Taking a break from award winners, several authors published their first novels in 1979. Some of these authors had previously published short stories and one notable one was active in radio and television and wound up winning several awards for work done in 1979 (Douglas Adams). Here is a look at some of the debut novels of 1979.
Perhaps the biggest splash for a debut novel in 1979 was Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although it was really a novelization and abridged version of his radio show of the same title, which had previously aired in 1978. The novel, of course, sparked a series of five novels by Adams, plus one more by Eoin Colfer, and adaptations for stage, television, screen, and upcoming, a streaming service. A satire on the tropes of science fiction, the absurdity of the situations and responses in the books hit a nerve with the public and have expanded beyond the genre, with people who haven’t read science fiction at least recognizing that the number 42 is a cultural touchstone.
Turtledove began publishing using the pseudonym “Eric G. Iverson” and has also published under the names “Mark Gordion,” “H.N. Turteltaub,” and “Dan Chernenko.” Known for his alternate history novels and epics, he has also published numerous science fiction and fantasy works. In 1994 his novella “Down in the Bottomlands” received the Hugo Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History twice, for his novels How Few Remain and Ruled Britannia. Two of the novels in his Young Adult Crosstime series have won awards. Gunpowder Empire won the 2004 Golden Duck Hal Clement Award given by SuperConDuckTivity and The Gladiator received the 2008 Prometheus Award. His novel WorldWar: In the Balance received the Italia Award in 1996. Turtledove served as Toast Master at Chicon 2000, the Worldcon. In 1995 he received the Forry Award from LASFS.
“Half the Battle” was published by Jerry Pournelle in 1990, in volume 9 of his There Will Be War anthology series, After Armageddon. The story has not been reprinted.
The story opens sometime after an apocalyptic event has destroyed civilization in southern California. A new society has arisen around several small kingdoms, with Turtledove looking at the king of Canoga. When a book is found that describes a machine that the ancients had that can spit bullets, a machine gun, King Byron has his artificers try to replicate the lost device to replace the slow matchlocks his troops are using. The fact that King Byron and his people knew the gun could exist gave them the edge in re-creating it.
The story uses several time jumps to explore where this future will go. In each period, King Byron’s descendants have managed to extend and consolidate the kingdom’s power and in each period, they come across other devices of the ancients that they work to replicate, because knowing it can be done is “half the battle.”