The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Saturday, June 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards have been presented by the British Science Fiction Association since 1970 and were originally nominated for and voted on by the members of the Association. The Media Award was created in 1979, when it was won be the original series of the radio show The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In its first three years, the award was won by the first and second series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show as well as the record. The award was presented annually until 1992, when the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day won the final award.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio show which aired on the BBC from March 8, 1978 to April 12, 1978, with an additional episode (called a fit) airing on December 24, 1978. The show was so popular that a stage show based on the radio show ran from May 1-9, 1979 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The first four episodes of the radio show were also adapted (with some alterations) for release on a double LP set in 1979 (released in the US and Canada in 1982). The recordings used the original scripts, but cut some sections for timing while adding in alternative lines that were cut from the radio shows (including one that I really enjoy). Most of the original radio cast returned for the record, although Susan Sheridan, who had voiced Trillian, was unavailable since she was recording the voice of Princess Eilonwy for Disney’s animated film The Black Cauldron, and was replaced by Cindy Oswin, who had performed the role in the ICA stage production.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1954: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Cover by René Vidmer

The cover of the August, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction is “Hunting on Aldebaran IV” by René Vidmer. This was Vidmer’s only cover art for Galaxy. Although Vidmer had cover art on a few other magazines, the majority of his contributions were interior artwork. His art was published between 1953 and 1957 — a very brief career, which remains a mystery to me. I couldn’t find any personal information on him, unfortunately.

“Party of the Two Parts” by William Tenn — An intelligent villain from a distant planet steals a spaceship to evade capture. He lands on Earth, knowing he can’t be extradited by the Galactic Patrol unless he commits a crime against Earth. And when he does attempt a crime, it’s uncertain if it’s only a crime to his species or to humanity, leaving the Galactic Patrol in a conundrum.

Most of the characters within the story aren’t human, but they’re easy to relate to. I liked that Tenn provided part of the ending up front to set the story in place without giving away the entire plot.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, April 18th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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The July, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction (cover art by Mel Hunter) opens with a note from H. L. Gold, the editor. Several authors had shared with Gold how it felt to sell a story to Galaxy. But Gold, an author himself, writes, “Do you think anybody has to tell me how that feels?” He was looking for jobs by day and writing by night in the early 1930s when jobs were scarce, and his “manuscripts seemed to be opened by a machine that slipped them unread, along with a rejection slip, into the return envelope.”

As an author myself, I couldn’t help but laugh; how often it feels that way when submitting stories and getting a form reply (by email in more recent years). One day, after being laid off from a position as a busboy, he checked the mail and found that he had sold his first story. He writes, “Don’t kid yourself that writing is a substitute for work. It requires as hard an apprenticeship as any other profession.” And as a final encouragement, he adds, “Magazines don’t have automatic remailing or story-writing machines. I just thought you might be wondering.”

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Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, March 7th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction June 1954-small Galaxy Science Fiction June 1954-back-small

Cover by Emsh

The June, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction opens with a new serialized novel (Gladiator at Law) in addition to other fiction. The cover art by Ed Emshwiller is for the novel.

Gladiator at Law by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (Part 1) — Charles Mundin is a capable, dedicated lawyer who lacks a degree from the right school to rise in his career. An associate recommends Charles as a lawyer for Norma Lavin and her brother, Don. Their father was one of the owners of G-M-L Homes, the creators of the bubble houses used across the world. When their father died, the company had his stock impounded for years. After Don finally received the stock, he hid it, but the company hired people to arrest him and gave him 50 hours of conditioning — a technique typically used on criminals to reform them. Now, Don can’t speak as to the stock’s location.

Charles realizes that he was given the case because no one thought he could get anywhere with it. But as his investigation deepens, he realizes that he’s becoming a nuisance or possibly a minor threat to those who wish to retain control of G-M-L and all of the other businesses it controls.

Gladiator at Law has a good beginning that sets the stage for later installments. I’m looking forward to them. Pohl and Kornbluth worked together on multiple novels, including Gravy Planet (The Space Merchants), in Galaxy in 1953.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1954: A Retro-Review

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy May 1954-small Galaxy May 1954-back-small

The cover of the May, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction is by Ed Emshwiller, specifically for Theodore Sturgeon’s story “Granny Won’t Knit.” I’ve only noticed a few covers in these early issues that are illustrations of the fiction within. More often, Editor H.L. Gold seemed to prefer unrelated covers for his magazine.

“Granny Won’t Knit” by Theodore Sturgeon — Roan works for his father, who runs a transportation company. Their society has strict rules around proper dress — hiding the bodies and hands of men and women. Families are organized into strict patriarchal units. Though he’s an adult, Roan hasn’t earned the right to begin his own family and remains under the guidance of his overbearing father.

Seemingly by accident, Roan transports himself into the presence of a young woman who has bare arms and hands. She teases him a bit as he flounders to leave. But in the days to follow, he can’t get her out of his mind and is determined to find her again.

Roan also draws closer to his grandmother, who remembers a culture no one speaks of. And she’s not convinced that the current technology for transportation is the best, considering its limitations to the planet Earth. Her strange views are unsettling, yet Roan sees reason in her thoughts and allows that he may be limited in knowledge.

I think this story stands the test of time. There’s not much that glaringly sticks out to make it a 1950s science-fiction story — at least nothing that comes to mind. It works well.

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A Galaxy in its Scope: The Noumenon Series by Marina J. Lostetter

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Noumenon-small Noumenon Infinity-small

If you’ve been reading Black Gate for any length of time at all, you know I’m a fan of space opera. But space opera takes many forms, as demonstrated by Marina J. Lostetter’s tale of a generation ship manned by clones, Noumenon, the opening novel in an epic saga of exploration and adventure in deep space. Publishers Weekly called it “An ambitious and stunning debut… the lingering sense of wonder and discovery thoroughly justifies its title,” and it was selected as one of the Best Books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. Here’s a snippet from the starred review at Kirkus.

In Lostetter’s ambitious debut, the year is 2088, and humankind is finally ready to explore deep space, preparing to send convoys of clones on eons-long missions to investigate the outskirts of the galaxy.

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer is convinced that something funny is going on with a distant star; there seems to be something surrounding it and obstructing its light. When Straifer convinces the organization building interstellar convoys to send one of its 12 missions to the mysterious LQ Pyxidis, he and hundreds of other brilliant experts are chosen to have their genes replicated into generations of clones who will staff the ships… So far removed from their home planet, are the clones doomed to repeat the flaws written in their DNA, or will they prove that people really can change, even if it takes a few lifetimes to get there? This spectacular epic examines everything from the nature of civilizations and societies to the tension between nature and nurture. Lostetter expertly balances the thrill of discovery with the interpersonal consequences of an isolated community. The tools of speculative fiction are deployed with heart-rending attention to emotional reality in this enthralling odyssey… A striking adventure story that could hold a galaxy in its scope, this is an expedition that delves as deep into the human thirst for purpose as it does into the wonders of the universe.

Noumenon was published last year; the sequel Noumenon Infinity arrived from Harper Voyager in August, and the publisher discounted the digital version of the first to just $1.99. Now’s your chance to check out one of the best SF debuts of last year for under $2. Here’s a look at the back covers.

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Vintage Treasures: 5 Galaxy Short Novels, edited by H.L. Gold

Monday, September 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Edward Valigursky

I love novellas. They’re the perfect length for idling away those long fall evenings. I miss them in the online magazines I read today, virtually all of which have a submission cap somewhere around 10,000 words (the exception is Neil Clarke’s Clarkesworld, which recently began accepting stories up to 16,000 words. Way to go, Neil!)

It was Matthew Wuertz’s Saturday review of the April 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, including Fred Pohl’s classic “The Midas Plague,” that reminded me just how many great novellas appeared in those old print magazines. Matt’s piece made me want to read the story all over again. In fact, it made me wish there was an easy way to sample Galaxy’s  novellas. Galaxy editor H.L. Gold had an appetite for meaty SF epics, and his authors took ready advantage of that market. Gold showcased dozens of top-notch writers at novella length in the early days of the magazine, and it would be great to have easy access to those hard-to-find tales.

Yeah, that was dumb. As I was sorting paperbacks this morning it finally occurred to me that what I was wishing for already existed. Gold produced nearly a dozen mass market anthologies during his eleven years as Galaxy‘s editor, including six volumes of the Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction. He knew what his readers wanted, and he paid special attention to longer fiction, with Galaxy Science Fiction Omnibus (1955), The World That Couldn’t Be and 8 Other Novelets From Galaxy (1959), Bodyguard and Four Other Short Novels from Galaxy (1960), Mind Partner and 8 Other Novelets from Galaxy (1961), and especially 5 Galaxy Short Novels, which appeared in 1958.

5 Galaxy Short Novels reprints stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, James E. Gunn, J. T. McIntosh, and F. L. Wallace. Even today, it makes a great introduction to the magazine.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1954: A Retro-Review

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction April 1954-small Galaxy Science Fiction April 1954-back-small

The April, 1954 issue is one of the more remarkable issues of Galaxy Science Fiction, in my opinion. I’m amazed at the quality of the stories. There have been many good issues, of course, but this is one of those rare issues that jumps out at me. It’s like watching a beloved TV series where a few episodes really stand out. It’s the nature of art, I suppose. Every piece is its own and affects people differently; some may enjoy it, some may reject it, some may be confused, some may be enlightened. And the same artist might create multiple pieces that evoke different reactions from the same person. Rather than ramble on about my thoughts on art, I’ll return to the topic of this article and review the fiction.

“The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl — In Morey’s world, consuming is mandatory. Houses, clothes, and food must be purchased and used to meet quota. There must not be waste. Those at the high-end of society have low quotas and can live the high-life of one-room houses, perhaps without any cars. But those at the low-end of society struggle in consuming enormous mansions, luxury cars, and so much of material products and food that there aren’t enough hours to consume it all. Morey only works one day per week because the demands of consuming take the rest of his time. Robots have helped to create a world where there is an abundance of everything, forcing the quotas in order to avoid waste and support the massive production.

Morey’s wife Cherry comes from a well-off family who has very little to consume. She loves Morey, but it’s a difficult adjustment to his lower-class life of consuming so much. Morey tries to help her by consuming more, but they’re not making their quotas.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1954: A Retro-Review

Friday, June 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy March 1954-smallThe March, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction features a cover by Ed Emshwiller. I’m not certain how easy it is to see, but I like how he added EMSH to the symbols in the background.

“The Telenizer” by Don Thompson — Langston is a reporter who becomes a target of someone with a telenizer. The device, once honed to someone’s brain waves, can change a person’s perception of reality. One countermeasure is drunkenness, but Langston opts for a neutralizing device that he can carry in a briefcase.

Langston starts a story on himself, beginning with an investigation on Isaac Grogan. Langston did an expose series on Grogan years ago on bribery and corruption, which eventually led to the man’s arrest.  Now that Grogan is free, he has motive for revenge. But there could be more at play than the obvious.

I like the premise and some of the action sequences; the story has a good pace. I couldn’t find much information on Thompson, which made me think the name could be a pseudonym for another author, given that this is the longest story in the issue. But I’m not turning up anything.

Maybe someone else (e.g. Rich Horton) has more information.

“The Littlest People” by Raymond E. Banks — Space labor forces are shipped cheaply by placing people in stasis while being shrunk to just a few inches in size. John’s father is the personnel director on an asteroid and meets with Mr. Mott, who arrives with new people available for hire. As John wanders the ship, he finds one of the little people — a woman — lying on the floor.

He picks her up and means to tell Mr. Mott, but there’s a bit of chaos at that moment, and John pockets her. Later, his sister brings the tiny woman (whom she names Gleam) out of stasis by accidentally injuring her leg. So John begins caring for Gleam like a pet while she bemoans her uselessness because of her permanently injured leg.

This is a really intriguing tale by Banks, and aside from some physical violence, it’s a good coming-of-age story.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1954: A Retro-Review

Monday, April 30th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction February 1954-smallThe cover for the February, 1954 issue is titled “Spaceship Hydroponics Room” by Ed Emshwiller. We’re growing some hydroponic tomatoes at home, so the future is now!

“Beep” by James Blish — The Dirac communicator allows instantaneous communication between two devices, regardless of their distance. This gives an immense military advantage to those in the galaxy who possess it. But a shrewd reporter named Dana Lje uncovers something of much greater importance, hidden within a beep that precedes each message. And she sets her own terms for revealing her findings.

This story felt more like a science article expanded into a narrative, where characters are talking about the theoretical science. It didn’t feel much like a story to me. I found the science intriguing enough, but it makes me wonder if a concise article on the subject would have had the same effect.

“The Boys From Vespis” by Arthur Sellings — The Vespians arrive on Earth for their own purposes, and they’re all extremely attractive men. Herbert and other local guys can’t get any attention anymore because of the recent competition, and he’s had enough. He goes straight to the leader of the Vespians to demand that something be done.

It’s a pretty short tale, and it earned a light laugh from me toward the end. Arthur Sellings is a pseudonym for Arthur Gordon Ley, a British author and scientist. He had six novels and many short stories published. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at age 47 in 1968.

“Pet Farm” by Roger Dee — A three-man team explores the planet Falak — a small, arid planet that doesn’t rotate. Their job is to look for survivors from the war with the Hymenops — an insect race that attacked humans 200 years ago. The humans they find are all in their mid-twenties or younger and unable to communicate effectively in English. While there are a myriad of explanations for the absence of older humans, they hope to find the cause so that the planet can be recolonized in the future.

There’s a good, mysterious plot that unveils nicely. This story is part of his series that follows the crew of the Marco Four. I reviewed a previous story titled “Wailing Wall” that appeared in the July, 1952 issue.

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