Thoughts from the SF Gateway

SF Gateway Author of the Week: Arthur C. Clarke

20 December 2012

Born December 16th, 1917, our Author of the Week, the late, great Sir Arthur C. Clarke would have been 95 last weekend. Sadly, Sir Arthur has been gone these last four years, but his legacy remains.

Many of our finest SF writers acknowledge his influence, just as Clarke, himself, acknowledged the influence of Olaf Stapledon and others. The SF Gateway’s own Stephen Baxter – who collaborated with Clarke on a number of books – and the multi-award-winning Greg Bear are just two who have, at some point, been feted as ‘the heir to Arthur C. Clarke’, and Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner, Paul McAuley, has just posted a review of Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama over on his blog.

Although it has become fashionable, of late, to criticise many writers of Clarke’s vintage as producers of clunky prose and wooden characterisation held aloft by clever Big Ideas, I think this line of thought misses the point.  As well criticise a banana for not banging a nail in properly as criticise Arthur C. Clarke for not providing his characters with nuanced personalities. That’s not what they’re there for. If you want to bang a nail in, get a hammer. Clarke’s protagonists generally had as much personality as was necessary to get the story told – no more, no less. He was also writing, for the most part, during an era when word-bloat had yet to set in; when I re-read Childhood’s End after Clarke passed away in March 2008, I was struck by how incredibly slim the novel was (something that never occurred to me the first two times I read it) and I couldn’t help but admire the economy of language. A 21st century writer attempting to cover the themes Clarke explored in Childhood’s End would almost certainly project a trilogy.

There is, however, some credence to the view that Arthur C. Clarke was at his best in the short form. As wonderful as many of his novels are – for example: the two already mentioned, The City and the Stars (current SF Masterwork of the Week), The Fountains of Paradise – the first book I picked up when I learned of his death was The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, where I renewed acquaintances with some old friends. To name but a few: ‘The Wall of Darkness’, ‘All the Time in the World’, ‘Expedition to Earth’ and, of course, ‘The Sentinel’, ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ and ‘The Star’. They were as potent as ever and I remain as convinced as ever that nobody does last-line twists like Arthur C. Clarke.

I could waffle on for pages about Arthur C. Clarke (and, indeed, have done, in the past) but instead I’ll exhort you to let the man’s work speak for itself, and go read his novels and short stories. And if you want to know more about the man behind the books, you could do worse than visit his author entry on The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction or consult his autobiography.


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A Public Service Announcement for North American Readers

19 December 2012

SF Gateway: Now with added list of US & Canadian rights goodness!

We receive many emails, forum posts and tweets from readers (for which, by the way, thank you).  Some query the absence of certain authors, others the absence of certain books, and yet others ask why we’ve published a series out of order.  Good questions all, and for the most part, answered in our FAQ

One of the most common messages we receive is the (quite understandable) expression of frustration from readers in the USA or Canada, who are unable to see which of our titles they are able to purchase from their local eBook retailers. We have been able to supply this information on each book page, so you don’t need to follow the buying link through to the retailer only to be told that your money’s no good as far as this particular book is concerned; however, we understand that this is still an annoyance and it would be more convenient for the information to be flagged earlier.

At some point in the future we may be able to institute some form of IP look-up to help screen out unavailable books, but that doesn’t really help anyone now. So, as an early Christmas present to our North American readers, we’ve instituted a manual solution to help them make their way through the site more efficiently.

If you look at the main menu of the website, in between the links to the Forum and the Blog, you’ll see a new feature: a link to a page listing those authors for whom we control North American rights. We’ll endeavour to keep this updated whenever we acquire a new author, so that you can see at a glance whose books you’ll be able to purchase if you live in the US or Canada.

We hope this helps while we sort out a more technologically elegant solution!


Posted in Authors, Housekeeping
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On This Day (26 Years Apart)

18 December 2012

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.

Ninety-nine years ago, today, Alfred Bester was born. You might recognise the verse above from his stunning SF classic, The Stars My Destination (initially titled Tiger! Tiger! in its UK edition), first published in 1956. Bester had won the first ever Hugo Award three years earlier with his first novel, The Demolished Man – a wonderful SF-detective hybrid – and it seems a little unfair that that inventive debut should be almost immediately put in the shade by his next book.

But few novels would stand comparison with The Stars My Destination. As boundary-pushing as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (to name but two) undoubtedly were in the ’80s, if you want to see where Cyberpunk really begins, you have to read The Stars My Destination. It’s an extraordinary work: energetic, inventive, typographically playful. It would be interesting to see what Alfred Bester would have made of the possibilities opened up by digital publishing and multimedia, given how innovative his use of 2D type could be. . .

Twenty-Six Years Later . . .

Obviously, it’s a statistical inevitability, given that there have been in the region of 10 billion people born since the beginning of the 20th century, and there are only 366 possible dates for them to have been born on, that many people are going to share the same birthday. Still, that shouldn’t stop us noting these interesting bits of data, especially when they involve two writers as inventive and influential as Alfred Bester and . . .

Michael Moorcock, who was born on this day in 1939. Every bit as influential on modern fantasy as Bester was on modern SF – probably more so – Michael Moorcock is one of the undisputed giants of the genre. As he’ll soon be joining the ranks of SF Gateway authors (Spring next year, as you ask – keep an eye on the blog for updates), we’ll keep our powder dry for now and simply direct you to his author entry on the excellent Encyclopedia of Science Fiction for more detail – and, of course, wish the great man a very Happy Birthday!


Posted in Authors, Commentary, SFE
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SF Gateway Author of the Week: Nicola Griffith

14 December 2012

There’s an international symmetry about two of our spotlighted authors this week. Pat Cadigan, author of our Editors’ Choice, Patterns, was born in the  United States but now lives in London, and our latest SF Gateway Author of the Week is the multi-award-winning Nicola Griffith, who was born in the UK and now lives in the US. This, dear readers, is how the SF Gateway maintains order in the cosmos and ensures that the world is kept in balance. Possibly.

Nicola Griffith‘s 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 NebulaLambda and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. Both are available as SF Gateway eBooks (currently at £2.99 – did we mention the end-of-year sale?), with Ammonite currently available as an SF Masterworks paperback from Gollancz, and Slow River due to join it in February next year.

In addition to her decorations as an author, Nicola Griffith has also 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.














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Editors’ Choice: Pat Cadigan’s Patterns

13 December 2012

Pat Cadigan


Pat Cadigan should need no introduction to anyone serious about science fiction. She has twice won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award – in 1992 for Synners, and then again in 1995 for Fools – and has been shortlisted multiple times for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, BSFA, World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, among many others. Her work has been praised by such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and fellow Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Paul McAuley wrote an astute review of Fools on this very blog.

Fine novels, both, but this week’s editors’ choice changes gears a little and presents Pat’s first collection, Patterns. Here are fourteen stories showcasing her considerable talents and including the fascinating ‘Roadside Rescue’, originally published in Omni in 1985, but recently adapted for audio by the excellent Escape Pod SF podcast magazine.

So, if you’re undecided as to whether or not to explore the short fiction of one of our major award-winning authors, you can sample her work for free by clicking here for Stephen Eley’s reading of ‘Roadside Rescue’.

You know: if our opinion isn’t good enough for you.

And you don’t believe Neil Gaiman.

Or William Gibson.

Or Paul McAuley.

Or Bruce Sterling.

No, no, that’s cool.

We understand.

I guess . . .


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The SF Gateway Sale is Live!

12 December 2012

A reminder to all fans of classic SF that the SF Gateway end of year sale is now on.

With a handful of exceptions (noted in a previous blog piece) all SF Gateway books are currently selling for £2.99 (in the UK – prices in other markets are controlled locally and not set by us).

That’s over 1,650 eBooks on sale for less than £3 – from Abandonati to Zenya. All of our retail partners should have had time to process the new pricing information by now, so, if you’ve always meant to assess Aldiss, browse Brunner or collect Clarke, now’s the time to take the plunge.

Happy reading!


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Happy Birthday Fandom! 83 Years Old Today!

11 December 2012

With thanks, as ever, to the essential Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – whose On This Day function continues to be a source of fascination and inspiration in equal measure – we see that Fandom turns 83 today.

Defined by the SFE as ‘the active readership of SF and fantasy, maintaining contacts through Fanzines and Conventions‘, Fandom originated in the late 1920s, shortly after the appearance of the first SF Magazines. Early fans made contact with each other, formed local groups and soon began to produce club newsletters and other amateur publications, which came to be known collectively as fanzines. The first recorded fan club meeting was that of the New York Scienceers on 11 December 1929.

You can read more about the history of Fandom in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.



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Sir Patrick Moore (1923 – 2012)

10 December 2012

All at SF Gateway were saddened to hear of that the legendary astronomer and broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore passed away at the weekend, at the age of 89. Best known as the presenter, for more than half a century, of The Sky at Night, on which he first appeared in April 1957, Moore also wrote almost two dozen SF books for younger readers, beginning with Master of the Moon in 1952.

As tributes are paid by the good and great of the worlds of science and entertainment, we at Gateway will remember him as one of the great – perhaps the greatest – popularisers of science. R.I.P. Sir Patrick Moore.

Posted in Reflections
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Editors’ Choice: A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg

7 December 2012

This week’s Editors’ Choice is Robert Silverberg‘s wonderful A Time of Changes.


In the far future, humanity has spread across the galaxy to worlds that began as colonies, but now feel like home, each with its own long history of a thousand years or more, and each with its own unique culture. One of the strangest of these is Borthan, where the founding settlers established the Covenant, which teaches that the self is to be despised, and forbids anyone to reveal their innermost thoughts or feelings to another. On Borthan, the filthiest obscenities imaginable are the words ‘I’ and ‘me’, and for the heinous crime of ‘self-baring’, apostates have always paid with exile or death.

But after his eyes are opened by a visitor from Earth, Kinnall Darival, prince of Salla, risks everything to teach his people the real meaning of being human, beginning his account with the vilest of heresies:

‘I am Kinnall Darival and I mean to tell you all about myself.’


Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel, A Time of Changes was published during a particularly vibrant period of Silverberg’s career – a point at which he had a serious claim to being the best SF writer in the world.

Hyperbole? Maybe, but just look at this:

Thorns – shortlisted for the 1968 Hugo and Nebula Awards

The Masks of Time – shortlisted for the 1969 Nebula Award

Up The Line – shortlisted for the 1970 Hugo and Nebula Awards

Tower of Glass – shortlisted for the 1971 Hugo and Nebula Awards

A Time of Changes – shortlisted for the 1972 Hugo Award; winner of the 1972 Nebula Award
The World Inside – shortlisted for the 1972 Hugo Award but subsequently withdrawn

The Book of Skulls – shortlisted for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards
Dying Inside – shortlisted for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards

Half a dozen years in which Robert Silverberg‘s novels accrued 7 nominations for each of the two major SF awards – and that’s without taking into account four Hugo nominations (one win) and three Nebula nominations for best novella, and two Hugo nominations  and three Nebula nominations (two wins) for best short fiction.

That’s an extraordinary record from an extraordinary writer – and that’s why the extraordinary A Time of Changes is SF Gateway’s Editors’ Choice this week.


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SF Gateway Author of the Week: James Blish

6 December 2012

For many years, in my early days as a science fiction reader, James Blish was known to me for one thing only: he was the writer of the Star Trek novelisations I went through a phase of reading. I recall them being pretty good adaptations of classic Star Trek episodes, but certainly nothing exceptional enough to make me want to look up this Blish fellow and see what else he’d done.

Imagine my surprise when I picked up a discounted paperback, attracted by some typically arresting Chris Foss artwork and the very science fiction-ie title The Testament of Andros, and found a familiar name at the top of the cover. It seemed this James Blish character wrote proper SF as well as tie-ins. Curious, I embarked on the collection – seeing as it was emblazoned with a flash proclaiming it ‘the best science fiction stories of James Blish’, I figured it should be interesting. And it certainly was!

To be honest, I don’t really remember the first story. This shouldn’t be seen as a fault inherent in the book – just a reflection of the fact that I read it in my early teens (which are longer ago than I care to admit) and time and many other novels and stories since have overwritten those memories. By rights, I probably shouldn’t remember any of the stories, so the fact that I remember two is a testament (pardon the pun) to Blish’s skill as a writer. Both ‘Surface Tension’ and the title story have stayed with me to this day – indeed, I voted for them both in the Best 20th Century Novelette category of the recent Locus poll.

Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to explain what each is about without some degree of spoiler, and I’d rather not do that; I’ll simply say urge you to seek them out. ‘Surface Tension’ is included in The Seedling Stars, and while ‘The Testament of Andros’ is not available from SF Gateway (yet!), it should be possible to track down a second-hand copy of the paperback.

Or, of course, you could try any one of the two score James Blish titles we have on the Gateway. A Case of Conscience won the Hugo Award, you know . . .

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