Book Review: Project Barrier, Daniel F. Galouye (1968)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

In the early days of my site, I reviewed Daniel F. Galouye’s best-known novel Dark Universe (1961) and A Scourge of Screamers (1966). Since then I’ve attempted to read Simulacron-3 (1964), adapted into a fantastic German mini-series World on a Wire (1973) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999), three times without success. What can I say, I’m a reader of whim and in each instance I wasn’t in the mood. Maybe it was Bill Botton’s compelling/bizarre psychedelic cover for Project Barrier (1968) or perhaps Rich Horton’s comments on twitter about the title story but I decided to give Galouye’s short fiction a go.

Project Barrier (1968) contains four uneven tales with one notable standout–“Rub-a-Dub” (variant title: “Descent Into the Maestrom”) (1961)–which I highly recommend if disturbing psychological SF is up your alley. The others in the collection exude a more run-of-the-mill feel. I found it refreshing that Galouye, a veteran greatly impacted by war injuries, tends to eschew violent conflict for peaceful resolution.

If you’re completely new to his work, check out the brilliant Dark Universe (1961) first. Tangent: I apologize for my poor Dark Universe review–one of the first I posted on my site back in 2010. I have contemplated deleting it.

Brief Analysis/Plot Summary (*spoilers*)

“Shuffle Board” (1957), 2.5/5 (Bad): First appeared in the June 1957 issue of If, ed. James L. Quinn. Vance McCune oversees the Western U.S. Sector’s Radioactivity Control (i.e. the eponymous “Shuffle Board”) (10). In-between frenetic scenes of coordinating radioactive cleanup of illegally dumped waste in Hawaii, McCune worries about his pregnant wife and the fate of their unborn child. He has hidden his wife’s pregnancy from his doctor and colleagues due to extreme anxiety over exposure to radioactivity. In the background, the media latches on to the theories of a Pakistani geneticist, Dr. Puang, who speculates that humanity is at a liminal generational moment. He argues that the new generation will thrive in the radioactive chaos created by their forefathers.

Elements of “Shuffle Board” succeed. Galouye conveys the feel of everyday chaos McCune experienced in his vital position: “McCune sprang up. ‘Send out Crews Four, Seven, Thirty Three […] He cupped his hands and shouted over the communications section, ‘Get Volcanology and find out when we can take our men into the crater'” (14). I did not care of the all-too positive ending that excuses humanity’s mistakes and dodges the real-life consequences of manmade disaster.

“Recovery Area” (1963), 3.25/5 (Average): First appeared in the February 1963 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. On Venus, the large and horned Zu-Bach pesters his elder K’Tawa about a great danger he senses (“quazed”) in the skies. K’Tawa, desperate to retreated to a higher meditative state, attempts to indulge his kin’s whims before slipping off pondering “the Dichotomy of Endlessnesses” (24). Zu-Bach perseveres and learns of the arrival of mankind. He must mobilize the elders who eschew the material for the “Pursuit of the Spiritual Significances” (26). The narrative shifts to the duplicitous men who run a ramshackle discovery operation–an extension of Earth’s ongoing Cold War–and their encounter with the horned humanoid “aliens.” Of course, not all is as it seems, and Zu-Bach discovers a connection in the shreds of collective memories past that could avert conflict.

Galouye’s characterization of the Venusian society, prone to slip into deep meditation, is by far the best element of the story. I am a bit puzzled that a 60s short story has such an antiquated view of Venus. I am a bit uncertain what was popularly known about Venus by 1963. The first Soviet robotic space probe to Venus arrived in 1961 and the Mariner 2 mission in 1962. An interesting oddity about space exploration as an outgrowth of Cold War fears.

“Rub-a-Dub” (variant title: “Descent Into the Maelstrom”) (1961), 4/5 (Good): First appeared in the April 1961 issue of Fantastic Stories of Imagination, ed. Cele Goldsmith. Received a 1962 Hugo Award Honorable Mention for Best Short Fiction. By far the best story in the collection, “Rub-a-Dub” imagines a form of space travel to Centauri with disturbing psychological ramifications. The personalities of three crewman are impressed into the mind of a twelve-year-old girl named Vivien–“a hundred and twenty pounds was all the ship could accommodate” (82). The delicate working entendre within Vivien shatters when they return successfully to earth eight years later. The three impresses, who believe they are complete entities deserving of life, must be psychologically purged from her mind. And it is into this internal maelstrom, the narrative plunges…. The story follows the impress Craig, who has fallen in love with the now 20-year-old Vivien, who attempts to resist his own destruction. The psychiatrist Dorfman resorts to all different therapies and strategies to convince Craig to leave on his own accord. But will Vivien assist in his survival? And what happens when the real material Craig arrives?

Galouye successful writes a story from the perspective of an impress under psychiatric attack within the mind of a young woman. That’s a challenging task! I found the sketchy romantic subplot–he’s careful to emphasize Craig’s love only happened when Vivien was of age–the weakest element of the story. Like Anne McCaffrey in The Ship Who Sang (1969), I’m unsure if Galouye completely grasps the disturbing moral implications of his world (who would put a child through the trauma of space exploration?).

“Reign of the Telepuppets” (1963), 2/5 (Bad): First appeared in the August 1963 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. The Bureau of Interstellar Exploration enlists a team to reestablish connection with the telepuppets deposited on Adelbaran–robots with individualized planet/satellite analysis tasks. In this future, women are included in the crews due to their telepathic “radio empathy” abilities (I find this entire idea bizarre and confusing). Unknown to the team, the robots have established a rudimentary society–perhaps due to external interference? If Galouye stopped here and explored the ramifications of their partial self-awareness I might have a far more positive take on the story. But militaristic lizard aliens usurp the premise along with nonsensical plots twists and the story slips into an indistinguishable pulp morass.

Check out John Boston’s review over at Galactic Journey for a more complete look at the misfire. I struggled to finish this one.

“Project Barrier” (1958), 3.25/5 (Average): First appeared in the January 1958 issue of Fantastic Universe, ed. Hans Stefan Santesson. Galouye’s “Project Barrier” explores the philosophical concept of a “cultural corridor” in which only one advanced race can develop at a time in an environment (204). An ursine race ponders what’s on the other side of the impenetrable Cliff. Within the Cliff, two nations–i.e. Cold War parallels–engage in a fruitless conflict with each other. Savorn seeks to develop a hydrogen balloon to float across the cliff but not all agree with his plan. Soon Savorn detects external interference with his project and a far more complex plot afoot involving agents from the other side. Despite the basic SF premise–eager young adventurer discovers the “true” nature of the world by scaling both physical and metaphoric walls, Galouye manages to interject a compelling humanity to the proceedings. It’s hard not to feel for Savorn and his desire to learn about the world.

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15 thoughts on “Book Review: Project Barrier, Daniel F. Galouye (1968)

  1. I too was impressed by Fassbinder’s adaptation of Counterfeit World, though I managed to finish the novel–just! Your intuition steers you well–it’s no Dark Universe, that’s for sure. You’re not missing a great deal by not finishing it. Unfortunately the idea of the novel is better than the novel itself. Fassbinder definitely improved the source material.
    Though perhaps we’ve become to familiar with the “fake reality” trope in the intervening years?
    Luckily I have a copy of Project Barrier so I’ll try and check out “Rub-a-Dub”. Thanks for the heads up–I’m always keen to find a good Galouye.

    • Hello Anthony!

      It’s good to hear from you. I am fascinated by the collision of “fake reality” and marketing in Simulacron-3 (1964). Even if the book ultimately isn’t that great, the theme is compelling enough that I should give it another shot. I don’t think I ever made it past page 25. If I remember correctly, I always put it down as I was craving something else vs. thinking it was terrible.

      While not overtly about “fake reality” but rather the “reality” generated by marketing and the world of TV, I recently read Carol Emshwiller’s first SF short story — “This Thing Called Love” (1955). Tempted to start a new series…. or an ongoing readthrough of her pre-1980 work.

    • In college I went on a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film bender all because my friend took me to a public showing of The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972) for a German film class… I last saw World on a Wire (1973) in that “film bender” in which I compulsively devoured at least 10 of his movies (I was a bit compulsive!). I really enjoyed it at the time although I think The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) was my favorite.

      • I love the first chapter of Counterfeit World/Simulacron-3. Very moody and wonderfully “retro” futurist. Sadly it’s all downhill from there. Great ideas but a very ordinary execution. Maybe good for completist reasons and or understanding the evolution of this particular sf sub genre. I am indeed intrigued by the idea of disappearing further down this rabbit hole.
        The Carol Emshwiller sounds fascinating.
        I’ll track it down.
        I’m keen also to track down The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. I’ve only seen one other Fassbinder and that was a long time ago and i don’t remember much of it—except some wonderfully slow dolly shots.

  2. Haven’t read anything by the author. I’ve been on Google Images, I thought I recognised the style of the Sphere cover. I found out it was done by the same artist who did the cover for the first British edition of Philip J. Farmer’s “Maker of Universes”, also published by Sphere in 1970. It was one of the earliest SF books I read.

  3. I think “Great ideas but mediocre execution” is pretty much the story of Galouye’s career. I finished SIMULACRON-3, and liked it, but clearly the execution is not the best. I haven’t seen WORLD ON A WIRE, but I did enjoy THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (partly, I admit, because Gretchen Moll is gorgeous.) The predecessor story, seems to me, is Fred Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under the World”.

    Of the stories in this book I’ve read, I’d agree that “Descent Into the Maelstrom” is best — that’s the title under which I read it.

    A review of early Carol Emshwiller is a great idea. I liked “This Thing Called Love”, though I suppose it’s with “Pelt” and “Day at the Beach” (which I read just recently) that she really started to come into her own, though she kept changing and growing to the end of her career, when she was losing her hearing and had to retire. I read I think everything she published since the late ’90s, a remarkable outpouring in old age. (I reprinted a couple of those stories in my books.)

    She is, I would think, undoubtedly the SF author who has been portrayed visually most often!

    • I think “Great ideas but mediocre execution” is pretty much the story of Galouye’s career.” — absolutely. Although, Dark Universe mostly works although the final third (if my review from the decade ago is any indication of the novel) floundered a bit.

      I haven’t seen The Thirteen Floor yet.

      I am tempted by a project to read her SF stories (or those in SFF magazines) in order. Or at least those before 1980. We shall see! I haven’t read “Pelt” or “Day at the Beach” yet–Only “Inside” (1970) and “This Thing Called Love” ?(1955).

  4. I enjoyed reading Counterfeit World when I first got it years ago, and have read it a couple of times since although it is a bit of a plod at times.
    I re-read the Project barrier collection 4 years ago and I guess I’d rate it 4/5 overall rather than 3/5.
    Rather than paraphrasing what i wrote at the time I’ll just c&p my comments on a couple of the stories, if that’s ok:

    Reign of the Telepuppets is the strange, convoluted story of first contact on a world beyond the reaches of two space-going civilisations: the expanding Terrans and the
    sclerotic lizardlike aliens… Initially, the human expedition is dispatched to solve a problem with it’s autonomous AI controlled team of science robots on an uninhabited planet, which is difficult enough (especially as the widespread use of AIs (telepuppets) at home has led to falling standards of education, etc. in the human population) without aliens becoming involved! Interesting story and, like the others, it still feels relevant today.

    Project Barrier was first published in 1958 and is a great little story. An ursine civilisation has arisen but finds itself confined by a strange wall hundreds of feet high and over three thousand miles around. No one knows what might lie beyond but that becomes apparent as the story unfolds. Just as humans discovered fire and created a civilisation, so have bears (and the humans have ensured their innocence of humanity with the wall), and by the end of the story they in turn start to wonder about their possible successors!
    Coincidentally, it also reads like a very apposite sequel to the more famous Bears Discover Fire by Terry Bisson (1990)! It even includes the phrase ‘bears discover fire’ twice! *
    As short stories by this author go, this one is probably his best known as it’s the title story in a collection but, even so, it’s still fairly obscure, especially in the US, so I tend to think it’s just serendipity that the two stories appear to fit together so well…

    • I’m super sorry that I missed your comment — until now…

      I have yet to read anything by Bisson. I went ahead and purchased Wyrldmaker (1981) as it is a generation ship story and I eventually want to read as many examples of the subgenre as possible (pre-1990s). I’ve heard that a lot of Bisson’s work is a bit average but, as always, I’m willing to explore a bit. Unfortunately, he wrote only one short story before 1990 although he published quite a few novels before the decade turned. I often explore short fiction first…

      But yes, overall, despite the few clunkers, I thought the Project Barrier collection was solid but not spectacular. I need to read more of his novels, and actually get through Simulacrum-3!

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