Thoughts from the SF Gateway

On This Day: Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds Broadcast

30 October 2015

Sunday October 30th, 1938. 8:00 pm US Eastern Standard Time.

The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.

And with these innocuous words, a legend was born. Twenty-three year-old wünderkind Orson Welles, and his Mercury Theatre Group, embarked upon an updating and dramatisation of H G Wells‘ great alien invasion story, The War of the Worlds, eschewing the conventional narrative form of the novel for an as-it-happens reportage style – thereby convincing many of those who had tuned in late that the Earth was indeed being invaded by Martians.

It is now part of pop cultural history that Welles’ broadcast caused panic across the United States, with stories of people fleeing their homes, demanding police protection, and calling on utilities companies to turn off the lights to prevent the Martians seeing them. There were even rumours of suicides, although they’ve never been corroborated. As news of the panic filtered back to CBS studios, Orson Welles returned to the air out of character to remind the audience that what they were listening to was only a work of fiction.

Was the hysteria justified? You be the judge . . .

 

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On This Day: Fredric Brown

29 October 2015

On this day in 1906, Fredric William Brown was born.

Fredric Brown was an Edgar-winning crime writer who was also, to quote the indispensible Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

highly regarded for his sf, which is noted for its elegance and Humour, and for a polished slickness not generally found in the field in 1941, the year he published his first sf story, “Not Yet the End”

Many modern readers assume that humorous Fantasy began with Terry Pratchett, and humorous SF with Douglas Adams. While both those worthy gentlemen were unequivocally giants in their respective fields, the truth is that humorous SF, particularly, has a long and distinguished history going back well over one hundred years, and Fredric Brown is an important figure in that history.

In support of this contention, the Defence calls What Mad Universe:

BUG-EYED MONSTERS ON BROADWAY

Pulp SF magazine editor Keith Winton was answering a letter from a teenage fan when the first moon rocket fell back to Earth and blew him away.

But where to? Greenville, New York, looked the same, but Bems (Bug-Eyed Monsters) just like the ones on the cover of Startling Stories walked the streets without attracting undue comment.

And when he brought out a half-dollar coin in a drugstore, the cops wanted to shoot him on sight as an Arcturian spy.

Wait a minute. Seven-foot purple moon-monsters? Earth at war with Arcturus? General Dwight D. Eisenhower in command of Venus Sector?

What mad universe was this?

One thing was for sure: Keith Winton had to find out fast – or he’d be good and dead, in this universe or any other.

You can find What Mad Universe and Fredric Brown’s SF works via his Author page on the Gateway website and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

The Defence rests, m’lud.

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Masterwork Spotlight: Something Wicked This Way Comes

28 October 2015

Back in June, 2013, the Gollancz team remembered the late great Ray Bradbury, on the first anniversary of his death. From a body of work of almost absurd variety and importance, two of us chose the same novel: Something Wicked This Way Comes . . .

 

Darren: As far as novels are concerned, I simply love the hypnotic rhythm of Something Wicked This Way Comes.  This is the passport to the October Country. Without ever eliciting a shock or a jump in the reader, it builds tension and atmosphere to the point where it’s genuinely surprising to look up from the page and discover that I’m still in my own house and not bodily transported to the American Mid-west.  I can almost smell the carnival food and hear the crowd, I can almost feel the slight chill of autumn descending, and – and this is where Bradbury has no peer – I can feel myself becoming nostalgic for a small-town American childhood that I never had.

Genius is a word that’s used too lightly in modern literature – it should be kept for only the truly great writers. Writers like Ray Bradbury.

 

Simon: I love Ray Bradbury’s writing. He’s one of those very rare authors whose writing you can go back to thirty years after first acquaintance and discover that your appreciation of it was not built on a hazy foundation of youthful enthusiasm and sentiment for past pleasures. Which is odd because those are exactly the things that his writing often deals with.

My favourite Bradbury book is Something Wicked This Way Comes, that brooding and menacing dissection of the dangers of yearning for an eternal childhood. But as we remember Ray on the anniversary of his death I’d like to point you at Dandelion Wine – Bradbury’s heartfelt look at the endless summers of our childhood. It’s a novel loaded with the specifics of a certain sort of American small town childhood: Norman Rockwell redux. There are darker undercurrents than Rockwell was generally allowed to admit to, but there’s something else there too. A wider and deeper understanding of the special magic of the moments that coalesce into the memories (good and bad) of those summers. Wherever we grew up, if we’re lucky we had a Dandelion Wine summer. Mine was the long hot summer of 1976. The summer of the drought, the summer before I went to ‘big school’. No picket fences, or keds, or homemade lemonade in my Dandelion Wine Summer. I spent most of it scuzzing about in a local wood, and playing in and around an old pillbox at a dusty turn in a narrow lane that took you down to the ferry if you were prepared to cycle the whole way in the heat. I didn’t read Dandelion Wine until perhaps ten years after that summer but I knew which summer of mine Bradbury was writing about. And that was his gift. He put you in his stories, he knew your story would resonate with his. Why? Because he was a generous-hearted, hugely inclusive writer. We’re lucky still to have his books.

 

You can imagine, then, how delighted we are to be publishing this beautiful new edition in the Fantasy Masterworks series, with a new introduction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Washington Post literary critic and reviewer – and tireless champion of the genre – Michael Dirda, and sporting a gorgeous illustration from the wonderfully talented Autun Purser.

 

Ray Bradbury’s extraordinary tale of childhood dreams and supernatural agency in small-town America.

It’s the week before Hallowe’en, and Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois. The siren song of the calliope entices all with promises of youth regained and dreams fulfilled . . .

And as two boys trembling on the brink of manhood set out to explore the mysteries of the dark carnival’s smoke, mazes and mirrors, they will also discover the true price of innermost wishes . . .

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes is available as a Fantasy Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook.

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New Title Spotlight: The Starry Rift

27 October 2015

One of science fiction’s most important feminist voices, James Tiptree, Jr  was the pseudonym under which Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon wrote most of her fiction – she was making a point about sexist assumptions and also keeping her US government employers from knowing her business. Most of her work consists of short fiction, of which Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (SF Masterwork paperback | Gateway eBook) is considered to be her best selection. Sheldon’s best stories combine radical feminism with a tough-minded tragic view of life; even virtuous characters are exposed as unwitting beneficiaries of disgusting socio-economic systems, and good men are complicit in women’s oppression, as in her most famous stories ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ and ‘Houston, Houston, Do you Read?’ or in ecocide.

Much of her work, even at its most tragic, has an attractively ironic tone which sometimes becomes straightforwardly comedy – it is important to stress that Tiptree’s deep seriousness never becomes sombre or pompous. Her two novels Up the Walls of the World and Brightness Falls from the Air (coming from Gollancz in 2016) are both remarkable transfigurations of stock space opera material – the former deals with a vast destroying being, sympathetic aliens at risk of destruction by it and human telepaths trying to make contact across the gulf of stars. She died tragically in 1987.

Gateway is privileged to be republishing her works – works like The Starry Rift . . .

These are the heroes of the Starry Rift, a dark river of night that flows between the arms of our galaxy: a headstrong teenaged runaway who makes first contact with a strange alien race; a young officer on a deep-space salvage mission who discovers an exact double of a woman he thought he’d lost; and the crew of an exploration ship who must plead for the human race to avert an interstellar war.

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

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New Title Spotlight: Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure

26 October 2015

Although most of Gateway’s 3,000-plus titles are doorways to fictional worlds, we do have a small but fascinating collection of non-fiction. We have collections of essays and literary criticism, speculations on what the future might hold, unofficial guides to cult television, literary memoirs and biographies of the great and good of SF and Fantasy. Biographies like Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure . . .

So, just how was Tarzan created? Eager to know the inside story about the legendary John Carter and the amazing cities and peoples of Barsoom? Perhaps your taste is more suited to David Innes and the fantastic lost world at the Earth’s core? Or maybe Carson ‘Wrong Way’ Napier and the bizarre civilizations of cloud-enshrouded Venus are more to your liking? These pages contain all that you will ever want to know about the wondrous worlds and unforgettable characters penned by the master storyteller Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Richard A. Lupoff, the respected critic and writer who helped spark a Burroughs revival in the 1960s, reveals fascinating details about the stories written by the creator of Tarzan. Featured here are outlines of all of Burroughs’s major novels, with descriptions of how they were each written and their respective sources of inspiration.

You can find more of Richard A. Lupoff’s work via his Author page on the Gateway website and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

And just a reminder that almost all of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ fantastical works are available from Gateway!

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ICYMI: From the Attic

23 October 2015

Two years ago today, we published the first in a series of posts wherein SF reviewer and critic, Kev McVeigh looked at a issue both topical and important: the place of women in SF and Fantasy. As well as addressing some historical injustices, Kev highlighted a number of more modern women writers who have been unfairly overlooked. It’s a topic that shouldn’t be necessary to raise, but unfortunately it is, and Gateway is delighted to provide a platform for his fascinating articles. 

We’ll be republishing them over the coming weeks, so those who missed them first time can avail themselves of a second chance. So, without further ado . . .

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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On This Day: Doris Lessing

22 October 2015

On this day in 1919, Doris May Taylor Lessing was born in Kermanshah, in what is now Iran, but was then Persia. She spent her early life in Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia), moving to the UK in 1949, where she almost immediately set about building her astonishing body of work.

A serial collector of literary awards, beginning with the 1954 Somerset Maugham Award and culminating, of course, with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, Doris Lessing was a literary giant. She is all the more remarkable for having built such a career and repuation while unashamedly writing science fiction along side her mimetic works. Dare we suggest that if more ‘literary’ writers had the same good grace to acknowledge the toolkit from which they liberally borrowed ideas, the world would be – if only ever so slightly – a fairer place.

Happy Birthday, Doris Lessing, we salute you!

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Happy Birthday, Ursula Le Guin!

21 October 2015

On this day, eighty-six years ago, Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born. We’re 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 and watch their pre-conceptions crumble (if they’re being honest).

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. And, in a long-overdue accolade from the literary mainstream, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters – an honour created to recognize individuals who have made an exceptional impact on the United States’ literary heritage.

Her acceptance speech was a work of art, in itself:

 

We’re lucky enough to be Ursula K. Le Guin’s UK publisher and have a range of her titles available in print and eBook, including four (at the moment!) in the SF Masterworks series, and the two-volume Selected Stories:

 

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!

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Now in eBook: The Dispossessed!

20 October 2015

If you had really good news and were so excited that you couldn’t stop talking about it, we’d forgive you a certain amount of repetition. Honest.  And in that same spirit of generosity, we’re sure you won’t mind us mentioning again our recently completed comprehensive agreement to publish almost all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s SF & Fantasy work, including eBook editions of the great Earthsea cycle and adding eBook rights to our existing SF Masterworks The Lathe of Heaven and The Dispossessed.

And we’re delighted to announce that the eBook edition of the latter is now available – so what are you waiting for?! Pick up your favoured device and enjoy!

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel.

The Principle of Simultaneity is a scientific breakthrough which will revolutionize interstellar civilization by making possible instantaneous communication. It is the life work of Shevek, a brilliant physicist from the arid anarchist world of Anarres.

But Shevek’s work is being stifled by jealous colleagues, so he travels to Anarres’s sister-planet Urras, hoping to find more liberty and tolerance there. But he soon finds himself being used as a pawn in a deadly political game.

 

 

The Dispossessed is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and – now! – a Gateway eBook. You can find more of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work via her Author page on the Gateway website and read more about her in her entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Reposting: Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: October 2015

19 October 2015

Owing to a technical error, Robert Silverberg’s Reflections piece did not update for October. This is now rectified so we’re re-presenting this piece with the correct link . . .

 

 

‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov

Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: ‘Star (Psi Cassiopeia)

It was a casual glance into an old book catalog that led me, a few months ago, to the unexpected discovery of a towering masterpiece of early science fiction, a book completely unknown to me and, I suspect, to you as well.

The catalog was an old one issued by Lloyd Currey, an East Coast bookseller from whom I bought many books over the years while I was building my SF library. Currey is still in business, but my library is so thoroughly built by now that storage space is starting to be a serious problem, and I have begun culling items that I think I am unlikely to refer to again — among them a two-foot shelf of Currey catalogs, which I have passed along to the great critic and encyclopedist John Clute for his reference use. Before shipping the catalogs off to Clute, though, I skimmed through them, an unwise move, as it turned out, because now and then I came upon a listing of some book I felt I needed to own and promptly obtained it, so I ended up with no net gain of shelf space at all.

For example, I saw this in a 1982 catalog:

DEFONTENAY, C[HARLEMAGNE] I[SCHIR]. Star (Psi) Cassiopeia. Boston: Gregg Press, 1976. 1st US hardcover ed. A masterpiece of nineteenth century SF, Star is not only one of the earliest “space operas,” but also the first work of its scale in the SF field. The story concerns a world leveled by plague, the flight of a few survivors to other planets and the settlement of Star.

That caught my attention. A nineteenth-century interstellar space opera . . . ?

 

You can read the rest of the column here, and find Robert Silverberg’s eBooks here – including Reflections and Refractions, a collection of his non-fiction columns. Please note: each column will remain on the site for one month only.

 

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