Thoughts from the SF Gateway

From the Archives: Science is Awesome!

30 December 2016

Sometimes a news item catches your eye that is so thoroughly science fictional that you have to just stop and admire the awesomeness of the universe and the tool with which we seek to understand it: science.

Take this news, for instance, of the discovery of a rogue planet, wandering (appropriately enough) some hundred light years away, and given the catchy name CFBDSIR2149-0403. Rogue planets have been a recurring trope in SF for the better part of a century, first appearing (to the best of our knowledge) in Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s 1933 novel When Worlds Collide, filmed in 1951 by legendary producer George Pal (and, yes, since you ask, it is available as an SF Gateway eBook).

And as if that wasn’t enough awesome for one day, take a look at this extraordinary film that compresses the entire story of the creation of the universe from the Big Bang through to the development of life on Earth into a minute and a half:

Say it with me, now: Science. Is. Awesome.

This film comes courtesy of the excellent Astronomy Picture of the Day site, and is copyright MelodySheep, Symphony of Science, John Boswell; Music Credit: Our Story

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From the Archives: Greg Bear’s EON: A Review by Stephen Baxter

29 December 2016

President of the BSFA and multi-award-winning author, Stephen Baxter, offers his thoughts on Greg Bear’s 1985 Big Dumb Object novel, Eon . . .

In 2005, after the observation of a supernova-like burst of energy, an asteroid shows up in Earth orbit. Humanity is locked in a continuing Cold War between US and USSR, and the competitive exploration of the asteroid only exacerbates the tensions. But the Stone, as the Americans call it, turns out to be hollow . . .

So far so Clarke’s Rama, you might think, which was another tale of an immense spacecraft wandering into the solar system; initially the Stone has the feel of the great rotating space habitats much loved of 1970s space visionaries. But conceptually Eon knocks Rama out of the park. The first few chapters particularly are a classic of breathless exploration, as Patricia Vasquez, a hotshot relativistic mathematician, is taken through the Stone, and we witness its unfolding wonders through her eyes.

Read more…

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Posted in Authors, Guest Post, Reviews
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From the Archives: Joe Abercrombie on Fritz Leiber

28 December 2016

So, you may have noticed a certain amount of Joe Abercrombie-ish activity over at our sister imprint, Gollancz. Quite understandable given that Joe’s destined-to-be-bestselling new novel, Red Country is published tomorrow (original post 17/10/2012). But while our colleagues are proclaiming (quite rightly) the muscular virtues of his new book, we thought we’d take a moment to remind people that Joe Abercrombie isn’t just the author of hugely entertaining, gritty fantasies – he’s also a pretty fine judge of classic SF&F.

So, here’s a blast from the (admittedly pretty recent) past: Joe Abercrombie discussing the appeal of Fritz Leiber‘s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. And as an added bonus, which will cost you nothing but a couple of minutes of your time, you can also see Alastair Reynolds on Algis Budrys‘s Rogue Moon, Justina Robson on Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock‘s haunting follow-up to Mythago Wood, and Peter F. Hamilton on Robert Silverberg‘s extraordinary Lord Valentine’s Castle.

Enjoy.

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Posted in Authors, Commentary
Comments: 2

From the Archives: Six Degrees of Separation: The Beatles to SF Gateway

27 December 2016

It comes to our attention that 50 years ago today (originally published 5/10/2012), musical legends The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do. Now, we at SF Gateway are as ardent fans of The Fab Four as the next sentient carbon-based lifeform, but it didn’t strike us as particularly relevant to classic science fiction – until we started thinking . . .

1. The youngest of The Beatles was George Harrison.

2. Harrison counts among his many achievements the founding of Handmade Films, in 1978.

3. Handmade Films produced many notable British movies, including Guy Ritchie’s BAFTA-nominated hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

4. In addition to having the dubious honour of marking the ‘acting’ debut of self-styled-football-hard-man-turned-thesp Vinnie Jones, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels also featured an appearance by singer/actor Sting.

5. Sting is no stranger to the fantastic, having appeared in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the BBC’s adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, served as the inspiration for John Constantine in Glenn Fabry’s wonderful Hellblazer covers, and – of course – played Feyd-Rautha of House Harkonnen in David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune.

6. And Frank Herbert’s Dune – as we finally get to the point – is, of course, both an SF Gateway eBook and an SF Masterworks hardback.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there. The Beatles and classic SF – they’re virtually indistinguishable . . .

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Posted in Commentary, Whimsy
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From the Archives: Pat Cadigan’s FOOLS: A Review by Paul McAuley

26 December 2016

Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner, Paul McAuley, in addition to being one of SF’s finest writers, is also an astute judge of a good book. Here, he reviews fellow-Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Pat Cadigan‘s Fools, which won the award in 1995 . . .

Fools, Pat Cadigan‘s third novel, is set in the same milieu as her first, Mindplayers, in which exchange of memory, assimilation of new personalities, and direct mind-to-mind contact is commonplace and mediated by machines in a consensual space that more closely resembles the malleable dreamscapes of virtual reality than the virtual grids of cyberspace. It starts off as a dizzy nightmare, the kind where you think you know what is going on, but really you don’t know anything at all, and you’re dressed in stolen clothes. An actress, Marna, thinks she’s at her Coming Out party – she has licensed her persona for public consumption and become Famous. Except, it turns out, she isn’t Marna, but a replica of her personality lodged in the head of a personality junky, Marceline, who has even less idea of what is going on than Marna, and is missing a week of her life.

In a slow descent through the anarchic zones of the Downs Marceline pieces together what has happened to her. She has been working for an Escort Agency, feeding her personality junky habit by helping people suicide in a virtual reality of their own choosing and grabbing useful memories when they go for recycling. The real Marna discovered she had a Brain Police persona lodged in deep undercover inside her during a mind-meld with a fellow actor, and she went to Marceline’s Escort Agency to get rid of it. But when Marna’s personality bled into Marceline’s the police persona jumped across too, and still needs to complete her mission to penetrate and expose a ring of personality bootleggers, which is why she was in Marna in the first place.

And then the story begins to get complicated, as it rings all the changes on the multiple viewpoints of its untrustworthy narrators, and cranks up their paranoia in a fast-paced and slippery plot in which no one can trust any one else, not even themselves. It’s a brilliantly controlled funhouse mirror of a novel, through which the reader must pick her way with the help of different typefaces for each personality, and Cadigan’s careful delineation of Marna’s self-possessed bitchiness, Marceline’s streetsmart self-destructive vulnerability, and the cop’s cool compassion. Any further explanation would be about as long as the book itself, but trust me: Fools is smart, urgent, funny, and one of those rare books that not only bears immediate rereading, but demands it.

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. His latest novel is Into Everywhere, published by Gollancz and available in paperback and as an eBook

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Signing off for Christmas

23 December 2016

What a year it’s been: full of events and, sadly, many more of them bad than good (any year that starts off with the death of David Bowie has really not got off on the best foot). To be honest, we’re quite glad it’s over; we could do with a drink.

Before we sign off, though, we’d like to thank everyone who’s stopped by to read the blog, interacted with us on social media, or read or recommended one of our books – we appreciate it very much. Next year we’ll continue to work hard to bring you the best classic SF & Fantasy, and to fill the blog with interesting articles. But for now, we leave you with some ‘greatest hits’ from the last few years, as we republish our favourite articles from the Gateway archives.

Enjoy your holidays. Be safe. Be happy. Read good books. And we’ll see you in 2017!

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Gateway Essentials: Robert Sheckley

22 December 2016

Robert Sheckley was born and educated in New York. He received an undergraduate degree from New York University in 1951 after a varied career that included time spent as a landscape gardener, a milkman and a stint in the US Army. He published his first story, ‘Final Examination’ for Imagination in May 1952 and quickly gained prominence as a writer, publishing stories for Imagination, Galaxy and other science fiction magazines. His first four books – three collections and a previously serialised novel – were published in the 1950s and his career continued to be successful throughout the following decades.

His work was frequently marked by a level of humour absent from most of his contemporaries’ writing; those who think that Douglas Adams emerged from a vacuum would be well advised to explore the earlier work of Robert Sheckley (and, for that matter, Bob Shaw).

Sheckley served as fiction editor for Omni magazine from January 1980 through September 1981 and was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001. He passed away at the age of 77 before being able to attend the World SF Convention in Glasgow, where he’d been scheduled Guest of Honour.

With a half-century of writing to draw from, you could be forgiven for being paralysed with indecision over where to start reading Robert Sheckley. Let us help.

We recommend starting with his first collection of short fiction, Untouched by Human Hands – described by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as ‘one of the finest debut volumes ever published in the field’, it contains several tales regarded as among his finest, including ‘The Monsters’, ‘Specialist’ and ‘Seventh Victim’ – filmed as La Decima Vittima (1965: The Tenth Victim), in turn novelized by Sheckley as The Tenth Victim (also recommended!).

Other recommended titles are Immortality, Inc. (filmed in 1992 as Freejack), Journey Beyond Tomorrow and Dimension of Miracles.

You can find these titles and more of Robert Sheckley’s works 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: Charles L. Harness

21 December 2016

Charles L(eonard) Harness was born in Colorado City, Texas, in 1915. He earned degrees in chemistry and law from George Washington University and worked as a patent attorney from 1947 to 1981. Harness’s background as a lawyer influenced several of his works. His first story, ‘Time Trap’ was published in 1948 and drew on many themes that would recur in later stories: art, time travel and a hero undergoing a quasi-transcendental experience. Harness’ most famous single novel was his first, Flight into Yesterday, which was published first as a novella in the May 1949 issue of Startling Stories and was later republished as The Paradox Men in 1953. A great influence on many writers, Harness continued to publish until 2001 and was nominated for multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. In 2004 he was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  He died in 2005, aged 89.

Want to know where to start exploring Charles L. Harness’s work? Of course you do!

We suggest beginning with The Rose, a collection containing his acclaimed novella of the same title, nominated for a retro-Hugo in 2004; galaxy-spanning far-future tale The Ring of Rintornel; or widescreen space opera The Paradox Men.

You can find these and more of Charles L. Harness’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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Masterworks Spotlight: Limbo

20 December 2016

To my mind, Bernard Wolfe remains one of the most remarkable, original writers of the twentieth century

When no less a judge than Harlan Ellison – himself certainly one of the most remarkable, original writers of the twentieth century – offers such heady praise, it would be wise to listen. So listern we did, and now have the great pleasure of re-publishing this forgotten classic by one of the great American writers.

In the aftermath of an atomic war, a new international movement of pacifism has arisen. Multitudes of young men have chosen to curb their aggressive instincts through voluntary amputation – disarmament in its most literal sense.

Those who have undergone this procedure are highly esteemed in the new society. But they have a problem – their prosthetics require a rare metal to function, and international tensions are rising over which countries get the right to mine it . . .

Limbo by Bernard Wolfe is avaialable as an SF Masterworks paperback and a Gateway eBook.

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Gateway Essentials: Robert Charles Wilson

19 December 2016

Robert Charles Wilson was born in Whittier, California in 1953 but has spent most of his life in Canada, acquiring citizenship in 2007. He has won the Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, and has been described by Stephen King as ‘probably the finest science fiction author now writing’. His first published SF story  was “Equinocturne” in the February 1975 issue of Analog (under the pen name Bob Chuck Wilson), but he did not make a significant impact on the field until the 1980s, when he received his first Philip K. Dick Award nomination (for A Hidden Place, in 1987).

Those looking to explore the worlds of Robert Charles Wilson could do a lot worse than start with his fascinating millennial novel Darwinia, in which the world changes overnight, in 1912, when Europe and all its inhabitants disappear to be replaced by an untamed primaeval continent which becomes known as Darwinia. Other Gateway Essentials titles we’d recommend are the extraplanetary exploration novel, Bios, and 2001’s The Chroniliths , in which the world is ‘invaded’ by strange historical markers from the future.

Alternatively, newcomers might like to try Wilson’s acclaimed Hypotheticals trilogy, beginning with the 2006 Hugo Award-winner for Best Novel, Spin, and continuiing with 2007’s Axis and 2011’s Vortex.

You can find these and more of Robert Charles Wilson’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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