Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Galactic Empires: Volume Two [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] ed Brian W Aldiss, with Poul Anderson, Roger D Aycock, James Blish, Fredric Brown, Algis Budrys, Avram Davidson, Gardner F Fox, Harry Harrison, John D Macdonald, Mack Reynolds, A E van Vogt, F L Wallace, trans Heinz Nagel, epilogue Olaf Stapledon, and cover by Karel Thole.
This second volume of Brian Aldiss’ multi-author science fiction anthology is at least as good as the first. As before, selections are drawn from periodicals in the tail end of the pulp era: the 1940s and 1950s. (Harry Harrison’s “Final Encounter” is an outlier from 1964.) The thematic sections of the book treat “Maturity or Bust” and “Decline and Free Fall,” but the stories are more accurately characterized by the subsections, such as “The Other End of the Stick,” which uses narrative reversals to point out subaltern perspectives.
In his editorial remarks, Aldiss is especially fervent about the James Blish story “Beep.” It is definitely an interesting tale, adding the espionage bureaucracy flavor to a narrative that uses FTL communications technology to explore philosophical determinism. I was curious to read the Gardner Fox story “Tonight the Stars Revolt!” but it turned out to be pretty unexceptional sword and planet fare.
Women authors are conspicuous by their absence from this book, and the relatively late Harrison story is the only one with anything interesting to say about gender. The fault lies with Aldiss’s choices more than with what was written in the period. Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore wrote many stories that would have suited this collection. The Poul Anderson story “Lord of a Thousand Suns” particularly struck me as perhaps Brackett-derivative. Anderson is also a repeat author from the previous volume, the only one to have two stories selected by Aldiss.
In its two books this anthology supplies a distinct perspective on Golden Age science fiction. It was notable to me that I had read none of these stories collected elsewhere. Still and all, I will be happy to turn my sfnal attention to more recent works after this excursion into an early phase of the genre.