Thoughts from the SF Gateway

From the Archives: In Praise of . . . Interzone

29 August 2014

As we come to the end of a summer that’s seen London busy with the second Nine Worlds Geekfest, hosting the largest World Science Fiction Convention in history and put on the inaugural (and very successful!) Gollancz Festival, the gnomes who run the SF Gateway have need of a rest. But rather than leave you with only the whole rest of the internets to read, we thought we’d give a second airing to some earlier blog posts you might have missed first time ’round.

First up: In Praise of Interzone . . .

The history of classic science fiction (in which SF Gateway has some small interest …) is, in many ways, the history of the pulp magazines. From the beginning of the modern field, in which they were the only realistic avenue for publication, through the Golden Age as exemplified by John W. Campbell‘s influential run on Astounding Science Fiction, through to even the very recent past, when novels routinely appeared first in serialised form in Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to name but a few.

With the likes of Astounding, Startling Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction, F&SF, and later Asimov’s, all active and successful in the US, it’s easy to forget that the UK has its own proud tradition of SF magazines. And it would be wrong to do so for any number of reasons: primarily the ground-breaking, genre-defying run of New Worlds under Michael Moorcock‘s legendary editorship, and, of course, the longest-lived of the British SF magazines, Interzone, which has long been a source of short fiction to rival the best of any of the American magazines.

It is widely accepted that Interzone has launched the careers of a staggering number of now-established British SF greats. From Stephen Baxter, Nicola Griffith and Peter F. Hamilton, through Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald and Kim Newman, to Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross and Liz Williams, the ‘Interzone generation’ has dominated British SF for a generation. It’s arguable that only Campbell’s Astounding can lay claim to such a pedigree.

It would be invidious to attempt to draw out individual works for praise, but we can’t resist just one mention: in an issue of Interzone from a dozen years ago, SF Gateway’s own Ian Watson published a story called ‘Hijack Holiday‘; in it, a group of passengers on a flight to Paris think the terrorist attack mid-flight is a LARP-style piece of theatre for their entertainment, only to be proved – terminally – wrong, when the terrorists force the plane to crash into the Eiffel Tower. The cover date of that issue? April 2001. We take pains to insist that SF shouldn’t be judged as a predictive medium, but you wonder whether sometimes – sometimes – our writers are allowed a brief glimpse into the future . . .

So, on this, the occasion of founder David Pringle‘s 63rd birthday, SF Gateway salutes Interzone. May the next thirty years be as entertaining and influential as the last.

 

You can read more about Interzone, David Pringle and, indeed, all things SF at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Kate Wilhelm

28 August 2014

From the vaults of The SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal introduction to the fantastic work of Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author, Kate Wilhelm one of the field’s most influential authors

 

trade paperback | eBook

 

Kate Wilhelm has a reputation as one of the 20th century’s finest SF writers. Winner of the Hugo Award for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, she has produced an impressive body of work in the fields of SF and crime, and – along with her late husband, Damon Knight – has had a profound influence beyond her writing, through the Milford and Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshops. This omnibus contains novels The Clewiston Test and Welcome, Chaos and story collection The Infinity Box.

 

You can find more of Kate Wilhelm’s work via her Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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New Book of the Week: Godmother Night

27 August 2014

Our current New Book of the Week won the 1997 World Fantasy Award for best novel: Rachel Pollack‘s Godmother Night.

Almost a set of short stories, this novel breaks into discrete episodes, centered on identity, love, and death. Jaqe has no identity until she meets Laurie, introduced and named by Mother Night; in that moment, she knows herself, and that she loves Laurie. But once Mother Night has become part of their lives, Laurie and Jaqe and their daughter Kate cannot live as other people do. Knowing Death, inevitably each of them seeks to use the knowledge, to bargain with Death, and to change the terms in the balance of life and death in the world.Pollack’s characters, major and supporting, living, dead, and divine, are memorably human. As she transplants myths and folklore into a modern setting, she gives new life to old tales and a deeper meaning to a seemingly simple world.

 

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SF Masterwork of the Week: The Book of Skulls

26 August 2014

Continuing our Author of the Month-ish celebration of all things Robert Silverberg – we hope you heard him speak at LonCon, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention – our current SF Masterwork of the Week is the novel that, along with our earlier pick, Dying Inside, almost certainly split the vote for best novel at the 1973 Hugo Awards, leaving the author with the two best books on the ballot with nothing: The Book of Skulls.

Four students discover a manuscript, The Book of Skulls, which reveals the existence of a sect, now living in the Arizona desert, whose members can offer immortality to those who can complete its initiation rite. To their surprise, they discover that the sect exists, and is willing to accept them as acolytes.

But for each group of four who enter the rite, two must die in order for the others to succeed.

Shortlisted  for the Hugo Award for best novel.

Shortlisted for the Nebula Award for best novel.

 

The Book of Skulls is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook
 
 
You can find more of Robert Silverberg’s work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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The Best T-Shirt at Worldcon?

25 August 2014

As is ever the case at SF conventions, the quality of T-shirts on sale was high at last weekend’s London Worldcon – I came away with the excellent ‘SCIENCE: I’m one accident away from being a super villain’. But when all is said and done, I think this one was . . . if not the best, certainly the most apposite for a lazy bank holiday Monday:

 

 

So, if you’ll excuse me . . .

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SF Gateway Omnibus of the Week: Philip Jose Farmer

22 August 2014

From the vaults of the SF Gateway, the most comprehensive digital library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, comes an ideal sample introduction to the many worlds of Philip José Farmer, one of modern science fiction’s most original voices.

Philip José Farmer was given the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and named an SFWA Grand Master in the same year – a fitting recognition of his refusal to be pigeon-holed. Whether pushing the boundaries of sexual and religious themes or re-imagining pulp heroes for the modern age, Farmer’s restless imagination knew no bounds.

This omnibus contains The Maker of Universes, the first of the World of Tiers series; the Hugo Award-winning To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which opens the acclaimed Riverworld sequence; and the stand-alone space opera, The Unreasoning Mask.

 

You can find more of Philip José Farmer’s work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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Classic Sci-Fi Cinema

21 August 2014

We’ve just heard from the British Film Institute, which is running an autumn festival of films they thought would be of particular interest to SF Gateway readers.

SCI-FI: Days of Fear and Wonder,  running across the autumn, in cinemas and online on BFI Player, presented in partnership across the UK with the BFI’s Film Audience Network, features over one hundred film and television titles.

The programmer kicks off with three classics in three days at the end of next week:

On Thursday 28 August the earth will be unhinged from its axis with the screening of London-set classic, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Friday will see us attempt inter-galactic contact with The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starring David Bowie as a stranded alien. The weekend will conclude with a cult classic as we venture to planet Mongo on Saturday 30 August with Flash Gordon (1980).

You can find more details on the BFI‘s press release (PDF) and on their website.

 

Klaatu barada nikto!

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Fantasy Masterwork of the Week: The Broken Sword

20 August 2014

So what book would prompt no less a figure than the legendary Michael Moorcock to say ‘It has a wonderful, wild, manic originality, a driving story and a genuine feel of the grim realities informing Anglo-Saxon myth and legend which few other fantasies possess’?

What masterpiece would prompt the late, great Robert Holdstock to hail a ‘Fantasy of harsh truth and driving narrative, imbued with the energy and the wild beauty of the old Norse tales’?

Well, if you were paying attention to the title of this post, you’d know it is none other than Poul Anderson’s stunningly powerful Norse dark fantasy, The Broken Sword . . .

The sword Tyrfing has been broken to prevent it striking at the roots of Yggdrasil, the great tree that binds earth, heaven and hell together…

But now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves, who are heavily involved in their war against the trolls, and only Skafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade the mighty ice-giant, Bolverk, to make the sword Thor broke whole again. But things are never easy, and along the way Skafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard the changeling, who took his place in the world of men.

A superb dark fantasy of the highest, and most Norse, order. The Broken Sword is a fantasy masterpiece.

 

The Broken Sword is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

 

You can find more of Poul Anderson’s work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more bout him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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SF Gateway & Gollancz: the British Fantasy Award-Winners

19 August 2014

Well, we certainly do seem to be getting through the awards calendar, don’t we?  No sooner do we bid farewell to the Hugos for another year than the British Fantasy Awards begin to loom large in our future. Gollancz is delighted to have two authors shortlisted for the best novel awards*, this year: Joe Hill for NOS4R2 and Graham Joyce for The Year of the Ladybird. Best of luck to both – we have our fingers crossed for a tie!

So how have we fared in previous awards? We’re glad you asked . . .

1972 The Knight of the Swords, Michael Moorcock
1973 The King of the Swords, Michael Moorcock
1974 Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, Poul Anderson
1975 The Sword and the Stallion, Michael Moorcock
1976 The Hollow Lands, Michael Moorcock
1977 The Dragon and the George, Gordon R. Dickson
1979 The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (comprising Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War and The Power that Preserves), Stephen R. Donaldson
1983 The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe
1997 The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce
2009 Memoirs of a Master Forger, Graham Joyce
2013 Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce

Eleven out of forty-four. Not quite as high a percentage as some other awards, but a quarter of the prizes is still worth crowing about.

Next: we fall over and try to forget about awards until next year . . .


* As of 2013, the best novel award split into two: The August Derleth Award for best horror novel and the Robert Holdstock Award for best fantasy novel.

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SFX Book Club: The Shadow of the Torturer

18 August 2014

And so, by the time you read this, another Worldcon will be more or less over; another army of fans, authors, artists, editors and agents dispersed to return to everyday life.  It is, for me at least, both a relief (you can’t keep up a con-level of sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and alcohol abuse for much longer without suffering permanent consequences!) and a wrench (this is my tribe and I’ll miss them).

So in order to ameliorate that let-down a little, I thought it might be nice to reflect on a book that I first read as a direct result of finding the author interesting on panels at my first Worldcon, Aussiecon II, back in 1985.  The author is the genius known as Gene Wolfe, and the book is the masterpiece The Shadow of the Torturer . . .

 

All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it . . .

Discuss.

Only, if you’re Gene Wolfe, you don’t have to discuss, you simply state. But life isn’t that simple. The quote above might be Gene Wolfe talking about Neil Gaiman, but often the words quoted as Wolfe’s are actually those of his characters.

‘We say “I will” and “I will not” and imagine ourselves . . . our own masters, when the truth is our masters are sleeping.’

Who knows if those are also Wolfe’s thoughts? Come to that, who knows if they’re the real thoughts of his main characters? Since these often lie to themselves, to other characters, and to the reader (whom they frequently address directly).

When Gene Wolfe published The Shadow of the Torturer in 1980 he was senior editor on Plant Engineering magazine, had written a hundred or so SF short stories and won a Nebula in 1973 for ‘The Death of Doctor Island’. But nothing prepared readers for what was to come.

The Shadow of the Torturer is – for me – the definitive science fantasy novel. No-one did it better before Wolfe, and no-one has done it better since . . . including Gene Wolfe himself. From their richly textured world where ancient spaceships nestle as turrets in castles so old no-one can remember why they were built, to their casual description of torture as everyday business, the novels making up The Book of the New Sun – of which Shadow is the first – are brilliant monsters. Anguished, imagery-laden, and brilliant. But monstrous.

This is Catholic guilt meshed with the dying days of our world. A retelling of the Christ myth, by someone who knows its absolute truth. Or maybe it’s a retelling of the Apollo myth, with its pun on son/sun . . .

There are some basic rules to writing.

  1. Make your main character likeable.
  2. Don’t muddle your readers.
  3. Avoid flashbacks.
  4. If you must have flashbacks, signpost them (for example: ‘London 1983 was a very different place’).
  5. Don’t foreshadow and give away what will happen later.

Tutors recite these as if reading them from tablets of stone. Critics praise or damn based on how many are obeyed or broken. Gene Wolfe ignores them.

His main character is an apprentice torturer; the story slides backwards and forwards in time, told by an insane future emperor (think I, Claudius) and we know what’s going to happen next, because most of the time we’re told in advance.

The Shadow of the Torturer kicks off with the drowning and resurrection of Severian, its main character, flashes back, and then loops forward to a grave robbery, with the lightly decaying body of a woman being stolen by an aristocrat. No attempt is made to explain who people are, why they’re doing what they’re doing or even the geographical location the action is taking place. The language is dense, almost biblical.

In the first nine pages we’re given an inkling, but no more, of the politics and class underlying a world that is both past and future, fantastical and bound by the laws of science. Yet we know the world runs on rules, without knowing what the rules are. Because the first rule of world building is to make it real, and Gene Wolfe’s world seems so real it extends beyond the edges of the page.

Volume one of The Book of the New Sun won the World Fantasy Award and the British Science Fiction Award. Volume two won a Nebula and was shortlisted for the Hugo, while volumes three and four were both nominated for a Nebula, with the third being nominated for another Hugo.

Most novels can be pinned down to their time. The War of the Worlds is obviously late Victorian; Neuromancer is an obvious response to the Reaganomics. The Shadow of the Torturer could have been written in 1960 or it could have been written last year. It is one man’s vision of redemption. As personal as a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

(And yes, I know it owes a debt to Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, which turns up in Severian’s world as The Book of Gold. It’s what Wolfe did with the inspiration that makes it so unusual.)

 

The Shadow of the Torturer is available as an SF Gateway eBook and, with The Claw of the Conciliator, as The Book of the New Sun: Volume 1. You can read more about Gene Wolfe in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

This piece was written by Jon Courtenay Grimwood 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.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Ashraf Bey trilogy. His latest novel is The Exiled Blade: Act Three of the Assassini, which is available in paperback and as an eBook.  His website is www.j-cg.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter @JonCG_novelist.

 

 

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