The Golden Age of Gallun


I’d like to invite you to enjoy a bit of time travel, back to the year 1978 to be exact . . . Ballantine Books, always a leader when it came to publishing science fiction and fantasy was enjoying a period of quality equal to that of the early 1950s when they were the first mass-market publisher to have a real science fiction line. This renaissance was due to handing the reins of their science fiction and fantasy line to Judy Lynn and Lester Del Rey. Chief among their many successes was the series of nearly two-dozen “Best of” volumes that covered a large number of the major authors in the field from the pulps up through the 1960s. Certainly there were a few major names that did not appear in the series due to contractual difficulties, (no Heinlein, Asimov, or Clarke), and there were a few, in my opinion, terrible oversights (“Where’s my Sturgeon, Galouye, and Cartmill collections?” the young fan stormed . . .), it was one of the best things done by any publisher in the genre. If one wanted an instant basic library of high quality material, here it was at $1.95 per book.

Readers that have endured the autobiographical meanderings that have crept into my previous introductions are likely familiar with my growing up in a time warp story . . . The long and short of it being that as a teenager I was exposed to a collection of fantastic fiction that included pretty much every science fiction pulp from the early 1930s on and the entirety of  the specialty press output from Arkham House’s debut volume The Outsider and Others through the early 1950s. The result being that not only had I kept up on all current publications in the preceding decade (at the time it was actually possible to afford to buy everything published in the genre on an income that was slightly more than minimum wage), but I voraciously read through as much of this collection as I could. (Lots of the material were in bound volumes, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to borrow a volume and read through six months of Weird Tales, Astounding or Amazing in one or two days.) Anyway, this is how my background in imaginative fiction came about and left me pretty well read in the genre for a callow youth of twenty-one.  So, with this background I looked at this series from Ballantine approvingly (save for the omissions mentioned above) and was quite familiar with all the authors involved save for one . . . Raymond Z. Gallun . . .

Now I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the author. I had encountered some of his work, but unlike most of the writers in this series he didn’t seem to have short story collections extant and while I recalled a couple of novels purchased a decade earlier, they hadn’t really impressed me as the work of a major author. Somehow, in my pulp readings I had missed “Old Faithful” and several other stories that appear here . . . For those of you well familiar with Raymond Z. Gallun, this collection is no doubt  a trip down memory lane, for those of you unfamiliar with the bulk of his work I can imagine that you’ll have the same response I did to reading stories like “Old Faithful” and “Davey Jones’ Ambassador” for the first time . . . My response was “Wow! This is what science fiction is supposed to be!”

Now, after over thirty years, and having read the entirety of Gallun’s fictional output, my opinion hasn’t changes my opinion of Raymond Z. Gallun’s work hasn’t changed much at all . . . His work (particularly that from the decade of 1932 to 1942), fully embodies that sense of wonder that I associate with “the golden age” of science fiction. Perhaps better than any of his contemporaries Gallun was able to portray aliens that were actually alien. Most of his contemporaries, in fact, a pretty fair amount of authors even today have gone the route of Star Trek and given us aliens that aside from pointy ears or funny noses could be our next-door neighbor. Or they’ve gone the B.E.M. route and offered up races of slavering monsters that have a peculiar fetish for human females. Stanley Weinbaum usually gets the credit for presenting convincing aliens, and no one can dispute that “A Martian Odyssey” is a major touchstone in the genre, but I feel that after Weinbaum it was Raymond Z. Gallun that picked up the ball and ran with it.  No one can dispute that #774 from the titular story of this collection and The Student from “Davey Jones’ Ambassador” are convincing, even if driven by familiar human motives. And how about poor doomed Grud from “Shadow of the Veil”? If Raymond Z. Gallun had written only these three stories, I think his fame would have been assured. As it is, we have a body of work that numbers over one hundred stories and several novels.

It’s Gallun’s short fiction that we’re concerned with here and readers that own that old Del Rey paperback may leap to the conclusion that I disagree with the author and the book’s editor, John J. Pierce, (it seems from internal evidence that the selection of stories was a collaborative process) as to which stories constitute Gallun’s best work as only four selections from that volume are included here. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that I have the latitude to assemble three or four collections and Gallun and Pierce were limited to one book. At this point, I’ve already planned out three volumes of Gallun stories and have twelve of the thirteen stories contained in Best of included, so I’m actually in complete agreement as to the quality of the Del Rey volume, it’s just that there are a number of other stories that I thought were equally good and essential to a more comprehensive view of Gallun’s that I wanted to call attention to.

Gallun’s output breaks down into the three fairly distinct groups: The early years where he was still finding his voice and producing stories that were certainly competent if not particularly innovative. This was a pretty short apprenticeship as it were, lasting from 1929-1933. I haven’t used anything from that period here, but plan on doing so in the next book, as stories such as “The Moon Mistress” and “Menace from Mercury” are still a great deal of fun. Then we have Gallun’s “golden age”, which pre-dates and overlaps what we generally think of as science fiction’s golden age; the period from 1934 until 1943 which saw an astonishing seventy-two stories published. I haven’t been able to verify this, but I suspect that the stories published in 1942 and 1943 were written much earlier and represented material that was still in inventory. Gallun then took a break from science fiction and no new stories appeared until his return to the field in 1949 with “Operation Pumice”.

This later period saw Gallun dealing with other themes and producing some two-dozen tales of generally very high quality before leaving the field again, this time for a hiatus of over twenty years, returning with the novel he considered his masterpiece, Eden Cycle, and two more shorter works. This later period is perhaps a bit disproportionately represented here as I’ve included four stories out of his total of only twenty-two tales written in this period, but these are the work of an author returning not as a relic of a previous era rehashing the galaxy-spanning battles, but an author with the sure hand of an established master of the form with some new concerns to examine.

Where stories such as “Hotel Cosmos” gave us the vision of a “Brotherhood of Sentient Beings” and laid the groundwork for such well-loved classics as James White’s “Hospital Station”. While stories such as “Brother Worlds” and “Prodigal’s Aura” turn away from Gallun’s masterful portrayals of the alien in favor of close examination of their human protagonists and their very human problems, they are still great examples of that vast field that we call science fiction and evoke that same response that I first had after reading “Old Faithful” for the first time, “Wow! This is what science fiction is supposed to be!”


John Pelan

Midnight House

Gallup, NM