Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Robert Holdstock: An Anniversary Remembrance

29 November 2013

Yesterday was publication day for another four SF Gateway omnibuses – more classic novels returned to print by such giants of the field as Clifford D. Simak (eBook | trade paperback), John Sladek (eBook | trade paperback) and Poul Anderson (eBook | trade paperback). All much-missed authors and all deserving of your time and attention, but the publication that holds a special – and, today, poignant – place in the hearts of all of us at Gollancz is this one:

 

It is four years ago today that we lost one of the greatest and best-loved fantasy writers of modern times, Robert Holdstock. Anyone who has read the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood or his extraordinary re-imagining of Arthurian myth, The Merlin Codex, will know why we hold his work in such high regard. And anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Rob will know why we miss the man as much as the writer, if not more.

 

And this morning, when I opened my eyes and saw the spring sky above me as I lay in that shallow boat, I realised that my long journey from the heart of the forest was over.

I had come home again.

If only for a while.

from Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn by Robert Holdstock (1948 – 2009)

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A SENSE OF SHADOW by Kate Wilhelm

28 November 2013

Frequently in Kate Wilhelm’s best fiction memories and dreams become entwined with and are influenced beyond the norm by the protagonist’s social environment. The reader familiar with these stories will recognise much in A Sense Of Shadow (1981) that was previously seen in ‘Somerset Dreams’ for instance. At the same time as Wilhelm’s story is familiar her development of tension makes A Sense Of Shadow an effective psychological mystery.

When the dying patriarch John Daniel Culbertson summons his estranged children to his wealthy and sprawling Oregon ranch it is to inform them of his will and condemn them to his final psychological torture. Each child must undergo EEG recordings, then on Culbertson’s death they must remain in the house for seven nights before further EEG recordings are to be compared. One will ‘pass’ the test and inherit all, or none will and the ranch will go to the university. Almost immediately after this Culbertson does die.

The four children, all full grown (if not exactly mature in some cases) are joined by the youngest son Lucas’s wife Ginny and research psychologist Hugh Froelich. Culbertson has become intrigued by a paper Froelich wrote about brain waves and has taken these ideas a grand and despotic further step. For the next week they are effectively trapped in the house by the ruling of a crazy old man and their own issues.

The gothic haunted house aspect of this short novel is it’s initial strength, as Wilhelm delicately hints at doors mysteriously closing, lights being turned on and so on, without explicit supernatural involvement. Without overdoing descriptive passages she creates a brooding environment in which her story plays out. In contrast the deaths of each of Culbertson’s three previous wives in manners that seem to point suspicion back at him seem slightly contrived. That each death was witnessed by one or more of the children, but never clearly, may account for some of their individual and collective psychological damage and their feeling haunted in the old house, but it also raises questions of what is really happening now by querying what previously happened.

Froelich’s theories are the SF element here, there is brief discussion of chemical process and electrical impulse in axons causing synapses to fire, leading to his repeated assertion that there is ‘no mechanism for possession’ that true metempsychosis is scientifically impossible. However he also observes later:

Bluebeard’s sons, he thought with a shudder. They were all in a state of heightened suggestibility. Not hypnotized, but so suggestible that any stimulus, even self-induced, made them react. And their reactions were not their usual ones, but what they believed his would have been. (p126)

As the novel reaches its inevitable climax the characters are rapidly overwhelmed by their fears and apparent memories. The penultimate chapter flashes through an explosion of multiple distorted viewpoints as Culbertson’s influence seems to peak with potentially tragic consequences.

A Sense Of Shadow is both evocative in its physical descriptions and intensely creepy in its playing reality and imagination against each other. Whilst the differences between the characters can be hard to see, particularly older brothers Conrad and Mallory, there’s a growing realisation that maybe Wilhelm intended that. The daughter Janet is similarly indistinguishable, although self-defined by her body image perhaps, and even outsider Ginny increasingly is absorbed into the coalescent group. The power of the patriarch to discomfort, to influence and to enforce conformity are the heart of a disturbing feminist short novel on the fringes of SF, Horror (in this case more accurately, Terror) and the literary mainstream.

**********

This review first appeared at Kev McVeigh‘s blog, Performative Utterance and is republished here with his kind permission.

Kate Wilhelm is our current Author of the Month. You can find more of her work via her author page on the SF Gateway and you can read about her in her entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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SF in Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

27 November 2013

Although what I said in my previous post still stands (that I hadn’t read much SF before becoming part of the Gateway team), upon reflection I realised that this wasn’t really the whole story. From a very early age, say about 6 years old, I have been exposed to SF through another medium entirely: anime and, a bit later, manga. It never occurred to me because anime has been part of my life for so long that I’ve never really taken the time to think about the sorts of genres I was enjoying and consuming, but a large proportion can definitely be classified as SF.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, which originally aired in Japan between April 1995 and March 1996, is one such anime. Although not the first series of the now rather extensive Gundam franchise to be dubbed and distributed in the US, it’s the first to have been aired on American TV, filling a slot in Cartoon Network’s Toonami anime block during 2000. Like Haldeman’s The Forever War, Gundam Wing is a military SF, but rather than battling against aliens from the far reaches of space, the protagonists are fighting other factions of Mankind.

Gundam Wing takes place in the “After Colony” timeline. Set in the distant future, Man has built space colonies at the five Earth–Moon Lagrange points and back on Earth, nations have united as the United Earth Sphere Alliance. The Alliance, however, oppresses the colonies with its military power, using a large variety of different mecha to keep them in check. Although the colonists desire a peaceful resolution, five disaffected Alliance scientists turn rogue and independently manufacture extremely advanced mobile suits, piloted by teenage boys who are sent to Earth and tasked with the destruction of the Alliance and their weaponry in order to free the colonies from oppression.

As a kid, some of the more complex political strands went completely over my head; I was there for the epic space battles and giant robots kicking arse. A re-watch found the various political plots and splitting factions to be utterly compelling and the characters to be interesting and varied. Whilst the main protagonists are all male, what’s great about Gundam Wing is that there is also a whole host of fab female characters that play a variety of roles throughout the course of the anime: doctors, veteran pilots, crazy power-hungry military leaders, pacifists. If the men are doing it, so are the women.

There are also, of course, still the epic space battles and giant robots kicking arse.

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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: The Falling Woman

26 November 2013

We cannot hope to match the insight or depth of knowledge Kev McVeigh exhibited in last week’s From the Attic post, so we’re not even going to try. We will simply say that our current Masterwork of the Week is Pat Murphy‘s Nebula Award-winning The Falling Woman.  And you should go read it.

 

THE FALLING WOMAN

Elizabeth Waters, an archaeologist who abandoned her husband and daughter years ago to pursue her career, can see the shadows of the past. It’s a gift she keeps secret from her colleagues and students, one that often leads her to incredible archaeological discoveries – and the terrible suspicion that she might be going mad.

Then on a dig in the Yucatan, the shadow of a Mayan priestess speaks to her. Suddenly Elizabeth’s daughter Diane arrives, hoping to reconnect with her mother. As Elizabeth, her daughter and the priestess fall into the mysterious world of Mayan magic, it is clear one of them will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice . . .

 

The Falling Woman is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.  You can find many of the titles mentioned above via Pat Murphy’s author page on the SF Gateway, and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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The SF Gateway Omnibuses

25 November 2013

It is our dedicated mission in life to transform the SF & Fantasy shelves of your local bookshops into an unbroken sea of yellow. Of course, the new SF Masterworks are a sort of yellow – and, as they now number over one hundred, form a formidable presence in all good bookshops, but that’s not quite enough for us. Not enough books, not enough yellow. Thus the SF Gateway omnibuses.

We have published thirteen, thus far:

July
Sheri S Tepper SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Frank Herbert SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

August
Bob Shaw SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Joe Haldeman SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Robert Silverberg SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

September
James Blish SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Kate Wilhelm SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
James Blaylock SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Keith Roberts SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

October
Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith SF Gateway Omnibus eBook (available 28th November) | trade paperback
The Pellucidar SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

 
And here is what you can expect over the next few months . . .
 
28th November
Robert Holdstock SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Clifford Simak SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
John Sladek SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Poul Anderson SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

19th December
E.C. Tubb SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Pat Cadigan SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Henry Kuttner SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

January 2014
Algis Budrys SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
C.L. Moore SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback
Garry Kilworth SF Gateway Omnibus eBook | trade paperback

 

We’ll post further into the future in the New Year. Meanwhile, we hope that these will whet your appetite for more classic SF & F. Happy reading!

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22nd November, 1963

22 November 2013

It was fifty years ago, today, that US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade moved through Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, Texas. The shots – three of them – were fired by former US marine and communist-sympathiser, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building . . . weren’t they?

The Warren Commission stated for the record that Lee Harvey Oswald, and Lee Harvey Oswald alone, was responsible for one of the pivotal moments in 20th century history – but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people proposing dozens of alternative theories of varying degrees of likelihood. Indeed, the assassination of JFK has probably generated more conspiracy theories than any other event in history. The Mafia did it. It was the Russians. It was the Cubans. It was the Cubans acting on behalf of of the Russians. It was the CIA. It was Vice President Lyndon Johnson. It was the military-industrial complex. It was . . . well, you get the point.

My favoured theory for many years was that organised crime was behind the assassination. It all seemed to add up: Oswald was killed (‘silenced’) by Jack Ruby – a nightclub owner who was known to mob boss Sam Giancana; Giancana had, according to some accounts, used his influence to help delivery the presidency to Kennedy, three years earlier; JFK had repaid that favour by appointing his brother Bobby to the position of Attorney General, where he had initiated twelve times as many mob prosecutions as during the previous administration. It seemed obvious that the Mafia would want him dead. Except . . . except . . . the Mafia had more to lose by being implicated in the murder of a president than they could possibly lose by letting events take their course and trying to ride the storm. Remember this is the organisation that sanctioned the murder of one of its own – Arthur ‘Dutch Schultz’ Flegenheimer – because he was planning to kill crusading New York District Attorney (and future presidential candidate) Thomas Dewey. Other senior mob figures feared the ramifications of assassinating such a prominent public figure. No, they may have wanted Kennedy dead, but it’s hugely unlikely they’d have attempted to kill him.

Likewise, any ‘internal’ conspiracy – the CIA, Johnson or representatives of the military-industrial complex – seems unlikely, given what we now know of Kennedy’s personal life. An attention-grabbing assassination seems much less probable than simple blackmail or a smear campaign ahead of the upcoming 1964 presidential election.

But equally implausible, to many, is that Lee Harvey Oswald, on his own cognizance, plotted and executed the assassination of arguably the single best-protected human being on the planet. The credibility-straining improbability of the ‘magic bullet’ theory, the irregularities surrounding the evidence given to the Warren Commission, the questions surrounding the apparent incongruity of the president’s injuries with the rifle and ammunition that was alleged to have killed him, and any number of other factors make Ockam’s Razor at least as unsatisfactory as any of the conspiracy theories.

Which is why, no doubt, we,be felt compelled to return again and again to this moment in November, 1963. Oliver Stone, James Ellroy, Stephen Hunter and Stephen King are just a handful of writers or filmmakers who have felt compelled to add to the narrative of Kennedy’s death. And then there are the ‘what if’s – the likes of Brendan DuBois and Alan Moore, The Twilight Zone and Quantum Leap have all explored what must be the third of the Big Three alternative history turning points, along with the South winning the American Civil War and Hitler winning WWII: what if JFK had lived.

So. Fifty years on and we still really have no definitive answer to the question of who actually killed JFK and why.  And maybe that – even more so than the tragic allure of the end of Camelot – is why we can almost certainly look froward to another half century of books, movies, graphic novels and ever-more-crazy conspiracy theories. Because the answer is less important than asking the question.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963).

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New Book of the Week: the Ulitmate Egoist

21 November 2013

The Ultimate Egoist is the first volume of The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, and contains the late author’s earliest work, written between 1937 and 1940. An acknowledged master of the short form – SF’s premier award for short fiction is named in his honour – Sturgeon’s influence was strongly felt by even the most original science fiction stylists, including Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Gene Wolfe, each of whom contributes a laudatory foreword. The more than 40 stories in this volume showcase Sturgeon’s masterful knack with clever plot twists, sparkling character development and almost archetypal ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ story ideas. Early Sturgeon masterpieces include ‘It’, about the violence done by a creature spontaneously born from garbage and mud, and ‘Helix the Cat’, about an inventor’s bizarre encounter with a disembodied soul and the cat that saves it.

We are delighted to be publishing The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon and hope the availability of these books will please dedicated Sturgeon fans as well as gaining new readers for one of the undisputed masters of the genre.

Theodore Sturgeon (1918 – 1985) was born Edward Hamilton Waldo in New York City in 1918. Sturgeon was not a pseudonym; his name was legally changed after his parents’ divorce. After selling his first SF story to Astounding in 1939, he travelled for some years, only returning in earnest in 1946. He produced a great body of acclaimed short fiction  as well as a number of novels, including More Than Human, which was awarded the 1954 retro-Hugo in 2004. In addition to coining Sturgeon’s Law – ‘90% of everything is crud’ – he wrote the screenplays for seminal Star Trek episodes ‘Shore Leave’ and ‘Amok Time’, inventing the famous Vulcan mating ritual, the pon farr.

You can find more of Theodore Sturgeon’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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SF Masterwork of the Week: Transfigurations

20 November 2013

As we mentioned last week, when wishing Michael Bishop a happy birthday, we added his BSFA Award-shortlisted novel Transfigurations to the SF Masterworks list this month.

A fascinating and compelling novel of alien life by the Nebula Award-winning author of No Enemy But Time and Ancient of Days.

In a clearing of the great forest of the planet Bosk Veld, a strange, ape-like species of alien, the Asadi, act out their almost-incomprehensible rituals, rainbow eyes flashing, spinning like pinwheels.

Egon Chaney, in his anthropological study, ‘Death and Designation Among the Asadi’ has shown how their life-style has apparently degenerated from a level of complex technological sophistication and devolved to a primal simplicity. Long after his disappearance in the forest, his daughter, Elegy Cather, comes to Bosk Veld to carry on his studies of the Asadi where he left off. With her is an intelligent ape, Kretzoi, physically adapted to resemble the aliens.

Together with Thomas Benedict, Chaney’s old partner, Elegy begins to unravel the enigma of the Asadi. As Kretzoi insinuates himself into their rituals, so we are drawn into what is perhaps the most convincing portrayal of the alien yet.

 

Transfigurations is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find Michael Bishop’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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From The Attic II: Pat Murphy

19 November 2013

Pat Murphy says her favourite bird is the mockingbird because ‘it never sings the same song twice.’  So far the same can be said of Murphy herself.  Some writers find a genre seam and mine it successfully (and some exhaust it sooner than they realise) but Pat Murphy has spent her career questing around the edges of genres often probing in multiple directions at once.  It’s an approach made explicit in the title of her first collection Points Of Departure, but most obvious in her strange, brilliant novel Adventures In Time & Space With Max Merriwell.  Along the way she has picked up a string of Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Philip K Dick Award nominations.  Despite this variation, there are consistent aspects to her fiction that reward her fans richly.

As Emma Bull said:

Pat Murphy’s stories make me look at the world around me, blink, and look again.  See what’s there, they say.  See what could be there.  See what isn’t there, but should be, what must never be there and is.

That’s the thing I love about many of Pat Murphy‘s stories: her protagonists don’t blink in the face of the fantastic but openly engage with it.  Elizabeth Butler is not threatened by the Mayan ‘ghosts’ she sees in The Falling Woman.  Jennifer in ‘About Fairies’ assumes that fairies exist because why wouldn’t they?  And Mrs Jenkins knows that ‘A Falling Star Is A Rock From Outer Space’ but is also able to accept that her falling star is more than that.  It is this equipoise that allows the artists of The City, Not Long After to use imagination to defeat an enemy unable to see beyond imagination.

That liminality, the way Murphy rather than have a foot in fantasy and a foot in reality actually crosshatches them, is something rare in SFF.  She doesn’t straddle genres but melds them.  There And Back Again for instance, sort of looks like The Hobbit retold as a steampunk space opera version of The Hunting Of The Snark with feminism, pataphysics, and a knowing cleverness that adds bite to its amiable charm.  On the other hand Adventures In Time & Space With Max Merriwell is a romantic murder thriller on a Love Boat avatar in the Bermuda triangle all explained by quantum mechanics.  And a direct sequel to There And Back Again and to Wild Angel the story of a young woman brought up by wolves in gold rush California.  There And Back Again we are told, is actually written by somebody called Max Merriwell.

Pat Murphy & Max Merriwell?

Wild Angel credits a Mary Maxwell, and in Adventures we meet a third Murphy pseudonym, thriller writer Weldon Merrimax.  In what I want to call hyperphery Murphy has one of her pseudonyms as a ‘real’ character whilst the other two are both real and illusory, carried over from the earlier books and jousting for pre-eminence, meanwhile a character called Pat Murphy (there’s also a Patrick) resolves things with scientific explanations straight from the real Pat Murphy‘s work at the San Francisco science museum The Exploratorium.  Then the wolves appear . . . clearly Murphy is having fun and so does her reader.

Earlier in her career, the Nebula award-winning The Falling Woman (now reprinted as a Fantasy Masterwork) approaches time in the same manner.  On an archaeological dig in the Yucatan Elizabeth Butler (a rare middle-aged woman protagonist in SFF) sees a woman from a 1000 years ago and the woman can see Elizabeth.  Murphy uses this to debunk a few misconceptions about Mayans, about women, and as these misconceptions are Anglo-American in origin, by doing so she ultimately neatly punctures some of white America’s myths about itself.  Confused?  You won’t be. It’s a charming, poignant, wistful book and an important one too.

American myths of the need and the desire to rebuild America post-holocaust are prominent in SF, and at the time of Murphy’s third novel, The City, Not Long After were a popular trend.  (Think David Brin‘s The Postman for instance.)  I hope it’s not considered derogatory to label The City, Not Long After as a novel that could only have been told about California and about San Francisco.  It has a free spirited imagination and a glorious non-violent response to military aggression (see also Murphy’s friend Lisa Goldstein‘s equally brilliant A Mask For The General) that fits perceptions of that city perfectly. It may sound twee, but Murphy’s ideas influenced by the likes of Stelarc are intriguing, bringing art and technology together in social contexts and she is realist enough to offer a truly shocking ending.

At shorter length Murphy’s body of short fiction collected in Points Of Departure is so good that it became not only the only collection to win the Philip K Dick Award but the only one ever shortlisted to date.  Here are tales of ‘The Women In The Trees’ a simple tale of an unhappy wife’s escape made powerful by second-person telling; of a dead young woman whose identity is transplanted into a chimpanzee in the unforgettable Nebula winner ‘Rachel In Love’; of a man planting ‘His Vegetable Wife’ from a seed which Karen Joy Fowler called a ‘nasty’ story; and those people who live between realities ‘On The Dark Side Of The Station Where The Train Never Stops.’ There are fantasies, straight SF, twists upon classic tropes and remarkable new ideas told mostly without flash but a crystalline core that sustains the visionary surrounds.

Although each of Pat Murphy‘s works are so different from each other, and in many ways different from any other SFF around, they resemble genre works in ways that make them instantly recognisable. At the same time their liminality, the deeply embedded crosshatching of time streams, of genres, of realities, of characters, challenges our worldviews the way SFF is supposed to do. Occasionally I’m tempted to say that the layers of Murphy’s storying mean that even individual stories don’t always look like themselves. Take how the romantic comedy of Adventures In Time & Space is really a serious depiction of quantum mechanics, or a tense thriller. “Each of us looks for patterns in his own way.” Elizabeth Butler writes in The Falling Woman and later “A society defines what is normal and what is crazy – and then says anyone who challenges the definition is crazy . . . Each culture defines its idiosyncrasies and then forgets that it has done so.”  Pat Murphy is our perfect crazy-normal reminder that our patterns change as we change and we can leave them behind to create new ones or indeed that they need not be consecutive patterns but concurrent.  Elizabeth does this with the return of her daughter into her life; Pat Murphy the character imposes the patterns of quantum physics upon the fictional characters around her (and in doing so tells us she knows it is a pattern i.e. fiction.); Bailey Beldon may go There And Back Again in a pre-established pattern from Tolkien, but his pattern is equally Carroll’s Snark and Campbell’s Hero; and the irony is of course that they are all Pat Murphy‘s patterns.

‘About Fairies’ one of Murphy’s most recent stories, sums much of this up for me.

“My name is Jennifer. I am on my way to a toy company in Redwood City to have a meeting about fairies.”  For Jennifer though the fairies are not the Disneyfied Tinkerbelles with pink dresses and sparkles but dark, amoral or even malevolent.  “Tiffany’s fairies drink dewdrops and sip nectar from flowers.  Mine prefer protein.”  They may also be real or a virtual creation.  A child’s imagination or a means of facing death.  “People believe what they want to believe” Jennifer says at one point.  Pat Murphy, ultimately, offers us not merely a choice of truths.  Most authors do that.  She offers us truths we have not seen previously and she shows how those truths co-exist, often uneasily but symbiotically.  She writes serious feminist Fantasy that is also charming funny romantic SF at the same time as it is gripping thriller and even absorbing science demonstrations.  You may learn from them or just enjoy them . . . I did both.

**********

You can find many of the titles mentioned above via Pat Murphy’s author page on the SF Gateway, and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Doris Lessing (1919 – 2013)

18 November 2013

We are saddened by the news that Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing passed away, yesterday, at the age of 94.  During a glittering career – which spanned over half a century and garnered her many awards culminating, of course, in the 2007 Nobel Prize for LiteratureDoris Lessing produced more than two dozen novels as well as numerous collections of short fiction, poetry, memoirs and other non-fiction. She will be best-known to most SF fans for her Canopus in Argos: Archives series, comprising  Shikasta (1979), The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980), The Sirian Experiments (1980), The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) and The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983).

But more than just writing a science fiction series, Doris Lessing proudly and unambiguously declared them to be science fiction, and for that she will for ever hold a place of affection in our hearts.

Doris May Lessing (1919 – 2013). Rest in peace.

 

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