Feb 11, 2017

The Gods

cover by John Gaughan
My introduction to printed science fiction came when I discovered a hardcover copy of The Gods Themselves in my local library. The original version of this story, as published in Galaxy and If magazines is available online (part 1, part 2, part 3)

cover by John Gaughan
When The Gods Themselves was first published, Galaxy and If were owned by the same company and would soon be merged. I pity poor readers who had to hunt down three issues of two different magazines in order to read the story. Not long after the book was published in hardcover, I was lucky enough to be able to check it out of the library and read it over a weekend. I was probably lucky that the cover of the book was boring, otherwise the library in my sleepy little town might not have put it on a shelf where young people such as me could find it.

on the Moon
cover by John Gaughan
John Gaughan did the original magazine covers and the interior illustrations. I'm not sure what the Galaxy and If magazine publishers were thinking back then. Maybe to be "trendy" in the early 1970s you asked artists to make cover art look like a strange LSD-induced vision. For whatever reasons, Gaughan was put in charge of the art for Galaxy.

Barclay Shaw's cover
After 40 years, and after having read Asimov's short story 'Gold', I was curious to see the original interior art work for The Gods Themselves. I suppose Asimov found out the hard way that it was a serious challenge for artists to capture the essence of The Gods Themselves in artwork for book covers. My favorite English language cover art for The Gods Themselves is the Barclay Shaw cover shown to the left.

The best art work for a foreign language edition of The Gods Themselves may be the illustration that is shown to the right.

Shown below is a brief account of Robert Silverberg's role in causing The Gods Themselves to be written and the rationalization for publishing Part 2 of The Gods Themselves in If. Galaxy and If were being published in alternating months at that time.

page 1 illustration
The first two interior illustrations for The Gods Themselves were rather abstract and boring, which may be exactly how most artists view a story about scientists. I suppose the two interior illustrations for Part 1 were meant to depict a scientist at work.

part 2
The first illustration for Part 2 appears to be completely abstract. Asimov has taken readers into another universe where the laws of physics differ from those that shape our universe, a universe where plutonium-186 can exist.

alt life
Turn the page and we can become even more disoriented. What is this odd, lumpish blob? Is that an eye? Is this an alien creature? Would it be possible for we humans to communicate with such a different form of life?

Asimov's short story 'Gold' has an amusing discussion of how it might be possible to visually depict an unimaginable creature from another universe.

When it came time to publish The Gods Themselves, Gaughan was doing almost all of the illustration for Galaxy, so there was no attempt to match the story to an appropriate artist. It would be interesting to know how much (or little) time Gaughan spent illustrating this story. We must wonder if Asimov was satisfied with the artwork that was hastily supplied by Gaughan.

part 3
In Part 3 we are returned by Asimov to our own universe and the Moon. The sketch shown to the right suggests to me the tiredness that Gaughan must have felt while illustrating Galaxy on short deadlines with no helpers.

cover by John Gaughan
One book with a cover by Gaughan that I bought in the 1970s was Skylark DuQuesne. That cover is a visual reminder of one of the memorable "jump the shark" experiences that I had during my personal Golden Age of science fiction: reading about how "Doc" Smith imagined spaceships moving between galaxies "at  the speed of thought".

In the Buld Reality.
Original cover art by Jack Gaughan
Special thanks to Miranda Hedman
for "Black Cat 9 - stock" that I
used to create the green "sedronite"
who is in the image, above.
The Gods Themselves was one of Asimov's favorite literary creations, and it is sad to think that he may never have been satisfied with how artists had illustrated his story. Gaughan was skeptical about the power of art to sell science fiction, apparently believing that the name of the author was far more important. That may be true, but I'm pleased when a story can be eternally linked to a wonderful illustration.

Maybe in another Reality, Gaughan was able to act as a bridge to bring together Thomas and Asimov, allowing for publication of part of the secret history of alien visitors on Earth.

more If magazine (download issues from the Internet Archive)
Next: re-reading The Gods Themselves after 40 years
visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers

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