Son of Space Opera
an extract from History of the Science Fiction
INTRODUCTION TO THE EXTRACT
This is an extract from Chapter 8 of volume 2 of
History of the Science Fiction Magazine, being published by Liverpool
University Press. Volume 1, The Time Machines was published eighteen
months ago. That covered the years from 1926 to 1950. Volume 2, Transformations,
is finished and awaiting publication. This volume covers the years 1950
to 1970, so it follows through the end of the pulps, the end of the
sf boom of the 1950s, the New Wave and the start of the Space Age. This
extract deals with the start of the phenomenon of Star Trek and
the relationship between the visual media and sf magazines which will
form a significant element on the third and final volume of this study,
Gateways to Forever, which I hope to finish towards the end of
Mike Ashley, December 2002
Son of Space Opera
Although television occasionally flirted with science fiction
in the 1950s, the lack of a big enough budget to allow for proper costumes,
scenery and special effects, always made science fiction look weak and
immature. The best remembered programmes had been produced in Britain
by the BBC, especially the Quatermass series, scripted by Nigel
Kneale, which ran through three series in the fifties, Quatermass
(18 July-22 August 1953), Quatermass II (22 October-26 November
1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (22 December 1958-22 January
1959). BBC followed this with A for
Andromeda (3 October-14 November 1961) and its sequel, The Andromeda
Breakthrough (28 June-2 August 1962), both scripted by John Elliott
from a storyline by noted astronomer Fred Hoyle. All of these were serials,
based on a single storyline. It was only in June 1962 that British commercial
television started an anthology series, Out of This World (30
June-22 September 1962), with individual stories for each episode. Most
of these drew upon a core of good quality genre fiction, starting with
'Dumb Martian' by John Wyndham and including 'Little Lost Robot' by
Isaac Asimov, 'The Cold Equations' by Tom Godwin, 'Impostor' by Philip
K. Dick and 'Pictures Don't Lie' by Katherine Maclean. The series included
several scripts by Terry Nation, including an original story by him,
'Botany Bay'. Nation would soon establish a memorable reputation in
British television sf with his creation of the Daleks, a race of conquering
aliens who live in robot bodies, for the series Doctor Who, which
started on 23 November 1963.
Out of This World, which was introduced by Boris Karloff, utilized
the format of the highly successful American anthology series, The
Twilight Zone. This series, created and hosted by Rod Serling, who
also wrote many of the scripts, had started on the CBS network in the
United States on 2 October 1959 and ran through five seasons until September
1964. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont also contributed to the
series, which was always slick, sophisticated and quality. It never
pandered to the baser aspects of science fiction, but was really the
television equivalent of radio's X Minus 1. It was a few years
before an equivalent series came along to rival it, although The
Outer Limits, which began on ABC on 16 September 1963, was never
the equal of The Twilight Zone. Initially, it relied too heavily
on monsters and make-up, which detracted from otherwise capable scripts.
In the second season, Harlan Ellison contributed two original scripts,
of which 'Demon With a Glass Hand', directed by Byron Haskin, won a
Hugo Award. Nevetheless The Outer Limits was closer to sf than
The Twilight Zone which often teetered on the edge of fantasy
or the unknown.
Unfortunately as other tv series came along, especially those produced
by Irwin Allen, their quality deteriorated, the nadir being reached
with Lost in Space, which began a three-season run from 15 September
1965. A space equivalent of Swiss Family Robinson, the basic
idea was ruined by poor scripts, bad studio sets and pompous acting
-- the same flaws that ruined the BBC's Dr Who series (though
this also seemed to make it compulsive viewing).
Compared to Lost in Space, the NBC series Star Trek,
first broadcast on 8 September 1966, was invigorating. Indeed both Isaac
Asimov and John W. Campbell, Jr., endorsed its values, Campbell calling
it 'the first really adult, consistently high-level science-fiction
show that's appeared on TV.' Yet, no one could have perceived at the time
what a significant influence Star Trek was to have -- indeed,
the series was going to be dropped after the first year because of low
ratings and was only continued for three seasons because of an outcry
by science fiction fans. It was cancelled by NBC in 1969 because of
low audience figures with a high proportion of teenagers and children
Star Trek was the brain child of Gene Roddenberry, a former
fighter pilot and police sergeant who turned tv scriptwriter in 1953.
He wrote for a variety of shows including Dragnet and The
Naked City¸ although he was best known for his western scripts,
especially for Have Gun, Will Travel, where he was head
writer. Indeed when Roddenberry came to conceive Star Trek, he
thought of it as 'Wagon Train to the Stars' . This comment
was meant to reassure sceptics at MGM that Star Trek was a natural
extension of other popular programmes, but the unfortunate links with
the origins of space opera in the early thirties and its imagery as
'wild west in space' are only too obvious, and shows that Star Trek
firmly had its roots in space opera. However Roddenberry did take the
matter seriously and was determined to make the series as technically
accurate as possible, with adult scripts and plots. Roddenberry had
first encountered science fiction at High School when he read a copy
of Astounding Stories and remained interested in the subject
even if not a die-hard fan. Apparently he drew some of his inspiration
from Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future . He also took advice from John
W. Campbell and other science-fictioneers. Roddenberry commissioned
a number of sf writers to produce scripts, amongst them Richard Matheson,
Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad and Harlan Ellison.
Ellison's first episode, 'The City on the Edge of Forever' (1967) received
a Hugo Award. Fredric Brown's classic story 'Arena' was adapted for
the series. David Gerrold, was the first of several scriptwriters for
the series who later went on to establish himself as an sf writer. His
first sale was the episode 'The Trouble With Tribbles' (29 December
1967). When the scripts were adapted into stories for book publication
the author commissioned by Bantam Books was no less than James Blish.
Moreover Roddenberry for once had a sufficiently large budget ($300,000
for the second pilot in 1966) to make the special effects passable.
Although previous television series had each had its effect on attracting
people to science fiction, none had the same impact as Star Trek.
It wasn't instant, and indeed the fans at the outset were not especially
vocal. It was not until the series was cancelled in 1969 that NBC began
to get shoals of letters seeking the revival of the series. A Star
Trek fandom emerged which held its first convention in January 1972.
I mention all of this to show the continuing interaction between the
sf community and television. In Volume 3, I plot the divergence of television
and film sf fans away from the core of sf -- indeed there was less and
less overlap between the two. Damon Knight reports a reader's comment
when learning of James Blish's death in 1975.
On the day the news of Blish's death reached America, a fan at the
Star Trek convention in Philadelphia picked up one of Blish's Star
Trek books from a dealer's table and asked, 'Is this the guy that
died?' When the dealer said yes, the fan asked, 'Is he going to be
doing any more of these?'
At the outset the popularity of these television series, but especially
Dr Who and Star Trek, demonstrated that there was a significant
readership for science fiction adventure with a more juvenile slant.
This had once been catered for by the comics, and before that by some
of the pulp magazines like Planet Stories, but by the sixties
the gap between the comics and sf magazines had grown too large. There
was no intermediary sf magazine that met the need of the adolescent
reader wanting to discover more about science fiction. Their interest
in science fiction was also being fanned by the space race and America's
plan to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
It was into that niche that If slipped. Not entirely, and not
overnight. If still published adult sf, but it became far more
adventure orientated and was more approachable by younger readers than
the other magazines, especially Analog or even Galaxy.
If was a slim magazine. It looked the smallest of all of them,
though it ran to 160 pages, the same as Amazing and Analog,
but was printed on a less bulky stock. But it looked cheap. The contents
page was printed in black but with story titles in red (sometimes blue)
which looked like someone had set them with a child's block printing
kit. This practice was dropped from the May 1966 issue. It was one of
the few magazines to still run a personalized, more fannish letter column.
Analog's was always full of highly technical discussion, whilst
neither Galaxy nor F&SF ran a column, and those in
Amazing and Fantastic were sporadic and limited to a few
brief comments on stories. It helped give If a friendly feel
which encouraged younger readers. One reader commented on the matter.
'As of right now, I feel that If is the only reader-oriented
sf magazine.' Recognising that
If appealed to younger readers Frederik Pohl instigated a new
series, 'Our Man in Fandom', run by Lin Carter, which introduced readers
to the many aspects of sf and fantasy fandom. The series ran from April
1966 to March 1968.
Above all, If's covers were far more juvenile-orientated. Richard
McKenna's paintings in particular were often full of monsters or aliens.
John Pedersen's cover for C.C. MacApp's 'Prisoners of the Sky' (February
1966) is especially alluring, showing an old-fashioned dirigible being
attacked by a huge air serpent. Most showed action scenes. One could
never accuse If of looking sophisticated, but it did look fun,
and it did publish a wide range of enjoyable stories, much of which
fell into the space opera category. No more so than 'Skylark DuQuesne'
by the man who started it all, E.E. Smith. Originally scheduled as a
three-part serial this final romp in the Skylark series eventually spread
out over five issues, from June to October 1965. If was full
of stories by old-time writers. In addition to E.E. Smith were Jack
Williamson, Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Murray Leinster, Robert
Moore Williams, Hal Clement, Isaac Asimov, even Harl Vincent. Not that
any of these stories were old-fashioned, more to the contrary. But they
were authors who used traditional story-telling techniques and who knew
how to tell a strong, character-centred action story. There were plenty
of new writers doing just the same, especially Keith Laumer, Larry Niven,
C.C. MacApp and Fred Saberhagen, plus British authors like Kenneth Bulmer
and John Brunner.
Some serials in If were attuned to the teenage market. James
Blish's 'The Hour Before Earthrise' (July-September 1966; in bookform
as Welcome to Mars!, Putnam, 1967) has a teenager trying to invent
an anti-gravity device who becomes stranded on Mars, with his young
girlfriend. If was the leading purveyor of new space opera in
the late sixties, too many to list. A few examples will suffice. With
'Edge of Night' (September-October 1966), A. Bertram Chandler's series
about Commodore John Grimes moved to If in a fast-paced adventure
where Grimes encounters an alien spaceship that shows all the signs
of being created by Terrans, but from an alternative universe. The Grimes
series, also known as the Rimworlds stories, have almost exactly the
same premise as the Star Trek series and would certainly have
been enjoyed by both sets of fans. There were also the Retief stories
by Keith Laumer, the Gree stories by C.C. MacApp and the Berserker stories
by Fred Saberhagen (in fact one could almost imagine the Berserkers
as a prototype of the Borg in Star Trek). Piers Anthony began
a new, humorous series, about Dillingham, a dentist who had to come
to terms with all kinds of alien teeth.
Frederik Pohl continued to encourage new writers in his 'If first'
section. Gardner Dozois, who will feature heavily in Volume 3 of
this history, made his first sale with a story of a deadly weapon, 'The
Empty Man' (September 1966), before entering the army curtailed his
writing for a few years. May 1967 saw the appearance of the enigmatic
Burt K. Filer with the truth of mankind's origin in 'The Hole'. Other
first appearances included Perry Chapdelaine, with a long tale about
mankind's evolution, 'To Serve the Masters' (September 1967); Thomas
J. Bassler (who became better known as T.J. Bass), a doctor who, not
surprisingly, explored the medical issues of space exploration in 'Star
Itch' (September 1968); George Scithers, long active in fandom and who
would emerge as an important editor in the 1970s, with 'The Faithful
Messenger' (March 1969) which served to emphasize the immensities of
space; and Robert Weinberg, who would also become active in both fannish
and professional circles in the next thirty years, with 'Destroyer'
Although not billed as an 'If first', one of Pohl's most significant
discoveries was Gene Wolfe. Technically he had already appeared elsewhere
-- one of his fable-like tales, 'The Dead Man' had been sold to the
men's magazine Sir! where it appeared in October 1965. But an
earlier story, 'The Mountains are Mice', had been acquired by Pohl for
If. An early example of Wolfe's cryptic story-lines, it tells
of adapted humanity re-established on Mars but already, within a few
generations, forgetting their origins. Pohl published it as 'Mountains
Like Mice' in the May 1966 issue. Amusingly, Wolfe later recounted how
he had first submitted the story to Galaxy where Pohl had rejected
it. Wolfe then mailed it out again to If, not realizing that
was also edited by Pohl. Pohl bought it saying, 'I feel the rewrite
has improved it quite a bit!' It only shows what many of us have realized
since, that you get even more out of one of Wolfe's stories on a second
Two other discoveries are worthy of passing reference. 'The Edward
Salant Letters' (April 1968) marks the only appearance in an sf magazine
by Jerry Juhl, who subsequently became far better known as one of the
masterminds behind the highly successful television Muppet Show.
'Operation High Time' (January 1969) was the first professional sale
by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and also the first in her Sime/Gen series
about the relationship between two mutated species of humans. More pertinent
to the issue at hand is that Lichtenberg, a long-time reader of sf,
went on to become one of the primary writers of Star Trek fan
With the August 1967 issue Worlds of Tomorrow was merged with
If. Worlds of Tomorrow was frequently maligned, classified
by many as a reject magazine, with stories not suitable for If
or Galaxy. In fact it had carried many good stories. These included,
in its later issues, 'The Ultra Man' by A.E. van Vogt (May 1966), 'Seventy
Light-Years from Sol' (November 1966), the first of the Stardust space-exploration
series by Stephen Tall, and 'The Star-Pit' by Samuel Delany (February
1967). The magazine did in fact sell at a small profit. The sudden decision
to discontinue it was not to do with sales but was a tactic employed
by publisher Robert M. Guinn to allow Frederik Pohl to reinstate Galaxy
on a monthly schedule. In fact that did not happen for another year.
In the meantime, Worlds of Tomorrow was merged with If
with the result that If picked up some of its companion's features
Of most importance here was Philip José Farmer's Riverworld
series. Three episodes had already been run in Worlds of Tomorrow
but now If ran the short novel 'The Felled Star' (July-August
1967). One could argue that Riverworld is only tenuously science fiction.
It relies heavily on Clarke's Third Law, in that we have god-like aliens
who have somehow created a planet with a million-mile long river and
have resurrected on this planet all the souls of everyone who has ever
lived. It is, in fact, closer to fantasy than sf, and it is a good example
of how If was now featuring the best of both worlds. Not only
was it running space opera to appeal to the Star Trek fans and
those enthused by the moon-landing programme, but it was also running
stories closer to the weave of fantasy. If was able to boast
publication of a new novella by Andre Norton, noted for her Witch World
quasi-fantasy series. 'Wizard's World' (June 1967) was a rare magazine
appearance by Norton at that time, and a one-off fantasy about a planet
where psi-powers operated like magic. In subsequent issues Virgil Finlay's
beautiful fantasy artwork enhanced many a borderline story to give them
an aura of the fantastic, such as C.C. MacApp's 'Winter of the Llangs'
(October 1967) and David Redd's exotic far future tale, 'Sunbeam Caress'
(March 1968). The magazine also ran several episodes from Roger Zelazny's
forthcoming novel drawing upon Egyptian myth, Creatures of Light
and Darkness , but perhaps its most blatant fantasy
was the serialisation of James Blish's 'Faust Aleph-Null' (August-October
1967). Later expanded as Black Easter (Doubleday, 1968), it tells
of the magician, Theron Ware, who allows all Hell to literally break
loose when he summons up all the demons. Blish's approach to the subject
was entirely scientific, and many authorities on occult lore have commented
upon the accuracy of his detailed descriptions, but it was fantasy nonetheless.
So popular was fantasy in If that Guinn was even able to put
out a trial issue of a new magazine, Worlds of Fantasy, which
appeared in September 1968. It was a way of testing the market and to
relieve If of some of the build-up of fantasy submissions. Pohl
did not feel his knowledge of fantasy was sufficient to compile the
issue so it was edited by Lester del Rey. The issue was of good quality.
There was a Brak story by John W. Jakes, a new Conan story by Lin Carter
and L. Sprague de Camp, a previously unpublished story by Robert E.
Howard, a feature on Tolkien, and stories by Robert Silverberg, Mack
Reynolds, Robert Hoskins and others. It sold well, and might have become
a regular magazine, but looming internal problems caused Guinn to shelve
the magazine temporarily.
If's ability to reflect the reader's fascination for space adventure
and fantastic fiction, much in the line of the old pulps Planet Stories
and Startling Stories, won If the Hugo Award as the Best
Science Fiction Magazine three years running, 1966 to 1968. In that
same period several stories first published in If won Hugo awards.
'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' (December 1965-April 1966), Robert A.
Heinlein's parallel of the American War of Independence applied to the
Lunar colonies, won the Best Novel award in 1967. Larry Niven's 'Neutron
Star' (October 1966), the first serious treatment of the likely impact
on an astronaut of venturing too close to such a stellar object, won
the best short story in 1967. Harlan Ellison's pyrotechnics of sentience
and creation, 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream' (March 1967), won
the short story award in 1968. Interestingly none of these stories won
or were even nominated for the Nebula Award, presented by the SFWA,
suggesting that If received the more popular vote from the reader
than the critical vote from the authors. During this same period If's
circulation rose steadily from around 64,000 to over 67,000, an increase
of almost 5%, beaten only by Analog (whose circulation rose by
Some of this same energy in If ran over into Galaxy.
Despite the popularity of If, Galaxy continued to outsell
it throughout the sixties, and it contained the more superior stories.
Galaxy, by the mid-sixties, bore little comparison with
the Galaxy of ten years earlier. Science fiction was finding
new forms, and Galaxy gave sf scope to broaden and explore without
letting it run rampant as it was in New Worlds. It may not have
been as exciting or as much fun as If, but there was a feeling
of awe in Galaxy that here the future of sf was being channelled,
capturing and taming the new-wave sparks spinning out of Britain and
Frederik Pohl's trump cards in Galaxy had been Cordwainer Smith
and Jack Vance, but in fact he lost both of them by the mid-sixties.
It was tragic that Cordwainer Smith died on 6 August 1966, aged only
fifty-three, and after an sf writing career of a little more than eight
years. His last appearance was with 'Under Old Earth' (February 1966),
one of the pivotal stories in the Instrumentality series. Smith's work
had added a layer of intensity to science fiction in the early sixties
which challenged readers and encouraged writers to develop more complex
and far-thinking stories set in different yet believable worlds because
they have a past and a future. Jack Vance was another working in exactly
the same vein, and the issue of Galaxy after Smith's swansong
published his 'The Last Castle' (April 1966). This was another of his
far future quasi-fantasies with complex names and social structures.
Pohl felt that it might be over the head of some readers so he commissioned
Jack Gaughan to provide some explanatory artwork and included a chart
to show the relationship between the various individuals. A year later,
not only did 'The Last Castle' win both the Hugo and Nebula awards,
but Gaughan also won the Best Artist Hugo, primarily for his work in
Galaxy and If. However, after 'The Last Castle', Vance
worked in longer forms and sold predominantly to other markets, chiefly
F&SF and Amazing. The last work Pohl was able to publish
was 'The Palace of Love' (Galaxy, October 1966-February 1967),
the last in the Demon Princes series which had started in Galaxy
with 'The Star King' (December 1963-February 1964), and which followed
Kirth Gersen (or Keith in the magazine version) across the galaxy in
pursuit of the murderers of his parents.
With Smith and Vance gone, Pohl needed to build up other mainstay authors.
He missed out on developing Anne McCaffrey, and only secured the third
of her Helva series about a sentient space-ships, 'The Ship Who Killed'
(October 1966). The first of these stories had appeared in F&SF
and the second in Analog, and it was in Analog that McCaffrey
made her name with her Pern stories. Pohl did acquire one more Helva
story, 'The Ship Who Disappeared' which he ran in If (March 1969).
He published stories by a number of authors who, for a while, looked
like they might establish a greater reputation, but who faded before
their full glory was seen. C.C. MacApp, Hayden Howard, H.H. Hollis,
Sydney Van Scyoc and others all contributed regularly to Galaxy
and became closely associated with the magazine, yet never made it into
the big time.
He did have occasional stories by Roger Zelazny, including one of his
best, 'Damnation Alley' (October 1967). Subsequently novelized, and
later still filmed, this skilled piece of story-telling sustains the
pace and excitement as Hell Tanner makes a death-defying 'Ghent-to-Aix'
journey across a nuclear devastated North America. It appeared in Galaxy's
seventeenth anniversary issue, which also included a rare new story
by H.L. Gold, 'The Transmogrification of Wamba's Revenge', a quaintly
old fashioned story of diminutive humans, which was as much fantasy
as it was sf. Galaxy did flirt with the fantastication of sf
at this time -- Pohl was clearly receiving more stories than he could
cope with at If, even with the new Worlds of Fantasy.
The April 1968 issue saw the start of both Clifford D. Simak's fantasy-slanted
serial, 'Goblin Reservation' and Damon Knight's occasional series about
the strange world of Thorinn who sets out to explore his surroundings.
Readers remained mystified for a long time as Knight's series remained
incomplete until the publication of The World and Thorinn in
Pohl welcomed a few other old-timers to Galaxy¸ much like he
had been doing in If. Ross Rocklynne reappeared after
a hiatus of fourteen years with a cluster of stories, starting with
'Touch of the Moon' (April 1968), which showed that the author had lost
none of his old flair, even though it was an old-style story. Raymond
F. Jones had one of his last stories, 'Subway to the Stars' (December
1968), about an inter-dimensional doorway, which would have been well
at home in a 1950s Astounding. John Wyndham made a rare magazine
appearance with 'A Life Postponed' (December 1968). It dealt with the
issue raised by Robert Ettinger in his Worlds of Tomorrow feature.
A man goes into cold storage to escape to the future only to find that
his wife follows him. It was a minor story but marked the last appearance
by Wyndham, who died on 10 March 1969, aged only sixty-five.
It was important, however, for Pohl to build up a new stable of regular,
reliable contributors. One of his stars was Larry Niven, who Pohl had
discovered and first published in If. If remained Niven's
primary territory, although Pohl started to shift him more to Galaxy.
Virtually all of Niven's fiction here fitted into his generic Tales
of Known Space sequence. These ranged from the relatively straightforward
'At the Bottom of a Hole' (December 1966), which depicts the predicament
of a 'Belter' (a spaceman who works on the asteroid belt) trapped in
the higher gravity of Mars, to the highly complex 'The Adults' (June
1967; expanded in bookform as Protector, 1973), which considers
mankind's place in the Galaxy.
Poul Anderson became almost as regular a contributor to Galaxy
at this time as he was to Analog. Like Niven, his stories were
predominantly technological extravaganzas ideal for the devotee of hard-core
science fiction. 'To Outlive Eternity' (June-August 1967; expanded in
bookform as Tau Zero, 1970) is a space opera on a grand scale
where a near light-speed ship accelerates uncontrollably until all on
board outlive the Universe and survive through the next Big Bang. Anderson
also wrote a series of loosely connected stories at this time, all within
the framework of his Technic Civilisation, but set in the distant realms
of space after the fall of the Terran Empire and the onset of what Anderson
calls 'the Long Night'. These began with 'Outpost of Empire' (December
1967), chronicling one of the wars, and includes 'The Sharing of Flesh'
(December 1968), a study of moral interplay between two races. This
story won Anderson his third Hugo Award.
Perhaps Pohl's most reliable author, however, was Robert Silverberg.
Silverberg had moved away from science fiction at the end of the fifties,
producing, in addition to a mass of pseudonymous erotic novels, a number
of reference books, mostly for younger readers. He never lost touch
with sf, although he ceased to produce stories at the conveyer-belt
pace of the fifties. After a few years however he was keen to return
to the field, this time with a more mature view. He made a gentleman's
agreement that Pohl would get Silverberg's work exclusively, provided
he buy all of his stories. The agreement could be cancelled at any time
if Pohl disliked any particular story. The deal was a positive one on
both sides, for during the decade starting in 1964, Silverberg's work
was both potent and imaginative and made significant advances in the
field, and Galaxy published virtually all of it.
The march began with 'Blue Fire' (June 1965) which ushered in Silverberg's
Vorster series, later published as To Open the Sky (Ballantine,
1967). A new religion is established by Noel Vorst, drawing on man's
inner powers, rather like Scientology. But Silverberg takes it further
as, over a period of nearly a century, the Vorsters began to adapt humans
for immortality and for life on other worlds. In reviewing the book
P. Schuyler Miller noted that the non-fiction books Silverberg had written
on archeology and history had given Silverberg a better perspective
for a future history allowing him to write this sequential book tracking
cause and effect.
'Hawksbill Station' (August 1967) was a one-off novella set in a penal
colony constructed on Earth two billion years in our past, and there
was only a one-way ticket. Although this was more in the vogue of the
traditional Silverberg, the story was nominated for both the Hugo and
Nebula awards and picked up by the 'Year's Best' selections. 'Going
Down Smooth' (August 1968) is, in a strangely shallow way, a revolutionary
story. It was written around the cover painting by Vaughn Bodé,
showing a set of giant periscopes looking down on a battleship. Silverberg
wanted to break the editorial taboo on obscene language -- which had
already been broken by anthologies and in New Worlds -- and wrote
a story about a computer's fascination with procreation. In the course
of the story Silverberg converted the phrase 'fuck you' into the binary
'10000110 you', without causing a ripple of concern amongst the magazine's
readers. It doesn't seem much of a breakthrough today, but it was a
delicious in-joke at the time.
'Nightwings' (September 1968) was the first in another series of novellas
that made up the novel Nightwings (Avon, 1969), all of which
appeared in Galaxy. Set on a far future, dying Earth, which is
conquered by aliens, the stories have a lyrical, almost fantastic aura
about them, similar to the works of Vance. 'Nightwings' itself won the
Hugo Award for the best novella, and was runner-up for the Nebula.
At the end of the sixties and early seventies Silverberg produced a
series of astonishing novels which remain amongst his best work. Galaxy
published all but two of these, running through into 1972. Although
they will be considered in more detail in Volume 3, it is worth making
reference to a few of them here, because it demonstrates the peak to
which Silverberg was working at a time when a new editorial openness
allowed Silverberg a greater freedom. His last two novels serialized
in the sixties were 'Up the Line' (Amazing Stories, July-September
1969) and 'Downward to the Earth' (Galaxy, November 1969-March
1970). 'Up the Line' was acquired by Amazing's new editor, Ted
White, whilst 'Downward to the Earth' was bought by Galaxy's
new editor, Ejler Jakobsson. Both novels show the influence of new-wave
techniques but, more importantly, both explore humanity's interference
with other cultures. 'Up the Line' is a complex time-travel story with
strains of new-age freedom. A time courier has to face the implications
of trans-temporal incest and even temporal suicide in ancient Byzantium.
'Downward to the Earth' has a man return to a former colonial planet,
now independent, only to discover his ability to empathize with the
native intelligence. The novel, which explores mankind's hositility
to other races, and how mankind is perceived, is a crucially introspective
work on guilt and repentance, and has been alikened to Joseph Conrad's
enigmatic 'Heart of Darkness.'
Silverberg would be one of the heralds who took this new-found creativity
in science fiction through into the seventies.
For Galaxy it was also a time of change and 1969 proved to be
a watershed year. In March 1969 Robert M. Guinn finalized a deal to
sell Galaxy to Arnold Abramson of Universal Publishing and Distributing
Corporation (UPD). The deal went through while Pohl was at an International
Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro, so it took him a little by surprise,
but it provoked him into an action he had long been considering. Rather
than go with the magazine to the new publisher, Pohl quit and decided
to return to writing. From deep within the bowels of UPD's book department
emerged Ejler Jakobsson. By one of those strange twists of fate Jakobsson
had succeeded Pohl as editor of Super Science Stories over twenty
years before. Jakobsson was keen to take on Galaxy. Lester del
Rey, who had joined Guinn in 1968 as Managing Editor stayed on as Features
Editor, while his wife-to-be, Judy-Lynn Benjamin, became the new Managing
The change should have been effective from the June 1969 issue but
printing problems caused a slippage and the June issue became the July
issue. This issue was effectively still Pohl's. He wrote the editorial
and had selected the stories. The coup for that issue was the start
of Frank Herbert's serial, 'Dune Messiah' (July-November 1969), the
latest in the Dune saga which was already starting to take on mythic
proportions. The serial was too mystical for John W. Campbell, but ideal
A few days after that issue went on sale Galaxy lost its most
consistent contributor. Willy Ley, who had run the 'For Your Information'
department since the March 1952 issue, died on 24 June 1969, at the
age of only 62. Ley had been one of the driving forces that had helped
create the American space programme, and he had been one of the major
players who had turned round public opinion, changing their fear of
rockets as machines of war, into their aspirations for the future. It
was therefore doubly tragic that Ley died less than one month before
Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin stepped onto the Moon on 20 July 1969.
Galaxy never seemed quite the same without Ley.
And indeed, for a while science fiction would not seem the same after
the Moon landing. To many science fiction had achieved one of its primary
goals. What was left to be said?
Volume 2 of Mike Ashley's History of the Science Fiction Magazine
is to be published by Liverpool University Press. Volume 1, The Time
Machines, was published in 2001.
Mike Ashley's books are widely
available in the shops.
Order online using these
links and infinity plus will benefit:
Elsewhere in infinity plus: