Thoughts from the SF Gateway

SF Masterwork of the Week: RUR & War with the Newts

28 February 2014

Karel Capek, one of the most important Czech writers of the twentieth-century, was a major voice in early European SF. R.U.R – his most famous play – introduced the word ‘robot’ into popular usage.

 

 
 

Written against the background of the rise of Nazism, War with the Newts concerns the discovery in the South Pacific of a sea-dwelling race, which is enslaved and exploited by mankind. In time they rebel, laying siege to the strongholds of their former masters in a global war for supremacy.

R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots, seen by many as a modern interpretation of the ‘golem’ myth, is regarded as the most important play in the history of SF. It introduced the word ‘robot’ and gave the genre one of its most enduring tropes.

 
 

R.U.R. & War with the Newts is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and the two titles are available as separate SF Gateway eBooks. You can find more of Karel Capek’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 Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Edmund Cooper

27 February 2014

From the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal sample introduction to the fantastic work of Edmund Cooper.

 

Trade Paperback | eBook

 

A respected critic and writer, whose work spanned four decades, Cooper began publishing SF in the 1950s and often portrayed a bleaker view of the future than many of his contemporaries. Cooper’s works tended to depict unconventional heroes facing unfamiliar and remote environments – often in post-apocalyptic settings. This omnibus contains three titles that have been out of print for many years: The Cloud Walker; All Fools’ Day and A Far Sunset.

 

You can find more of Edmund Cooper’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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Readers Choice Winner for January

25 February 2014

And now . . .

the end is near . . .

and so we face . . .

the final curtain . . .

What’s that? We suffer from an overdeveloped sense of melodrama? Rubbish. What possible evidence do you have to support that?  What? Oh. Right. Well. When you look at it that way, you might have something there . . .

Amateur psychoanalysis aside, the last week in January marked the final (for now, at least) appearance of SF Gateway’s Readers’ Choice spotlight. Readers’ Choice ran from February 2013 and over that year gave us an insight into the reading habits of the SF Gateway community. there were some obvious award-winning novels proposed, some forgotten classics, some titles that deserve to be better-known and a few gems from out of left left field. We thank you for each and every one of them.

As with any community-based initiative, some people respond more enthusiastically than others and that was certainly the case here. So, it’s fitting that the last four submissions to the Readers’ Choice spotlight came from four of our most engaged readers.

Vernor Vinge‘s Hugo Award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep was proposed by Starman Dave – who won a prize in the first Readers’ Choice in February last year.

Arthur C. Clarke‘s transcendent Childhood’s End – tackling no less a topic than the future of the human race – was submitted by The Star Plunderer.

Hyperion, another Hugo Award-winner, by Dan Simmons was the pick of Shrike (appropriately enough).

And last, but not least, @thremnir suggested we all read James P. Blaylock‘s The Digging Leviathan – not an award-winner, but a book included in David Pringle’s influential Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels.

Call us sentimental, but we’re disinclined to end the Readers’ Choice with anyone disappointed, so it’s books for all! We’re going to send a couple of our essential SF Gateway Omnibuses to each of the above – enjoy!  And, for those who like to keep count of such things, the click-through stats proclaim A Fire Upon the Deep as the book that garnered the most interest, so there will also be copies of Philip K. Dick‘s Dr. Bloodmoney and T.J. Bass‘s Half Past Human for Starman Dave.

Thanks to the four SF Gateway stalwarts above – and, indeed, all of you who entered suggestions or enjoyed other readers’ recommendations. Feel free to keep telling us about your favourites, either via Twitter or on the Forum – it’s always interesting to see what you’re all reading.

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The King in Yellow: Inspiring HBO’s True Detective

24 February 2014

If you’re on Twitter as much as Gollancz tends to be, you’ve probably noticed all of the excitement there’s been about HBO’s new series True Detective. Starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, it’s being hailed as ‘the best detective show since the Wire’ and there’s no doubt that it’s making a huge splash over in America (and wherever else people *ahem* watch things they shouldn’t. So the internet, basically). It comes to ‘nobody I know has got it’ Sky Atlantic this Saturday, and I’m sure will be talked about even more after that.

Well and good, you say. Not very Gollancz-related, is it? A detective show?

And I say, well, the other thing that everyone on Twitter started talking about was The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, a (sometimes linked) collection of short stories published in 1895 and a huge influence on H. P. Lovecraft and many others. I read it years ago and had basically forgotten that I had ever even heard of it, but when people started mentioning it I went and looked it up and had that moment of ‘oh yes, I remember that now’. It’s a chilling series of shorts, the first four of which reference ‘The King in Yellow’, a play which will drive anyone who reads beyond the first act mad. MAD, I tell you. They’re a little dated now, but then so much fiction is, and the worlds the stories show us – some an imagined America of the future (well, 1920) and some set in Paris – is a recognisable and well-depicted one, and there are some lovely chills and creepy moments.

So, I hear you still saying, what?

The point is it appears that True Detective leans heavily on The King in Yellow, with multiple references to the book scattered throughout the episodes aired so far, and presumably more to come. As these nods and winks started appearing, the internet had one of those collective ‘ooohs’ and got very excited. Perhaps this seemingly straight-forward detective show is about to become all Lovecraftian?

As well as the book’s influence on Lovecraft – he mentions various elements in some of his Cthulhu stories – Wikipedia also tells me that Robert Silverberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, James Blish, Lin Carter, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Grant Morrison and Simon Green have all incorporated elements or made sly nods to the book in their work, making it an obvious contender for our SF Gateway ebook programme and a natural companion to our Lovecraft publishing programme. We’ve been toying with the idea of including some of the earlier key texts of SF, Fantasy and Horror on the website, as our goal was always to make it a central hub for the best of genre writing, so this seemed like the perfect moment. Our eBook is released today.

As well as the ten short stories, we’ve included a (very) short piece by Ambrose Bierce, from which Chambers took the name of his fictional city Carcosa and which was clearly an influence on The King in Yellow, and Chambers’ entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

If you’re as intrigued by the buzz as we were, if you’re about to watch True Detective and want to be on top of the subtleties, or even if you just fancy some quality short fiction with creepy undertones, it’s well worth a go. You can get it from Amazon and iBooks at the moment, and it should go live on all other platforms over the next few days.

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New Book of the Week: Earthwind

21 February 2014

We sometimes talk about writers ‘finding their voice’. In Robert Holdstock‘s case, the voice was very much there from the beginning of his writing career, as were a number of his signature themes – for example, the existence of racial memory and cultural archetypes – and can be seen in his early SF work such as . . .

 

Earthwind: an early SF classic from the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Mythago Wood.

On the planet Aeran, the original colonists have undergone a drastic change: under the influence of some strange psychic force they have forgotten their identity and created a new culture – an exact reconstruction of the Stone Age society that flourished in Ireland 6,000 years ago.Has some strange racial memory been awakened? Or are both cultures the product of a social blueprint implanted throughout the cosmos by a long-vanished race?

 

Robert Holdstock, of course, is now best-known for his extraordinary Fantasy works – notably the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood and the wonderful Merlin Codex – but it can be argued that the themes that help make his later Fantasy so remarkable were born in the crucible of his early SF.  Robert Holdstock didn’t find his voice with Fantasy, but he found the best vehicle for expressing that voice.

 

You can find more of Robert Holdstock’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 Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Henry Kuttner

20 February 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to one of the Golden Age‘s most influential writers, Henry Kuttner.

 

 

Henry Kuttner sold his first story to Weird Tales in early 1936 and was, with his wife, fellow writer C. L. Moore, a regular contributor to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. He and Moore collaborated for most of the 1940s and 1950s, but his career was tragically cut short in 1958, when he suffered a fatal heart attack. This omnibus contains two of his major novels, which have been out of print for many years – Fury and Mutant – and collection The Best Of Henry Kuttner.

You can find more of Henry Kuttner’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 IV: Michaela Roessner – Vanishing Point

19 February 2014

Like most of you reading this, I do have a penchant for recommending books I’ve enjoyed and that I sometimes think of as my pet discoveries.  One author I am particularly keen to draw attention to is Michaela Roessner, and especially her remarkable second novel Vanishing Point.

I enjoyed Roessner’s unusual debut, Walkabout Woman which pits a young aboriginal woman against both dangers within her tribe and the attempts to ‘civilise’ her by a white teacher.  I’d be interested to hear how native Australians view Roessner’s depictions of their culture, the Dreamtime and their lives, but the author appears sympathetic to my uninformed eye.  It is certainly an unusual work, with two strong female characters in competitive alliance.

More recently Roessner has published a pair of Florentine historical fantasies, The Stars Dispose and The Stars Compel, involving Catherine de Medici which are rich in detail (especially the food) and subtle magic.  It’s been fifteen years since the second of these, but there may be a third in the works which I know will please many.

Good as these books are, Vanishing Point is something else again.  I defy you to come up with a post-apocalyptic scenario like Roessner’s.  Overnight, without warning, 90% of the human race vanished.  Nobody knows why – or where – they went, and why some were left but not others.  Now, thirty years later, the remnants of society have settled into enclaves and roving fanatics.  Communities struggle to make sense of the disappearances and to ensure both their survival and some feeling of hope should their families ever return.  One such community has colonised a real-life setting as remarkable as any in SF: The Winchester House in San Jose.  Originally a 19th century house, the owner became convinced that spirits were directing her to maintain building work night and day, non-stop, for the rest of her life.  Stairways going nowhere, rooms that are incomplete, stained glass windows that get no direct light and other building eccentricities have inspired several authors including Tim Powers, Alastair Reynolds, Alan Moore and others. I particularly thought of Heinlein’s short classic ‘…And He Built a Crooked House…’ but Michaela Roessner has taken on the house and expanded on it offering up a genuinely science fictional ‘explanation’ for the house’ mysteries.

The story itself begins with a loner setting fire to houses he considers ‘tainted’ by the post-Vanishing changes.  At the House, a young woman, Renzie, is part of teams rebuilding society and researching the Vanishing.  From across country the elderly woman scientist Nesta arrives with new theories and new approaches.  These two strong female leads offer leadership through physical strength and morality in Renzie’s case, and intellectual rigour and willingness to face the challenge from Nesta.

As Nesta explains:

“So you think all of the research of the last thirty years is pointless?” said Pax.

“No! I believe it’s vital. But as I said before, I think it’s been misdirected.”

“The Vanishing didn’t just happen and stop.  We’re so overwhelmed and distracted by its psychological consequences that we can’t see its actual, physical effects. It started chains of events that continue, have maybe accelerated, that haven’t been examined except as possible clues to the Vanishing’s source.  We’ve got our heads buried in the sand and don’t even know it.”

Later in the same speech, “The effect is endemic on every level of reality.”  Most post-apocalyptic fiction defines one, maybe two, significant changes in society and environment.  Roessner recognises and insists on the bigger, more nuanced, picture.  The survivors of the Vanishing display myriad reactions to events, the range of symptoms associated with grief, guilt and anger.  Their relationships with their environment, friends, lovers and colleagues are not uniform. Society has changed but the past has not been discarded, some vehicles and technology remain, there are computers and communication tools though these are limited. Roessner sharply contrasts those who live and work together around the House with the more cultish groups who they interact with, particularly the Heaven Bounders who view the Vanishing as the Rapture.

Nesta’s research and her conversations with others also incorporate depths often missing in similar works. Theories are discussed, revised, disproved, and evolve. Through Nesta and the others Roessner draws on multi-disciplinary approaches both social and scientific to bring up questions as well as answers.  For me that makes Vanishing Point an important work of SF. Her thoughtful characters make it a fun, immensely readable and meaningful novel too. And the scientific answers she comes up with?  Well, no spoilers but Roessner’s speculation is grounded in knowledge of contemporary theories and contains enough detail to step beyond hand waving abstractions.    The House is explained with reference to, amongst other things, quantum physics, The Muppets, and Jorge Luis Borges.

It is, as Chery Morgan says “wonderful stuff”.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Long Tomorrow

18 February 2014

Leigh Bracket was one of SF’s early greats and had an accomplished career as a writer of both SF and fantasy. She also worked as a Hollywood screenwriter, producing screenplays for such classic films as The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo – and winning a posthumous Hugo Award for the script for The Empire Strikes Back.

But it is her literature with which we’re concerned, and so we are delighted to present as SF  Masterwork of the Week: The Long Tomorrow, a stunning novel of a post-nuclear world:

 

‘No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile, shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America.’

~ Thirtieth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Two generations after the nuclear holocaust, rumours persisted about a secret desert hideaway where scientists worked with dangerous machines and where men plotted to revive the cities.

Almost a continent away, Len Coulter heard whisperings that fired his imagination. Then one day he found a strange wooden box…

 

‘By far Leigh Brackett’s best novel . . . a great work of science fiction’

~ New York Times

The Long Tomorrow is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Leigh Brackett’s work via her author page on the SF Gateway website and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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SF Masterwork of the Week: Timescape

12 February 2014

Gregory Benford, one of the ‘Killer Bs’ along with David Brin and Greg Bear, is a leading writer of Hard SF and is currently Professor of Plasma Physics and Astrophysics at the University of California, Irvine. His breakthrough novel Timescape won the Nebula, the John W. Campbell and the BSFA Awards. And here it is:

 

The year is 1998, the world is a growing nightmare of desperation, of uncontrollable pollution and increasing social unrest. In Cambridge, two scientists experiment with tachyons – subatomic particles that travel faster than the speed of light and, therefore, according to the Theory of Relativity, may move backwards in time. Their plan is to signal a warning to the previous generation.

In 1962, a young Californian scientist, Gordon Bernstein, finds his experiments are being spoiled by unknown interference. As he begins to suspect something near the truth it becomes a race against time – the world is collapsing and will only be saved if Gordon can decipher the message in time.

Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel, 1980
Winner of the John W. Campbell Award for best novel, 1981
Winner of the BSFA Award for best novel, 1980

 

Timescape is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook. You can find more of Gregory Benford’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 Gateway Omnibus of the Week: C L Moore

11 February 2014

 

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to one of the greats of the Golden Age, C L Moore.
 

 

One of the first women to rise to prominence in the male-dominated world of pulp science fiction, Moore was a mainstay of SF in the middle of the last century, both as a solo writer and in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. This omnibus shows her mastery of both Sword and Sorcery and planetary romance, reprinting Jirel of Joiry, Northwest of Earth, and story collection Judgement Night.

 

You can find more of C L Moore’s work via her author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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