THE LOOK OF THE FUTURE - GALAXY NOVELS

Eric Frank Russell, Sinister Barrier, Galaxy Novel #1

Eric Frank Russell, Sinister Barrier, Galaxy Novel #1

Cover by David Stone

Issued 1950; first publication Unknown, March 1939

Jack Williamson, The Legion of Space, Galaxy Novel #2

Jack Williamson, The Legion of Space, Galaxy Novel #2

Cover by Paul Callé

Issued 1950; first publication Astounding Stories, April-Sept. 1934

Arthur C. Clarke, Prelude to Space, Galaxy Novel #3

Arthur C. Clarke, Prelude to Space, Galaxy Novel #3

Cover by Bunch

Issued 1951; first publication anywhere

S. Fowler Wright, The Amphibians, Galaxy Novel #4

S. Fowler Wright, The Amphibians, Galaxy Novel #4

Cover by Paul Callé

Issued 1951, first publication Merton Press, 1925

S. Fowler Wright, The World Below, Galaxy Novel #5

S. Fowler Wright, The World Below, Galaxy Novel #5

Cover by Paul Callé

Issued 1951; first publication Collins, 1929

Raymond F. Jones, The Alien, Galaxy Novel #6

Raymond F. Jones, The Alien, Galaxy Novel #6

Cover is not credited

Issued 1951; first publication anywhere

Clifford F. Simak, Empire, Galaxy Novel #7

Clifford F. Simak, Empire, Galaxy Novel #7

Cover is not credited

Issued 1951; first publication anywhere

Olaf Stapledon, Odd John, Galaxy Novel #8

Olaf Stapledon, Odd John, Galaxy Novel #8

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1951/1952?; first publication Methuen 1935

William F. Temple, Four Sided Triangle, Galaxy Novel #9

William F. Temple, Four Sided Triangle, Galaxy Novel #9

Cover by Samson Pollen

Issued 1952; first publication John Long, 1949

Jay Franklin, Rat Race, Galaxy Novel #10

Jay Franklin, The Rat Race, Galaxy Novel #10

Cover by Richard Powers

Issued 1952; first publication Collier's Weekly, March 9-April 7, 1947; FPCI, 1950

Wilson Tucker, The City in the Sea, Galaxy Novel #11

Wilson Tucker, The City in the Sea, Galaxy Novel #11

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1952, first publication Rinehart, 1951

Sam Merwin, Jr., The House of Many Worlds, Galaxy Novel #12

Sam Merwin, Jr., The House of Many Worlds, Galaxy Novel #12

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1952; first publication Doubleday, 1951

John Taine, Seeds of Life, Galaxy Novel #13

John Taine, Seeds of Life, Galaxy Novel #13

Cover is not credited

Issued 1953; first publication Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1931; Fantasy Press, 1951

Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky, Galaxy Novel #14

Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky, Galaxy Novel #14

Cover by Richard Powers

Issued 1953; first publication Doubleday 1950

J. Leslie Mitchell, Three Go Back, Galaxy Novel #15

J. Leslie Mitchell, Three Go Back, Galaxy Novel #15

Cover by Richard Powers

Issued 1953; first publication Bobbs-Merrill, 1932

James Blish, The Warriors of Day, Galaxy Novel #16

James Blish, The Warriors of Day, Galaxy Novel #16

Cover by Paul Callé

Issued 1953; first publication Two Complete Science-Adventure Books, Summer 1951 as "Sword of Xota".

Lewis Padgett, Well of the Worlds, Galaxy Novel #17

Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore), Well of the Worlds, Galaxy Novel #17

Cover by Rupert Conrad

Issued 1953; first publication Startling Stories, March 1952

Edmond Hamilton, City at World's End, Galaxy Novel #18

Edmond Hamilton, City at World's End, Galaxy Novel #18

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1953; first publication Startling Stories, July 1950;

Frederick Fell, 1951

James Blish, Jack of Eagles, Galaxy Novel #19

James Blish, Jack of Eagles, Galaxy Novel #19

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1953; first publication Greenberg, 1952

Murray Leinster, The Black Galaxy, Galaxy Novel #20

Murray Leinster, The Black Galaxy, Galaxy Novel #20

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1954; first publication Startling Stories, March 1949

Jack Williamson, The Humanoids, Galaxy Novel #21

Jack Williamson, The Humanoids, Galaxy Novel #21

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1954; first publication Astounding Science Fiction, March-May 1948; Simon & Schuster, 1949

Sam Merwin, Jr., Killer to Come, Galaxy Novel #22

Sam Merwin, Jr., Killer to Come, Galaxy Novel #22

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1954; first publication by Abelard Press, 1953

David V. Reed, Murder in Space, Galaxy Novel #23

David V. Reed, Murder in Space, Galaxy Novel #23

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1954; first publication Amazing Stories, May 1944

L. Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall, Galaxy Novel #24

L. Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall, Galaxy Novel #24

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1955. First publication Unknown, December 1939;

Henry Holt, 1941

Murray Leinster, The Last Spaceship, Galaxy Novel #25

Murray Leinster, The Last Spaceship, Galaxy Novel #25

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1955; first publication Frederick Fell, 1949

Lewis Padgett, Chessboard Planet, Galaxy Novel #26

Lewis Padgett, Chessboard Planet, Galaxy Novel #26

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1956; first publication Astounding Science Fiction, January-February 1946 as "The Fairy Chessmen," Gnome Press, 1951 as Tomorrow and Tomorrow/The Fairy Chessmen

Malcolm Jameson, Tarnished Utopia, Galaxy Novel #27

Malcolm Jameson, Tarnished Utopia, Galaxy Novel #27

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1956; first publication Startling Stories, March 1942

Fritz Leiber, Destiny Times Three, Galaxy Novel #28

You've all heard the story. Robert Fair Graff invented the paperback in 1939 when he started Pocket Books - which was a complete imitation of Allen Lane's English innovation of Penguin Books in 1935. Lane's was a brilliantly original idea of color-coding the covers according to genre type and putting the cover text over a large banner of the penguin logo - stolen to the last detail from Albatross Books, a pan-European operation started in 1932. Albatross itself created a new and influential look - by blatantly lifting the text-in-box look of the 1920s' redesign of the German Tauchnitz Editions. Tauchniz had been producing paperbacks since 1837; they lasted by spotting new trends. After Albatross began beating them at their own game they eventually saw the light and copied Albatross more slavishly than Penguin.

Penquin Books, 1935
Albatross Books 1, 1932
Tauchniz Edition, 1929
Tauchnitz Edition, 1949

All of these were so-called pocket-sized, although the original Tauchnitz were a hair shorter and wider than the others. Pocket Books set the U.S. standard at 6.5"x4.2" and so modern readers, who would think in terms of a shirt pocket, might think it misnamed. In the 1930s, every literate male other than a few in the poorest class wore suits seven days a week. Pocket Books (and pocket books) fit in a suit pocket, or a purse. They were liberatingly small and light, like a smartphone, and so were the most portable of media devices. Not for nothing are they now called mass-market paperbacks. Their low price, set at a quarter, was so distinctive that Pocket Books stopped printing the price on their covers. Everybody knew what a pocket-sized paperback cost no matter which of the hundreds of imitating companies issued one. Compete on price? Impossible. Pocket only made a penny profit on each book: how could anyone go lower? (The author and publisher of the original hardback split their penny. A million-selling paperback made an author $5000. Nobody got rich off paperbacks, not even Pocket.)

 

Paperbacks, Pocket Books, pocket books, and pocked-sized books are not synonymous, although in popular usage they were nearly so for a while. (Pocket sold 100,000,000 books in its first 6 years. Way before McDonald's it used these eye-popping numbers as advertising, with the copy number literally being stamped on the front during printing. You might buy copy number 153,449,843, a unique objet d’art even though another million people owned the book with that title.) Paperback books of varying sizes had been released in the tens of millions since the introduction of high-speed presses in the mid-1850s, simply because a book with a paper cover was cheaper to produce, and therefore could be sold for less. The so-called dime novels were all paperback (7.1"x4.7" with many exceptions), and those were the successor to the earlier paperback nickel (or half-dime) novels. Street and Smith, the publisher that would eventually put out Astounding Science Fiction, did a series of science fiction novels in the early 1900's, reprinting magazine serials by William Wallace Cook. These should be considered the first modern American science fiction novels, all in paperback and around 6.7"x4.6" in size. The New Fiction Library lasted from 1908-1913 and sold for fifteen cents. Their Adventure Library reprinted them in the early Depression years, at the same price.

William Wallace Cook, A Round Trip to the Year 2000, New Fiction Library 4
William Wallace Cook, Marooned in 1492, New Fiction Library 9
William Wallace Cook, Adrift in the Unknown, Adventure Library 15

By the 1930s, the hunger in Depression America for cheaper books ate at the brains of publishers. One solution especially appealed: the digest size. The term digest size comes from its most famous example, The Reader's Digest. Started in February 1922 as a pamphlet of only 64 pages containing nothing but shortened reprints of other magazines' articles, the Digest found an enduring niche in readership. It soon became the most read magazine in America and maybe the world. The principle inspired dozens of imitators, most of whom also copied its size of 7.5"x5.5" although individual variations of up a half-inch can be found.

The Reader's Digest, first issue, February 1922

Printing a novel in digest size with paper covers made sense. Like trade paperbacks today, digest novels handle and read like regular books. They seem familiar. They have a certain cachet. They were perfect for novels, that is, regular mainstream novels rather than works of genre. Charles Boni saw the potential as early as 1929; he even called them Charles Boni Paper Books. They were sturdy, well-crafted, and deliberately beautiful. Rockwell Kent did every cover along with a set of endpapers. Boni sold the books through a membership club; for $5.00 you'd get to buy a book a month for 50 cents. (Nonmembers could purchase them for 75 cents.) The Depression intervened. He dropped the club and sold the books, now labeled Bonibooks, through bookstores for a flat 50 cents, half what a cheap hardcover reprint cost.

Thorton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Charles Boni Paper Books
James Branch Cabell, The High Place, Bonibooks

The first successful - lasting - paperback line of the era was also digest sized and also preceded Pocket Books. The American Mercury holds legendary status as a magazine, having been founded and edited by H. L. Mencken. Subsumed in that legend is the reality that Mencken left in 1933. By 1936, the once mighty magazine was itself a digest, with Paul Palmer its editor and Lawrence Spivak its business manager. They already had the presses and a distribution network; adding a line of novels must have been irresistible. They learned from Boni's mistakes. The covers were thinner cardboard, the covers sported type with no illustrations, endpapers were missing, the price was reduced to a sensible 25 cents. Although the first book to appear, in January 1937, was James L. Cain's noir classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice, most of the books in the early years were mainstream novels. They soon saw the light. By the beginning of 1941, release #35 forthrightly changed the name on the spine to Mercury Mysteries. A few months later, Bestseller Library, their companion line, became Bestseller Mystery. In 1942 their third line became Jonathan Press Mystery with #3. Why they needed three separate lines is no long apparent; each published more or less the same list of writers. A close eye might notice that Bestseller covers featured type in a box, Mercury had a pencil drawing inside a postage stamp, and Jonathan Press used a larger drawing in a room-like box. George Salter, the company art director, provided all those hundreds of covers. Their biggest seller was Ellery Queen and not coincidentally Lawrence Spivak, now the company head, became publisher of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1941. In 1949 he followed that with the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which changed its name from The Magazine of Fantasy with issue #2, and got a far more attractive cover by, of course, George Salter.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile, Mercury Mystery
Edgar Wallace, The Crimson Circle, Bestseller Mystery
Ellery Queen, The French Powder Mystery, Jonathan Press Mystery

Hillman Periodicals saw Spivak's blazed trail and followed closely behind. In 1938 they started an almost identical digest series called Mystery Novel of the Month. That turned into Mystery Novel Classic and spawned Adventure Novel Classic, Detective Novel Classic, Thriller Novel Classic, and Western Novel Classic. Weirdly, they branded the series by making the rear covers instantly identifiable. Why they wasted all that useful blurb space with meaningless text is a classic mystery.

Mystery Novel of the Month rear cover
John Buchan, The Blanket of the Dark, Adventure Novel Classic
John Buchan, The Blanket of the Dark, Adventure Novel Classic rear cover

Not so mysterious are the type of books they reprinted. Mysteries of every variety and description owned the paperback market of the 1940s. Adventure and westerns were strong niches. Romance played almost no part in the digest market. The lines that sounded like romance - Cameo Books, Love Book Monthly, Romantic Novels - were non-explicit soft-core porn of a type now lumped together as "sleaze" paperbacks. Almost all the publishers of sleaze, both mass-market and digest sized, started in the slightly freer post-war era. Nearly half of all digest releases through the 1950s were sleaze, although many were in fact the same book sold with different numbers or different titles by the same publisher, which might also do this under another imprint.

 

Science fiction and fantasy novels did not have a single home to call their own. Finding any title at all from the field was a matter of luck and a good memory. Avon did publish eight classic fantasies by A. Merritt, but did so in its Murder of the Month/Murder Mystery Monthly line. In 1947, Avon had Donald A. Wollheim edit a line of Fantasy Readers, but they were collections of short stories, reprint magazines in all but name. Gary Lovisi (so huge a name in paperback history that he hosts the Annual NYC Pulp Fiction and Paperback Expo) believes that the first modern science fiction story to appear in paperback was Rebirth by Thomas Calvert McClary, a reprint of a 1934 Astounding serial, issued by Bart House in 1944. The publisher made sure to give it a comic contemporary cover so no one could possibly have picked it up thinking it to be old-fashioned scientifiction. Two years later Century Books started a short-lived digest-sized Century Adventures line which included Harold Sherman's The Green Man, an utterly obscure book remembered only because it was the first sf PBO or paperback original. IOW, it wasn't a reprint; it was a brand new novel never printed anywhere else. (According to Lovisi. It also appeared in the October 1946 Amazing Stories, but that could have postdated the paperback release. One day counts when a "true first" is at stake. If The Green Man doesn't qualify then Time Trap by Rog Philips in 1947 would be first.) Thrilling as the idea of paperback originals must have seemed at the time, at least to writers who had the dream of an entirely new and unlimited market dangled before them, Century switched to mass-market size with their succeeding books. The Green Man epitomized failure on all levels.

A. Merritt, Seven Footprints to Satan, Avon Muder of the Month
Harold Sherman, The Green Man, Century Adventure
Avon Fantasy Reader #1

With this backdrop, the notion to launch a digest-sized publishing line devoted entirely to science fiction novels seems somewhere between courageous and foolhardy. Perhaps it was. But this was 1950 and culture changes rapidly; the past is not as continuous as memory makes it. By 1950 science fiction (including fantasy) was the fastest-rising segment of literature. A dozen small presses appeared to gather the stories half-forgotten in old magazines and and sell them alongside brand new work in hardcovers to an Nuclear Age public primed to admit rockets and atomic bombs into everyday discourse. Even the mainstream might dip a toe into the field if it smelled of headlines rather than pulp paper. In 1946 Crown rushed into print an atomic war novel, The Murder of the U.S.A., written by Murray Leinster under his real name of Will F. Jenkins. Handi-Book, an oddball firm whose paperback size was halfway between a mass-market and a digest, reprinted it as a Handi-Book Mystery. Hardbacks were legit; they could be sold in bookstores, purchased by libraries, reviewed by mainstream newspapers and magazines just like any other novel. Mainstream magazines took notice. Readers of the Saturday Evening Post could find Robert Heinlein writing about settling the moon as early as 1947. Ray Bradbury scaled the walls at Mademoiselle and Harper's.

 

A hugely disproportionate percentage of the output in the small presses was lifted (sometimes expanded or with new sections added) from the pages of just two magazines, Astounding Science Fiction and Unknown Worlds, both edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell dominated the field in the 1940s, finding and cultivating authors, feeding them ideas, demanding their best and then paying extra for those works. Every writer wanted to appear in a Campbell magazine; those who did not felt second-rate. Campbell was an outsized personality in a small incestuous group of raging egoists. Eccentric, idiocentric, monomaniacal, and eternally sure of his absolute rightness on every subject for which he had an opinion, he would by the end of the 1950s drive Astounding off a cliff of madness demanding that his writers hew to his dwindling number of crochets and pet projects.

 

The new and wildly expanding science fiction field of the 1950s never could fall under one man's dominance, but many particularly wanted to ensure that different styles employed by more literary writers on more contemporary subjects got their fair chance to appeal to this newer, hipper, more diverse, more mainstream audience. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (always F&SF to its readers) tried to tear down any walls between fantasy and science fiction, with short, well-told, and seldom cosmic stories about people with personalities. Like an indie rock group, it soon developed a cult following of writers often found nowhere else.

 

Also in 1950, H. L. (Horace) Gold launched a more direct assault on Campbell. He wanted Campbell's writers and Campbell's audience and got them by offering them freedom to soar, writing to their visions instead of his. And more. As Algis Budrys, who worked for Gold, put it, "What Galaxy offered was not any one thing ostensibly, but what appeared to be a gestalt of factors: decent pay, halfway decent physical presentation, and blurbs describing them as literarily potent ('For Adults Only,' said the headline over Galaxy's first editorial). It offered them dignity."

Galaxy Science Fiction, first issue, October 1950, cover by David Stone
Galaxy Science Fiction, first issue, October 1950, rear cover

Galaxy was an instant success. In its first few years it published Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, Clifford Simak's "Time Quarry" (which became Time and Again), Fritz Leiber's "Coming Attraction" and The Big Time, Isaac Asimov's "Tyrann" (The Stars Like Dust) and The Caves of Steel, Ray Bradbury's The Fireman (Fahrenheit 451), Cyril Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons," Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, Theodore Sturgeon's "Baby Is Three," (More Than Human), Frederik Pohl's "The Midas Plague," and Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon," titles which defined 1950s science fiction. (Four of them are part of the Library of America's volume on American Science Fiction of the 1950s. All other magazines had a combined total of two entries. Hardback originals had three.)

 

Doing a companion reprint novel series was part of Gold's original plan. The first issues of Galaxy magazine were cover-dated October, November, and December 1950. The first Galaxy Science Fiction Novel was released in October 1950 and a second went out before year's end. The magazine exceeded everyone's expectations; it soon was selling 100,000 copies per issue, more than Astounding. The novel series sold far fewer and stopped meeting its bimonthly schedule after 1951. It became an "and also," then a footnote, then almost completely forgotten.

 

In retrospect, the reason seems clear. Galaxy printed the newest of the new, a metaphorical path to new worlds that captured the dueling optimism and paranoia of the post-war era in acid-washed tones. The novels, in stark contrast, gained a reputation for reprinting Campbell-era or older nostalgia. The first Galaxy Novel was Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier, a 1939 work that had appeared in the first issue of Campbell's Unknown, although it had been updated and expanded for novel publication in 1948. The second was an even-older superscience potboiler, Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time, serialized in Astounding in the pre-Campbell era of 1934.

 

These perhaps could be written off to the usual start-up uncertainties, similar to the first issue of F&SF, which was full of creaky old reprint stories. That magazine turned itself around with a brilliant second issue, and the first Galaxy Novel of 1951 seemed to be an equally landmark turning point. Gold printed his first original novel, Arthur C. Clarke's Prelude to Space. Collectors always want the "true first" edition of a work, i.e. the earliest-dated printing in book form. Here it is; more flabbergastingly, it is the first printing of the first novel of Clarke's ever to see print. It may be the most successful PBO of its time; hardback publishers jumped to reprint it - England's Sidgwick & Jackson in 1953 and America's Gnome Press in 1954 - and another paperback edition - from Ballantine, then the most prestigious mainstream publisher of science fiction mass-market paperbacks - spread the book across the newsstands and drug stores of America in 1954. Groff Conklin reviewed it for Galaxy magazine, highly unusual for a paperback original.

 

If this coup had brought another flock of new writers to Gold's stable the history of science fiction might be written differently. Instead this was a one-time piece of luck. Clarke had written Prelude to Space in 1947 - everybody in the field rejected it. Gold could afford to take others' leavings for his secondary market; dumping the title there wouldn't hurt the magazine's reputation. That Prelude is now thought of as a lesser Clarke book didn't matter then: reviews were rapturous. Gold's problem was that he couldn't build on this fluke. Clarke never became a regular Galaxy writer, the reviews mostly appeared after the hardback edition, and the next Galaxy Novels destroyed any momentum the Clarke book might have created.

 

The fourth and fifth Galaxy novels were The Amphibians and its sequel The World Below, musty futures by S. Fowler Wright, dredged up from the 1920s. Two more original novels finished out 1951, The Alien by Raymond F. Jones and Empire by Clifford D. Simak. It says everything that sources call Empire Simak's least-known book. Unlike Clarke's book, Empire had zero aftermath. No mainstream publisher touched it, not then, not ever, not in hardback or paperback. No English-language reprint edition appeared until 2010 when Bottom of the Hill Publishing put it out in trade paperback. No contemporary reviewer bothered to mention it either. Jones’ novel vanished almost as thoroughly. Two obscure mass market paperback editions appeared in its next 50 years. It's as if Galaxy Novels were disappearing into a void, read by no one, not even the readers of Galaxy.

 

Perhaps Gold finally got the message. Starting in 1952 the titles, with a few exceptions, brought the series up to date, mostly reprinting relatively recent works. In a sign of how quickly the field was changing, many of them came straight from hardback without ever having a first incarnation in a magazine. (One exception was The Rat Race, essentially a Thorne Smith-like fantasy that had first appeared in the mainstream Collier's magazine. Mysteriously, the title was shortened to Rat Race on the cover, although not inside.) Nonetheless, the titles maintained their invisibility. Killer to Come by Sam Merwin Jr., a writer with a long history, former editor of Startling Stories (the original home of many of the titles in the Galaxy Novel series), and a name with the cachet to be published by mainstream presses, managed the seemingly impossible feat of never having another English-language edition.

 

Killer to Come appeared in 1954. By then Ballantine and Ace had started major science fiction mass-market paperback lines and undoubtedly overwhelmed Galaxy Novels in sheer numbers. We have data for Dell paperbacks for that period; its press runs ranged from 150,000 to 350,000. The better selling titles might be reprinted or reissued with a new number. The few modern science fiction titles they published were in the middle: Simak's First He Died (Time and Again), 230,000 in 1953; A. E. van Vogt's Slan, 254,000 in 1953; Cyril Judd's Outpost Mars, 254,000 in 1954; Wilson Tucker's The Long Loud Silence, 256,000 in 1954. Gold couldn't possibly have matched that. Digest novels were by their very nature limited in distribution compared to the tens of thousands of possible outlets for mass market paperbacks. Enough money came in to continue the series, but we don't know if it was profitable on its own or served as an advertising loss leader for the magazine, which it pushed relentlessly. Gold paid a flat fee of $500 for reprints according to Mike Ashley, historian of the science fiction magazine. (Nobody seems to have data on the press runs of any individual title, although Clarke is known to have boasted in 1950 of an offer of $750 for Prelude to Space, expecting a first printing of 150,000. Gold, however, says he got it for $500 after everybody else turned it down. I don't know how to reconcile the two accounts.) Presumably Gold would have expected a return of one cent per copy, just like any other paperback, even after he raised the price to 35 cents with the fifth title. That requires a sell-through of 50,000 to break even, and considerably more to cover all the other expenses.

 

One other factor might have limited sales. The covers deliberately repudiated any pulp antecessors. Remember Gold's declaration that the magazine was "For Adults Only?" The covers of both Galaxy and the Galaxy Novels were as well. An adult could display them without being thought one of the cretins who reveled in tales of superscience. The back cover of Prelude to Space made this explicit.

Arthur C. Clarke, Prelude to Space, Galaxy Novel #3 rear cover

Champion Kromekote! Has any other science fiction magazine ever extolled its cover stock before mentioning its writers? As invoking the already famous name of Chesley Bonestell indicated, early Galaxy covers would run to tasteful astronomicals and evocative abstracts. David Stone did the cover on the first issue, October 1950; Bonestell did the cover for February 1951 (one of only two and completely inappropriate for the Bradbury story mentioned on it); and Don Sibley did the human-scale-dwarfing cover for March 1951.

Galaxy, October 1950, cover by David Stone
Galaxy, February 1951, cover by Chesley Bonestell
Galaxy, March 1951, cover by Don Sibley

Can you tell a book by its cover? Yes, of course you can and nowhere more than in the paperback world. They were priced and sized to be impulse purchases, plucked off a rack like candy at the modern supermarket checkout. Authors mattered, mattered greatly. Genre mattered to an equal degree. Mystery readers always wanted the next mystery, not a western or romance or fantasy. Covers instantly evolved tells: a gun signified a mystery, a horse a western, a couple a romance. Science fiction paperback covers ... didn't exist. Gold had it in his power to define the tell, the at-a-glance image that bespoke science fiction, something more than space and spaceships. He failed utterly.

Eric Frank Russell, Sinister Barrier, Galaxy Novel #1, cover by David Stone
Jack Williamson, The Legion of Space, Galaxy Novel #2, cover by Paul Callé
S. Fowler Wright, The Amphibians, Galaxy Novel #4, cover by Paul Callé

Sinister Barrier debuted the line with a seemingly Steinbeckian ode to the downtrodden, even though it was by the same David Stone whose first cover for Galaxy was a perfectly fine astronomical. The Legion Of Space, despite the name, is apparently a jungle adventure as illustrated by Paul Callé. The Amphibians cover, also by Paul Callé, is another adventure tale, possibly set in the Grand Canyon. That was Galaxy Novel #4. (I skipped #3 because it was Clarke's Prelude to Space and that inevitably had an astronomical cover.) Gold's intent was the opposite of fraud: he didn't want to deceive the buyer about the purchase: the term "science fiction" was on every cover. Rather he wanted the book to sell itself. Books rarely do, and they did not here.

 

The look changed subtly over time. More and more of the covers used images that were recognizably alien, other, distant. Women started to take their place - their paperback place, which meant showing flesh or looking imperiled. Men began to carry guns or swords or space blasters.

 

Nothing worked. To save money, Gold limited their length to 128 pages, down from the earlier standard of 160. (This saved two 16-page signatures, or two large folded sheets, cutting paper costs by 20%.) Budrys even reduced the text of Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky. The physical size had already been reduced twice, from 7.6"x5.4" to 7.3"x5.5" with #6 and to 7.2"x5.4" with #11.)  Galaxy the magazine went from monthly publication to bimonthly at the end of 1958, with Gold filling in the alternating months by editing If, which his publisher, Robert Guinn, had just purchased from its foundering owner. Magazine science fiction had oversaturated the small market; Lester del Rey counts 36 titles in 1953. A half dozen survived in 1960.

 

Digest-sized novels were equally dead. Most of the few holdouts disappeared in 1957, probably tied to the demise of the nation's largest magazine distributor in June. Bestseller and Jonathan Press staggered on, published one title each in 1958, and gave up. The gimmicky size would be resurrected occasionally but the digest era was over. Gold (or Guinn) also realized in 1957 the futility of bucking the mass market tide. Galaxy Novels #32-35 appeared as standard mass-market paperbacks with science-fictiony covers by Wallace Wood. Nobody paid attention, apparently not even whoever was handling the line by then. The author of Twice in Time, #34 , was, incredibly, misspelled on the cover: Manley instead of Manly Wade Wellman.

 

That was the end, if not several steps beyond. Many sources stop their listings of Galaxy Novels at #35. Yet I own eleven more books, all of which say Galaxy Science Fiction Novel or A Galaxy Prize Selection on their covers or spines as well as inside. The numbering is continued as well, when someone remembered. What happened is simple and yet utterly inexplicable.

 

The simple part is that Guinn sold the line to a thriving mass-market publisher. The inexplicable part is that the publisher was Beacon Books, which published only one genre: sleaze. Beacon was the descendant of - what else - several lines of digest novels including Intimate, Fiesta, Stallion, and Uni, all published by the Universal Publishing and Distributing Corporation, which I admit sounds like it should have been putting out science fiction all along. UPD read the market right earlier than most. It dropped the digests in 1954 to start Beacon Books. The first title, numbered B101, had the title She Got What She Wanted and trumpeted "She had only ONE thing to Sell" across the top of the cover. That wasn't a tell, but more of a scream. Orrie Hitt, which sounds like a pseudonym but wasn't, would go on to have his name on 79 more books for Beacon, another piece of evidence that porn is an infinite market. Beacon is best known for having published the early Charles Willeford novels, which fetch large prices as collectibles, and for rejecting his manuscripts to make him add more sleaze. It also managed to misspell his name on a cover (B130 as Charles Williford). By 1959, when the Galaxy Novels started appearing, five years of experience must have taught buyers - not to mention distributors and sellers - that Beacon was good for one thing and one thing only. The books before and after the first Galaxy Novel were B235, Lita, by Fred Malloy and B237, The Needle by Sloane Britain, both adding the thrill of drugs to sex. Collectors are probably the only people ever to notice that of the 1000 books Beacon released from 1954 through 1966, the Galaxy Novels were - with one exception - the only ones not to have a prefatory B with the number. Collectors are probably also the only ones who care that the Beacon paperbacks were 3/4 inch taller than the Galaxy mass-market paperbacks.

Orrie Hitt, She Got What She Wanted, Beacon B-101, 1954
Fred Malloy, Lita, Beacon B-235, 1959
Sloane Britain, The Needle, Beacon B-237, 1959

(The one, extremely odd, exception to the B rule: #249, which was published in the Galaxy Novel place of every seven numbers but was the mainstream 31 Short Short Stories from Collier's. Manifestly not sleaze, though, and published with an all-text cover. It apparently came from Robert Guinn, Galaxy's publisher, and even accidentally carried the Galaxy name on the copyright page. This curiosity allows me to bring up an earlier anthology, 25 Short Short Stories from Collier's, which appeared in 1953 from the Barmaray Company, a thoroughly obscure firm of Guinn's otherwise credited only with the first issue of Worlds of Tomorrow in 1963, a companion to Galaxy. Inside the cover is an ad for Beyond Fantasy Fiction, the short-lived fantasy companion to Galaxy. None of the stories are listed on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) but "X the Unknown," by Edwin P. Hicks, is a story about medicine extending life, with a protagonist still alive in 3051. The spaceship cover and interior illustrations, also not credited on ISFDB, are by famed genre artist Ed Emshwiller, who did many Galaxy Novels. One of the most invisible associational titles ever.)

31 Short Short Stories from Collier's, Beacon Books 249
25 Short Short Stories from Collier's, Barmaray Company 1953

Science fiction in the 1950s was so clean you could eat a food pill off of it, despite a few stories by the likes of Theodore Sturgeon and Philip José Farmer. Fortunately for Beacon, sleaze books didn't require actual depictions of sex, which were forbidden, but sexual situations of a seamy nature that could be taken - or twisted - by their staff of copywriters and cover artists. That can be the only explanation for their first Galaxy Selected Novel to be Odd John, a reprint of Olaf Stapledon's 1935 ode to "homo superior" - a term coined in the book. John the superman has no use for human morality. The back cover takes the offstage hints and makes them explicit. "[I]s the difference in Odd John's seduction of his own mother - his bold experiments with male love - his complete power over women...?" The front cover, by paperback pro Robert Stanley, makes the fleshy woman both nude and imperiled by an equally nude John. "He had to be stopped, for all women were his playthings and all men his pawns." Those who eagerly entered the book found dense prose a long, long way from Orrie Hitt's. Bizarrely, Odd John had already been a Galaxy Novel back in late 1951 or early 1952. None of the blurbing material for that edition contains a hint of sex, sexual situations, or women.

 

The next two in the series were also reprints, but the fourth was a PBO that starts out as it if were the script for a thousand porn flicks: the beautiful freshman approaches the professor. "I'll do anything to pass the course, Mr. Forrester!" she vowed. "Anything!" The Greek Gods have returned to Earth, you see, and she is a follower of Venus, the Goddess of Love, and he a teacher who is in thrall to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. So he turns her down. The book is full of such teases, alongside the nude goddesses. Perhaps the most flagrant passage is: "I wanna go to the orgy, the boy kept saying. "I want to go to the orgy." "Next year," his mother told him. "Next year, child, when you're six." Pagan Passions - for once a supremely accurate title - was the product of two young and prolific pros, Randall Garrett and Larry M. Harris. (They normally wrote together under the pseudonym Mark Phillips; Mark is Harris' middle name. After 1963 Harris began using Lawrence M. Janifer for all his science fiction work.) Harris would go on to write erotica under various other pseudonyms as well as some of the first true science fiction sex works in titles like You Sane Men (Bloodworld).

 

Another reprint followed, Virgin Planet, written by Poul Anderson for Avalon Books. Imagine Poul Anderson writing anything that would qualify as sleaze: suspension of disbelief fails. Finally, in 1960, Beacon published two originals that truly dealt with sex, Flesh and A Woman a Day, both by Philip José Farmer, followed in 1961 by The Male Response, a PBO by British writer Brian Aldiss, which gets listed in the ISFDB as "non-genre."

 

1960 was an especially bad year for writers in the field. The magazine market, which essentially was the market, had nearly dried up. Trained all their careers to write short fiction, writers now had to try to sell novel-length works to publishers who were not set up to handle more than a handful of science fiction books, and reserved those spots for writers who already had made names for themselves. New imprints appeared, to be sure. Avalon Books had started their science fiction hardback line in 1956, but paid $300 for a novel, a half cent a word. When Gold started Galaxy he paid 3 cents a word. This was not progress. Beacon probably paid more and surely rewarded prolificness. If Orrie Hitt could write eight novels a year for them, science fiction writers could undoubtedly grind them out equally fast. Pulp writers had. Old line science fiction writers like Gardner F. Fox would by the end of the 60s be cranking out sexploitation novels by the score. Rather incredibly, his was the hand behind series starring The Lady from L.U.S.T., Cherry Delight: The Sexecutioner, and possibly others. Why Beacon didn't go down this route is explained by only one fact: Horace Gold still ran things.

 

The evidence comes from Farmer himself. In 1960 he was among six dozen major names in the field whose responses to a questionnaire would be published under the collective title of Who Killed Science Fiction?

 

I used to buy Galaxy even when it was noticeably on the decline through sheer loyalty to science fiction. I thought I should support science fiction. But now I don’t even do that. It hurts me not to buy one; I feel like a traitor. But why buy a magazine I will throw down in disgust, half read? Is it because Gold can’t get good stories? Is the type he has been printing the best he can secure? I don’t think so. He shies away from good meaty stories with valid science fiction backgrounds. I know because of personal experience. Mine and several other writers. And the curious thing is that while Gold won’t buy these strong and original stories for his own magazine, he is eager to purchase them for Galaxy-Beacon Press, the pocketbook outfit for which he is consulting editor.

 

In reality, only four of the eleven Beacon Galaxy Novels were original and none are thought of today as strong. They all would be totally forgotten if Flesh hadn't appeared in an expanded 1968 edition with a paragraph by paragraph rewrite and stronger plot and characters. Nor could Farmer know in 1960 that the next year Gold, already plagued by health issues and letting Frederik Pohl do more of the work, would be hit by a car and retire from editing entirely. That the Beacon series ended in 1961 is probably directly related. (Pohl revived Galaxy and If, the latter winning the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine three years in a row, from 1966-1968, again a future no one would have predicted. Pohl resigned in 1969 when Guinn sold the magazines out from underneath him. The buyer was Universal Publishing and Distribution Corporation. Yes, the successor company to UPD, which published Beacon.)

 

The last Beacon Galaxy was #312, Sin in Space, a reprint of the same 10-year-old story Dell had issued as Outpost Mars. The novel was by "Cyril Judd," a joint pseudonym for C. M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril, from early in their careers, the one and only Galaxy Novel to have originally appeared in Galaxy magazine. The closing of the line must have taken Beacon entirely by surprise. No book ever appeared in the next Galaxy Novel slot, #319. Or #326. Or #333, 340, 347, 354, 361, 368, 375, 382, 389, or 396. Not until B403, Lusting Women by Jon Balmer, did Beacon return to issuing consecutively numbered books, lacunae that must drive collectors insane. Worse, though the last two Galaxy Beacons are copyright 1961, the numbering puts them in the middle of dozens of 1960 books. What happened at the end? All is darkness.

 

A footnote, though not a mere footnote. The realization that Cyril Judd hid a male/female writing team raises the now ever-more-pertinent issue of women in science fiction. Galaxy Novels are another prominent example - matching that of the seminal hardback publisher of f&sf, Gnome Press - of a science fiction line of the 1950s not publishing a single book with a recognizably female name on the cover. C. L. Moore, the author of Galaxy Novel #31, Shambleau, was a woman and well-known as such inside the field. She and husband Henry Kuttner wrote as Lewis Padgett, the purported author of Galaxy Novel #17, Well of the Worlds. That's it: two of the first 35, 3 of the total 46. The percentage is representative of the time; women wrote about that proportion of the field. The use of ambiguous or male names is also typical but not necessarily telling.

 

A fascinating and unanswerable question is whether any women would have been asked to contribute to the Beacon Galaxy line if it had contributed. It's hard to imagine Horace Gold doing so. Beacon wouldn't have minded. Many of its titles were lesbiania with women granted billing as the author, such as the now well-regarded Kay Addams, who turned out to be a pseudonym of Orrie Hitt's. Yet just a few titles before Odd John, Beacon published Odd Girl, "The Revealing Story of Life and Love Among Warped Woman," as by Artemis Smith, now known to be the pseudonym of the early gay activist Annselm Morpurgo. (Maybe they hoped that some buyers would think Odd John was a sequel.)  Erolie Dern wrote for Beacon as Peggy Gaddis and Joan Sherman, producing more standard heterosexual sleaze. Many other female names appear. For another comparison, Avalon published 58 titles from 1956-1961. Two were by one woman, Joan Carol Holly, billed as J. Hunter Holly. Little wonder that people keep insisting that the field excluded or downplayed women as writers.

 

Galaxy Novels are a slice of the reality of science fiction publishing in the 1950s, a mixture of famous names, tentative tyros, hack work, and cobwebbed classics, reflecting tensions in a field striving for respectability but knowing that gosh-wow sold better. You might compare them to a contemporary 1950s Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, which reads differently than the memory of a continuous stream of golden oldies. As digests, they inevitably were a sideline to where the publishing industry was heading; the mass market paperback crushed all competitors. We don’t know what a successful all-original line of mass market paperback originals would have done for the field, but the point is that no one thought to sink their money into a proposition that crazy. Nobody sees the future; least of all science fiction writers.

Fritz Leiber, Destiny Times Three, Galaxy Novel #28

Cover is not credited (probably Leo and Diane Dillon)

Issued 1957; first publication Astounding Science Fiction, March-April 1945

L. Ron Hubbard, Fear, Galaxy Novel #29

L. Ron Hubbard, Fear, Galaxy Novel #29

Cover by Leo and Diane Dillon

Issued 1957; first publication Unknown Fantasy Fiction, November-December 1940; Gnome Press, 1951 as Typewriter in the Sky/Fear

Fletcher Pratt, Double Jeopardy, Galaxy Novel #30

Fletcher Pratt, Double Jeopardy, Galaxy Novel #30

Cover not credited

Issued 1957; first publication Doubleday, 1952

C. L. Moore, Shambleau, Galaxy Novel #31

C. L. Moore, Shambleau, Galaxy Novel #31

Cover not credited

Issued 1957; first publication Weird Tales, November 1933, "Shambleau;" Weird Tales, April 1934, "Black Thirst;" Weird Tales, October 1936, "The Tree of Life;"

Gnome Press, 1953, Shambleau and Others

F. L. Wallace, Address: Centauri, Galaaxy Novel #32
Hal Clement, Mission of Gravity, Galaxy Novel #33

F. L. Wallace, Address: Centauri, Galaaxy Novel #32

Cover by Wallace Wood. Issued 1957; first publication Gnome Press, 1955

Hal Clement, Mission of Gravity, Galaxy Novel #33

Cover by Wallace Wood. Issued 1958; first publication Astounding Science Fiction, April-July 1953; Doubleday, 1954

Manly Wade Wellman, Twice in Time, Galaxy Novel #34

Manly Wade Wellman, Twice in Time, Galaxy Novel #34 [misspelled as Manley" on cover]

Cover by Wallace Wood. Issued 1958; first publication Startling Stories, May 1940; Avalon Books 1957

Mark Clifton & Frank Riley, The Forever Machine, Galaxy Novel #35

Mark Clifton & Frank Riley, The Forever Machine, Galaxy Novel #35

Cover by Wallace Wood. Issued 1958; first publication Astounding Science Fiction, August-December 1954 as "They'd Rather Be Right;" Gnome Press 1957 as They'd Rather Be Right

Olaf Stapledon, Odd John, Galaxy Novel #36, Beacon 236

Olaf Stapledon, Odd John, Galaxy Novel #36,

Beacon 236

Cover by Robert Stanley

Issued 1959; first publication Methuen, 1935

Raymond F. Jones, The Deviates, Galaxy Novel #37, Beacon 242

Raymond F. Jones, The Deviates, Galaxy Novel #37, Beacon 242

Cover by Robert Stanley

Issued 1959; first publication Avalon Books, 1956 as The Secret People

George O. Smith, Troubled Star, Galaxy Novel #38, Beacon 256

George O. Smith, Troubled Star, Galaxy Novel #38, Beacon 256

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Issued 1959; first publication Startling Stories, February 1953; Avalon Books, 1953

Randall Garrett and Larry M. Harris, Pagan Passions, Galaxy Novel #39, Beacon 263

Randall Garrett and Larry M. Harris, Pagan Passions, Galaxy Novel #39, Beacon 263

Cover by Robert Stanley

Issued 1959; first publication anywhere

Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet, Galaxy Novel #40, Beacon 270

Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet, Galaxy Novel #40, Beacon 270

Cover by Robert Stanley

Issued 1960; first publication Avalon Books, 1959

Philip Jose Farmer, Flesh, Galaxy Novel #41, Beacon 277

Philip Jose Farmer (typo for José), Flesh, Galaxy Novel #41, Beacon 277

Cover by Gerald McConnel

Issued 1960; first publication anywhere

Sam Merwin, Jr., The Sex War, Galaxy Novel #42, Beacon 284

Sam Merwin, Jr., The Sex War, Galaxy Novel #42, Beacon 284

Cover by Gerald McConnel

Issued 1960; first publication Startling Stories, October 1953 as "The White Widows;" Doubleday, 1953 as The White Widows

Philip Jose Farmer, A Woman a Day, Galaxy Novel #43, Beacon 291

Philip Jose Farmer (typo for José), A Woman a Day, Galaxy Novel #43, Beacon 291

Cover by Gerald McConnel

Issued 1960; expanded from "Moth and Rust," Startling Stories, June 1953; first publication in novel form

A. E. van Vogt, The Mating Cry, Galaxy Novel #44, Beacon 298

A. E. van Vogt, The Mating Cry, Galaxy Novel #44, Beacon 298

Cover by Gerald McConnel

Issued 1960; first publication Greenberg, 1950 as The House That Stood Still

Brian Aldiss, The Male Response, Galaxy Novel #45, Beacon 305

Brian Aldiss, The Male Response, Galaxy Novel #45, Beacon 305

Cover by Gerald McConnel

Issued 1961; first publication anywhere

Cyril Judd, Sin in Space, Galaxy Novel #46, Beacon 312

Cyril Judd (C. M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril), Sin in Space, Galaxy Novel #46, Beacon 312

Cover by Robert Stanley

Issued 1961; first publication Galaxy Science Fiction, May-July 1951 as "Mars Child;" Abelard Press, 1952 as Outpost Mars

EK

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