this post is supposed to be about Greg Bear not Poul Anderson, so we’ll keep that powder dry for another day.

Happy Birthday, Greg Bear – may you keep us in great books for many years to come!

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Emphyrio

19 August 2013

The recently-departed Jack Vance is our current Author of the Month, so we thought it appropriate to select one of his titles as Masterwork of the Week. And, as we are wont to do when the stars align correctly, we turn to SF Gateway’s resident social media consultant, Andrew Spong, for his thoughts on Emphyrio . . .

“But why have you performed such evil, on folk who have done you no harm? Why? Why? Why?”

“‘Why?'” Ghyl cried out. “To achieve! To make capital of my life, to stamp my imprint upon the cosmos! Is it right that I should be born, live and die with no more effect than a blade of grass[…]”

Fanton gave a bitter laugh. “Are you better than I? I live and die with equal inconsequence. Who will remember either of us?”

“You are you and I am I,” said Ghyl Tarvoke. “I am dissatisfied”.(p. 12) Read more…

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