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Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

[Click on the images for pulp-sized versions.]

The Planet Strappers Raymond Z Gallun 2-small The Planet Strappers Raymond Z Gallun-back-small

One reason is that Gallun’s writing style, overall, is very stiff. This is most apparent in his characterizations, which are often wooden, both in character interaction and dialogue, and sometimes his characters even come off as just plain cold-hearted. For example, the main character  in “Godson of Almarlu,” Jeff Scanlon, ends up being responsible for destroying the planet Earth and killing 99% of its human population. Scanlon escapes to the moon, with a few other thousand people. The surviving people, understandably, want to punish or kill Scanlon for what he’s done. His reaction?

If friends and relatives and homes are taken suddenly away from people, particularly — ah — when everything looks rosy, they temporarily lose their natural kindliness, their reason, and their sense of justice.

For someone who is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, this seems either like a clueless or pitiless comment. “Scanlon, you’ve just destroyed the Earth and the overwhelming majority of the human race. And the remaining people’s desire to punish you is due to a loss of their sense of justice?” What?!

Scanlon continues:

And if it looks even a little bit as if you are responsible for their misfortunes, you’re just out of luck if they get hold of you. They’re mad beasts. I don’t much care though, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve done my job. (p. 144).

Spoken like a typical dictator once his regime has fallen. I wish I could say this was an egregious example. But it’s fairly typical in Gallun’s writing.

Gallun is also often guilty of breaking the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule of good writing. A typical example of Gallunian characterization:

“Shut up, MacDowd!’ Pilot Al Kerny, big and bearlike and brave, but not possessing the mental keenness of a scientist, growled emphatically. (p. 147).

So, without further reading, we have been informed that Al is simply a dumb lug, and specifically because he can’t do science, which becomes more than abundantly clear in the rest of the story, as if it needed explaining.

Wonder Stories May 1932-small Wonder Stories Quarterly Summer 1932-small Wonder Stories January 1934-small

Wonder Stories pulps with Raymond Z. Gallun cover stories: “The Moon Mistress” (May 1932), “The Menace from Mercury”
(Wonder Stories Quarterly, Summer 1932), and “Moon Plague” (January 1934). Covers by Frank R. Paul

It should probably come as no surprise that dispassionate, resourceful scientists — human or alien — are usually the heroes of Gallun’s stories. Or better, one might say Science (with a capital “S”) is the real hero. Gallun will often have his protagonists enter into detailed explanations of science fiction phenomenon. Perhaps this was to encourage young readers to pursue science and technology? But these heroes and explanations can often be quite boring — or at least I found them to be so.

I don’t want to paint Gallun’s writing as completely lacking in luster. One good quality that clearly comes across is that he was obviously intrigued with natural events or scientific phenomena that seemingly could not take place within the bounds of known science — though, as with many early sci-fi writers, some of his conceits indeed came true years after he wrote about them. Gallun seemed to have greatly enjoyed suggesting how such phenomena might be plausibly and scientifically viable. And thus, it seems to me, Gallun’s stories usually attempted to encourage wonder at what science might be capable of explaining.

I think that’s a noble aesthetic and perhaps educational goal. And in the early and mid-Twentieth Century I’m sure that Gallun’s stories did illicit wonder — he clearly was popular given the number of stories he sold. But I doubt many would be filled with wonder at reading his stuff today.  Therefore, I think Raymond Z. Gallun is probably best seen as an historical example of a bygone day, or at most, an acquired taste. Perhaps his intentions might still occasionally inspire scientific awe in some, but I fear that his writing style is more likely to leave one fairly cold.

Are there any Gallun fans out there? Am I completely missing something in this writer? Please push back.

Astounding Stories July 1935-small Astounding Stories October 1936-small Astounding-Science-Fiction-October-1938-small

Astounding pulps with Raymond Z Gallun cover stories: “The Son of Old Faithful” (July 1935), “Godson of Almarlu”
(October 1936), and “Magician of Dream Valley” (October 1938). Covers by Howard V. Brown

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun.

Introduction: Raymond Z. Gallun, The Quiet Revolutionary, by J. J. Pierce
“Old Faithful” (Astounding Stories, 1934)
“Derelict” (Astounding Stories, 1935)
“Davey Jones’s Ambassador” (Astounding Stories, 1935)
“Godson of Almarlu” (Astounding Stories, 1936)
“A Menace in Miniature” (Astounding Stories, 1937)
“Seeds of the Dusk” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1938)
“Hotel Cosmos” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1938)
“Magician of Dream Valley” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1938)
“The Shadow of the Veil” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1939)
“The Lotus-Engine” (Super Science Stories, 1940)
“Prodigal’s Aura” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1951)
“The Restless Tide” (Marvel Science Fiction, 1951)
“Return of a Legend” (Planet Stories, 1952)
Afterword (1978) by Raymond Z. Gallun

The Best of Jack Williamson-smallOur previous articles on Raymond Z. Gallun include:

Space Pirates, Stowaways, and a New Frontier: Rich Horton on The Planet Strappers
Birthday Reviews: Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Magician of Dream Valley” by Steven H Silver

And our previous coverage of the Classics of Science Fiction line includes (in order of publication):

  1. Rich Playboys, Mad Scientists, and Venusian Monsters: The Best of Stanley Weinbaum by James McGlothlin (1974)
  2. A Neglected Master: The Best of Henry Kuttner by James McGlothlin (1975)
  3. A Shaper of Myths: The Best of Cordwainer Smith by James McGlothlin (1975)
  4. Smugglers, Alien Vampires, and Dark Dimensions: The Best of C. L. Moore by James McGlothlin (1976)
  5. Space Colonies, Interstellar Fleets, and The Martian in the Attic: The Best of Frederik Pohl by James McGlothlin (1976)
  6. Classic SF from One of the Twentieth Century’s Great Masters: The Best of John W. Campbell by James McGlothlin (1976)
  7. Shark Ships and Marching Morons: The Best of C. M. Kornbluth by James McGlothlin (1977)
  8. Drawing Out What it Truly Means to be Human: The Best of Philip K. Dick by James McGlothlin (1977)
  9. Wit and Play in Classic Science Fiction: The Best of Fredric Brown by James McGlothlin (1977)
  10. Wings, Wind, and World-Wreckers: The Best of Edmond Hamilton by Ryan Harvey (1977)
  11. Dead Cities, Space Outlaws, and Planet Gods: The Best of Leigh Brackett by Ryan Harvey (1977)
  12. From the Pen of a Great Pulpster: The Best of Robert Bloch by James McGlothlin (1977)
  13. Germ Warfare, Sentient Planets, and Dark Age Alchemy: The Best of Murray Leinster by James McGlothlin (1978)
  14. Dinosaurs, Mermaids, and Haunted Lumber: The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, by James McGlothlin (1978)
  15. Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun by James McGlothlin (1978)
  16. Gods, Robots, and Man: The Best of Lester del Rey by Jason McGregor (1978)
  17. Vampires, Frozen Worlds, and Gambling With the Devil: The Best of Fritz Leiber by James McGlothlin (1979)

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

4 Comments »

  1. I love “Seeds of the Dusk”–an elegiac tale of the far future where the happy ending… is not what one might expect. But I have to admit, there aren’t a lot of other Gallun stories that sank deep in my memory.

    Comment by James Enge - August 29, 2019 12:26 am

  2. Gallun didn’t do a much in hi early fiction as, say, Jack Williamson, Ross Rocklynne, or Stanley Weinbaum in their best work from the period to impress me, but I’ve read good, imaginative fiction from him…but I’d have difficulty telling you forty-odd years later what any of the stories were about. So, I suppose I might revisit. Thanks, thought, for the reminder of this book…I do seem to remember a fine hand in describing, as you note, natural wonders we might encounter in strange environments…an effective touch in that regard…

    Comment by Todd Mason - August 31, 2019 3:39 pm

  3. Oddly, I have an unresponsive S key! Sorry for the slight inscrutability above…pushing it a bit harder…

    Comment by Todd Mason - August 31, 2019 3:40 pm

  4. And one other distinction should be made…J. J. Pierce presumably actually selected the stories for the volume, probably in consultation with the Del Reys, rather than solely providing the introduction. When it was solely a matter of introducing, as with the “Lester Del Rey” and Gahan Wilson introductions to the Robert Bloch retrospective volumes Del Rey published and Bloch himself seems to have assembled, they tended to note as much…

    Comment by Todd Mason - August 31, 2019 3:45 pm


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