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Glorious Apolitical SF

4 Nov, 2023


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(Another piece that was declined by tor dot com)

As previously established, SFF (science fiction and fantasy) has long been a studiously apolitical genre. No finer example of this can be found than in a minor kerfuffle over US involvement in Vietnam. Rather than embarrass itself by expressing opinions on matters far beyond their station, the SFF community prudently kept opinions to themselves, their closest friends, and the entire readership of the June 1968 Galaxy Magazine.

Younger readers may be unfamiliar with the conflict in Vietnam. What matters for the purpose of this essay is that as bizarre as it may seem to us in our modern, consensus-driven world, Americans were divided by the question of whether the US should remain in the conflict or withdraw. Of course, which side was correct is so clear that I won’t insult you by telling which side that was. People in 1968 did not enjoy our friendly perspective and they didn’t always agree with each other.

Kate Wilhelm and Judith Merril appear to have anticipated more unanimity on this question than they actually found when they began to solicit names for an ad expressing support for their favored Vietnam War policy. Surely, the clarity of their arguments being what they were, and the underlying moral principles being what they were, the correct view was obvious to all?

In fact, the SFF community was just as divided as America itself. A number of science fiction writers had embraced different axioms and come to very different conclusions. These persons, Poul Anderson in particular, orchestrated their own ad supporting the opposite of Merril and Wilhelm’s.

What eventually appeared in Galaxy (and elsewhere) was a pair of ads, representing diametrically-opposed stances. Aside from wording, the policy advocated for, and the actual names on the lists, the two ads were designed to look identical, presumably to avoid any suggestion of bias on the part of the magazines running the ads.

(added later because the above is hard to read)

Pro-War authors:

We the undersigned believe the United States must remain in Vietnam to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of that country.”

Karen K. Anderson
Poul Anderson
Harry Bates
Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
J. F. Bone
Leigh Brackett
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Mario Brand
R. Bretnor
Fredric Brown
Doris Pitkin Buck
William R. Burkett, Jr.
Elinor Busby
F. M. Busby
John W. Campbell
Louis Charbonneau
Hal Clement
Compton Crook
Hank Davis
L. Sprague de Camp
Charles V. de Vet
William B. Ellern
Richard H. Eney
T. R. Fehrenbach
R. C. FitzPatrick
Daniel F. Galouye
Raymond Z. Gallun
Robert M. Green, Jr.
Frances T. Hall
Edmond Hamilton
Robert A. Heinlein
Joe L Hensley
Paul G. Herkart
Dean C. Ing
Jay Kay Klein
David A. Kyle
R. A. Lafferty
Robert J. Leman
C. C. MacApp
Robert Mason
D. M. Melton
Norman Metcalf
P. Schuyler Miller
Sam Moskowitz
John Myers Myers
Larry Niven
Alan Nourse
Stuart Palmer
Gerald W. Page
Rachel Cosgrove Payes
Lawrence A. Perkins
Jerry E. Pournelle
Joe Poyer
E. Hoffmann Price
George W. Price
Alva Rogers
Fred Saberhagen
George O. Smith
W. E. Sprague
G. Harry Stine (Lee Correy)
Dwight V. Swain
Thomas Burnett Swann
Albert Teichner
Theodore L. Thomas
Rena M. Vale
Jack Vance
Harl Vincent
Don Walsh, Jr.
Robert Moore Williams
Jack Williamson
Rosco E. Wright
Karl Wurf

Anti-War Authors

We oppose the participation of the United States in the war in Vietnam.”

At the bottom of this ad, additional material is appended:

Contributions to help meet the expense of future ads are welcomed and should be sent to:

Judith Merril or Kate Wilhelm Knight
P. O. Box 79
Milford, Pennsylvania 18337

Forrest J Ackerman
Isaac Asimov
Peter S. Beagle
Jerome Bixby
James Blish
Anthony Boucher
Lyle G. Boyd
Ray Bradbury
Jonathan Brand
Stuart J. Byrne
Terry Carr
Carroll J. Clem
Ed M. Clinton
Theodore R. Cogswell
Arthur Jean Cox
Allan Danzig
Jon DeCles
Miriam Allen deFord
Samuel R. Delany
Lester del Rey
Philip K. Dick
Thomas M. Disch
Sonya Dorman
Larry Eisenberg
Harlan Ellison
Carol Emshwiller
Philip Jose Farmer
David E. Fisher
Ron Goulart
Joseph Green
Jim Harmon
Harry Harrison
H. H. Hollis
J. Hunter Holly
James D. Houston
Edward Jesby
Leo P. Kelley
Daniel Keyes
Virginia Kidd
Damon Knight
Allen Lang
March Laumer
Ursula K. LeGuin
Fritz Leiber
Irwin Lewis
A. M. Lightner
Robert A. W. Lowndes
Katherine MacLean
Barry Malzberg
Robert E. Margroff
Anne Marple
Ardrey Marshall
Bruce McAllister
Judith Merril
Robert P. Mills
Howard L. Morris
Kris Neville
Alexei Panshin
Emil Petaja
J. R. Pierce
Arthur Porges
Mack Reynolds
Gene Roddenberry
Joanna Russ
James Sallis
William Sambrot
Hans Stefan Santesson
J. W. Schutz
Robin Scott
Larry T. Shaw
John Shepley
T. L. Sherred
Robert Silverberg
Henry Slesar
Jerry Sohl
Norman Spinrad
Margaret St. Clair
Jacob Transue
Thurlow Weed
Kate Wilhelm
Richard Wilson
Donald A. Wollheim

(These were excerpted from an entirely legal scan of the whole issue. Or a scan I believe to be legal. Or at least this image is legal.)

The 154 names that appear in the two ads are a veritable who’s‑who of mid-1960s science fiction1. I’d hate to have to put a number to how many awards and accolades shared between them. In fact, if one were a younger reader wishing to familiarize themselves with pre-Disco-era science fiction, one could do much worse than use the two ads as a checklist.

Accompanying the ads (at least in Galaxy) was a somewhat pained editorial by Frederik Pohl, which acknowledged that people felt strongly about this issue. While his editorial could be read to suggest Pohl himself had views on the conflict overseas, what those views were is not immediately clear to me. The essay is a wondrous example of non-committal commentary.

In fact, by running both ads, Galaxy carefully avoided the appearance of support either pro or con. The two ads essentially cancel each other out as far as perceptions of the magazine’s political inclinations go.

Galaxy does not seem to have had a letter column. Pity, because I am sure the letters re the ads would have illuminated the diverse assortment of views on this matter. I base this on the fact that when I referenced the ad on BlueSky, I got over 150 reposts and over 500 likes (not to mention a bounty of comments) in the first 17 hours. A bit of chore to follow everything. I look forward to the comment on Tor.com. Please don’t disappoint! James forgot to change that line: please comment on my social media.

1: Before angrily denouncing me for omitting various currently well-known authors from the ads, please remember that I had no hand in the ads, being seven years old and in a different country when they were published. Also, authors not yet born when the ads were composed had a very low response rate to efforts to solicit support for one or the other of the ads.

(Note: may contain sarcasm and irony)