Thoughts from the SF Gateway

On This Day: Julius Schwartz

19 June 2017

On this day in 1915, Julius Schwartz was born in the Bronx, New York City. Throughout his long life, he was a fan, an editor, a literary agent and a giant in the field of comics. If DC Comics had a counterpart to Marvel‘s Stan Lee, that man was Julius Schwartz.

While still in his teens, he met a fellow fan, Mort Weisinger, who would become a lifelong friend and DC colleague, and together they produced what might very well be the first fanzine: The Time Traveller (along with Forrest J. Ackerman, the original ‘super-fan’). Two years later, the two friends founded Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specifically dedicated to science fiction. Their clients included Alfred Bester, Otto Binder, Manly Wade Wellman – all of whom Weisinger would later recruit to write for DC – Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury and John Russell Fearn.

In 1939, Schwartz was one of the organisers of the first Worldcon, in New York.

To butcher a sporting metaphor: if the ref had blown the whistle then, you’d have named Schwartz Man of the Match, and declared him a legend of the game. But this was only half-time . . .

In 1944, Schwartz became an editor at DC Comics. A dozen years later, he spearheaded the reinvention of the superhero comic, moribund since the war, with the publication of Showcase Comics #4, introducing a new, updated Flash (police scientist Barry Allen in place of college student Jay Garrick, for those as nerdy as we are about such things). Similar re-inventions would follow quickly, with Golden Age characters such as Green Lantern and Hawkman losing their mystical origins and gaining new, scientific back stories. In 1961, under Schwartz’s editorship, the DC multiverse was created in the famous story ‘Flash of Two Worlds‘ (Flash #123).

Schwartz retired from DC in 1986, just as Marv Wolfman and George Perez‘s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths was consolidating his multiverse into a single narrative, but he remained a ‘goodwill ambasador’ and editor emeritus until his death from pneumonia in 2004.

If there could be considered to be a father of the Silver Age of comics, his name would be Julius Schwartz.

Happy Birthday, Julie!

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Happy Birthday, Joe Haldeman!

9 June 2017

Only five authors have won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the same novel, on two separate occasions: Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin (who was the first to achiev it), Connie Willis and the recipient of today’s birthday wishes: Joe Haldeman, the winner of the 1976 Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Forever War and, two decades later, the 1998 Hugo and the 1999 Nebula Awards with Forever Peace.

In total, Haldeman, has won of five Hugo Awards (three for best novel), five Nebulas (three for best novel), a World Fantasy, a James Tiptree Jr Memorial and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, among many others.

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (SF Masterwork paperback | SF Gateway eBook) was the book chosen, back in the dim, barely-remembered years of the 20th century, to launch the SF Masterworks series, Gollancz’s collection of the great milestone novels of 20th science fiction, which is a fitting indication of the high regard in which it’s held. It’s a wonderful book – very much the antithesis to the prevailing wind of pro-war, gung-ho military SF that preceded it – and very much informed by the author’s experiences during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

In The Forever War interstellar travel is effected by “collapsar jumps”, which are subjectively instantaneous but which in fact take many years to accomplish (> Relativity), so that they work as a kind of one-way Time Travel; propelled by this cruel device to temporally distant battle theatres on planet after planet, soldiers are doomed to total alienation from the civilization for which they are fighting, and if they make too large a jump face the risk of coming into battle with antiquated Weapons. Their deracination is savage, their camaraderie cynically manipulated. As a portrait of the experience of Vietnam the book is remarkable; as Military SF it is seminal.

~ from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

But Joe Haldeman is far more than ‘the guy who wrote The Forever War‘ – there’s Mindbridge (Hugo nominated), All My Sins Remembered, The Hemingway Hoax, Camouflage (Nebula and Tiptree winner), The Accidental Time Machine (Nebula nominated), the Carmen Dula sequence (Marsbound, Starbound, Earthbound) and a host of short fiction.

 

Happy Birthday, Joe!

 

You can read about Joe Haldeman in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and find his work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website.

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Gateway Essentials: John W. Campbell, Jr

8 June 2017

Born in Newark, New Jersey, on this day in 1910, John Wood Campbell, Jr studied physics at MIT and then Duke University. Campbell was a prolific early pulp writer – he made his first sale while still in his teens, was a recognised name in the genre by the time he was 21 and at the age of 28 published the seminal novella Who Goes There?, which has been filmed as The Thing From Antoher World (1951) and The Thing (1982). However, it was as an editor that he is best remembered. In 1937 he was appointed editor of Astounding Stories (now Analog), and over the next few decades would have an enormous influence on the field, more-or-less defining the Golden Age. He continued as editor of Astounding until his death in 1971.

Two awards are given in his honour: the John W Campbell Award for new writers and the John W Campbell Memorial Award for novels.

For those looking to explore Campbell’s work it’s difficult to trecommend starting anywhere other than Who Goes There?, a masterpiece of suspense and paranoia:

 

From there, we recommend his other Gateway Essentials: novels The Mightiest Machine, The Moon is Hell or The Black Star Passes and, of course, collection Cloak of Aesir:

 

You can find more of John W. Campbell’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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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: June 2017

7 June 2017

 

 

‘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: ‘Advertisements for Myself’
 

Advertisements for Myself is the name of a book of essays, poems, fragments of unfinished novels, and short stories by Norman Mailer, published in 1959, which stirred a considerable bit of attention at the time. It has nothing to do with science fiction, which these columns are ostensibly about, but bear with me a moment.

The book is a perfect example of an ego trip. Mailer’s intention was to demonstrate his achievements as a writer by way of demonstrating his importance as a human being, and, since his achievements as a writer were significant, he did have no small importance as a human being. He wanted everybody to know about it, too. Every selection in the 532-page book is preceded by an “advertisement” in which he explains its value, and, by extension, the value of Norman Mailer as man and writer. He also feels free to do quick profiles of about a dozen of his literary contemporaries, generally in a blunt and acidulous way. (“Salinger is everybody’s favorite. I seem to be alone in finding him no more than the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school.”) (“Kerouac lacks discipline, intelligence, honesty, and a sense of the novel.”) I can’t think of another writer, even a certain highly opinionated science fiction writer renowned for uninhibited speech, who would have committed himself to a set of eviscerations of that sort in a widely distributed book . . .

 

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.

Posted in Commentary, Reflections
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Ray Bradbury Five Years On

6 June 2017

Hard to believe it’s been five years since the great Ray Bradbury passed away.

We won’t attempt a retrospective; it would be foolish and arrogant to think we could put into context a seventy-year writing career in a singe blog post. Very simply: Ray Bradbury was one of our greatest writers. Of any genre. Of any period. And the best way to remember him is to remember (and read!) his stories. Here are some favourites from the Gollancz team, past and present:

 

Darren

To say that Bradbury was a master of the short story is like saying Einstein was a bit bright. His career is littered with gems of the short form, and it’s been too long since I read any, but if I had to choose favourites off the top of my head, I’d go for ‘All Summer in a Day’, which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1954, and ‘The Veldt’ from The Illustrated Man – two very different stories chosen for very different reasons.

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.

 

Hannah

I read Fahrenheit 451 during my unemployed phase, when I attempted to start a book group (which has now been on a nine month sabbatical…) to occupy the long days of staring at the walls of my box room and trying to seduce publishers on Twitter. I chose it because the synopsis was so intriguing – a world where they ban books? And burn offenders’ houses to the ground? The horror! The horror! The group struggled with the book – there were a few members who didn’t like the style, and found the premise was disappointing in its execution. I disagreed – compelling in its frightening resemblance to today’s world, the book scared me. Bradbury’s world was coming to fruition – the screens were taking over, technology and media continued to control the masses.

I was reminded of it recently whilst watching an episode of Black Mirror, in which people are in a world where they are constantly in front of screens, and their lives are dictated by them. They even earned points by succumbing to the screens’ commands. This idea that the written word is under threat, even that reading a book could be a wrongdoing, a crime punishable by death, feels alien to us, but how easily could it be so? They’ve put books onto screens now. These screens are becoming increasingly all-singing, all-dancing. In games and apps, books become interactive to a point where they are nearly unrecognisable as books. The model is changing. How long is it until we bridge that small gap between the written and the visual? We’re already obsessed with making movies and TV shows and games from books – why not just cut out the middle man? I’d read a few dystopian novels before I got to Bradbury (do they even let you through your twenties without having read 1984?), but it was Fahrenheit 451 which reignited the spark to delve into these worlds which didn’t exist, but so easily could.

I am lucky enough to work in an environment where everyone is in love with books, to the point of obsession, so these fears and questions don’t seem like a real threat to me and my battered paperbacks. But I’ve got to give kudos to Bradbury for (hopefully) igniting in his many readers the fight, and the spark that sets the flame of literary love a-burnin’.

Ray Douglas Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

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On This Day: John Glasby Died

5 June 2017

John Stephen Glasby died on this day in 2011.

Born in 1928, and a gradu­ate from Nottingham University with an honours degree in Chemistry, he started his career as a research chemist for I.C.I. in 1952, and worked for them until his retirement. Over the next two decades, he began a parallel career as an extraordinarily prolific writer of science fiction novels and short stories, his first novels appearing in the summer of 1952 from Curtis Warren Ltd. under various house pseudonyms such as ‘Rand Le Page’ and ‘Berl Cameron’, as was the fashion of the day. Late in 1952, he began an astonishing asso­ciation with the London publisher, John Spencer Ltd., which was to last more than twenty years.

You can find his work via his Author page on the Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Posted in Anniversaries, Authors
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On This Day: Virginia Kidd

2 June 2017

Mildred Virginia Kidd was born on this day in 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

An author, editor and literary agent, Kidd was a science fiction fan from childhood and a member of the influential fan group the Futurians. She was married to fellow-Futurian James Blish from 1947 to 1963 and the two of them, along with Damon Knight, developed the Milford Method of critique – still used at the Milford Writer’s Workshop. Kidd published a handful of stories, the first a collaboration with her then-husband, Blish, ‘On the Wall of the Lodge’, published in the June 1962 Galaxy. Her first solo story, ‘Kangaroo Court’ was published in 1966 in Damon Knight‘s first Orbit anthology.

In 1965, she set up the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency and quickly attracted a strong client list including Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Judith Merril, Christopher Priest, Joanna Russ and Gene Wolfe.

Virginia Kidd died in 2003 but her agency survives her and is still home to an imressive list of SF and Fantasy writers.

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Happy Birthday, Chris Moore!

1 June 2017

Today, we’re wishing a very happy birthday to artist extraordinaire, Chris Moore!

If you’ve been reading science fiction from British publishers over the last forty years, chances are you’ve read a book with a Chris Moore cover. From Alfred Bester’s 1975 novel Extro . . .

. . . Chris Moore illustrations have graced the covers of literally hundreds of books. Certainly readers of the SF Masterworks will have come across his covers on books by Arthur C Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Joe Haldeman, Ursula Le Guin, Sheri S Tepper and Gene Wolfe just to name a few.

And there were one or two debut novels from Gollancz that got a respectable amount of attention . . .

You can read more about Chris Moore in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and check out his art at his website – maybe even buy a print or two. Go on: you know you want to . . .
 

Happy Birthday, Chris!  And thanks for showing us the future!

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On This Day: George R. Stewart

31 May 2017

George Rippey Stewart was born in Pennsylvania on this day in 1895 and died in California in 1980. A Professor of English at the University of California, he published a number of novels, including two studies of natural catastrophe, Storm and Fire. Earth Abides is his only work of science fiction and won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951.

SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook

 

In this profound ecological fable, a mysterious plague has destroyed the vast majority of the human race. Isherwood Williams, one of the few survivors, returns from a wilderness field trip to discover that civilization has vanished during his absence.

Eventually he returns to San Francisco and encounters a female survivor who becomes his wife. Around them and their children a small community develops, living like their pioneer ancestors, but rebuilding civilization is beyond their resources, and gradually they return to a simpler way of life.

 
You can read more about George R. Stewart in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Gateway Essentials: Hal Clement

30 May 2017

‘Hal Clement’ is the nom de plume under which Harry Clement Stubbs wrote science fiction (he used his full name for science articles, and painted as ‘George Richard’). Born in Massachusetts on this day in 1922, he graduated from Harvard with a BSc in astronomy, and later added degrees in chemistry and education. A former B-24 pilot who saw active service during the Second World War, he worked for most of his life as a high-school science teacher. He made his reputation as an SF writer with the work that appeared in Astounding, where his best-known novel, Mission of Gravity, first appeared in serialised form in 1953.

And of course, Mission of Gravity is where you should start:

SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook

 

And after that masterpiece of hard SF, you’ll no doubt want to continue, so we recommend Clement’s Needle books – Needle and its sequel Through the Eye of a Needle – followed by The Cycle of Fire, Star Light (a ‘Mesklin’ book like Mission of Gravity) and The Best of Hal Clement.

You can find these and more of Hal Clement’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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