INTERVIEW: Barry N. Malzberg and The Galaxy Project

Barry N. Malzberg‘s Beyond Apollo was in 1973 the winner of the first John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year; he twice won the LOCUS Award for nonfiction books of critical history and commentary on science fiction. Several short works have been final-listed for the Nebula and Hugo and Engines of the Night and Breakfast in the Ruins, the nonfiction works, were on the Hugo final ballot for Best Related Nonfiction as is his collaborative book with Mike Resnick, The Business of Science Fiction. He was sole judge of the 1980 Writers Digest Short Story Contest.

Rosetta Books has recently released a collection of 23 e-books representing some of the great novelettes and novellas to come out of Galaxy Science Fiction during the 1950s. The Galaxy Project is curated by Barry N. Malzberg. The folks at SF Signal asked if I could interview Mr. Malzberg regarding this project and I jumped at the chance for three reasons:

  • First, because it is an important and worthwhile project that attempts to save some great science fiction for future generations.
  • Second, because Barry Malzberg is one of my favorite writers, regardless of genre, and certainly my favorite living writer.
  • Third, because Barry has to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the field of science fiction that I have ever encountered (have you read The Engines of the Night?) and listening to him share some of that knowledge is a real treat.

And so, without further delay, here is my interview with Barry Malzberg about the Galaxy Project.


Jamie Todd Rubin: You have described to me before that the Galaxy project is an effort to bring to e-book form stories that appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction during the decade of the 1950s. The first of these e-books are now available on Amazon and looking through the list, I see stories by Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Lester del Rey, William Tenn, and Walter Miller, Jr. to name a few. What criteria did you use in selecting the stories that appear in the project?

Barry N.Malzberg: The criteria? Well, that’s too broad a term, at least for me (and a bit esoteric for this graduate program dropout): the hope was to bring to a contemporary audience not only the great novelettes and novellas which were Galaxy‘s great contribution in the 50’s, but to evoke through them the spirit of a time in which science fiction was a renewed and hopeful thing. Horace Gold edited Galaxy, he said, “As if it were a contemporary magazine from the future” and he shaped and encouraged a generation of writers who did this with frequent satiric gloss and craftsmanship. Galaxy was the best-written magazine of its time (maybe any time) and the most consistent in its editorial thrust; its writers new and old (many of its best were refugees from Campbell’s Astounding) were the best of their time. Furthermore, as Fred Pohl (one of those writers) noted later, “Galaxy was perhaps the only medium in Joseph McCarthy’s United States where the truth could be told.” The great Galaxy stories were science fiction, of course, but they were also careful and sometimes audacious simulcra of the culture from which they came.

Our first 23 reissued stories are among the best from that time. I wish we had more than one Robert Sheckley story and regret Theodore Sturgeon’s absence (uncooperative agents in both cases), they were central to the magazine. But we have Klass, Kornbluth, Damon Knight, Kurt Vonnegut. That’s not bad.

JTR: Hoarce Gold was known for being a rather cantankerous editor, but in the end he published some outstanding stories, many of which appear in the Galaxy Project. What do you think Gold brought to the table that allowed him to publish so many remarkable stories?

BNM: Gold was style-oriented like Boucher (but unlike Campbell) and cared about quality of writing (Campbell didn’t although published some extremely accomplished stories; style was to him always subsidiary to concept or plot). Also unlike Campbell Gold had been out in the world; he was a severely damaged WWII combat veteran and a writer who had struggled from pulp magazines and comics; his worldliness fed into his demands that writers confront the disjunctive, hypocritical, deceitful world into which veterans like himself had graduated. Horace was, as Mark Clifton wrote, a man who “feared and hated science” and in the post-bomb, Cold War, McCarthyite era there were worse qualifications for the editor of a science fiction magazine.

JTR: Your description of Gold might, with a few minor changes, characterize Kornbluth. In the eForward to “The Marching Morons” you describe Kornbluth as “an old genius trapped in the failing body of a sedentary war veteran with a bad heart.” Both Gold and Kornbluth were combat veterans (I believe Kornbluth served in the Battle of the Bulge). Pohl also served overseas as well. Could it be that Galaxy‘s success in publishing so many great novelettes and novellas was due in part to the coincidence of being established and publishing in the post-War years, after several of its writers were returning from combat?

BNM: That is an interesting point. Phil Klass (1920-2010) who wrote (as “William Tenn”) on a grand level of execution for Galaxy was also a combat veteran who claimed not only the Battle of the Bulge but presence at the Liberation of Aufschwitz. And Robert Sheckley, a little younger than these (1928-2005) served in the Korean War and also claimed combat. I had never to this point looked at the Galaxy school of fiction as somehow a compensation for (or a manifestation of) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but if you stare at the work of those writers and their imitators and influences through that lens it looks, much of it, as a kind of carnival mirror set of distortions of the awful collision and sacrifice of combat. You might want to take a look at this as your own historical journey through the 1940-1950 Astounding brings you into the late forties and the work of Klass and Kornbluth. Klass’s “Child’s Play” (3/47 Astounding) is an almost clinical study of the loss of identity. Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag” (7/50), perhaps his greatest story, is another study of personal displacement facilitated by technology.

JTR: Your image of the carnival mirror and combat brought to mind some of the covers of Astounding, in particular that first Rogers cover for Hubbard’s “Final Blackout.” As part of The Galaxy Project, each of the stories also contains artwork by an artist who produced covers for Galaxy. (“The Marching Morons” contains one by Ed Emshwiller.) You’ve talked in the past about the great Astounding covers. How do the covers to the 1950s Galaxy compare?

BNM: All of the Galaxy Project illustrations are by Emsh…we obtained permission from Carol Emshwiller for use of any or all of the approximately 50 covers he painted for Horace during that decade. Emshwiller was the default artist, the face of the magazine in that decade just as Hubert Rogers was interchangeable with Astounding from the early forties to his induction to service in 1942 and then again from 1947 to the end of the decade. Rogers was solemn, focused ad astra per aspera, his expressionless spacemen and flat backgrounds (take a look at the 2/50 cover of Astounding for Hubbard’s “To The Stars”) were the Campbellian metaphysic rendered in raw strokes. Emsh was playful for Galaxy, satiric, clearly a third-generation figure, Dali to Rogers’ Rembrandt if you will (a strained analogy but what the hell) and showed Horace’s readers a way into the magazine (the future as a crazyhouse version of the present, not so much threatening as silly). The first 23 covers posted include his 8/52 (alien tourists with cameras on the streets of NYC) and 2/55 (the intergalactic string quartet) which are the epitome of his whimsical art. He not only meshed with Galaxy, he was its popular face. (He was almost as important to F&SF and Astounding, the signature illustrator of the decade but Galaxy got, if not his best work, his most liberated and characteristic.)

JTR: Recently, Gollancz released, via their SF Gateway project, the back lists of dozens of science fiction and fantasy writers (including your own), many of which had been out of print for some time. The Galaxy Project is doing something similar with novelettes and novellas that appeared in the magazine. What both have in common is that the books and stories are being released exclusively in e-book form. I’d be interested to know your take on the value of releasing these stories as e-books. Do you see advantages or disadvantages? To me, at least, it seems like you tap into a younger generation who grew up with the Internet and may not have seen or heard of these stories before.

BNM: A large question with a simple answer. As the hooker said to the sailor: “This is what you get. You don’t like it? You know where the door is.” These reissues are coming to light in digital format and in none other. There’s no audience sufficient to make these viable as books. The Orion reissues – which of course embrace some masterpieces – are the end of the line for 90% of these novels. Their way or the highway. (“That means you, Messrs. Malzberg and O’Donnell.”)

JTR: This last question is obvious, but it’s something that anyone who is a fan of these stories will want to know: will there be more than the 23 stories that have been released so far?

BNM: I hope there will be more beyond this original issue of 23. Response will determine (see my remarks under your penultimate question). This is a noble effort. I feel that we are part of a larger struggle to save science fiction. My dark outlook well documented in two widely spaced LOCUS interviews (2001 and 2010).

There’s more than a dance in the old dame yet but does she have anyone on her dance card?

One thought on “INTERVIEW: Barry N. Malzberg and The Galaxy Project”

  1. Three cheers for you, Mr. Malzberg, and for everyone else in the publishing industry who wants to make the classics of SF available to a new generation of readers.

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