Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Remembering Robert Holdstock

29 November 2016

It is that sad day once again, when we remember one of our great friends who is no longer with us.  Hard to believe it’s seven years since Robert Holdstock made his last, final journey into the Wildwood. We still miss him.

Frustratingly, this year’s anniversary also coincided with some security updates, which ran over time and locked us out of the blog for almost a week. Access has returned now, but it leaves us with little time to do justice to one of modern Fantasy’s great writers in a new post. Rather than go without marking the day, we hope you’ll bear with us as we re-post a remembrance from a few years ago . . .



It’s three seven years ago, today, that Robert Holdstock passed away. Some four months after the publication of what would be his final novel – fittingly, a Ryhope Wood tale – the fantasy genre lost one of its modern masters, and those of us who were lucky enough to know the man as well as the books, lost a great friend.

Rob was a World Fantasy Award-winner for best novel, with Mythago Wood, and best novella, with ‘The Ragthorn’, co-written with Garry Kilworth. He won the BSFA Award four times – twice for short fiction, with ‘The Ragthorn’ and the original ‘Mythago Wood’ novella, and twice for best novel, with Mythago Wood and sequel Lavondyss. Celtika, his extraordinary tale of Merlin, centuries before the time of Arthur, won the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for best novel translated into French.

In 2010, the British Fantasy Society posthumously gave him the Karl Edward Wagner Award for Special Achievement, and earlier this year the same body announced that its best novel award would henceforth be split into two categories: the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel and the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel. I can’t think of a better candidate to be permanently associated with the best in British Fantasy.

I’ll be raising a glass to Rob, this evening, in memory of great conversations over burgers and Belgian beer, and I’m sure many of you will be remembering him in other ways – not least, by reading or re-reading his wonderful books – but I leave you with this rather haunting tribute I found while gathering links for this post:

 

The riders had gone, clattering up the path to the castle and the woods beyond. But long after the pyre had burned to ash the boy was still crouched within the shrine cave, following with his gaze the trail of the drifting smoke, out across the forest, to the distance, to the setting sun, to the unknown regions of the west.

He wondered how to journey there.

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Gateway Essentials: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

28 November 2016

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild (2006) and is one of only two women ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention (2003). In 1995, she was the only novelist guest of the Romanian government for the First World Dracula Congress, sponsored by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the Romanian Bureau of Tourism and the Romanian Ministry of Culture.

Although her early work was SF, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is best known as the creator of the heroic vampire, the Count Saint-Germain. With her creation of Saint-Germain, she delved into history and vampiric literature and subverted the standard myth to invent the first vampire who was more honorable, humane, and heroic than most of the humans around him. She fully meshed the vampire with romance and accurately detailed historical fiction and filtered it through a feminist perspective that both the giving of sustenance and its taking were of equal erotic potency.

A professional writer since 1968, Yarbro has worked in a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to westerns, from young adult adventure to historical horror, publishing dozens of books.

So where to begin? Call us predictable, but when an author has a signature series so well known that it has dominated her career for decades . . . we’d start there!

Hotel Transylvania is the first of the Comte Saint-Germain novels, and is followed by over two dozen further volumes, of which Gateway is please dto have the first two: The Palace & Blood Games.

You can find more of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’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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Gateway Essentials: Poul Anderson

25 November 2016

Poul William Anderson was born ninety years ago, today, in Bristol, Pennsylvania, so it seems an appropriate time to give his work the ‘Essentials treatment’ . . .

Born of Scandinavian parents, Anderson lived in Denmark briefly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He was a SFWA Grand Master, winner of seven Hugo Awards and three Nebulas – and was Greg Bear‘s father-in-law!

Unlike most of his peers, Poul Anderson was equally at home with SF and Fantasy. Although much of his work falls unambiguously into the science fiction category – including major works, the Flandry and Psychotechnic League series – he received a World Fantasy Award nomination for A Midsummer Tempest and won the British Fantasy Award, for Hrolf Kraki’s Saga.

It is one of the oddities of the award process that his major works of fantasy were not recognised with wins or nominations by the various Fantasy Awards. SF-Fantasy fusion The High Crusade was shortlisted for the 1961 Hugo Award, but the seminal Norse fantasy The Broken Sword – hailed by no less than Michael Moorcock as one of the finest fantasies ever written – has troubled neither juries nor voters. It was, however, selected for inclusion in David Pringle‘s important Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and was added to Gollancz’s re-launched Fantasy Masterworks series last year.

So, with a career spanning over half a century, where should one begin?  With his Masterworks, of course: Tau Zero in the SF Masterworks, and The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions in the Fantasy Masterworks.

And then move on to our specially selected Gateway Essentials, including the acclaimed Flandry books, starting with Flandry of Terra and Ensign Flandry:

There’s also one of Anderson’s own favourites, Brain Wave, a novel about the effects of the sudden increase in the intelligence of all life on Earth (yes, please!); knights-vs-aliens romp The High Crusade; the saga of immortals among us,  The Boat of a Million Years and Time Patrol, a collection of Anderson’s stories following the guardians of the timeways:

 

 

You can find these and more of Poul Anderson’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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On This Day: Forrest J. Ackerman

24 November 2016

On this day, one hundred yeasrs ago, Forrest J. Ackerman was born, in Los Angeles, California.

Although he was, throughout a long life dedicated to science fiction, an author, editor and agent, ‘Forry’ Ackerman is sadly little known to modern fans – which is a great shame because he led the way for all of us. An active member of fandom from his early teens, Ackerman had his first fan letter published in Science Wonder Quarterly in 1929 and served as an editor of The Time Traveller, often cited as the first Fanzine.

He was probably the first ‘fan as celebrity’  – or Big Name Fan – and was recognised with a unique Hugo Award in 1953 for Number One Fan Personality, and was awarded a World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2002. He is credited with coining the term ‘Sci-Fi’ for his beloved genre, and attended the first Worldcon in New York in 1939, where he wore the first ‘futuristic costume’ and, in effect, inventing Cosplay.

An enthusiastic collector of books and paraphernalia, his Hollywood home became a museum of sorts for SF fans, whom he generously welcomed into his house to explore his collection of over 300,000 items. It is estimated that some 50,000 fans attended his open house events over the second half of the twentieth century. His 1997 illustrated book Forrest J. Ackerman’s World of Science Fiction features hundreds of colour photos of his collection, and is an entertaining informal history if the field.

Forrest J Ackerman at his Ackermansion, 1990 – photo by Alan Light

 

In 2003, Ackerman spoke of ‘hitting 100 and becoming the George Burns of science fiction’ but it was not to be. His health failed and, in December 2008, he passed away at the age of 92.

 
 

Happy 100th Birthday, Forry. And thanks for sharing your passion.

 
 

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Masterworks Spotlight: Shadow and Claw

23 November 2016

Way back in the mists of time, when SF Gateway was taking its first tentative digital steps into the world, I wrote about the first half of Gene Wolfe’s epic The Book of the New SunShadow and Claw – which had just been voted one of the top ten Gollancz titles over our (then) fifty-year history. Shadow and Claw is now an SF Masterwork, along with the second half, Sword and Citadel, and I find myself writing a Masterworks Spotlight piece for it. Since my very high opinion of the book hasn’t changed in the enduiing five years, I see no reason why the words should change, either . . .

“It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future. The locked and rusted gate that stood before us, with wisps of river fog threading its spikes like the mountain paths, remains in my mind now as the symbol of my exile. That is why I have begun this account of it with the aftermath of our swim, in which I, the torturer’s apprentice Severian, had so nearly drowned.”

I first read these words more than 25 years ago. I had encountered Gene Wolfe at the 1985 World Science Fiction Convention and, although I confess I hadn’t heard of him at the time (in my defence, I wasn’t even out of my teens and this was my first Worldcon), my determined strategy was to take advantage of so many of the great and good of SF being present in my home town to buy, get signed and read books by as many new authors as possible. It’s a method I heartily recommend to neophytes and experienced con-goers alike. My first reaction to that opening passage, in that callow, ohmygodI’vejustdiscoveredthebestwriterEVER kind of way, was . . . well, that I’d just discovered the best writer ever.

Now, as a professional working in SF publishing, with many more Wolfes read and – I would hope – more developed and sophisticated tastes . . . I’m not entirely sure I was wrong. Certainly, he’s not an easy read, nor is he everyone’s cup of tea, but I would contend that anyone putting together a list of SF and Fantasy authors who represent the best the form can achieve and leaving Gene Wolfe out, needs to seriously reassess their definition of “best”.

Just look at what is contained in those 70 words. We learn that our narrator is looking back from some time in the future, that his name is Severian, that he is (or was, at the time of the story) a torturer’s apprentice and that this book is to be the story of his exile. We learn that the gate at which Severian and his companions stand is old and is barred against them; from the references to exile and the time being the aftermath of Severian’s swim we can infer that they are standing on the outside seeking a way in; probably back in, as it is reasonable to assume his companions are also apprentice torturers and the group has absconded for a swim, and the wisps of river fog give us a sense of the misty, tenebrous atmosphere that will pervade the novel (alright, it’s possible that I’m cheating here, having read the series a number of times, and I’m seeing this because of my hindsight rather than the author’s foreshadowing – but it’s still a lot of information for a 70-word opening passage).

The novel itself – and, indeed, the entire series – is a remarkable journey through a world both alien and familiar – the Earth under the fading light of a dying sun. The language Wolfe employs is wonderfully archaic, managing to convey both the far-future setting and the almost impossible weight of history pressing down on a world at the end of time. A rich and varied cast of supporting characters drift in and out of Severian’s life, bringing with them the full flavour of the different aspects of life on Urth. And Severian’s journey is at least as extraordinary as the setting in which it takes place. Encounters with aristocrats and criminals, myth and prophecy, texts within texts, and my favourite element: meetings with alien beings travelling in the opposite direction in time to Severian – a full quarter of a century before anyone had even heard of River Song.

The Book of the New Sun is an utterly extraordinary work and each individual volume contributes to its mastery. Collectively, they were shortlisted for the Nebula Award four times, the World Fantasy and BSFA Awards three times, and the Hugo and John W. Campbell Awards twice, picking up wins in all except the Hugo.

Of course, this is all statistics and dry description; the proof of any book is in the reading – and in my entirely unbiased capacity as an employee of the book’s publisher and self-confessed Gene Wolfe fan, who regards The Book of the New Sun as one of the genre’s crowning achievements, my advice is to read it as soon as possible. And then read it again immediately; it really is that good.

The locked and rusted gates stand closed, but there is a remarkable literary experience in store for those who care to breach them.

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On This Day: Margaret St Clair

22 November 2016

On this day, twenty-one years ago, Margaret St Clair died.

Her science fiction career began with ‘Rocket to Limbo’for Fantastic Adventures in November 1946, and she became a prolific writer of short fiction during the next decade and a half – both under her own name and under the pseudonym Idris Seabright. As The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes:

The Idris Seabright stories appeared almost exclusively in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, beginning with “The Listening Child” (December 1950 F&SF) and ending with ‘Graveyard Shift’ (February 1959 F&SF): St Clair became temporarily better known for these than for the works published under her own name. They were smoother-textured than her pulp adventures and oriented more towards Fantasy, even Slick Fantasy in tales like ‘The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles’ (October 1951 F&SF), and were less confrontational than her signed work.

So well-received were her Seabright stories that F&SF editor Anthony Boucher once uipped that Margaret’s husband, Eric St Clair, was ‘enviably married to two of my favourite science fiction writers’.

After which (informative, we hope) preamble, we are delighted to announce that SF Gateway has acquired rights in Margaret St Clair‘s eight novels:

1. Agent of the Unknown
2. The Green Queen
3. The Games of Neith
4. Sign of the Labrys
5. Message from the Eocene
6. The Dolphins of Altair
7. The Shadow People
8. The Dancers of Noyo

and three collections:
1. Three Worlds of Futurity
2. Change the Sky and Other Stories
3. The Best of Margaret St Clair

We are busily gathering scanning copies and will be publishing as soon as we can in the New Year.

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Happy Birthday, Vincent Di Fate!

21 November 2016

The awesome On This Day function on the indispensable Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – tells us that today is Vincent Di Fate’s birthday – and we thought it might be nice to celebrate one the key artists of modern science fiction.

Of course, SF and Fantasy books have endured more than their fair share of embarrassing, cheap, titillating covers that look like they’ve sped onto the shelves straight from the nocturnal imaginings of a fourteen-year-old boy, with barely enough time to slap the author and title on the front in a hideously garish typeface. But Vincent Di Fate wasn’t responsible for any of those. His metier was (and continues to be) awesome spaceships and space scenes, like this one from his website:

Simply wonderful. And there’s plenty more where that came from; Di Fate’s art has graced the books of many of the field’s most popular authors as well as being utilised by NASA, with whom he worked as one of the conceptual artists for the Apollo/Soyuz programme in 1975, and in 1985 he was commissioned to produce the official painting of the International Space Station.

As can be seen from a quick flick through Di Fate’s wonderful coffee table book Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, SF’s artists have been in many ways just as important as its writers in determining how we view the future. What would modern SF be without the art of Chesley Bonestell, Jim Burns, Virgil Finlay, Frank Kelly Freas and Michael Whelan, to name but a few? And how many of us, I wonder, can’t consider Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series without immediately thinking of Chris Foss?

Some of these old covers to SF classics are as much cultural artefacts as the covers to iconic albums such as Dark Side of the Moon or Sergeant Pepper. They’re part of our field’s history, now, and – no matter how important eBooks are becoming as a means of ensuring these books remain available – we should always remember and honour that.

Happy Birthday, Vincent Di Fate – and thanks for the pictures of the future!

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Happy Birthday, Alan Dean Foster

18 November 2016

Prolific author Alan Dean Foster turns 70 today!

Born in New York City in 1946, Alan Dean Foster was raised in Los Angeles. After receiving Bachelors and Master’s degrees at UCLA, he spent two years as a copywriter for a California PR firm. His writing career began in 1968 when August Derleth bought a long Lovecraftian letter of Foster’s in 1968 and published it as a short story. More sales of short fiction followed. His first attempt at a novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, was published by Ballantine Books in 1972.

Since then, Foster’s work has included excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, and novelized Star Wars movies as well as such well-known films as Alien and its two sequels. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for the first Star Trek movie.

So: you want to read Alan Dean Foster; of course you do. But with such a bewildering array of titles to choose from, where does one start? We’re glad you asked . . .

If you like Star Trek or space opera, then the Humanx Commonwealth series is for you:

Pip and Flinx
For Love of Mother Not (Pip and Flinx)
The Tar-Aiym Krang (Pip and Flinx)
Orphan Star (Pip and Flinx)
Flinx in Flux (Pip and Flinx)
Mid-Flinx (Pip and Flinx)
Flinx’s Folly (Pip and Flinx)
Sliding Scales (Pip and Flinx)
Running From The Deity (Pip and Flinx)
Bloodhype (Pip and Flinx)
Trouble Magnet (Pip and Flinx)
Patrimony (Pip and Flinx)
Flinx Transcendent (Pip and Flinx)

 

Icerigger
Icerigger (Icerigger 1)
Mission to Moulokin (Icerigger 2)
The Deluge Drivers (Icerigger 3)
 
Humanx Commonwealth
Midworld (Humanx Commonwealth)
Cachalot (Humanx Commonwealth)
Nor Crystal Tears (Humanx Commonwealth)
Voyage to the City of the Dead (Humanx Commonwealth)
Sentenced to Prism (Humanx Commonwealth)
The Howling Stones (Humanx Commonwealth)
Drowning World (Humanx Commonwealth)
Quofum (Humanx Commonwealth)

Or perhaps Fantasy is more your thing? In which case, his popular Spellsinger series is the best place to start – a portal fantasy in which a law student from UCLA is pulled into a fantasyworld, where he finds he has the ability to work magic via songs.

hlhj

The Spellsinger series comprises:
Spellsinger
The Hour of the Gate
The Day of the Dissonance
The Moment of the Magician
The Paths of the Perambulator
The Time of the Transference
Son of Spellsinger
Chorus Skating
 
 
You can find these essential titles and more of Alan Dean Foster’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: Raymond F. Jones

17 November 2016

101 years ago today, Raymond Fisher Jones was born in Salt Lake City Utah. A regular contributor to Astounding Stories and Galaxy Science Fiction among other pulp SF magazines, he is best known for the 1952 novel This Island Earth, which was famously filmed in 1955, one of the first major SF films to be produced in Technicolor.

Despite the fame of This Island Earth, no less an authority than The Encyclopedia of Sciecne Fiction rates his first novel, Renaissance, as his best, and it’s this that we’d recommend as a starting point.

You can find more of Raymond F. Jones’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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Galactic Journey: Naked to the Stars

16 November 2016

It should be no secret to regular readers that we at SF Gateway are big fans of Galactic Journey. For newcomers: this is the journal of an intrepid time traveller, reviewing the 1960′s SF magazines in real time as if they were just being released. Go. Read. Be amazed.

While it’s really the great classic SF mags of the era that concern the time traveller – the likes of Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Galaxy and If – he still finds time to update us on the tense competition of the space race, current events and politics – and to review the odd novel. One such is Gordon R. Dickson‘s Naked to the Stars , serialised in the October and November 1961 issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Pacifist sci-fi novels have been similarly rare. Given the nature of Dickson’s Dorsai, I was thus surprised (and delighted) to see that his recent Naked to the Stars, serialized over the last two months in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a thoughtful and engaging anti-war book.

A few hundred years in the future, humanity is rapidly expanding throughout the local part of the galaxy. At Stars‘ beginning, we’ve already conquered one sentient race in our quest for stellar real estate, and a war is in progress against a second, the Lehaunans of Arcturus. We meet Lieutenant Cal Truant, whose traumatic (but, at first, unexplained) experience on the Lehaunan home planet causes him to wound himself out of the army.

You can read the rest of the review at Galactic Journey. Enjoy!

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