The Cave of Night (1955) by James E. Gunn – sf short story review

First appearance: in Galaxy Science Fiction (February 1955) – ed. H.L. Gold

The version I read: in S-F: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (1956) – ed. Judith Merril.

Find a version here.

Galaxy, February 1955

Cover by Ed Emshwiller. Some type of space music? Human-alien fusion? Jazz-ftrrlyk?

James E. Gunn‘s The Cave of Night is the first of what will be the Station in Space novel. I read most of the novel in an e-version (in desperation) after reading The Cave of Night and wanting more Gunn goodness. A review of the entire Station in Space novel is available here (once again following in Joachim’s footsteps…).

This first story is a cracker. Without spoiling anything much the story revolves around, ahem, mankind’s first shot into space. Gunn builds up the tension and it still plays out beautifully after 60 years (and 54 years years after it was overtaken by events, though arguably he already was in 1957). To top it all he has an excellent twist that plays to the collective paranoia of a latter time as much as it did to the cold 1950s.

There was even a radio adaptation made of Gunn’s story, now available through the wonders of space age technology:

Gunn apparently based his space program on the most common scientific projection of the day. You can find visual accompaniments to his story in the famous if blandly and ominously entitled Man Will Conquer Space Soon! series written by ex-Nazi Wernher Von Braun. Published in Colliers magazine it is accompanied with some cool Chesley Bonestell paintings. Or check out this propaganda film from the Disney corporation:

Propaganda you say? Von Braun’s lecture presentation has all of the monotonous vim of a bureaucrat outlining the various uses of the V2 rocket. Only here the presentation is brought to you courtesy of an American (quasi) fascist – Walt Disney. Skip ahead to 37 minutes 12 seconds and strap in for the ride (or to 33 minutes 50 seconds for those of you who insist on getting some of Von Braun’s lecture). The animated film gives you a good idea of how Gunn and others pictured the first human orbital mission in the mid-1950s.

Judith Merril's SF The Year's Greatest in Science-Fiction and Fantasy

Richard Powers channeling a bit of Yves Tanguy on this one. And did I mention the collection is introduced by AWESOME WELLES!?

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2 Responses to The Cave of Night (1955) by James E. Gunn – sf short story review

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I tried to get into the X Minus One adaptations but did not appreciate how they butchered Fritz Leiber’s stunning story, A Pail of Air. The adaptation made a non-sexist at all story sexist… and, got rid of a ton of the interesting details. As there are plenty of really short SF stories, I wish they would use their material more faithfully…

    • antyphayes says:

      So far I’ve only listened to the Gunn adaptation and it was pretty faithful to the source. I’m keen to check out their adaptation of PKD’s The Defenders. Hopefully the general quality of x minus one is variable rather than uniformly bad.
      Last night I rewatched the John Sturges film ‘Marooned’ (1969). The basic narrative thrust is similar to Gunn’s short, but without the cool twist. It’s based on a Martin Caidan novel but is sadly weighed down by its versimilitude.

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