Galaxy v01n01, October 1950


Other Reviews:
Matthew Wuertz: Black Gate.
Lähettänyt Tpi Klo: Tpi’s Reading Diary

Time Quarry (Part 1 of 3) • serial by Clifford D. Simak ♥♥
Third from the Sun • short story by Richard Matheson ♥
The Stars Are the Styx • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon ♥♥♥♥
Later Than You Think • short story by Fritz Leiber ♥♥
Contagion • novelette by Katherine MacLean ♥♥
The Last Martian • short story by Fredric Brown ♥
Darwinian Pool Room • short story by Isaac Asimov ♥

The Hunting Asteroid scene of Time Quarry • cover by David Stone
Interior artwork • by David Stone, Paul Callé, Paul Pierre
For Adults Only • editorial by H. L. Gold
Flying Saucers: Friend, Foe or Fantasy? • essay by Willy Ley
Flying Saucer Contest
Galaxy’s Five Star Shelf • reviews by Groff Conklin
You’ll Never See It in Galaxy • essay by H. L. Gold

Galaxy is considered one of if not the major SF title of the 1950s, and it appeared about a year after The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction made its debut. Unlike F&SF it contained SF only, and also departed from pulp format and production in that it was a digest, a format that hadn’t yet caught on. Galaxy used slick cover stock, and offset printing for its interior.1
Surprisingly, given this emphasis on production values, the first issue has quite a poor cover by David Stone. It is a very flat muddy looking affair that, according to the editorial,2 was probably an overreaction to many previous embarrassing SF magazine covers. The interior artwork looks fairly run of the mill as well, but it is hard to tell as I was reading this issue from a not particularly good scan.

The fiction begins with Clifford Simak’s serial Time Quarry.3 In the first part of this serial alone we have androids, robots, duelling, a man from the future, a protagonist who returns from space in a ship that could not have physically made the journey—and who seems to have another person in his head—and an enigmatic and unapproachable alien race. The only thing missing here is the kitchen sink. To give it some credit it does move along but as it does this by continuously adding plot devices, I suspect the whole overburdened structure will come crashing down at some point.

The short fiction leads off with Richard Matheson’s Third From the Sun, whose title telegraphs the end of a story that tells of two families boarding a spacecraft to leave their planet for another. Surely this particular twist ending was old hat in the SF magazines by 1940 never mind 1950?

This type of gimmick or twist ending is also apparent in two of the three other short stories. Fritz Leiber’s Later Than You Think sets up a double twist in its conversation about a lost race that sounds very much like humanity, and Frederic Brown’s The Last Martian4 has a newspaper reporter checking out a story about a man claiming to be what the title suggests—and who has woken up in a human body. If I never read another ‘Silly Season’ journalist SF story it will be too soon.

The final short story isn’t really one: Isaac Asimov’s Darwinian Pool Room is a scientists’ conversation about Genesis/the creation of the universe, which stops at the end of their lunchtimes and, one suspects, at the beginning of the Good Doctor’s.

In amongst the fiction there is a short article by Willy Ley about flying saucers that categorises the different types of encounters, followed by a naff competition to provide an over-arching explanation for these phenomena. There are some major prizes though: all expenses paid trips to Mt Wilson observatory, marine laboratories, atomic energy centres, trips in helicopters, dirigibles, sky-writing planes and in submarines—the list goes on and on.5
While we are on the non-fiction, Horace Gold’s editorial is unremittingly dull: half the editorial is about the cover, the type of engraving used to produce it and the cover stock; and the rest is puff about the contents.
Galaxy’s Five Star Shelf is a book review column where Groff Conklin covers a trio of anthologies, a H. G. Wells omnibus and another couple of novels, including Judith Merril’s post-holocaust novel—viewed from a domestic perspective—Shadow on the Hearth, which sounds promising.

The first of the two novelettes is Katherine MacLean’s Contagion. This tells of a spaceship landing on an alien planet to discover a primitive human settlement where all the men, and women, are alike. The women on the ship are strongly attracted to the alien men, one of whom comes aboard the ship and infects the shipboard men with a ‘melting sickness’. Much unconvincing biological hocus-pocus later all is resolved. An OK read as long as you don’t think too much about what is going on.

The second novelette and final piece of fiction is the Sturgeon, and it is an issue saver. The Stars Are The Styx tells of the selection, training and dispatch of what are effectively starship pilots to go ‘Out’. Based on Curbstone, an Earth-orbit space station, it is narrated by the Senior Release Officer, who makes the final decision about who can go ‘Out’, and who is at the centre of the five-way relationship difficulties that are the story: most ships go ‘Out’ crewed by couples who get married as part of the process.
I found this story striking for several reasons other than its quality: first, it seems way ahead of its time; second, it feels like you can draw a straight line from this story to the early work of Zelazny and Varley; finally, Curbstone struck me as the progenitor of Fred Pohl’s Gateway.

To conclude, I felt that this issue was a very weak start to the magazine’s run. This opinion, however, is at odds with a couple of people who I have spoken to, and who insist Galaxy was a very big deal from the first issue.6  I don’t think the evidence in this first issue supports that but have a number of theories why this may have seemed so.
First, it was the first major magazine (except maybe F&SF) to appear in almost a decade.7
Second, the magazine’s appearance, and that of a well-paying second market apart from Astounding, probably looms larger in the minds of writers who were there at the time and who were tiring of Campbell (anecdotal evidence suggests that he was becoming increasingly dogmatic, and the appearance of the Dianetics article convinced some that he had finally lost the plot).8 Gold also paid significantly more than the competition, at least until they caught up, and his irritating editorial habits (as compared with Campbell’s) were not yet manifest.9
Third, there was the physical appearance of the magazine. With its expensive glossy cover stock and interior paper I suspect it must have looked like the future to readers of pulp magazines.
Finally, it subsequently produced so much major fiction between 1951 and 1953 (and beyond) that this has probably been conflated with the magazine’s first issue (or as we shall perhaps see, issues).

It will be interesting to see how future numbers measure up.

  1. The quality of the design and production was important to Gold and to the art directors.
    “I asked for (…) really good quality paper and printing, CromeKote covers…” Horace Gold, Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction, ed. Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander p.5
    “During the first dozen years of its existence, Galaxy was expensively printed by offset on high-quality paper. The combination made much possible: soft shades of gray. Halftones. Type laid over the art, art integrated with the text. Galaxy’s two principal art directors, W. I. Van der Poel and Sam Ruvidich, understood the possibilities and exploited them well—beautifully, in fact. Frederik Pohl, ibid. p.xii
    “We borrowed Harry and Evelyn Harrison’s apartment, spread all these layouts over the walls, invited a bunch of editors, artists, writers, and fans, and had a secret ballot of which title, layout, and lettering they liked best. (We must have invited a couple of hundred people who trudged through the apartment before they voted. They all agreed that Galaxy and the inverted-L layout were their own personal favourites, but they didn’t think anyone else would like them.” Horace Gold, ibid. p.6
  2. “The cover, by David Stone, is the resolution of several personal conflicts. Long a science fiction fan, Stone is also an excellent artist who was weary of tearing covers off magazines to avoid embarrassment. His cover, he resolved, would not have to be hidden from either parents or friends. Having suffered thus ourselves, we agreed, and no reader will be ashamed to carry Galaxy.”  Horace Gold in his Editorial, p.2
  3. From the Forecast on p.107: “Time Quarry will be published next year by Simon & Schuster in exactly the same form in which it appears in Galaxy, with minor editing differences. Our policy will continue to be to publish all book-length novels complete.” How strange, given Gold’s widespread meddling with material submitted to him, that he left the novel length work largely unscathed. In any event, the book form of the novel, Time and Again, had a plot point in the final chapter that was different from the serial.
  4. The Brown and the MacLean stories were selected for the Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1951. The Sturgeon story wasn’t, nor did it appear in a later ‘Best Of the Year’ from Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, The Great SF Stories 12.
  5. “In that first issue, he [Willy Ley] was fielding a contest that had been imposed on me—something like “Are Flying Saucers Real?” He wrote a noncommittal article. I cut it down drastically before I printed it. He couldn’t understand why I had done that after paying him for all of it, but I wanted as little as possible to do with flying saucers.” Horace Gold, Ibid. p.7
  6. Although Mike Ashley in Transformations, p.29, states: “Galaxy‘s first major story was The Fireman by Ray Bradbury (…) in the February 1951 issue.”
  7. “[The appearance of a new magazine] was an uncommon event in those days. New science-fiction magazines were rarer than quintuplets—there had been only one significant other in the better part of a decade—so the first appearance of Galaxy prompted both hope and doubt.” Frederik Pohl, Ibid. p.ix
  8. “All this could have not happened at a better time, for in 1950 Campbell began to push the pseudoscience of “dianetics.” I disapproved of that so strongly that I wished to distance myself from Campbell. I did not stop selling to him, but welcomed the chance to sell to others.” Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov, Chapter 62. He also adds that Darwinian Pool Room was “a very weak effort.”
  9. For chapter and verse on how infuriating an editor Gold could be, see the writer introductions to the stories in Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction, ed. Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander

4 thoughts on “Galaxy v01n01, October 1950

  1. Pingla

    “First, apart from F&SF, it was the first magazine to appear in almost a decade.”

    That’s not correct.
    Ray Palmer launched Other Worlds in late 1949 and Imagination a month or so before the first issue of Galaxy.
    Science-Fantasy was launched in 1950.
    Marvel Science Stories was revived in 1950.
    And then there were reprint magazines like Fantastic Story Quarterly.
    In short there was at the time, and right before, the launch of Galaxy.

    1. Post author

      Thanks for the correction. I may have badly paraphrased what I thought was related to me in a discussion group I’m part of, but the error is mine: I should have checked. I’ve changed the text to state it was the first ‘major’ magazine to appear in more than a decade–Unknown, New Worlds was a slow burn 🙂


Leave a Reply