Thoughts from the SF Gateway

Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: August 2017

8 August 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: ‘Sharing Worlds’

Science fiction writers are notoriously individualistic in their private lives, political positions, and professional demeanor. SF is a field richly populated with lone wolves, libertarians, bohemians, nonconformists of every stripe. They tend to think their own thoughts and go their own way. Some of them resist editorial tinkering with their work with bright purple ferocity and are usually unhappy in the fundamentally collaborative atmosphere of a place like Hollywood, where writers are (rightly) considered to be nothing more than members of a large team, and not very important members of that team at that.

How strange, then, that the concept of the ‘shared world’ anthology should have taken root so early in our field . . .

 

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.

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Happy Birthday to Phillip Mann!

7 August 2017

We’s like to wish a Happy Birthday to the very talented Phillip Mann, who turns 75 today!

Probably best known for his Land Fit for Heroes sequence, Phillip fell silent in the mid-90s, not publishing any new SF until 2013 when <ahem> Gollancz published his critically acclaimed The Disestablishment of Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

If you’d like to know more about Phillip and The Disestablishment of Paradise, you’re in luck! He wrote this fascinating piece about his career, books – and a potted history of Gollancz – for his blog, to celebrate publication.

 

Happy Birthday, Phillip!

 

You can find Phillip Mann’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: A Traveller From an Antique Land

4 August 2017

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said— ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822)

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Gateway Essentials: Doris Piserchia

3 August 2017

Doris Piserchia was born in 1928, in Fairmont, West Virginia, where she grew up as part of a large family. She attended Fairmont State College and worked as a lifeguard while earning a teacher’s degree in Physical Education. Upon graduating in 1950, Piserchia realised that she didn’t want to become a teacher and so instead joined the Navy, where she served for four years. It was during her time studying for a Master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Utah that she discovered science fiction and began to write, although her works were not published until 1966, beginning with the humorous short story ‘Rocket to Gehenna’ in Fantastic. Despite her military experience, age, and preference for older SF, she is often associated with the New Wave, with her works being described as ‘darkly comic’ by admirers.

For those wanting to explore her work, we recommend starting with pell-mell SF quest novel Star Rider or trans-dimensional through-the-looking-glass adventure, Spaceling.

You can find more of Doris Piserchia’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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Something in the Water: Robert Holdstock and Ken MacLeod

2 August 2017

What are the odds of two of Britain’s finest voices in modern speculative fiction being born on the same day?** There must have been sometihng in the water . . .

Today is the birthday or two writers very close to Gateway’s heart: the one who is, sadly, no longer with us is with us, and the one who isn’t with us, we’re pleased to say, is still very much with us. Or, to be slightly less cryptic . . .

Happy Birthday to Ken MacLeod: gentleman, scholar and SF writer par excellence. Although we are not fortunate enough to publish his books on SF Gateway, we are lucky enough to have him contributing his trademark wit and insight to some introductions for our SF Masterworks series. Ken is a three-times winner of the BSFA and Prometheus Awards, and how neither he nor old friend and fellow Edinburgher Iain M. Banks has ever won the Arthur C. Clarke Award is, frankly, a mystery.

And today also marks the birthday of the late, great Robert Holdstock, twice winner of the World Fantasy Award, four-times winner of the BSFA Award, and undisputed master of the wildwood. Rob’s books are published on the SF Gateway, and although we’re delighted to be his publisher, we’d give them up in a heartbeat to still have him with us.

 

 

You can find Robert Holdstock‘s books at his author page on the SF Gateway and read about him at his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Ken MacLeod‘s books can be found here, you can follow him on Twitter at @amendlocke, and read more about him at his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. He has written introductions to A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Gods Themselves, The Deep, Double StarHalf Past Human, The Godwhale, A Case of Conscience, Stand on Zanzibar, The Word for World is Forest, Hard to be a God, Nova, A Fire Upon the Deep, Feersum Endjinn, The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Chrysalids – with, we hope, more to come!

 

** Please note this is a rhetorical device. However, if you really feel the urge to do the maths, we’d certainly be interested in knowing the odds!

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Masterworks Spotlight: The Doomed City

31 July 2017

One of the great pleasures of working in publishing is seeing books that deserve to do well . . . do well! That might sound a strange thing to say, but sadly, it’s not always the case that quality will out – especially with translated fiction.

Happily, in the case of the late Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, British readers seem to be happy to explore the strange worlds and unique worldview of these superstars of Soviet SF.  So, having enjoyed Roadside Picnic (the basis for Tarkovsky’s much-admired film Stalker – and soon to be a television series), Hard to be a God and Monday Starts on Saturday, we hope you’ll be as delighted as we are by the publication of The Doomed City, a novel so incendiary that it could not be published until the freedom of perestroika came to the USSR.

It is a mysterious city whose sun is switched on in the morning and switched off at night, bordered by an abyss on one side and an impossibly high wall on the other. Its inhabitants are people who were plucked from twentieth-century history at various times and places and left to govern themselves, advised by Mentors whose purpose seems inscrutable. This is life in the Experiment.

Andrei Voronin, a young astronomer plucked from Leningrad in the 1950s, is a die-hard believer in the Experiment, even though his first job in the city is as a garbage collector. As increasinbly nightmarish scenarios begin to affect the city, he rises through the political hierarchy, with devastating effect.

 

The Doomed City is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

 

You can find more of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s work via their Author pages on the SF Gateway website, and read about them in their entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

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Gateway Essentials: Robert Silverberg

28 July 2017

Born in Brooklyn in 1935, Robert Silverberg has been a professional writer since the age og nineteen, widely known for his science fiction and fantasy stories. He is a many-time winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, was named to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2004 was designated as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. His books and stories have been translated into forty languages. Among his best known titles are Nightwings, Dying Inside, The Book Of Skulls, and the three volumes of the Majipoor Cycle: Lord Valentine’s Castle, Majipoor Chronicles and Valentine Pontifex. His collected short stories, covering nearly sixty years of work, is published in nine volumes by SF Gateway.

Those are the dry facts, but a writer as important as Robert Silverberg deserves a bit more praise, we can’t help but think. So, how about this: for about half a dozen years, from 1967 to 1973, Robert Silverberg was probably the best science fiction writer in the world. For supporting evidence, we offer the following:

1967
Thorns – shortlisted for the 1968 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel
Hawksbill Station’ – shortlisted for the 1968 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novella

1968
The Masks of Time – shortlisted for the 1969 Nebula Award for best novel
Nightwings’ – winner of the 1969 Hugo Award for best novella; shortlisted for the 1969 Nebula Award for best novella
‘Passengers’ – shortlisted for the 1970 Hugo Award for best short story; winner of the 1970 Nebula Award for best short story (available in To the Dark Star: The Collected Stories Vol 2)

1969
Up The Line – shortlisted for the 1970 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel
‘To Jorslem’ – shortlisted for the 1970 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novella (available in Nightwings)

1970
Tower of Glass – shortlisted for the 1971 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel
‘The World Outside’ – shortlisted for the 1971 Hugo Award for best novella

1971
A Time of Changes – shortlisted for the 1972 Hugo Award for best novel; winner of the 1972 Nebula Award for best novel
The World Inside – shortlisted for the 1972 Hugo Award for best novel but subsequently withdrawn
‘Good News from the Vatican’ – winner of the 1972 Nebula Award for best short story (available in Phases of the Moon)

1972
The Book of Skulls – shortlisted for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel
Dying Inside – shortlisted for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel
‘When We Went to See the End of the World – shortlisted for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best short story

So . . . wow.  To paraphrase Sir Christopher Wren’s inscription in St Paul’s: ‘Reader, if you seek a starting point, look around you’.

You can find more of Robert Silverberg’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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Happy Birthday, Lawrence Watt-Evans!

26 July 2017

Lawrence Watt-Evans is the working name of American science fiction and fantasy writer Lawrence Watt Evans. He was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, on this day in 1954. He was the fourth of six children and studied at Bedford High School and Princeton University, although he left the latter without a degree. Watt-Evans began publishing SF in 1975 with ‘Paranoid Fantasy #1’ for American Athiest. He has constructed several scripts for Marvel Comics and has been moderately prolific as a short story writer, with ‘Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers’ (Asimov’s, July 1987) winning a 1988 Hugo Award.

Watt-Evans is best-known for his Legends of Ethshar series, and it’s here that we recommend starting:

You can find more of Lawrence Watt-Evans’ 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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Guest Review: Two That Came True by Judith Moffett

25 July 2017

Kev McVeigh is a name that should be familiar to regular readers of this blog. He’s an astute critic and read who has written a number of themed guest posts on the subject of women SF writers: search ‘From the Attic’ to find them all.  Kev recently let us know that he had reviewed on our our eBooks – Judith Moffett‘s Two That Came True – and gave us his blessing to re-publish it here.

We did not need a second invitation . . .

 

Ignore the odd, misleading, title. This slim collection, originally part of the Pulphouse Author’s Choice series and now available from Gollancz SF Gateway as an ebook, consists of two novelettes from the early stages of Judith Moffett’s SF writing career. ‘Surviving’ (1986) won the inaugural Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, whilst ‘Not Without Honor’ from 1989 made various Best of the Year lists and anthologies. Although quite different stories they sit well together and anyone familiar with Moffett’s novels will recognise much here. ‘Surviving’ was Moffett’s first published SF but she was already an established poet with two acclaimed collections on her cv.

‘Surviving’ is a contemporary take on Tarzan. A young woman, Sally, raised by apes after a plane crash is rehabilitated into society. The narrator, Janet, is a psychologist fascinated by the “chimp child, and author of a book about Sally. They finally meet when Sally is appointed at Janet’s university, but Sally repeatedly rebuffs Janet’s overtures, not just because of ‘that book’, but because of her refusal ultimately to truly integrate socially.

By chance, Janet discovers Sally’s secret escape from the university, roaming ape-like, naked, at high level in the trees. After some fighting, to gain the younger woman’s trust Janet joins in and a rapprochement of sorts develops into a stronger (and later, sexual) relationship. Stronger at least in Janet’s perspective, that is.

As Janet narrates ‘Surviving’ from eighteen years later, and after Sally disappears again, she reluctantly acknowledges her own agenda but fails to see where she went wrong. She pursues Sally with intent to be the one who truly socialises the returnee. Even as she submits to Sally in training and relationship rules, Janet has a strong vision of herself as saviour.

Attempting to avoid spoilers, any reader familiar with Moffett’s Holy Ground trilogy will see the same internal moral debates here. The ongoing battle between selfish human urges and our need to engage with the natural world works in a way Kim Stanley Robinson fans might find interesting. Moffett shares with Robinson a passion for the environment, and a willingness to debate issues through her characters (mostly) without preaching.

The other significant aspect to Moffett’s oeuvre is the consistent, open and diverse range of sexuality she covers. (See the controversial ‘Tiny Tango’ for instance, possibly the earliest heterosexual HIV+ protagonist in SFF.) The other is rarely judged as other in her work. The relationship between Sally and Janet develops quite naturally, out of Sally’s comfort masturbation. Janet is hesitant and awkward, but this is her discomfort not the author or reader’s. Sally reached puberty with the apes, and Moffett explores this unflinchingly.

The ending of ‘Surviving’ may be slightly too contrived in terms of personal redemption, but the passage there is a fascinating, provocative look at ego, social structure and discomfort.

‘Not Without Honor’ is a superficially very different story. I glibly described it on first reading as a ‘First Contact collaboration between Kim Stanley Robinson and Howard Waldrop.’ Spoiler alert: it also predates Galaxy Quest by a decade, though it isn’t as funny.

A small, near self-sufficient Martian colony is approaching the finishing stage of a biosphere project when a peculiar signal is received from space. Only one person recognises it. 68 year old Pat identifies ‘The Mousketeers Hymn’ from Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club TV show.

It seems that the aliens have come to find Mickey Mouse Club host Jimmie Dodd for help with their own troubled youngsters, only to be dismayed to learn that he’s long dead.

The colonists, whilst bemused by the scenario, are united in wanting a peaceful resolution. NASA meanwhile sends a provocative ‘rescue’ mission. (The driver of Moffett’s debut novel Pennterra is similar.) Pat’s deep familiarity with Jimmie and the show foregrounds her in the alien contacts and discussion..

This is where ‘Not Without Honor’ fits alongside ‘Surviving’ in its discussion of human power relationships, parenting, and parental needs. For Pat and many others, Jimmie Dodd was a proxy parent providing moral guidance, developing independence, and support. Pat questions her memory, wonders if this is a nostalgia-tinted view, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The colonists get to see old episodes of Mickey Mouse Club but only Pat sees it childlike, and sees its depths. She explains and encourages with mixed results, and a resolution is achieved, for the colony and personally for Pat.

‘Not Without Honor’ isn’t as good a story as ‘Surviving’ perhaps because it romanticises a little of a past that the characters don’t quite relate to. There’s a hard edge to ‘Surviving’ despite the redemptive ending, that ‘Not Without Honor’ almost makes twee. There’s a curious non-sex scene, for instance, that doesn’t go against the author’s sexual worldview, but is quickly passed over where other stories apply challenging emphasis and rigor. That’s not to dismiss it as a poor story, Moffett set very high standards in ‘Surviving’ so ‘Not Without Honor’ inevitably suffers in comparison. As always Judith Moffett asks tricky questions without easy answers.

Reading Letters To Tiptree (the critical volume exited by Alexandra Pierce & Alisa Krasnostein last year) I learned that one of the last tasks Alice Sheldon completed was a reader’s report on Judith Moffett’s manuscript for Pennterra . There’s certainly elements in both these stories I suspect she’d have been interested in, issues of sexuality, and power role playing in particular. Tiptree, of course, never shied from awkward questions either.

Both stories in Two That Came True come with lengthy, informative afterwords, including selections of Moffett’s poetry. She was a poet long before turning to fiction. These pieces cast light on much of Moffett’s oeuvre. The afterword to ‘Surviving’ is perhaps a perfect, precise explanation of several key elements of all her work. It is as though her first SF story defines everything that followed. Certainly themes in both stories match moments of poetry and autobiographical elements from Moffett’s lifestyle, her life and philosophy and the clues here are explicitly delivered.

It is no secret that I believe Judith Moffett to be deeply underrated as an SF writer. ‘Surviving’ should convince you on its own, whilst ‘Not Without Honor’ is also an enjoyable, thoughtful and thought provoking story. Together they make Two That Came True a notable short collection, and a good thematic introduction to the SF of Judith Moffett.

 

You can find more of Judith Moffett’s work via her Author page on the Gateway website, and read about her in her entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

And, of course, you should proceed immediately to Kev McVeigh’s Performative Utterance blog, to read more fascinating reviews.

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Gateway Essentials: L. Sprague De Camp

24 July 2017

Lyon Sprague de Camp was born in 1907 and died in 2000. During a writing career that spanned seven decades, he wrote over a hundred books in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, non-fiction and biography. Although arguably best known for his continuation of Robert E. Howard‘s Conan stories, de Camp was an important figure in the formative period of modern SF, alongside the likes of Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, and was a winner of the Hugo, World Fantasy Life Achievement and SFWA Grand Master awards. Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956) was an American SF and fantasy author.

He worked in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt on many books, most famously the whimsical Harold Shea series, and it’s these that we recommend as a starting point for exploring his work:

Of course, if whimsical fantasy isn’t your preference, you should move right along to de Camp’s more serious work, starting with Lest Darkness Fall, a time-travel novel featuring a 20th century man trying to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire.

You can find these and more of L. Sprague de Camp’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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