Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Happy Birthday, Nicola Griffith!

30 September 2016

Today we wish a very Happy Birthday to Nebula and James Tiptree Jr Award-winner – and friend of SF Gateway – the wonderful Nicola Griffith!

Nicola has won the World Fantasy Award, two Lambdas and two Gaylactic Spectrum Awards for her work as an editor, for the three Bending the Landscape anthologies – SF, Fantasy & Horror – edited with Stephen Pagel, but it is as an author that she is best known.

Her first novel, Ammonite, won the James Tiptree Jr and the Lambda Awards and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA Awards. Her second novel, Slow River, won the Nebula, Lambda and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. Both are available as SF Masterworks paperbacks and SF Gateway eBooks.

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From all at SF Gateway and Gollancz: Happy Birthday Nicola!

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Gateway Essentials: Damon Knight

29 September 2016

In 1948, a young author by the name of A. E. van Vogt published the first ever SF hardback: a book titled The World of Null-A. Although little read these days, van Vogt was one of the major SF figures of the mid-20th century and a formative influence on later writers – among them Philip K. Dick.  He was not the sort of author one would expect to be torn apart by a callow twenty-three year old critic. And yet . . .

When van Vogt revised The World of Null-A in 1970, he included a lengthy introduction explaining why he had felt it necessary to do so.  The introduction included the following passage:

What other criticisms of The World of Null-A are there? None. It’s a fact. Singlehandedly, Knight took on this novel and my work at age 23-1/2, and, as Algis Budrys puts it, brought about my “destruction.”

So what’s the problem? Why am I now revising World? Am I doing all this for one critic?

Yep.

But why? – you ask.

Well, on this planet you have to recognize where the power is.

Knight has it?

Knight has it.

The ‘Knight’ he refers to is, of course, Damon Knight: founder of the Science Fiction Writers of America, co-founder of the Milford Science Fiction Writers’ Conference, editor of the influential ‘Orbit‘ series of original anthologies, master of short-form SF and one of the most astute critics in the history of the field. Together with his wife, Kate Wilhelm, he ran Milford for more than twenty years and the two lent their expertise to the later Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Conference. His most famous story, ‘To Serve Man’ holds the distinction of having been adapted for the small screen by both The Twilight Zone and The Simpsons*. The SFWA Grand Master Award is named in his honour.

He is, quite simply, one of the most important figures in modern science fiction, and we recommend these Gateway Essentials as the perfect places to start reading his work:

* ‘To Serve Man’ can be found in Far Out.

You can find more of Damon Knight’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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Gateway Essentials: Connie Willis

28 September 2016

Eleven Hugo Awards! Three for Best Novel, four for Best Novella, one for Best Novelette and three for Best Short Story.

Seven Nebula Awards! Two for Best Novel, one for Best Novella, two for Best Novelette and two for Best Short Story.

A John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Twelve Locus Awards.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

SFWA Grand Master.

The Robert A. Heinlein Award.

Such a roll call of prizes can only mean one thing: we’re talking about Connie Willis!

Connie Willis is an award-collecting machine!  From her first nomination in 1980 – for the Hugo Award, with the short story ‘Daisy, in the Sun’ – to her historical double triumph with Blackout/All Clear in 2011, which saw her become only the fifth author to win the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the same novel on two separate occasions (bonus points for naming the other four!), Connie Willis has been a regular feature on award shortlists.

In addition to being one of SF’s most accomplished and respected authors, Connie Willis is also much loved for her witty and erudite speeches. Not since Bob Shaw has there been an author whose speeches are anticipated every bit as keenly as their books.

And we are lucky enough to publish three of her books in the SF Masterworks series: Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and the the collection of award-winning short fiction,  Time is the Fire. We heartily recommend them all.

 


And once you’ve read those, if you want to explore the worlds of Connie Willis (and we’re confident you will), your next port of call should be the Gateway Essentials:

Fire Watch Passage

 

You can find more of Connie Willis’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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Masterworks Spotlight: The Midwich Cuckoos

26 September 2016

Our latest SF Masterwork spotlight is a favourite of many at Gateway Towers: John Wyndham’s classic tale of strange alien children in our midst. The Midwich Cuckoos is a masterpiece of paranoia and suspense . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos

In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed – except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers, just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.


The Midwich Cuckoos is available as an SF Masterworks hardback. You can also find SF Masterworks editions of The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids via John Wyndham’s Author Page on the Orion website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


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Gateway Essentials: Fritz Leiber

23 September 2016

It is a well-established article of faith that if you love modern epic or high fantasy, then you acknowledge a debt to J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings. But what if your tastes run more to heroic fantasy or sword-and-sorcery? Or contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy? To which antecedents do you tip your hat in those cases? Obviously, there are a number of options for such a wide spread of subgenres but, as it happens, you could probably save yourself a lot of legwork by just saying ‘Thank you, Fritz Leiber’.

How so? Well, he published Conjure Wife in Unknown Worlds in 1943 (expanded and released as a stand-alone novel ten years later), a dark tale of witchcraft in contemporary small-town America. That’s forty years before Terri Windling‘s Borderland series of shared world anthologies was launched, and a good half a century before the first Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel. And Our Lady of Darkness (1977) brings the paranormal to the streets of modern-day San Francisco a decade ahead of the curve. That’s to name just two.

But his crowning glory and the series before which all fans of Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch should abase themselves (just kidding; reading the books will be sufficient – no need to abase!) is, of course, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Making their debut in the August 1939 issue of Unknown (as it was then), in Leiber’s first published story, ‘Two Sought Adventure’, the nimble thief and the giant barbarian are the forerunners of recent fantasy’s morally grey protagonists. Shunning the clichés of fantasy like a thief shuns the light, Leiber guides Fafhrd and the Mouser through the gritty, decadent streets of Lankhmar – the prototype for every mediaeval fantasy city from Thieves’ World to Ankh-Morpork – feasting, drinking, wenching, fighting, winning and losing fortunes.

We heartily recommend letting Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser be your guides through the streets and alleys of Lankhmar. Just make sure your wallet is securely hidden. And you don’t drink anything you haven’t seen someone else drink first. Oh, and not in your best clothes, eh?  That’s the way.

The first three Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are shown above. You can find the rest of Fritz Leiber’s work via his Author page on the Gateway website and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Gateway Essentials: E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith

22 September 2016

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith (1890-1965)

It is, remarkably, more than 100 years since Edward Elmer Smith began writing The Skylark of Space, the first novel in the series which created and exemplified the term ‘space opera‘. Originally written with the help of a neighbour, Mrs Lee Hawkins Garby, who supplied feminine touches such as characterization, the novel could not find a publisher for more than a decade – until the first specialised American sf magazine, Amazing Stories, came into existence in 1926.  It was eventually published as a serial in 1928 and became an immediate sensation.  Smith – whose byline was initially his full name – had Ph.D appended by Amazing’s editor/publisher Hugo Gernsback and quickly became known to fans as ‘Doc’ Smith.  (Ironically, Smith’s Ph.D was in chemistry, and his most notable scientific achievement was devising a method whereby sugar clung to doughnuts.)

Amazing Stories

“Doc” Smith became the first superstar of the newly-fledged sf genre, and The Skylark of Space was followed by two further adventures:  Skylark Three (confusingly, the second novel) and Skylark of Valeron.  (A fourth Skylark novel, Skylark Duquesne, was not published till the mid-1960s.)

Successful as the Skylark series was, Smith’s biggest epic was still to come:  the Lensman sequence, which began in 1937 with Galactic Patrol, and which eventually ran to six main volumes (with a seventh associated book).  These were published in a limited edition box set in the 1950s, modestly titled The History of Civilization.

When John W. Campbell (Smith’s main rival as an author of galaxy-spanning space opera) turned from writing to editing at the end of 1937, and launched the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction‘ – introducing such authors as Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov – Smith’s supremacy started to recede, although his first period of popularity endured through most of the 1940s.

In the UK his books had a remarkable resurgence in popularity in the 1970s, when they were reissued in paperback with cover paintings by a new artist, Chris Foss, whose covers successfully evoked the scale and ambition of the stories.  So popular were they, that a series of posthumous sequels by other hands were published, based on scenarios written or suggested by Smith.

(Note:  the Lensman series will be republished by SF Gateway in early 2017.)

Where to start?  The Skylark quartet is – in a sense – the godfather of all wide-screen space opera up to and including modern masters like Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds.


You can find more of E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s work via his Author page on the Gateway website and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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H G Wells: 150th Anniversary

21 September 2016

It is 150 years ago, today, that the founding father of British Science Fiction was born, in Bromley in Kent. His father was a shopkeeper and professional cricketer and his mother a former domestic servant.  After working as a draper’s apprentice and pupil-teacher, Wells won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in 1884, studying biology under Thomas Huxley. He was awarded a first-class honours degree in biology and resumed teaching but had to retire owing to ill-health.

His first published work was a biology text book in 1893, but two years later he published the work that would make his name, The Time Machine. And the rest, as they say, is history . . .

The Island of Dr Moreau The Invisible Man
The Food of the Gods

It is simply impossible to overstate Wells’s importance to the SF field. To quote The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Wells was:

the most important of all nineteenth-century sf writers in English, both in the UK and in America, where his early sf was also widely published from 1895 on. His sf was also important later in the evolution of Genre SF in America, through the purchase in the 1920s of several of these early novels and tales by Hugo Gernsback for republication in Amazing and elsewhere. Throughout his UK career, until at least 1940, he remained central to the evolution of the Scientific Romance, his influence on J D Beresford, S Fowler Wright, Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C Clarke and later authors being unmistakable.

Happy 150th birthday, Mr Wells!

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Happy Birthday, George R. R. Martin!

20 September 2016

Today we wish a very Happy Birthday to one of the most successful Fantasy authors of all time, the Lord of Ice and Fire himself, George R. R. Martin!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last five years, you will be aware of the colossal hit television show Game of Thrones. And what you should also be aware of is that Game of Thrones derives its title from A Game of Thrones, the first book of George R. R. Martin‘s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Despite what you might have heard, though, George R. R. Martin actually wrote one or two other books before A Song of Ice and Fire. And some of them were very well received, such as World Fantasy Award nominees Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag, Hugo and BSFA Award-nominated Dying of the Light, and Locus Award-runner-up Windhaven, co-written with Lisa Tuttle. And he is also largely responsible for the Wild Cards shared world superhero series of novels and anthologies – soon to be adapted to a small screen near you!

Fevre Dream The Armageddon Rag Dying of the Light Windhaven

You can find more of George R. R. Martin’s work via the  Orion and Gateway websites, and read about him in his entry in The Encylopedia of Science Fiction.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE!

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Gateway Essentials: Norman Spinrad

19 September 2016

Norman Spinrad began publishing science fiction in 1963 and has been an important, if sometimes controversial, figure in the genre ever since. He was a regular contributor to New Worlds magazine and, ironically, the cause of its banning by W H Smith, which objected to the violence and profanity in his serialised novel Bug Jack Barron. Spinrad’s work has never shied away from the confrontational, be it casting Hitler as a spiteful pulp novelist or satirising the Church of Scientology.

We recommend these Gateway Essentials as the perfect places to start reading Norman Spinrad.

The Iron Dream in particular is a delight, a metanarrative set in a world in which Adolf Hitler, his political career unsuccessful, emigrated to New York to become a (very bad!) pulp SF writer.

You can find more of Norman Spinrad’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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Masterworks Spotlight: Swastika Night

14 September 2016

It is the single most popular topic for alternative histories: what if the Nazis had won the Second World War. It usually turns upon the Jonbar Point of Hitler not committing suicide in 1945 – although, in Stephen Fry‘s excellent Making History, the Nazi victory is brought about by Hitler’s birth being prevented entirely. From Philip K. Dick‘s The Man in the High Castle to Robert Harris‘s Fatherland, some of our finest writers have turned their imaginations to the task of imagining what a world ruled by Nazis would look like.

All of these writers, though, had the advantage of hindsight. Having read the history books, seen the photographs and footage of the Nazi legacy, they had a solid basis from whcih to extrapolate. Imagine trying to write about a Nazi future in 1935 . . .


Swastika Night

Seven hundred years after Nazism conquered Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Adolf Hitler is worshipped as a diety: a seven-foot tall, blond god who personally won the war. The Japanese rule the Americas, Australia and Asia. Though Japan is the only rival superpower to the Nazi West, their inevitable wars always end in stalemate. The fascist Germans and Japanese suffer much difficulty in maintaining their populations, because of the physical degeneration of their women, who have been reduced to subhuman breeding stock.

Englishman Alfred Alfredson is on a German pilgrimage – an unusual act since, in Europe, the English are loathed because they were the last opponents of Nazi Germany in the war. So Alfred is surprised to be invited in to the home of noblem German knight – and he is astounded when shown a secret, historic photograph depicting Hitler and a girl before a crowd. He is shocked to learn that far from being a god, in reality Hitler was a small unprepossessing man with dark hair and a paunch.

And Alfred’s discovery may mean his death . . .


Katharine Burdekin‘s classic of feminist predictive fiction finally returns to the light. This remarkably prescient novel of the future under Nazism was written in 1935 and published in 1937 under the pseudonym Murray Constantine.

Swastika Night is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

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