Beyond Apollo

7 more points on Barry N. Malzberg

Back on April 1st, I reviewed three of Barry N. Malzberg’s brilliant 1970s novels: Beyond Apollo (1972), The Men Inside (1972), and Galaxies (1975). The post provoked some interesting responses that I’d like to highlight.

1. Beyond Apollo is currently being adapted into a feature-length film. Bill Pullman has been cast as the Captain, which seems to me an excellent choice. The project’s only in pre-production, though, so we may not make it to Venus. (You can read more about the project at Bloody Disgusting.)

2. Derik Badman pointed out that several Malzberg titles are coming back into print in Kindle eBook editions, including Galaxies and Herovit’s World (1973), among others.

3. Audible editions are also becoming available: Beyond Apollo, Herovit’s World, Underlay (1974), The Sodom and Gomorrah Business (1974), Guernica Night (1974), and Galaxies, among others.

4. In my review, I noted how Malzberg referenced several of his contemporaries in Galaxies—Donald Barthelme, John Cheever, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates—then wondered whether any of them had read him. Well, according to Jeffrey Canino:

Joyce Carol Oates did read Malzberg: in 1975 she reviewed his excellent SF novel Guernica Night for The New York Times. She was rather complimentary, noting that its concerns were “poetic and philosophical” while bemoaning the default categorization that SF like this suffers, regardless of merit, from general fiction-reading audiences. This review was, I believe the only major piece of critical attention Malzberg received outside of the field.

I found a copy of the review in ProQuest; it ran on 21 September, 1975 (“A Speculative Fiction”).

5. Oates’s recent anthology New Jersey Noir (2011) also contains a piece by Malzberg. I believe that volume is available only as a Kindle eBook?

6. While poking around in the Times, I came across an 8 March 1987 letter to the editor by Malzberg, regarding Harold Bloom’s critique of Thomas Wolfe:

But before we leave the word “unreadable” as the final judgment on Wolfe’s prose, it ought to be noted that buried in the many millions of words of edited or unedited garbage is a short piece (extracted for a collection) called “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which, I submit, is one of the great American short stories.

7. Finally, here are two lengthy Malzberg bibliographies I’ve found. The first is at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and the second one is from an old Geocities site. (I haven’t cross-referenced them, though—yet!)

Happy reading!

Author News / 12 Comments
May 9th, 2013 / 8:17 am


25 Points: 3 Novels by Barry N. Malzberg (Beyond Apollo, The Men Inside, & Galaxies)


Beyond Apollo | 1972, Random House | 156 pages

The Men Inside | 1973, Prestige Books | 175 pages

Galaxies | 1975, Pyramid Books | 128 pages

(Note: all three of these books are out of print, but cheap used copies can be found. In Chicago, I bought Beyond Apollo for $2.95 at Myopic Books (in Wicker Park) and The Men Inside for $3 at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records (Logan Square). Galaxies I purchased used through Amazon for $1.25 + s/h.)

1. On 15 August 2011, my pal Jeremy M. Davies emailed me and said that I should look for a book called Galaxies by Barry N. Malzberg because it was “seriously beyond belief.”

I’m ashamed to say it took me until earlier this year to pick up a copy and read it. However, once I got started, I finished it under 24 hours.

2. Barry N. Malzberg was born in 1939. Since 1968, he’s written at least 66 books, if not more. (He’s worked under ten different names that I know of, which complicates compiling a full list.) Dozens of them are science-fiction novels—at least in theory. He’s also written story collections, essay collections, movie novelizations, crime novels, and pornography.

3. Galaxies (1975) at first glance tells the story of a young astronaut, Lena Thomas, the sole crew member of the spaceship Skipstone. Her cargo is an immense tank of goo filled with 515 human corpses. It’s the year 3902 and a person can pay to have his/her body ferried into space after death in the hopes that cosmic radiation will revive them.

Midway through the voyage, the Skipstone falls into a black hole, and the majority of the novel’s plot deals with Lena’s attempt to escape the ensuing hallucinatory free fall. During that timeless time she repeatedly dies and is reborn, recalls her lover John, consults with cyborg engineers, and communes with the dead, who have psychically reawakened.

But that’s not really what Galaxies is about.

4. Rather, Galaxies is a work of metafiction, concerned with its own creation, and presented as Malzberg’s notes on how he would write the novel Galaxies, if only he could. (He maintains that the novel is impossible to complete with present knowledge.) As such, most scenes are outlined rather than dramatically depicted. For instance, Chapter 29 begins:

And here could run yet another moody flashback concerning Lena’s relationship with John, dropped in to provide color and poignance, augmenting the mood of despair. Long sexual passages here could alternate with painful streams of consciousness in the present. Sex and space, orgasm and isolation could run counterpoint, and the author’s gifts for irony, which are not modest, would be exhibited to their fullest range. Also, in the traditions of modern science fiction, the sex scenes could be quite titillating, render the novel some extraliterary interest. A construct like this could use all the extraliterary interest it could get.

But even that’s not really what Galaxies is about.

6. Rather, Galaxies is about what science-fiction should look like in the year 1975. Malzberg is surveying contemporary literature and asking: How should science-fiction respond to the then-recent literary experiments of John Cheever, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, and others?

7. I’m not making this up. On page 48 Malzberg writes:

For instance, as the ship falls, there could be some elaboration on the suggestion that neutron stars might be pulsars which would be most intriguing, if the reader has not been intrigued sufficiently by the notion that all of “life” as we understand it when we glimpse the heavens may be merely an incidental by-product of the cycle of neutron stars.

So there, Cheever, Barth, Barthelme, Oates. What in the collected works would touch that for angst?

8. Malzberg calls those authors out again on page 85:

“Madness,” Lena says, shaking her head, “that’s utter madness,” but the author, busily pulling the handles of this little dumb show, sweating behind the canvas, casting a nearsighted, astigmatic eye every now and then through the cardboard of the set to see whether the audience is paying attention, how the audience is taking all of this, is thinking take that Barth, Barthelme, Roth, or Oates! Pace Bellow and Malamud, and may your Guggenheims multiply, but what have any of you or those unnamed created to compare with this?

9. If I haven’t convinced you yet to spend $2–3 on a used copy of Galaxies, you might as well quit reading now.


April 1st, 2013 / 8:01 am