Richard A. Lupoff’s 1978 Space War Blues is a military science fiction novel (more on that later). A fix-up, it incorporates material previously published in Again, Dangerous Visions (more on that later), and various volumes of New Dimensions, Amazing Magazine, and Heavy Metal. The Dell edition includes introductions from Harlan-Ellison-superfan Harlan Ellison and Richard A. Lupoff (and oh yes, more on that later).
Fast interstellar ships allowed the people of Earth to spread out to a plethora of habitable worlds. Every community could have a planet of its own!
Now, one might think this would mean an end to war. That sunny view fails to take into account that the core value that defines N’Alabama is white supremacy. Confident in their inherent superiority over black people, N’Alabama resolves to defeat and conquer N’Haiti.
One might think that space war alliances would be easy to predict. Those planets whose settlers came from former American states that belonged to the short-lived Confederacy should line up with N’Alabama1, while planets aligned with the African diaspora should back N’Haiti. It doesn’t quite work out that way. N’Alabama’s ideological peers give it thoughts and prayers and little else (they want to preserve their trade ties with N’Ghana).
It’s N’Alabama vs N’Haiti then. How do the combatants stack up? N’Haiti comes out ahead in military technology and armed forces morale and training, also a paucity of pure dunderheads in positions of power. Its problem is that it is comparatively underpopulated. N’Haiti just doesn’t have the population and the economy to support a long fight.
Enter an odd alien lifeform. Implanted in a human corpse, the aliens revive the dead. Docile and obedient, the reanimated dead of any race are easily conditioned to serve as shock troops for N’Haiti. Underpopulation problem solved.
There is also the matter of the odd artifacts left behind by a long-vanished alien civilization. Perhaps they’re alien mood-lighting. Perhaps they are continent-shattering WMD. All the N’Haitians need to do it turn one on and see what happens.
N’Alabama has unshaken faith in white supremacy. Can this faith help it defeat a foe with such resources? Well … no.
I should perhaps start with content warnings. But if I were to list them all, I would probably bore my readers to tears. Just know that this 1978 fix-up has not aged well. It’s offensive on many fronts. Perhaps the ugliest element of the book is that entire swaths of the novel are told from the perspective of the N’Alabama racists. It’s clear that the author doesn’t agree with them, but still … it’s like going swimming in sewage.
I called this book military science fiction. That’s a bit of a misnomer. Space War Blues predates modern MilSF as we know it. It eschews certain conventions of that subgenre because those conventions had not yet been invented. Fans of lurid-covered turgid space kabooms probably won’t find much to interest them in Lupoff’s novel.
I should also add that the fix-up isn’t all that well fixed up. For one thing, there’s a third world, the Yurakosi, that has its own plotline that doesn’t seem to have much to do with the N’Alabama – N’Haiti conflict2. It’s a world in the same setting, but that’s all.
The component parts of Space War Blues were well-received at the time. With the Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little Old New Alabama (published in Again, Dangerous Visions) was nominated for the Nebula, After the Dreamtime (published in New Dimensions IV) was a Hugo finalist, and “Sail the Tide of Mourning” (published in New Dimensions Science Fiction Number 53) was a finalist for both Hugo and Nebula. One might wonder why the novel as a whole was not better known. The answer: Harlan Ellison.
Settle back, readers, for some old-timey history. Ellison acquired With the Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little Old New Alabama for Again, Dangerous Visions (ADV). Between selling Bentfinto Ellison and ADV’s actual publication, Lupoff received an offer from Dell for a novel based on Bentfin. Accepting the offer would have necessitated withdrawing his story from ADV. Ellison was violently opposed to Lupoff withdrawing his story. Ellison got his way. Consequently, Space War Blueswas not published in 1971. Stuff got worked out (sorta) and the novel-length fix-up was published in 1978.
The 1978 mass market paperback (and for all I know, the Gateway SF ebook) includes a fascinating pair of essays: an introduction from Ellison and a preface from Lupoff. Ellison’s account of the affair is exquisitely one-sided and self-serving. Lupoff’s preface (which includes comments from his agent) is weary, although the battered author and his agent still have the energy to point out various unpleasant truths, such as the fact that ADV was published long after its initially announced publication date. Introduction and preface alone are worth hunting down this edition.
My readers may be aware that no matter how infuriating they find this imbroglio (Ellison kneecapping Lupoff’s early career; Ellison’s effusive praise for his bold editorial decisions), it is as nothing compared to what happened to the poor bastards who contributed to the unpublished4 The Last Dangerous Visions.
I suppose the moral of the novel is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
1: With a single exception (N’Louisiana), the worlds settled from former CSA states are white ethnostates. This seems like a suitable moment to point out that the Southern states from which the worlds take their names are in no way all white. It’s hard to have race-based slavery if everyone is the same race.
2: Which is a pity, because the whole Yurakosi subplot is a great example of things that probably played better in 1968 than they do now: the Indigenous Australians who settled Yurakosi are by virtue of mutations peculiar to Australia highly resistant to space radiation (but only the pure-blooded ones). This grants the planet an advantage when it comes to crewing starships. However, they take their vow of neutrality seriously and would literally rather die than get entangled, willingly or not, in planetary wars.
3: The New Dimensions series appears to have had several naming conventions.
4: The Last Dangerous Visions, in the form envisioned by Ellison, was arguably unpublishable, although I understand that a small fraction of the contents will see print under the original title.