Exploration Log 2: Al Thomas’ “Sex in Space: A Brief Survey of Gay Themes in Science Fiction” (1976)

Today I have the second post in my new Exploration Log series. Some posts will be a brief survey of the various SF-related non-fiction I’ve read. Other posts, I hope, will be a jumping off point for my own research. In this instance, I’ll share the elements of an article that resonated with me.

Check out my previous post on publishing Ursula K. Le Guin behind the Iron Curtain here.


Al Thomas’ “Sex In Space: a Brief Survey: A Brief Survey of Gay Themes in Science Fiction” first appeared in Gay Peoples Union News, Vol. 5, N. 12 (September 1976). You can read it online here.

In 1971, inspired in part by the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that brought national attention to the gay liberation movement and Wisconsin’s earlier and lesser known LGBTQ riots, the Gay Peoples Union (GPU) was founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as “a social service agency dedicated to the needs of the gay community” and “concurrently dedicated to educating the community at large about gays and lesbians” (source). An offshoot of the Gay Liberation Organization at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the GPU was the “‘first’ at many things” including community center, gay health clinic, and published a monthly periodical called GPU News (source). The publication soon gained national recognition for its broad coverage of topics to the gay and lesbian community. GPU News produced the “first regularly scheduled, scripted gay and lesbian [radio] program in the nation” between 1971-1972 and collaborated on multiple programs with the mainstream Milwaukee news sources. For recordings and other pieces of ephemera check out the University of Wisconsin-Madison digital collection. For a brief oral history of attending a GPU meeting, check out this fascinating interview with Don Schwamb and other early members.

The article I’ll cover today–Al Thomas’ “Sex In Space: A Brief Survey of Gay Themes in Science Fiction” (September 1976)–appeared in the publication’s heyday in the 70s before it folded due in the early 80s due to lack of volunteers (source).

Al Thomas, about whom I’ve been able to find nothing about, surveys the state of science fiction on gay (and occasionally lesbian) themes up to 1975. While the article itself is riddled with errors that impact the conclusions he reaches, “Sex In Space” is a fascinating look at how science fiction was viewed by the gay liberation movement of the day. I’ve provided each work with gay and lesbian themes covered in the article below.

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Short Story Reviews: Alfred Coppel’s “The Dreamer” (1952), “Double Standard” (1952), “The Hunters” (1952), and “Death is Never Final” (1952)

The following review is the 17th, 18th, and 19th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. Many are far from the best. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

Reinvigorated by the positive response to my last post in my series, I turn now to an author, Alfred Coppel (1921-2004), whom I’ve only infrequently explored. Track down his post-apocalyptic masterpiece, of the “realistic” variety, Dark December (1960) if you haven’t already. As I was in the Coppel reading mood, I included an extra tale on a different theme.

As always, feel free to join the conversation and read along with me on the search for the depressed astronaut.

Previously: John D. MacDonald’s “The Flaw” in Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (January 1949), You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Alfred Coppel’s “The Hunters” first appeared in Fantastic Story Magazine, ed. Samuel Mines (Fall 1952). You can read it online here.

“The Hunters” imagines a world after humanity has voyaged to the stars. Or rather, after humanity figured out that they were not suitable for the stars–a simulacrum of the human was required instead. Felti hides from the hunters–Grancor and Corday–on a “twisted, tortured world that had not died with dignity” (107). An archaeologist by trade who studied the culture that started the exploration of the cosmos, Felti felt the pull of this shattered place despite its “acrid tang of radiation” (107). But he was on the run! The “Psychoanalyzer” required Felti’s reconditioning (107).

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXI (Phyllis Gotlieb, John D. MacDonald, Robert Onopa, and Peter George)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Sunburst, Phyllis Gotlieb (1964)

From the back cover: “In the hideous aftermath of the atomic sunburst. The people of Sorrel Park had been written off. Now they were nothing but a kind of human garbage, festering and hopeless.

In the center of town lived the worst of the human garbage–and by far the most dangerous. They were a breed of terrible children, possessed by terrifying supernormal powers. They were a new race of monster bred out of the sunburst, and if they ever broke loose they would destroy the world…”

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth (1948)

From the back cover: “‘Begotten of Imagination, on the body of Technology, there springs forth the wild child Science Fiction.’ –Clifton Fadiman

The above is one of the many attempts that have been made to describe a department of fiction which, in spite of some sniping critics, continues to increase its followers. Recently Bertrand Russell observed that science fiction consists of ‘intelligent anticipation–much more intelligent than the expectations of statesmen.’

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Future Media Short Story Review: Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” (1957)

Today I’ve reviewed the twenty-first story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Ray Bradbury conjures a strange new world without television.

Previously: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” first appeared in The Reporter (December 26, 1957). It later appeared in his short story collection The Day It Rained Forever (1959). If you have an Internet Archive account, you can read it online here.

In multiple earlier reviews in this series, I’ve laid out television’s transformative and speedy infiltration of the American consciousness and daily activities over the course of the 1950s. Multiple Bradbury stories critique this new world. The lovely and crystalline “The Pedestrian” (1951) imagined a future night city in which its denizens are transfixed by their TV scenes. The city, observed by the solitary one-time writer Leonard Mead, is as silent as “a wintry, windless Arizona country” (90). “Almost the End of the World” (1957) ruminates on the effects on American society if a cosmic event severs the viewer from the succor of the screen.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” (1958)

Today I’ve reviewed the twentieth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Frederik Pohl satirizes a post-apocalyptic world where advertising gets right to work after the bomb!

Previously: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here

Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” in If, ed. James L. Quinn (December 1955). You can read it online here.

Up Next: Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” in The Reporter (December 26, 1957). If you have an Internet Archive account, you can read it online here.


3/5 (Average)

Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.

The year 1957 flashed subliminal messaging directly into the popular imagination. Vance Packard published The Hidden Persuaders (1957), that quickly became a best seller, and articles including “The Growing Power of Admen” in the Atlantic [1]. In addition, research findings were released and publicized demonstrations occurred over the course of the year appeared to substantiate Packard’s primary claims. In September 1957 James Vicary, a pioneer in subliminal advertising, conducted his infamous “breakthrough media event” to gathered reporters [2]–he intermixed a nature documentary with the subliminal message “Drink Coca-Cola” 169 times! –that built on his earlier studies [3].

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIX (John Brunner, Lester del Rey, John Domatilla, anthology of Best SF 1965)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Quicksand, John Brunner (1967)

From the back cover: “She had nearly killed a man who tried to assault her. She spoke a language no one could understand. Commonplace objects like clothing and cars were a mystery to her.

Paul was haunted and entranced by her. He licked at the secrecy that surrounded her until, inevitably, his fate became linked to hers. And she gave him a vision of a world more beautiful than any he had ever known.

THEY LIVED IN A PARADISES OF SENSUAL ECSTACY… UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE. BECAUSE HER LOVE WAS LIKE QUICKSAND.”

Initial Thoughts: My Brunner obsession in my early 20s generated a packed few years of reading as many novels–the good and the bad–that I could get my hands on. This one escaped my grasp.

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Future Media Short Story Reviews: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” (1958) and Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” (1955)

Today I’ve reviewed the eighteenth and nineteenth stories in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Alice Eleanor Jones and C. M. Kornbluth conjure a media-saturated world and cartoon characters that generate cultish adoration. Both authors respond to the rapid growth of television in the United States over the 1950s and multimedia conglomerates like Disney.

Previously: John Brunner’s “Fair” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here

Up Next: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.


4.5/5 (Very Good)

C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” first appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here if you have an Internet Archive account. Nominated for the 1959 Hugo for Best Short Story. Lost to Robert Bloch’s “That Hell-Bound Train” (1958).

In the short intro to the story in The Best of C. M. Kornbluth (1976), Frederik Pohl explains that Kornbluth’s two young sons (and their father) never missed an episode of the The Mikey Mouse Club (1955-1958). The iconic Disney TV show generated a “national mania” with kids everywhere singing the Mouseketeer song and wearing mouse-ear hats. In 1955, the wider Disney craze would see the creation of their first theme park–Disneyland. Expanding on earlier ruminations on media and the masses in The Space Merchants (1953), “The Advent on Channel Twelve” imagines the dystopic elevation of cartoon character to an altogether new pedestal in the American consciousness.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVIII (Brian W. Aldiss, D. G. Compton, and Shirley Jackson)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Sundial, Shirley Jackson (1958)

From the back cover: “THE SUNDIAL is a chilling, suspenseful, bloodcurdlingly macabre novel of twelve strange people awaiting the end of the world in a fantastical house like no other on earth.” SF Encyclopedia describes The Sundial as “the closet to SF she came.”

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