Thoughts from the SF Gateway

The Obligatory Hallowe’en Post

31 October 2013

So, it’s Hallowe’en again. To kids around the world, an opportunity to dress up in outlandish costumes and run round their neighbourhoods collecting treats. To supermarkets, that small window of opportunity between back-to-school and Christmas to tempt shoppers to part with more of their hard-earned cash for no real, valid reason. To some, a celebration of all that is ghostly and atmospheric about autumn. To others, an artificial ‘holiday’ imported from across the waves, with no real cultural cachet. To yet others, a transparent attempt by the established Christian church to simultaneously annex and disempower the Celtic feast of Samhain.

I must confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Hallowe’en, which probably stems from never having been a big fan of Horror as a genre (or subgenre, if you like). Notwithstanding an abiding respect and admiration for the dark fantasy of Ray Bradbury and the haunting, nostalgic charm of his October country, the whole horror thing has never really appealed. Sure, there are honourable exceptions – mainly for comics like DC Vertigo’s Hellblazer (as distinct from the New 52’s Constantine!) and Alan Moore‘s Swamp Thing – but by-and-large, much as I enjoy watching my kids have fun dressing up as witches and vampires and the like, I’m really pretty indifferent to Hallowe’en.

Of course, not everyone agrees . . .

 

See you on Samhain!

 

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In Praise of . . . Fantastic Fiction

30 October 2013

Well, for what was supposed to be a regular feature, In Praise Of . . . has been pretty irregular. Maybe we need more fibre . . .

While you all struggle with that thought and try desperately to banish whatever images it’s conjured in your now-sullied minds, we will move blithely on – unaware, or at least uncaring, of the harm we’ve wrought – to lavish praise upon the excellent Fantastic Fiction. We like this site. A lot. How do you think we compile all those lists of classic SF books?!

Fantastic Fiction is an indispensable aid to us in putting together lists of books by the great and good (and frequently the unjustly forgotten) of SF and Fantasy.  We always check with the authors, estates and/or agents, but Fantastic Fiction gives us a great head start when we make our approaches – and we’d like to think the folks we’re acquiring rights from appreciate having a comprehensive list as a starting point for negotiations.

So: thank you, Fantastic Fiction. It’s not quite true to say we couldn’t have done it without you, but you’ve made what could have been a laborious and time-consuming task much, much easier. Much appreciated!

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New Book of the Week: A Dangerous Energy

29 October 2013

One of the joys of working on the SF Gateway is how often we come across ‘new’ books that were, in their earlier print incarnations, published by Gollancz. It’s both a quiet joy to be welcoming one of our own back from out-of-print obscurity and a reminder of the historical importance of Gollancz in the development of British SF over the last half a century or so; so many great works of SF were published by Gollancz over the years.

So imagine how pleased we were to conclude a deal for John Whitbourn’s work, earlier this year. Not only is John a wonderful writer of alternate histories – some more alternate than others! – but his first novel, A Dangerous Energy, won the BBC/Victor Gollancz Fantasy Novel Prize in 1991.

 

England, 1967: ruled by the power of the Catholic Church, as it has been since the failure of the Protestant Reformation. In this England there are steam trains, but no internal combustion engine; rifles but no electricity; heresy but no democracy.

And in this England, magic works.

England, 1967: young Tobias Oakley, out on an illicit night-time expedition, meets an elven woman – and is chosen for initiation into the secrets of necromancy. Tobias has a powerful talent and his injudicious use of it brings him to the attention of the Church – whose Thaumaturgical Division soon recruits him.

And so Tobias enters the Church, beginning his career amid the brothels and taverns of the teeming slums of the diocese of Southwark. From there his progress, if not steady – there is something about Tobias that arouses unease in his superiors – is generally upwards. As a curate, as a priest, as a soldier in the bloody war against heresy and finally as an eminent expert on diabolism, Tobias becomes a power in the English Catholic Church.

And as he does so, he pursues his second career: as liar, drug smuggler, rakehell, mass murderer, betrayer, vicious libertine and consorter with demons. For the elf legacy that has shaped his life has robbed him of something vital. And when Tobias, in an effort finally to discover some meaning in life, embarks on a fantastic and perilous quest through supernatural realms he finds himself at the last confronting a savage irony.

 

You can find A Dangerous Energy – and more of John Whitbourn’s books – via his author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about him at The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

 

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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: THE DRAGON GRIAULE

28 October 2013

6,000 feet long, from head to tail . . .

This is the second of our Fantasy Masterworks launch titles, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author Lucius Shepard’s acclaimed The Dragon Griaule. Collected together in one volume, these stories and novellas tell the fascinating tale of the Dragon Griaule, a beast so immense its body forms part of the landscape . . .

These six stories explore ground far from the high fantasy with which dragons are frequently associated. Fans of Shepard’s unusual and often powerful Griaule tales will be delighted to have them all in one place.

~ Publishers Weekly

The stories may be enjoyed as pure fantasy or as political metaphors to suit the individual reader. Either way, they are the creation of a master storyteller and present a fascinating world different from the usual fantasy world of dragons

~ SF REVU

For many readers, several of these stories will be already familiar, three of them were Hugo nominees and widely anthologized. For new readers, rest assured that The Dragon Griaule contains stories that will alternately entrance, amuse, perplex, shock, enlighten, confound, and compel you to keep reading. It’s a journey of altered lives in an altered landscape, where the fantastic and the real mingle in the lives of people who are never quite sure where their desires end and the dragon’s desires begin. That’s left for the reader to ponder, and in that way, the dragon Griaule remains as alive as ever.

~ SF SITE

 

The Dragon Griaule is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Lucius Shepard’s work via his author page at the SF Gateway website, and read more about him at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: LAST CALL

25 October 2013

October is here, and with it, the re-launch of the Fantasy Masterworks in their stunning (if we do say so ourselves) new cover style! We’ll be featuring each of the launch titles on the blog over the coming weeks and to get the ball rolling, we’re delighted to present Tim Powers’ World Fantasy Award-winning first volume in the Fault Lines trilogy, Last Call.

If you can’t conceive of fantasy that doesn’t involve magic swords, rings of power, perilous quests and farm-boys-with-a-destiny, then look away now; Tim Powers doesn’t do elves or dwarves that read like they’ve just stepped out of a D&D players’ manual. However, if you want myths and legends updated for the modern age and woven seamlessly into a contemporary setting, if you want to lift the curtain and peek behind the scenes into the secret history of the world, if you want to read fantasy written with power and insight and a complete command of the written word, then step right up, good people – have we got a book for you!

The World Fantasy Award-winning novel from the author of The Anubis Gates and Declare.

Twenty years ago Scott Crane abandoned his career as a professional poker player and went into hiding, after a weird high-stakes game played with Tarot cards. But now the cards – and the supernatural powers behind them – have found him again.

Crane’s father killed gangster Bugsy Siegel in 1948 to become the Fisher King, and to keep that power he is determined to kill his son. Now Scott Crane must cross the Mojave Desert to his father’s Perilous Chapel in Las Vegas, and take up the cards again for one last poker duel. And the stakes are the highest he’s ever played for . . . his soul.

Last Call is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Tim Powers’ eBooks at his author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

AND YOU CAN MEET TIM POWERS, AND MANY OTHER FINE AUTHORS, IN JUST A FEW DAYS!

 

Tim is visiting for the World Fantasy Convention, which takes place in Brighton this year, and before he heads to the seaside, he will be doing some London-based events:

Saturday 26th October: Tim Powers will be signing at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, from 1:00 – 2:00pm with fellow fathers of steampunk James P. Blaylock and K.W. Jeter.

Monday 28th October: Join Tim Powers, Kate Griffin and Lavie Tidhar at Blackwells, Charing Cross Road, from 6:30 – 8:00pm for a discussion of their work and the sometimes permeable boundary between fact and fiction.

Thursday 31st October – Sunday 3rd November: World Fantasy Convention!

 

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Joe Haldeman Signing in London!

24 October 2013

World Fantasy Con 2013 in Brighton is almost upon us, and the great and the good of the genre are on their way to the UK. Which means signings! Lots and lots of signings. We’ll give you some more information about who’s where when in the next few days, but first I wanted to flag up one particular event which I think will be of interest to London-based readers of this blog.

Joe Haldeman‘s The Forever War (SF Masterwork paperback | SF Gateway eBook)  was chosen, way back in 1999, to be the first SF Masterwork, a remarkable series which is still going strong today. The fact that it was chosen to launch the series should be an indication of just how good it is, and how well-respected a book it remains, almost 40 years after first publication. I hadn’t read it before that release, which given that it was a Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award-winner is a bit worrying, but when I saw the first of the Masterworks I thought I’d give them a go, and the sheer brilliance of Haldeman’s Vietnam-war allegory convinced me to read the whole series. I hope most people here have at least heard of the book, even if they haven’t read it, but even if you have, it bears revisiting. One of the most powerful and intelligent – but also deeply entertaining – novels SF has ever produced, it – and its later sequels, collected in one edition, Peace and Warmake Haldeman one of our most important writers.

 But Haldeman has written far more than that. His most recent trilogy (Marsbound, Starbound, Earthbound) is a great piece of SF, charting humanity’s response to first contact. It has recently been published as one of our SF Gateway Omnibuses/Omnibi/Omnibibbles, and is well worth a read.

Those three titles are all that we have in print at the moment, but there is plenty of Haldeman goodness over on the SF Gateway. I’m particularly fond of The Accidental Time Machine, which keeps on taking the reader places they don’t expect, but I’m sure that they’re all good, even the ones I haven’t read yet. That’s the sort of writer he is.

Anyway, here’s the point: Joe Haldeman will be signing at Forbidden Planet London on Friday 25th October at 6pm. Here’s the link: https://forbiddenplanet.com/events/2013/10/25/joe-haldeman-forbidden-planet/

If you’re in London, you should definitely go.

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From the Attic: An Introduction

23 October 2013

Perhaps it is the position of science fiction on the periphery of mainstream fiction that makes it so open to borrowing from elsewhere, from physics and fairy tales, from philosophy, folklore and myth.  And perhaps it is the position of women on the periphery of mainstream (patriarchal) culture that makes SF so suitable a genre for them to work in.

~ Sarah Lefanu, In The Chinks Of The World Machine, 1988, p.99

Do we still need to talk about women in SFF? If JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are amongst the bestsellers world-wide, and Lauren Beukes is the new poster child of genre for the literary establishment (as Gibson and Miéville were in previous generations) can we really argue that women’s SFF is neglected?  Haven’t all the arguments been hashed and rehashed in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and again in the ’00s?  (There’s a clue there.)

It’s 2013, we claim SFF has grown up long ago, yet this year a male author belittled women writers on his publisher’s blog; two other male authors joked about how certain women authors looked in swimwear on an industry forum; the proportion of women SF authors published in the UK is very small and no women were shortlisted for either the British Science Fiction Association Award or the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best SF Novel published in the UK.  So, do we still need to talk about women in SFF?  Looks like we do.

SFWA Grand Master Connie Willis

There’s another factor, one more directly related to the intent of this column.  The number of women reviewed by various prominent journals and magazines is disproportionately low compared to men reviewed.  I’m not qualified to discuss why this is the case.  It’s not for me to cast blame. Whether it’s deliberate or unconscious sexism, cultural backgrounds reinforcing the status quo, or whatever does matter but my concern is what can we do about it?

Well one answer ought to be obvious, review more women, create more discussion around their works and raise the profiles of individuals and of women in SFF generally.  Which leads us to From The Attic which aims to look at some of the many excellent novels and short stories by women throughout SFF in all its forms and, by shedding light in the dark corners of the attic where women have been hidden away, to combat a few misconceptions?

There are several overpowering myths about women in SFF, the oldest being that women don’t really write SF.  Joanna Russ wrote scathingly about these myths in How To Suppress Women’s Writing and has almost come to represent one of her own examples.  She’s rightly acclaimed for her feminist SF but it is as though she was an anomaly as from the same era Vonda McIntyre, for instance, is rarely mentioned.

Josephine Saxton

As Sarah Lefanu asserts, SFF seems well suited to women authors, and indeed many have been instrumental in most of the genre’s movements, subgenres and trends, usually without due credit.  Mary Shelley is often cited as a pioneer of the genre, but closer to our time, and to SFF as we know it, what about Josephine Saxton, Kit Reed and Kate Wilhelm in the New Wave(s)?  Amidst all the talk of Gibson and Sterling in the 80s Samuel Delany vociferously asserted that cyberpunk had no father but lots of mothers, and listed Joanna Russ and Connie Willis amongst them.  The New Weird based around China Miéville got a lot of attention a few years back, but precursors such as Mary Gentle, Storm Constantine and Gill Alderman were ignored.  Certain blog sites do shared re-reads of epic fantasy series by Steven Erickson but nobody does the same for Kate Elliott.

Mary Gentle

Again, I don’t propose to look at why this is, take it as given that women writing SF have been taken less seriously than men in some quarters.  Now that projects like SF Gateway here, and some other specialist presses elsewhere are making long out of print works available again digitally or in collector’s editions we can change this perception.  Think about it, if women are rarely reviewed they are likely to sell less so become harder for us readers to find by chance.  I don’t expect you to like all the books I hope to write about here, my tastes can be eclectic and obscure at times, but at the very least you will know they exist.  Reading or not reading somebody like Rosel George Brown then becomes an informed choice for you rather than her neglect being an imposed default.  I do think you will love some of our choices here though.

There is another myth I’d like to address now though.  That men don’t usually read women authors, or don’t like women protagonists.  Well I certainly do, Ian Sales clearly does, and many other male contributors on the SF Mistressworks site (and others such as Strange Horizons) do.  So whilst there is an irony in male reviewers discussing issues around female authors I hope that we serve a purpose in breaking this mould at least.

That said, this ought not to be one more boys’ club.  I am aware that many female critics, authors and fans have been shouting loudly about this for years.  (Those debates in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s I mentioned.)  We would be delighted to welcome contributions, comments, suggestions, constructive disagreements, anything from anyone to keep the subjects alive and growing.

One more thing about SFF in the 21st century is that it is, and arguably always was, a global phenomenon.  Just as we need to keep talking about women in SFF, so too we need to keep talking about LGBT and other Queer writers and characters, about people of colour in SFF, and about non-Anglo, European and colonial settings.  From The Attic is only one venue for this, and hopefully not a voice in the wilderness.

***

Finally, a note about From The Attic’s plans.  Although this is the SF Gateway site and hence part of Gollancz we haven’t been asked to restrict ourselves to just their stable of authors, nor to blindly praise them.  We want this to be a positive step, part of broader conversations, but to be honest and objective too.   We have ideas, obviously our personal favourites, but that in itself can be problematic if we don’t step outside our own experience.  So, let’s keep talking about women in SF.  It’ll be good for us all.

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New Column on the SF Gateway Blog

22 October 2013

We are delighted to announce a new regular monthly column on the SF Gateway blog, curated by the excellent Kev McVeigh and devoted to exploring the too-oft forgotten landscape of women’s SF & fantasy. Titled ‘From the Attic’ after Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s pioneering book on women in 19th century novels The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, it is planned for this column to appear monthly. We expect Kev will write the majority of posts, but he will also be soliciting input from Knowledgeable Others as he sees fit.

This is an important issue and one that promises erudition and entertainment in equal measure. The first column appears tomorrow and we hope you’ll join us. Who knows?  You might discover your new favourite SFF author in these very pages . . .

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Happy Birthday, Ursula Le Guin!

21 October 2013

On this day, eighty-four years ago, Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born. I’m not sure whether she’s celebrating the event, but we certainly are! Apart from being one of the most lyrical, insightful, imaginative and important authors the SFF field has ever produced, she is that rarest of writers: one fêted by the literary establishment as much as by the SFF community. If anyone ever tries to tell you that SF or fantasy writers are technically inferior to their ‘literary’ counterparts, just thrust a Le Guin book into their hands watch their pre-conceptions crumble.**

Over a long and distinguished career, Ursula K. Le Guin has won five Hugo Awards, six Nebula Awards, two World Fantasy Awards and three James Tiptree, Jr Memorial Awards.  She was the first author to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel twice – in 1970 for The Left Hand of Darkness and five years later for The Dispossessed. In 1995 she was given the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, in 2001 was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and in 2003 was named a SFWA Grand Master.

We’re lucky enough to be Ms Le Guin’s UK publisher and have a range of her titles available in print and eBook, including two in the SF Masterworks series: The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven.

 

You can find details of available print titles at Ursula Le Guin’s page on the Orion website, explore her available eBooks on the SF Gateway and read more about the author in her entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Happy Birthday, Ursula Le Guin!

** If they’re being honest. . .

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RUN TO THE STARS

18 October 2013

I’ve been going on a bit of a Michael Scott Rohan reading jag in the last year or so, for no real good reason than I remembered liking his work a lot. I reread the Spiral series (available as Gateway ebooks! Here’s the link to the first one, Chase the Morning) first, as when I was unpacking boxes looking for the book I really I wanted to read I came upon them instead, and thought I might as well go with it. They’re a lot of fun, although there are some computer-related plotlines that, ummm, don’t really stand up to the modern days of the internet. We can forgive that, though – it’s not like that isn’t true of most SF from before 2000 or so. They’re entertaining, pacey reads, with an enjoyably annoying (at times) lead character and a well-thought-through ‘Other-London’ Neverwhere-y type vibe, and the always popular ‘person from our time gets caught in fantasy world’ setting.

And then I got busy, and forgot to go back to the boxes, until a few days ago when, after a chance conversation at work, I was reminded that what I really wanted to read again was The Anvil of Ice, which is the first part of Rohan’s masterful Winter of the World series. I found it this time, along with its two sequels, but I also found Run to the Stars, his first novel, and decided to read that instead. I’m sure I’ve read it before – there aren’t many books on my shelves that I haven’t read, and I tend to know what they are, as the crushing doom that comes upon me every time I look at the TBR pile on the floor is a very distinctive feeling – but I couldn’t remember much about it, so it went into the front of the queue. (I’m reading The Anvil of Ice right now, in fact – and it stands the test of time. Seriously good fantasy. But that’s for another blogpost, I think.)

Anyway, Run to the Stars is a book that’s worth checking out, I reckon. It’s most definitely a first novel, and its constant widening of scale – from small remote Scottish island to large port to global conspiracy to space to interstellar war – is intentional but a little disconcerting. The characters who aren’t Bellamy, our hero, can be a little thin in places, although there are some very memorable ones dotted here and there, but what I enjoyed most about the book is how different it felt. Rohan has a complicated and rolling prose style, which works better when he’s writing fantasy or describing natural surroundings, but he’s got a good eye for action and suspense as well. There are a couple of deaths here which, because largely unexpected, hit home, and the series of moral dilemmas the hero has to get through are tricky ones. We’re left knowing that he may well not be making the right decisions, even if he thinks he’s making them for the right reasons. There’s a lovely scene in the last third of the novel where another character takes Bellamy aside and basically says what the reader has been thinking – Are you becoming too much like those we fought to escape? – and we don’t know how he’ll respond. There’s also a rather touching fatalism to the book – it isn’t a grim and gritty future, but it isn’t one many of us would like to live in, either. But Rohan makes it very clear how the human race got to there from here, and it’s a little worryingly likely . . .

Anyway, that’s enough blethering from me. If you haven’t read Rohan, I urge you to give him a go. If you like fantasy then The Anvil of Ice and the rest of that trilogy are the ones to go for, because they’re brilliant, but if you prefer a little more realism and SF in your writing, perhaps chance a few quid and Run to the Stars.

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