Thoughts from the SF Gateway

SF Masterwork of the Week: Life, the Universe and Everything

30 December 2013

‘Oh Deep Thought Computer,’ he said, ‘the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us . . .’ he paused ‘. . . the Answer!’
‘The Answer?’ said Deep Thought. ‘The Answer to what?’
‘Life!’ urged Fook.
‘The Universe!’ said Lunkwill.
‘Everything!’ they said in chorus.

Most of you will have spotted that as a pivotal moment in Douglas Adams‘ wonderful science fiction comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Anyone who didn’t is hereby ordered to go and read it immediately before going any further with this post. Go on: we’ll wait.

Are you done?

Good; then we’ll go on. No, wait! You’d better read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, too. Done? OK, now, we’ll go on . . .

The concept of the supercomputer, Deep Thought, and the vexing question to the answer of Life, the Universe and Everything, informs all of Adams’ subsequent Hitchhiker books, and gives the third (and middle) book in the trilogy its title. We are delighted to be publishing Life, the Universe and Everything in hardback as part of our SF Masterworks series and especially proud to have an introduction by John Lloyd, who collaborated with Adams on the radio series (among many, many other claims to fame, such as being the creator of QI).

Only five individuals stand between the killer robots of Krikkit and their goal of the total annihilation of the universe. They are Arthur Dent, homeless Englishman currently marooned in the deep past; his friend Ford Prefect, temporarily insane to see if he likes it, also marooned; Slartibartfast, once of the planet builders of Magrathea; Zaphod Beeblebrox, ex-confidence trickster and part-time galactic president; and Trillian, the sexy space cadet who is torn between a persistent Thunder God and a very depressed Beeblebrox.

In other words: we’re doomed.

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Some SF Gateway Omnibuses You Might Have Missed

27 December 2013

As mentioned earlier, it’s seasonal down-time for the elves that run the SF Gateway website and blog, and so our skeleton staff* would just like to highlight a few omnibuses you might have missed. Here’s a dozen fine books, wrapped up in four small, but perfectly formed packages . . .

 

SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week!
 
Best known for his extraordinary novel of ‘slow glass’, Other Days, Other Eyes, Bob Shaw was a fan favourite at conventions for his hysterical ‘serious scientific talks’. This omnibus contains three of his finest works: Orbitsville, A Wreath of Stars and The Ragged Astronauts.

trade paperback | eBook

Joe Haldeman is best known for the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning The Forever War, a novel which draws on his experience as a combat engineer in Vietnam, where he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. This omnibus collects the Carmen Dula sequence comprising Marsbound, Starbound and Earthbound, which chart humanity’s response to the challenge of alien contact.

trade paperback | eBook

Best known for his Hugo Award-winning classic A Case of Conscience, James Blish was one of the first serious SF writers to involve themselves with tie-in novels, writing eleven Star Trek adaptations as well as the first original adult Star Trek novel, Spock Must Die. This omnibus contains three of his long out-of-print works: Black Easter, The Day After Judgement and The Seedling Stars.

trade paperback | eBook

As author and illustrator, Keith Roberts did more than most to define the look of UK science fiction magazines in the 1960s. In addition to his BFSA Award wins, he was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. He is perhaps best known for his seminal alternate history novel, Pavane, but his work covered a broad range of SF’s tropes and settings, as can be seen from the titles collected in this omnibus: The Chalk Giants, Kiteworld and The Grain Kings.

trade paperback | eBook

 

All of these fine works are available in both paper and digital editions – we hope you enjoy them.
 
 
* hmm . . . elves . . . skeletons . . . hey! Who fancies a nostalgic game of D&D?!

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Merry Christmas!

25 December 2013

What are you doing here? There’s mulled wine to be drunk, turkey to be eaten, presents to be unwrapped, Doctor Who to be watched and friends and family to be with.

Go on: go and be festive. We’ll be here when you get back. Assuming you get back in January . . .

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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: The Phoenix and the Mirror

23 December 2013

The compelling historical fantasy of Virgil: poet, adventurer, alchemist . . . magus.

 

Legend has it that Virgil, author of The Aeneid, was more than a mere poet. Legend has it that he was an adventurer, an alchemist – a magus.

Driven to do the bidding of Queen Cornelia of Carsus, who has taken hostage part of his soul, Virgil embarks upon an attempt to create a virgin speculum – a magic mirror – so that Cornelia can locate her kidnapped daughter.

Virgil’s quest to assemble this artefact takes him across the ancient world to encounter powers and prophecies, gods and monsters – all the myths and legends of a time that never was.

The time of Virgil Magus.

 

The Phoenix and the Mirror is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Avram Davidson’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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Frank Herbert SF Gateway Omnibus

20 December 2013

As we enter the Festive period, the SF Gateway blog will be running on auxiliary power for a while until the New Year. For the next few weeks, we’ll be down to a couple of posts per week – one on our SF Masterwork of the Week and the other highlighting a few SF Gateway omnibuses. We’re sure you’ve got better things to do over the holidays than read blog posts, but even if you haven’t, the elves that run the website need some downtime, so watch for normal service to be resumed in January.

Meanwhile, for you classic SFNal pleasure, we present the Frank Herbert SF Gateway Omnibus . . .

From groundbreaking digital initiative, The SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal sample introduction to one of the giants of 20th century science fiction: Frank Herbert. Although best known for his award-winning Dune, Herbert’s other work is equally ambitious and accomplished. This omnibus contains three novels spanning some 20 years of Herbert’s career: The Dragon in the Sea, The Santaroga Barrier and The Dosadi Experiment.

THE DRAGON IN THE SEA
In the endless war between East and West, oil has become the ultimate prize. Nuclear-powered subtugs brave enemy waters to tap into hidden oil reserves. Psychologist John Ramsay has gone undercover aboard a Hell Diver subtug where, hunted relentlessly by the enemy, the crew find themselves isolated in a claustrophobic undersea prison, struggling for survival against the elements . . . and themselves.

THE SANTAROGA BARRIER
Santaroga seemed to be nothing more than a prosperous farm community. But there was something . . . different . . . about Santaroga. Maybe Santaroga was the last outpost of American individualism. Maybe they were just a bunch of religious kooks . . . Or maybe there was something extraordinary at work in Santaroga. Something far more disturbing than anyone could imagine.

THE DOSADI EXPERIMENT
Generations of a tormented human-alien people, caged on a toxic planet, conditioned by constant hunger and war – this is the Dosadi Experiment, and it has succeeded too well. For the Dosadi have bred for Vengeance as well as cunning, and they have learned how to pass through the shimmering God Wall to exact their dreadful revenge on the Universe that created them . . .

 

The Frank Herbert SF Gateway Omnibus is available in trade paperback or as an eBook. You can find more of Frank Herbert’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: Double Star

19 December 2013

The writer known as ‘the Dean of Science Fiction’, Robert A. Heinlein won four Hugo Awards for best novel. The most recent was in 1967 for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; before that he won in 1960 and 1962 for his two most famous works, Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land.  But his first win was in 1956  . . .

Double Star

One minute, down-and-out actor Lorenzo Smythe was – as usual – in a bar, drinking away his troubles as he watched his career go down the tubes. Then a space pilot bought him a drink, and the next thing Smythe knew, he was shanghaied to Mars.

Suddenly he found himself agreeing to the most difficult role of his career: impersonating an important politician who had been kidnapped. Peace with the Martians was at stake – failure to pull off the act could result in interplanetary war. And Smythe’s own life was on the line – for if he wasn’t assassinated, there was always the possibility that he might be trapped in his new role forever!

 

Double Star is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can read more about Robert A. Heinlein in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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The Space Merchants (No, Not Those Ones)

18 December 2013

It may be redundant to say this, but we love classic SF. I know! Who saw that coming?!

The thing is, we don’t just love it because we publish lots of it – in fact, it’s the opposite: we publish lots of it because we love it. And we also love it when other people love it – people like Graham Ainsley, whose awesome labour of love, classic SF webstore The Space Merchants, we urge you to investigate and support. Graham has put together a wonderful catalogue of classic SF books, digests, magazines and artwork. We think it’s brilliant and decided to offer Graham a guest spot on the SF Gateway blog to tell everyone more about it . . .

 

With the closing in 2009 of the Fantasy Centre in North London, the capital found itself bereft of dedicated second-hand science fiction bookshops. As a long-time customer, news of its closing was heart-breaking, but rising rent costs and the advancement of Amazon Marketplace were huge challenges that few independent booksellers managed to get through unscathed. From that moment though, a dream was born and a plan hatched – we were determined to bring used SF back, to create a hub in which fans both old and new could (re)discover and delight over the classic SF paperbacks and magazines of yesteryear which we hold so dear. Read more…

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Gordon R. Dickson

17 December 2013

And so, as we head into the home straight, the annual SF Gateway Xmas Sale in full swing, it’s time for the third spotlight to feature some of the wonderful omnibuses we’ve published recently, in which have returned to print (and eBook) a number of terrific classic SF & fantasy books.

This week: Gordon R. Dickson . . .

 

From the groundbreaking digital initiative The SF Gateway, come three novels that showcase the incredible range of the award-winning Gordon R. Dickson, one of the founding fathers of military SF, but equally at home in the realm of fantasy: Tactics of Mistake, Time Storm and The Dragon and the George.

 

Unusually, Dickson is as well known for his fantasy as his SF and has been decorated with the Hugo, Nebula and British Fantasy awards accordingly. He has also been short-listed for the World Fantasy Award. This omnibus showcases that versatility, containing the Dorsai! novel Tactics of Mistake, Hugo nominee Time Storm and British Fantasy Award-winner The Dragon and the George.

 

You can find more of Gordon R. Dickson’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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On This Day: Arthur C. Clarke

16 December 2013

Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, on the 16th December, 1917. He was the last of The Big Three to leave us, passing away in 2008 (Robert A. Heinlein died in 1988 and Isaac Asimov in 1992).

He served in the Royal Air Force from 1941 to 1946 where he worked as a radar specialist and was part of the team that developed the early warning radar defence system, which was so important to the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain. This experience formed the basis for Glide Path, his only non-science fiction novel.

Clarke became a household name with 2001: A Space Odyssey and, later, the television series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, but his major impact upon all of our lives came two decades earlier. In the October, 1945 issue of Wireless World, he published an article titled ‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays – Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?’, which was influential in establishing the concept of telecommunications satellites.

His literary achievements are legion: three Hugos (and a Retro Hugo), three Nebulas, the John W. Campbell Award, the BSFA Award, the SFWA Grand Master Award, Science Fiction Hall of Fame Living Inductee. He was one of only five authors to win the Hugo and Nebula Awards with the same novel on two occasions, and his 1974 masterpiece Rendezvous with Rama swept the board, winning the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA and John W. Campbell Awards.

Arthur C. Clarke worked tirelessly to promote the cause of science and was a passionate believer in the good it could do. In 1983, he established the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation to promote the use of space and telecommunications technology for the benefit of humankind. A year later he founded the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies in Sri Lanka. Both  the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction and the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Award for space achievement are given each year in his honour. In 2000, he was made a Knight Bachelor for services to literature.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died on 19th March, 2008, aged 90. He left a rich literary and scientific legacy, best unified in his famous Clarke’s Laws. The most famous of these is his Third Law – ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ – but I think his work and his life are best encapsulated in the second:

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

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SF in Anime III: Paprika

13 December 2013

Paprika (2006) is an animated SF thriller based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel of the same name. Co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon, it was his fourth and final feature film before his death in 2010. Kon’s works often depict explorations of social stigmas and the human psyche, which makes for some rather intense and often nightmarish viewing. Kon’s directorial debut, Perfect Blue (1997), is often discussed alongside Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and thought to be, if not a direct influence, at least an inspiration for the later film.

Paprika’s beautifully animated opening sequence effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film. The normal sight of a woman driving a moped soon morphs into the totally unnormal and the series of shots that follow really break down the barriers between reality and not-reality. The figure is shown to be jumping in and out of television screens and pictures, flying and wandering ghost-like through walls and people. Alongside that, she’s also depicted interacting with clearly normal people, eating, driving.

Set in the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called dream therapy has been invented which allows one person to enter the dreams of another. Although unfinished and not officially sanctioned as a treatment, the head of the research team begins to use this machine to help psychiatric patients outside of the research facility. In order to protect her identity, she uses her alter-ego “Paprika” in the dream world. Whilst Doctor Atsuko Chiba, our protagonist, is using the device for the benefit of others, one major downside is that whilst it remains unfinished, anyone can use the device to access another person’s dreams. The theft of one of these machines leads to all hell breaking loose, as the thief invades peoples’ minds whilst they’re awake and distracts them with both their own dreams and those of other people.

I love Paprika. It’s a work of art, with its mind-bending mix of reality and dreams coupled with stunning and often disturbing visuals. Highly recommended!

 

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