Vintage Treasures: Galactic Empires, Volumes One & Two, edited by Brian Aldiss

Vintage Treasures: Galactic Empires, Volumes One & Two, edited by Brian Aldiss

Galactic Empires Volume Two (Avon, 1979). Cover by Alex Ebel

It’s the Christmas break, I finally have some serious reading time, and I know I should be trying some recent stuff. There are many promising new authors I’ve been looking forward to sampling, and I’m reasonably sure I even made a resolution or two in that direction a while back.

But here I am enjoying some old Brian Aldiss anthologies, and I don’t even have the decency to feel guilty. I’ve wanted to read these books for a while — somewhere around 40 years, give or take — and that’s a long time to be staring longingly at them on my bookshelf.

The titles in question are Galactic Empires, Volumes One and Two, both published in 1979, a fine curation of classic science fiction. They’re the second and third books in a very handsome four-book set of SF anthologies reprinted in paperback by Avon, with gorgeous wraparound covers by legendary artist Alex Ebel (best known for his classic Ursula K. Le Guin covers, including The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed). The other two anthologies include Evil Earths (1978) and Perilous Planets (1980).

[Click the images for empire-sized versions.]

Evil Earths (1978) and Perilous Planets (1980), both published by Avon. Covers by Alex Ebel

Galactic Empires, Volumes One and Two is a feast of a set. It includes a veritable who’s who of 20th Century SF writers and their most popular series, including a Foundation story by Isaac Asimov, a Technic History novelette by Poul Anderson, an Instrumentality of Mankind tale by Cordwainer Smith, and a Sector General piece by James White.

There’s a generous amount of longer fiction, the kind of thing that doesn’t get reprinted very often, including long novellas by Alfred Coppel, Clifford D. Simak, John D. MacDonald, and Gardner F. Fox, plus short stories by R. A. Lafferty, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Shaara, Margaret St. Clair, A. E. van Vogt, Algis Budrys, James Blish, Mack Reynolds, Avram Davidson, Fredric Brown, Harry Harrison, Olaf Stapledon, and many others.


Le Guin paperbacks with covers by Alex Ebel: City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed (Avon, 1974, 1974, and 1975)

Aldiss takes his weighty theme seriously, with a considered look at the concept of Galactic Empires. He includes a survey of stories from 1937 to 1975, with a lot of entertaining and informative commentary sandwiched in between. He breaks his selections up into insightful sub-themes, each of which is prefaced with a brief essay.

The sub-sections are:

A Sense of Perspective
“‘Wider Still and Wider…’
Horses in the Starship Hold
The Health Service in the Skies
You Can’t Impose Civilization by Force
The Other End of the Stick
All Things Are Cyclic
Big Ancestors and Great Descendants

Aldiss looks at both the rise of Galactic Empires, and their inevitable decline.


Galactic Empires Volume One and Two (Avon, 1979). Covers by Alex Ebel

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for Galactic Empires Volume One.

Introduction by Brian Aldiss
A Sense of Perspective, by Brian Aldiss
“Been a Long, Long Time” by R. A. Lafferty (Fantastic, December 1970)
“The Possessed” by Arthur C. Clarke (Dynamic Science Fiction, March 1953)
“Protected Species” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951)
“All the Way Back” by Michael Shaara (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1952)
“‘Wider Still and Wider…’ by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“The Star Plunderer” by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, September 1952)
“Foundation” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1942)
“We’re Civilized!” by Alex Apostolides and Mark Clifton (Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1953)
Horses in the Starship Hold, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” by Cordwainer Smith (Amazing Stories, May 1964)
“The Rebel of Valkyr” by Alfred Coppel (Planet Stories, Fall 1950)
“Brightness Falls from the Air” by Margaret St. Clair (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1951)
“Immigrant” by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1954)
The Health Service in the Skies, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Resident Physician” by James White (New Worlds Science Fiction, #110 September)
“Age of Retirement” by Hal Lynch (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1954)
“Planting Time” by Pete Adams and Charles Nightingale (Antigrav, 1975)

The books were originally published in hardcover in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1976, and reprinted the following year by St. Martin’s Press in the US.

US hardcover editions, published by St. Martin’s Press / SFBC (1977). Covers by Karel Thole

Here’s the TOC for Volume Two.

Introduction by Brian Aldiss
You Can’t Impose Civilization by Force by Brian Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Escape to Chaos” by John D. MacDonald (Super Science Stories, June 1951)
“Concealment” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1943)
“To Civilize” by Algis Budrys (Future Science Fiction, January 1954)
“Beep” by James Blish (Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1954)
The Other End of the Stick, by Brian W. Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Down the River” by Mack Reynolds (Startling Stories, September 1950)
“The Bounty Hunter” by Avram Davidson (Fantastic Universe, March 1958)
“Not Yet the End” by Fredric Brown (Captain Future, Winter 1941)
All Things Are Cyclic, Brian Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Tonight the Stars Revolt!” by Gardner F. Fox (Planet Stories, March 1952)
“Final Encounter” by Harry Harrison (Galaxy Magazine, April 1964)
Big Ancestors and Great Descendants, by Brian Aldiss (non-fiction)
“Lord of a Thousand Suns” by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, September 1951)
“Big Ancestor” by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1954)
“The Interlopers” by Roger Dee (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1954)
“Epilogue,” by Olaf Stapledon (excerpt from Star Maker, 1937)

The books were reprinted in paperback in the UK by Orbit.

UK paperback editions (Orbit, 1976). Covers by Karel Thole

Here’s the complete pub details for the Avon paperback editions.

Galactic Empires, Volumes One (339 pages, $2.25 in paperback, February 1979) — cover by Alex Ebel
Galactic Empires, Volumes Two (312 pages, $2.25 in paperback, March 1979) — cover by Alex Ebel

Both volumes were reprinted in an omnibus trade paperback by Legend in 1988. They have not been reprinted since, and these are no digital editions.

We previously covered one other book in the Avon series:

Vintage Treasures: Perilous Planets, edited By Brian Aldiss

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Thomas Parker

I have all of those Avon Aldiss anthologies. They’re just irresistible, with those gorgeous covers and all the treats inside. It’s almost more “good old stuff” than a body can stand.

Thomas Parker

I have both of those too, and you’re right – the zing! factor drops without those great covers, worthy though the contents are.

Joe H.

I’ll happily (and possibly unjustly) take full credit for constantly banging on about those Aldiss Galactic Empires anthologies every chance I got. They (as well as Space Opera) were books I was repeatedly checking out from the library back in the day. I really need to go back and reread them (as well as read the other three, which I do now own).

Personal favorite stories include “Been a Long, Long Time” (which might be the only Lafferty I’ve ever read?) and “Rebels of Valkyr”.

Randomly, another anthology I loved back in the day was Clifton Fadiman’s Fantasia Mathematica. I think I still have our old copy somewhere, although at some point the glue holding the pages in seemed to have died the death.

Joe H.

And as always I’d _love_ to get digital editions of all of these, but I know that rights situations make that pretty much impossible.

Tony Den

Those covers are certainly beautiful. I would live to lay hands on them too. Joe H, I seem to recall comments recommending these before. I am very intrigued about the Horses in a Spaceship article.

Rich Horton

These Aldiss anthologies have long been favorites of mine. With Joe, I’ll cite “The Rebel of Valkyr” as a particular favorite. It later became a the four book Rhada YA series, under the pseudonym Robert Cham Gilman.

[…] Empires (1979) collections off his shelf after they sat there for decades (you can read about it here). It struck me I’ve had Aldiss’s Galactic Empires on my shelves for nearly the same […]

George Kelley

Thanks for reminding me those GALACTIC EMPIRES volumes had been on my shelves for years, too! Your excellent review inspired me to finally read them. Here’s my take on those Aldiss anthologies: http://georgekelley.org/fridays-forgotten-books-672-galactic-empires-volume-1-volume-2-edited-by-brian-aldiss/

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