Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Gateway Essentials: Richard M. McKenna

9 May 2017

Richard Milton McKenna was born in Idaho on this day in 1913. He left his rural roots in search of bigger opportunities and joined the US Navy in 1931. This is where he spent most of his adult life, serving 22 years, including 10 years of active duty at sea. Serving in the Second World War and the Korean War, McKenna then retired to a civilian life and studied creative writing at the University of North Carolina. His first story was ‘The Fishdollar Affair’, but his first published story was ‘Casey Agonistes’ for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in September 1958. During his lifetime he was to publish only five more stories, with a further six appearing posthumously. The five strongest were published as a collection in 1973 under the title Casey Agonistes and other Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories, with the central theme being the power of the mind over the environment. His major work was the successful non-SF title The Sand Pebbles, inspired by his experiences in the Navy, and he died soon after writing it.

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Title Spotlight: Rocannon’s World

4 May 2017

As you’ll know, our great joy at having the brilliant The Left Hand of Darkness join the SF Masterworks series has led us to undertake a celebration of the works of the peerless Ursula K. Le Guin. And one of the works we’re highlighting currently is her debut novel: Rocannon’s World.

Earth-scientist Rocannon has been leading an ethnological survey on a remote world populated by three native races: the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, the elvish Fiia, and the warrior clan, Liuar. But when the technologically primitive planet is suddenly invaded by a fleet of ships from the stars, rebels against the League of All Worlds, Rocannon is the only survey member left alive. Marooned among alien peoples, he leads the battle to free this newly discovered world – and finds that legends grow around him as he fights.


Rocannon’s World is the first published work in Ursula K. Le Guin’s famed Hainish nuniverse – the setting for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed to name but two. It is available as a Gateway eBook or in print as part of the Worlds of Exile and Illusion omnibus, along with Planet of Exile and City of Illusions.

You can find more of Ursula K. Le Guin’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 Dispossessed

2 May 2017

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel, as well as a host of other prizes, The Dispossessed is one of the central works of the acclaimed Hainish cycle – if not the central work.

To list the praise this book – and, indeed, all of Ursula Le Guin‘s work – has received would just about run to a novel-length work in itself, so we thought we’d play unashamed favourites and share extracts from some friends of the SF Gateway.

The indispensible Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says:

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), which also won a Hugo and a Nebula, and is widely regarded as Le Guin’s most richly textured sf work. It is not a book in which difficulties are readily surmounted; a central image is the wall. The novel stands at the head of the Hainish sequence, for it tells the life of a physicist whose new Mathematics (by another Conceptual Breakthrough) will result in the Ansible, the instantaneous-communication device (> Faster Than Light) necessary if the League of All Worlds – the galactic network about which the sequence is constructed – is to come into being. Two inhabited worlds, one a moon of the other, have different systems of Politics: one is an anarchy . . . the other is primarily capitalist. The hero, Shevek, is not completely at home in either society. The book has been read as pitting a Utopia against a Dystopia, but, as the book’s subtitle implies, there are seldom absolutes in Le Guin’s work . . .

We would also refer you to the excellent Paul Graham Raven, whose Velcro City Tourist Board site has been a site of interest and erudition for the better part of a decade:

The Dispossessed is astonishingly rewarding, a powerful and moving novel whose themes will linger in the memory for a long time. Detailed but uncluttered, vast in scope but centred around a believable and sympathetic character’s efforts to change himself and the world around him, this book is everything that science fiction is frequently criticised for not being. The sfnal tropes and conceits, rather than being thrust into the foreground, are merely frames within which the story can be painted properly. The compassion and lack of vitriol make it a rarity among all books; the honesty of the storytelling and the avoidance of advocacy mean that The Dispossessed is still deeply relevant in today’s political climate, and will remain so for years to come – a crucial read for devotees of serious science fiction, and an excellent exemplar to give to science fiction’s most vocal critics.

You can read the full review here and also at Ian Sales’ impressive SF Mistressworks site.

And, as ever, you can find more of Ursula K. LeGuin’s work via her Author page at the SF Gateway website, and read about her in her entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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Gateway Essentials: Philip E. High

28 April 2017

Philip E(mpson) High was born in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, on this very day in 1914. At the age of thirteen, he chanced upon ed an imported copy of Astounding Stories, and was hooked on science fiction from that day forward. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, where he did his best to find copies of the American pulps, finally making his own first contribution to the field in 1955 with the story ‘Statics’ for Authentic Science Fiction #61. His subsequent writing career spanned over fifty years and encompassed fourteen novels and numerous short stories. He died in Canterbury, Kent, in 2006.

For those looking to explore his work, we recommend the Gateway Essentials:


You can find more of Philip E. High’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: The Left Hand of Darkness

26 April 2017

Last week we posted about Ursula K. Le Guin’s titles in the SF Masterworks series and ended with the news that we were delighted to welcome a new addition: The Left Hand of Darkness. But we didn’t go into any more detail. Why? Well, because a book like The Left Hand of Darkness – on pretty much everyone’s list of ‘the greatest SF novels ever written’ – obviously deserves its own blog post.  And here it is.

Genly Ai is an ethnologist observing the people of the planet Gethen, a world perpetually in winter. The people there are androgynous, normally neuter, but they can become male or female at the peak of their sexual cycle. Tucked away in a remote corner of the universe, they have no knowledge of space travel or of life beyond their own world. So when this strange envoy from space brings news of a vast coalition of planets which they are invited to join, he is met with fear, mistrust and disbelief. 

To Genly Ai, in turn, the Gethenians seem alien, unsophisticated and confusing, but he is drawn into the complex politics of the planet. And, during a long, tortuous journey across the ice with a politician who has fallen from favour and has been outcast, he loses his professional detachment and reaches a painful understanding of the true nature of Gethenians and, in a moving and memorable sequence, even finds love . . .

Of course, that description does scant justice to this masterpiece. To pick out just one example of the book’s genius – as China Miéville astutely points out in his introduction – in The Left Hand of Darkness Le Guin reconfigured our view of society with four simple words: ‘The king was pregnant’. Even now, that sentence screams strangeness; imagine how it read in 1969. Indeed, from our vantage point almost half a century on, it’s difficult to appreciate the impact the book had when it was first published – and, of course, continues to have – but if you want to get an idea, take a look at Ursula Le Guin’s page on the Science Fiction Awards Database:

Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, winner of the Nebula Award for best novel, winner of the James Tiptree, Jr Memorial Award – retrospectively, as the award was not initiated until some twenty years after The Left Hand of Darkness was published – and over two dozen citations in critical lists and works (you can find one in David Pringle‘s excellent Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, available, since you ask, as a Gateway eBook).

But let’s be honest: you don’t want to read about The Left Hand of Darkness; you want to read the book itself. So, don’t let us keep you.


The Left Hand of Darkness is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

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Earthsea: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Fantasy Masterpiece

24 April 2017

At the end of last week, we talked about Ursula K. Le Guin’s incredibly impressive body of SF work, through the prism of the titles in our SF Masterworks series. As promised, this week, we celebrate her Fantasy: specifically, the beloved Earthsea sequence.

Beginning with 1968’s A Wizard of Earthsea and continuing over another five books to conclude with  The Other Wind in 2001, it is an uncontested Fantasy masterpiece and a wellspring of ideas for future writers that perhaps only the work of Tolkien can rival. Prosaicly, one can note that The Other Wind won the World Fantasy Award and was shortlisted for the Nebula, or that Tehanu won the Nebula Award, or that the readers of te influential Locus magazine voted Tales from Earthsea the Best Collection, Tehanu the Best Fantasy Novel and The Other Wind runner-up for Best Fantasy Novel. But the power and legacy of Le Guin’s archipelagic creation are better reflected in the influences they have had on the writers who came after her – does a school for wizards ring any bells?

We are delighted to publish the Earthsea sequence in eBook and recommend them unreservedly:

As we’ve said many times before: we could go on at great length about Ursula K. Le Guin‘s wonderful books; about how she has mastered both science fiction and fantasy to a degree few – if any – writers can match; about how she ranks with the very best writers in and out of genre; about how many modern writers are influenced by her (whether they’re willing to admit it or not). But really . . . wouldn’t you rather be reading the six books of Earthsea than reading us talking about it?

Good choice.

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Ursula K. Le Guin: the Masterworks

21 April 2017

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of Science Fiction & Fantasy authors** whose brilliance is acknowledged by critics and readers within the SF field and by critics and readers within the Literary community, you would not require an abacus to keep count of those who appear in the middle.

You’d find J.G. Ballard, of course, and his friend Michael Moorcock. You’d find Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Iain (M.) Banks and – now, at least, though not during his lifetime – Philip K. Dick.  You’d find China Miéville, Karen Joy Fowler and Jeff VanderMeer and a handful of others. And without question, you would find Ursula Kroeber Le Guin.

On Monday, we re-posted Ursula Le Guin’s wonderful acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters – a clear indication of the esteem in which she is held by the literary mainstream. Now, we’d like to celebrate her triumphs in the field of science fiction, as illustrated by her titles in the SF Masterworks series.

For lovers of short fiction, there’s the omnibus of two of her finest collections: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters and The Compass Rose, which contains such classics as Hugo Award-winner ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, the Nebula Award-winning ‘The Day Before the Revolution’, and the Hugo-nominated ‘Winter’s King’. The omnibus is available as an SF Masterworks paperback with The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) and The Compass Rose (1982) available as separate eBooks.

Then there are two great exemplars of anthropological SF: Hugo Award-winner The Word for World is Forest (1972) and the astonishing Always Coming Home (1985).

If anthropology isn’t your thing, you could do a lot worse than try Le Guin’s 1971 novel about a man whose dreams can change reality, The Lathe of Heaven (1971) – shortlisted for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Or you could enter her acclaimed Hainish universe with the novel that went one better than Lathe, and won both the Hugo and the Nebula: The Dispossessed (1974).

And, as of this very month, you can find a serious candidate for the title of greatest SF novel ever written: the extraordinary Hugo and Nebula Award-winner, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which we’re delighted to welcome into the SF Masterworks list.

Looking back over those incredible titles it’s impossible not to be stunned by the range and calibre of Ursula Le Guin’s work. Arguably, from the late ’60s to mid-’70s only Robert Silverberg could claim to rival her for quality and quantity. And remarkably, this is only half the story!  It can’t have escaped your attention that we’ve only covered (some of) Le Guin’s SF. What about her Fantasy?

Ah! Stay tuned . . .

** For the avoidance of doubt, I’m referring to writers who came from within the SFF field, not those who made their names as literary writers but are also well-received by SFF readers and critics. Thus: no Margaret Atwood or Michael Chabon or Kazuo Ishiguro, et al.

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Announcing a New SF Masterwork!

20 April 2017

Today is Ian Watson’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Ian!), which seems as good a reason as any to devote today’s post to his Gateway Essentials titles, don’t you think?

First, some background: Ian Watson was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, on April 20th, 1943 and graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, with a first class Honours degree in English Literature (not right away, of course, you’ll be relieved to learn that he did spend some time growing up and going to school, first).He lectured in English in Tanzania (1965-1967) and Tokyo (1967-1970) before beginning to publish SF with ‘Roof Garden Under Saturn’ for the influential New Worlds magazine in 1969.

Watson became a full-time writer in 1976, following the success of his debut novel The Embedding. His work has been frequently shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and he has won the BSFA Award twice. From 1990 to 1991 he worked full-time with Stanley Kubrick on story development for the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence (directed after Kubrick’s death by Steven Spielberg), for which he is acknowledged in the credits for Screen Story. In the April 2001 edition of Interzone, he published the astonishingly prescient story ‘Hijack Holiday’ in which terrorists crashed a commercial flight into the Eiffel Tower.

As you might gather from the above, Ian Watson is quite a writer!  But with some thirty novels and over 200 stories spread across twenty collections, where does one start?  Well, there’s always the Gateway Essentials, designed to solve just such a conundrum:

And, of course, we’ve carefully selected our SF Masterworks to represent not just the best examples of the genre, but the best entry points. Which seems as good place as any to announce that Ian Watson’s debut novel, The Embedding, is to be published as an SF Masterwork in September!

The Embedding is already available as an SF Gateway eBook, and will be published as an SF Masterworks paperback on 14th September.

We can’t wait.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, IAN!


You can find more of Ian Watson’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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Celebrating Ursula K. Le Guin

17 April 2017

We are, over the next few weeks, going to be celebrating the great Ursula K. Le Guin. Why?  Well, why not? She is a giant of modern literature – both within genre and without – and she’s won a staggering five Hugos, six Nebulas, two World Fantasy Awards, three James Tiptree Jr Memorial Awards, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and more Locus Awards than you could count even if you took your shoes and socks off. Also, we’ve recently added the jewel in Ursula Le Guin’s SF crown to our Masterworks series (but more of that later). That’s why.

To kick off proceedings, we can’t think of a better way to showcase the passion, humanity, intellect and spirit that inhabits Ursula K. Le Guin‘s work than to enjoy, once again, the utterly brilliant acceptance speech, she  gave upon receiving the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, in November, three years ago:



It is, we’re sure you’ll agree, a wonderful speech – as one would expect from the first author ever to win both Hugo and Nebula awards for the same novel on two separate occasions. It is also, we’re sure you’ll agree, worth celebrating.

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The Titanic: 105 Years On

14 April 2017

105 years ago today, the most famous of all maritime disasters occurred: the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg south of Newfoundland. The Titanic’s hull containing sixteen separate airtight compartments, causing some to refer to it as ‘unsinkable’, but the iceberg opened five of these compartments to the ocean and the rest is history: it sank, five days into its maiden voyage, resulting in the loss of over 1,500 lives.

The Titanic has fascinated explorers, historians and writers for over a century, now, prompting salvage expeditions, films and, of course, novels. All very interesting and timely, but none of this would usually be considered fodder for a site dedicated to classic SF – unless one of those novels was written by one of the all-time greats of science fiction, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

It is 2010. In two years’ time it will be the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic. Two of the world’s most powerful corporations race to raise the vessel but there are other powers at work, and chaos theory comes into play as plans progress – and six preserved bodies are found.

This novel incorporates two of Arthur C.Clarke’s passions – deep sea exploration and future technology – in a fast-moving tale of mystery and adventure. As operations proceed, the perfectly preserved body of a beautiful girl is found. She was not on the ship’s passenger lists.

The quest to uncover the secrets of the wreck and reclaim her becomes an obsession . . . and for some, a fatal one.


The Ghost From the Grand Banks was written in 1990, when the Titanic centenary was still a dozen years in the future, and Clarke approaches it with the rigour and imagination we’ve come to expect from a Hugo Award-winning Grand Master. It’s a book that is often overlooked among the more straightforwardly SFnal of his works, but we think it’s stood the test of time – as, indeed, has the strange allure of the tragic event that inspired it.

The Ghost From the Grand Banks is available as a Gollancz paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

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