Thoughts from the SF Gateway

ICYMI: On the Blog This Week

31 January 2016

In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights from the SF Gateway blog this week!

 

Five of the Best…Moon Novels! – Always dreamed of going to the moon? Well look no further with these five moon-based novels.

 

Vintage Cover Lucky Dip – Delve into the Magical Mystery Box of Magnificence for some delightfully vintage illustrations.

 

On This Day: Lewis Carroll – The birthday of an author with an unexpected and underappreciated influence on the SF genre.

 

Gender in Science Fiction, a BBC Radio 4 Documentary – Although Herland, the Radio 4 documentary exploring how SF tackles issues of gender, has already aired (you might be able to listen on catch-up!), the accompanying BBC article highlights 10 brilliant and influential women SF authors.

 

The Solar System and Beyond: Nine Fantastic Novels! – The news that scientists have discovered evidence of a mysterious tenth planet is the perfect opportunity to read some brilliant novels set in our friendly – or not-so-friendly in some cases! – planetary neighbourhood.

 

Publication Day! – This month the SF Gateway brings you 27 exciting new reads.

 

Happy Birthday, Gregory Benford! – Both professor and world-leading writer of Hard SF, this is the birthday of a very talented man.

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Happy Birthday, Gregory Benford!

30 January 2016

Timescape

Dr Gregory Benford, born on this day in 1941, is a man of many talents. A Professor of Plasma Physics and Astrophysics at the University of California, he is also one of the world’s leading writers of Hard SF and a contributing editor of Reason magazine.

He is perhaps best known for his 1979 novel Timescape – which won the NebulaJohn W. Campbell Memorial and BSFA Awards for best novel and the Ditmar Award for best international novel – but has also undertaken collaborations with David Brin and Arthur C. Clarke among others and, as one of the ‘Killer Bs’ (with Brin and Greg Bear), wrote one of three authorised sequels to Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series.

SF Gateway currently has 27 of his books available, including both ‘Galactic Center Saga’ series and The Heart of the Comet, co-written with David Brin. In addition to his celebrated literary works – he has been shortlisted for the Hugo Award four times and the Nebula thirteen times, winning twice – he has also written for television and served as a scientific consultant on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Publication Day!

29 January 2016

The SF Gateway is off to a cracking start this year, with January bringing you 27 exciting new* titles to read! Including a hilarious Hugo Award-nominated comedy adventure by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer, a macabre masterpiece of dark fantasy by Charles G. Finney, a whole host of brilliant titles by R.A. Lafferty and A. Bertram Chandler and many more besides, we’re sure you can find something to keep you busy!

 

Matilda’s Stepchildren A. Bertram Chandler
To Keep The Ship A. Bertram Chandler
The Gateway to Never A. Bertram Chandler
Kelly Country A. Bertram Chandler
The Anarch Lords A. Bertram Chandler
Contraband from Otherspace A. Bertram Chandler
The Circus of Dr Lao Charles G. Finney
Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions James Tiptree, Jr.
Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add? R. A. Lafferty
Sindbad, The Thirteenth Voyage R. A. Lafferty
East of Laughter R. A. Lafferty
Past Master R. A. Lafferty
Nine Hundred Grandmothers R. A. Lafferty
Apocalypses R. A. Lafferty
Serpent’s Egg R. A. Lafferty
Fourth Mansions R. A. Lafferty
The Reefs of Earth R. A. Lafferty
The Devil Is Dead R. A. Lafferty
Arrive at Easterwine R. A. Lafferty
Annals of Klepsis R. A. Lafferty
Space Chantey R. A. Lafferty
Not To Mention Camels R. A. Lafferty
That Sweet Little Old Lady Randall Garrett, Laurence M. Janifer
Return to Eddarta Randall Garrett, Vicki Ann Heydron
The Forever City Richard A. Lupoff
Terrors Richard A. Lupoff
The White Serpent Tanith Lee

 

* Well, technically not new, as such…

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The Solar System and Beyond: Nine Fantastic Novels!

28 January 2016

For those of us that are still sad about the downgrading of Pluto’s planet status (shh, I watched Sailor Moon when I was younger and held much fondness for Sailor Pluto) and the subsequent shrinking of the solar system from nine “true” planets to eight, the news that Caltech researchers have found evidence of a ninth planet, another gas giant, lurking out there beyond Pluto is quite exciting. Rather less exciting is the name it’s been given: Planet Nine. It’s been over 150 years since we discovered Neptune and the idea that we may yet have more to find closer to home than the next star system is fantastic and mildly terrifying at the same time – what else might we have missed?

Planet Nine - Artist's Representation (Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

Unsurprisingly, the solar system has played a key role in many a science fiction novel. Here are some wonderfully engrossing reads that take you from our home here on Earth to the edge of the solar system and beyond!

If the Stars Are Gods by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund

Expanded from a Nebula Award-winning short story, If the Stars Are Gods tells the unforgettable story of the century-long search of a scientist-monk for the secret of alien intelligent life – a quest which leads him from the time-scoured deserts of Mars to the vast holes in the raging cloud-cover of Jupiter; from the radio winds of Titan to the true centre of a universe where Beings are collected like songs…

 

Floating Worlds

Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland

 

The resourceful and unpredictable Paula Mendoza, part of Earth Committee for Revolution, is tasked with negotiating a truce between the Middle Planets and the powerful and aggressive Syth race from the Gas Planets, Uranus and Saturn. When her unconventional approach has unexpected consequences, she finds herself on those very same Gas Planets, the only tenuous link between Earth and the Syth Empire…

 

Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke

Colonists from the entire solar system converge on the mother planet for the 2276 celebrations. Among the influx of humanity is Duncan Makenzie, scientist-administrator from the underground colony of Titan, one of the outer moons of Saturn. Makenzie is not just on Earth for the celebrations, though; he has a delicate mission to perform – for his

world, his family and himself …

Last and First Men

 

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. Last and First Men is one of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years, it is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.

 

The Tenth Planet by Edmund Cooper

The Dag Hammarskjold takes off from Woomera, Australia for the new human settlement on Mars. Planet Earth is being eaten away by uncontrollable pollution, starvation and disease. Its life expectancy is nil. This is the last spaceship, its passengers the last people on Earth with any hope. But it is never to reach its objective. Five thousand years later its captain wakes up to a new world undiscovered in his time and to a bitter experience he must fight alone.

 

When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer

A runaway planet hurtles toward Earth. As it draws near, massive tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions wrack our planet, devastating continents, drowning cities, and wiping out millions. In central North America a team of scientists race to build a spacecraft powerful enough to escape the doomed earth. Their greatest threat, they soon discover, comes not from the skies but from other humans.

 

The Forever War

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Private William Mandella is a reluctant hero in an interstellar war against an unknowable and unconquerable alien enemy. But his greatest test will be when he returns home. Relativity means that for every few months’ tour of duty centuries have passed on Earth, isolating the combatants ever more from the world for whose future they are fighting. The Forever War, winner of both the Hugh and Nebula awards, is one of the very best must-read SF novels of all time.

 

Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak

“Upon you and you alone must rest the fate of the universe. You are the only ones to save it.” Thus spoke the mysterious Cosmic Engineers to a small group of human beings on the rim of the solar system. Somewhere out there in the vastness of the galaxies lurked the greatest challenge they would ever face…

Cities in Flight

 

 

James Blish’s galaxy-spanning masterwork, originally published in four volumes, explores a future in which two crucial discoveries – antigravity devices which enable whole cities to be lifted from the Earth to become giant spaceships, and longevity drugs which enable their inhabitants to live for thousands of years – lead to the establishment of a unique Galactic empire.

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Gender in Science Fiction, a BBC Radio 4 Documentary

27 January 2016

Mary ShelleyTomorrow BBC Radio 4 is airing a documentary that explores how science fiction tackles issues of gender. This accompanying article from the BBC highlights ten brilliant and influential female SF authors. From Mary Shelley, often credited with founding the science fiction genre with Frankenstein (1818), and Ursula K. Le Guin, who has “nourished the sci-fi and fantasy genre with piercing visions of race, gender, ecology and politics”, to Connie Willis – one of the most decorated SF writers of all time – and James Tiptree, Jr., who was “explosively influential” and has a literary prize named in her honour. These women have left – and, indeed, continue to leave – a substantial mark on the landscape of genre fiction.

 

Herland airs on BBC Radio 4 on 28 January 2016 at 11.30am. We’ll certainly be listening in!

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On This Day: Lewis Carroll

27 January 2016

Lewis Carroll, born this day in 1832, is perhaps not the first person one would think of when it comes to classic SFF but Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s pseudonymous novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1971), with their fantastic and whimsical mix of mathematical logic and lyrical nonsense, are beloved childhood classics that have left their mark on many a science fiction writer.

From Stephen Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need (1987), in which mirrors are used to “translate” people and things between locations and realities, and The Wonderland Gambit Trilogy by Jack C. Chalker, which plays heavily on both the characters and themes from Carroll’s novels, to Robert A. Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast (1980) and Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series, which both feature Lewis Carroll himself as a character, echoes of Alice can be seen everywhere in genre fiction – and these are but a few examples! Brian Aldiss, in Penguin Science Fiction (1961), even argues that “SF owes a greater debt to Lewis Carroll than to H.G. Wells”.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party by John Tenniel

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Vintage Cover Lucky Dip

26 January 2016

The scanning process for eBook conversion can be rather unkind on the original source book, but it does mean that we have a rather fantastic collection of old covers saved for a rainy day.

 

Behold, the Magical Mystery Box of Magnificence!

Magical Mystery Box of Covers
 

It contains gems such as dinosaurs riding dolphins through the desert and a wonderful array of disembodied heads (illustrations, not actual disembodied heads – I think management would have something to say if it were the latter). Today’s post features old covers for titles coming to you in the near future, from authors such as R. A Lafferty, Richard Lupoff, the prolific Lionel Fanthorpe, A. Bertram Chandler and the multi-award-winning Poul Anderson.

Sometimes these old covers just raise so many questions. Without reading the blurb, what would you think they were about?

Covers - Aurelia and Before 12:01

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Five of the Best . . . Moon novels!

25 January 2016

Look no further: today on the Gateway blog we have five of the best moon-based novels you could ever hope to read . . .

 

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke
Time is running out for the passengers and crew of the tourist cruiser Selene, incarcerated in a sea of choking lunar dust. On the surface, her rescuers find their resources stretched to the limit by the mercilessly unpredictable conditions of a totally alien environment. A brilliantly imagined story of human ingenuity and survival.

 

Moon Base by E. C. Tubb
On the airless surface of the Moon the ‘cold war’ continues, with the bases of the major world powers watching each other and waiting… The dedicated personnel of Britain’s Moon Base seemed well-adjusted to their peculiar existence despite a series of mysterious happenings. What bothers them most is the visit of a Royal Commission sent by an economically-worried British Government to investigate expenditure. Travelling with the Commission, but under separate and secret orders, is Felix Larsen, whose investigations are of quite a different nature.

 

Outlaws of the Moon by Edmond Hamilton
The sorrowful cry spread throughout the Solar System. Captain Future and his Futuremen had been missed for months. There was little hope that they’d ever be seen again… A scheming scientist headed for the moon. Now was his chance to find the Futuremen’s hideaway and steal their highly guarded secrets, secrets that could control the Universe. No one could stop him – not even the sinister lunar creatures – now that Captain Future was dead!

 

The Moon is Hell by John W. Campbell
John W. Campbell was the man who made modern science fiction what it is today. As editor of Astounding Stories (later Analog), Campbell brought into the field such all-time greats as Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon and many others, while his own writing blazed new trails in science fiction reading pleasure. The Moon is Hell is this great writer-editor’s vision of the first men on the moon – written 18 years before Neil Armstrong made history. This is the story of the American space programme – not as it happened, but as it might have been.

 

The Trouble with Tycho by Clifford D. Simak
Prospecting on the Moon was grim, dangerous and usually unrewarding, only most of the green-horns who came to try didn’t find out until after they got there. Chris Jackson was no exception. He put everything he owned and could borrow into this, and he’d be ruined if he failed. His only chance meant going into Tycho – where three expeditions had already disappeared. He could try, but would he come out again?

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ICYMI: From the Attic IX: This Map IS the Territory

22 January 2016

As previously noted, we will be republishing noted critic and reviewer Kev McVeigh’s ‘From the Attic’ columns over the coming weeks, to give new readers the opportunity to encounter his sage observations on some very important and all-too-often overlooked authors . . .

 

Rereading the stories of Karen Joy Fowler I am made aware of some things I already knew. That is not entirely the paradox it seems. In her collection Black Glass almost every story appears to incorporate an early statement asserting some degree of unreliability.

“One day Lily decided to be somebody else” (Lily Red)

“even if everything in it was true when written, it was entirely possible that none of it was true now” (Lieserl)

“I have learned to distrust words, even my own” (Letters From Home)

“Of course it was an illusion” (The Brew)

“I couldn’t tell you in what year or in what sequence anything happened, only in what season.” (Go Back)

If such a pattern were not enough, Fowler admitted in an interview on Strange Horizons that she deliberately wrote her debut novel Sarah Canary with the intent that Science Fiction readers would read it as Science Fiction and mainstream readers would see mainstream fiction. But this wilful ambiguity is not just a broadening of her market; it actually reflects a crucial aspect of Sarah Canary‘s meaning. Set in the Pacific North West in 1873, Sarah Canary tells the story of the eponymous mystery woman who appears at a Chinese logging camp. Through a series of occasionally too overtly staged set pieces Sarah Canary encounters, or more pertinently is encountered by, a motley collection of borderline outsiders who each see her, and attempt to exploit her, in their own ways. The passive tense I used above is important I think because she never speaks and is drawn into events by those she meets. As John Clute notes, Sarah Canary traces “the ways in which it might be possible to understand, and to misconstrue” but does it while “allowing no SF premise to shoulder into the knowledge of the text.”

It makes great aesthetic sense to me, therefore, that a novel about people imposing identity on the Other is created in such a way that readers impose genre upon it. Sarah Canary is alien, strange and a tabula rasa to those who meet her, but is she an Alien? Decide for yourself.

There are other Karen Joy Fowler stories that also approach genre SF tangentially at best, like Sarah Canary concealing their nature beneath delicate filigree realism. “We discern symmetries, repetitions, and think we are seeing the pattern of our lives. But the pattern is in the seeing, not in the dream.” (Sarah Canary) Her stories are “part map, part picture” (Duplicity) Her latest novel, the deeply moving and provocative We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and most shops are shelving it away from SF.

Most infamously Fowler’s controversial Nebula Award winning story “What I Didn’t See” has no SF elements in its body. It is the story, told in hindsight, of an African expedition to view and hunt gorillas and a mysterious disappearance of one of the women in the party. Fowler’s narrator challenges her own narrative at several points, questioning her memory and assuring us that her attitudes have changed over time. Beneath that there is also an engagement with SF tropes, and we are informed of this by the titular echo of James Tiptree Jr‘s “The Women Men Don’t See” and our knowledge outwith the story of Tiptree’s anthropologist mother, Mary Hastings Bradley. In the way the expedition leader views the women of his party I almost see Fowler putting into fiction parts of Joanna RussHow To Suppress Women’s Writing. On all these levels it is a powerful, thoughtful, evocative and beautiful story, as so many of Fowler’s are.

That looking back in hindsight also typifies a lot of Fowler’s oeuvre. Her novels after Sarah Canary, The Sweetheart Season (about WWII Women’s baseball) and Sister Noon (again in the 19th century) are historical set novels. The Jane Austen Book Club may have a contemporary setting but obviously reflects back on Austen and the Regency era. This use of studying romantic fiction as plot device accompanied by commentary is something Fowler also did in one of her most Science Fictional stories “The View from Venus.” If these stories make it clear Fowler is invoking a dialogue between now and the past of these books, and between us and the books, that adds weight to the case for “What I Didn’t See” engaging with SF and Tiptree.

These historical stories are not nostalgic however, though moments of wistfulness for futures missed are inevitable if not predominant. In ‘Lieserl’ Albert Einstein receives a series of letters from his wife Mileva about their daughter Lieserl who in real-life seems to vanish from the records. Fowler plays with relativity here as scientific theory, metaphor and perhaps, pun, whilst her story explicitly records the neglect of the scientist for his wife and daughter.

They are the characters on the edge of existing narratives, frequently women, occasionally people of colour, that Fowler gives voice to. Gulliver’s wife, left behind whilst he travels (The Travails); Tonto who defends the public hero at the same times as complaining about him, (The Faithful Companion At 40); the young Elizabeth I who “should have been a boy” (The Elizabeth Complex)

Karen Joy Fowler is a writer SF needs, a writer who probes at the genre and re-imagines its futures. Her work engages with the world, with the genre and with the reader but, as noted, ambiguously and frequently asymptotically. Relativity informs the plot of ‘Lieserl’ and Sarah Canary reflects perceptions of women in perceptions of a novel. ‘Game Night At the Fox & Goose’ has clever dialogue where the bar patrons’ commentary on the football game can read as discussion of the pregnant protagonist’s predicament. (As an aside this story has a lot of overlap, albeit from different perspective, with James Patrick Kelly’s “Dancing With Chairs” which was published the same month, Fowler in Interzone, Kelly in Asimov’s.)

So, Karen Joy Fowler, witty, ambiguous, engaging, informed; great prose, and unique approaches to old stories. The old maps bore the legend “Here be Dragons”; well, there may or may not be dragons in Karen Joy Fowler‘s stories, but if you’d like a guide to take you off the edge of the map but who might leave you there to find a way back to what might not be quite where you departed from anyway, well Fowler is the one I choose.

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New Title Spotlight: The Bards of Bone Plain

21 January 2016

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a new* Patricia A. McKillip book to the list. With two Word Fantasy Awards for best novel and another for Life Achievement, Hugo, Nebula and British Fantasy Award nominations and a staggering fourteen Mythopoeic Award nominations – with three wins – she is one of the great voices of modern fantasy. Here’s another chance to encounter her magic . . .

Eager to graduate from the school on the hill, Phelan Cle chose Bone Plain, oft immortalised by poets and debated by scholars, for his final paper because he thought it would be an easy topic. It was commonly accepted – even at a school steeped in bardic tradition – that Bone Plain, with its three trials, three terrors and three treasures, was nothing more than a legend, a metaphor. But as his research leads him to the life of Nairn, the Wandering Bard, the Unforgiven, Phelan starts to wonder if there are any easy answers . . .

 

You can find more of Patricia A. McKillip’s work via her Author page on the Gateway website and read about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

* You know what we mean!

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