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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Book Review: Hothouse (variant title: The Long Afternoon of Earth), Brian W. Aldiss (1962)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Brian W. Aldiss’ Hugo-winning Hothouse (1962) imagines an oppressive, violent, and alien Earth transformed by “the long age of the vegetable” (187). The surviving humans live–“more by instinct than intelligence” (54)– in a continent-encompassing banyan tree in constant fear of killer flora and fauna. Aldiss succeeds in constructing a profoundly unsettling worldscape encyclopedic in its details with unusual rituals of survival. There’s the existential sense throughout that the humans, detached from any memory of their past, who attempt to survive are but frantic movements of an apocalyptic paroxysm. Inventive, relentless, hallucinogenic.

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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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Short Fiction Review: John D. MacDonald’s “Flaw” (1949)

The following review is the 16th 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. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

I decided to return to this all-but-defunct series after I was inspired by a conversation in the comment section of my recent review of John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” (1950). A friend of the site listed a fascinating range of MacDonald’s short stories and multiple appeared to fit my series on subversive accounts of astronauts and space travel. MacDonald’s “Flaw” (1949) charts the end of the dream of the conquest of space.

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

Previously: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Hoofer” in Fantastic Universe, ed. Leo Margulies (September 1955). You can read it online here.

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

“The Dreamer” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher, Jr. and Francis McComas (April 1952). You can read it online here.

“Double Standard” in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (February 1952). You can read it online here.

3.75/5 (Good)

John D. MacDonald’s “The Flaw” first appeared in the January 1949 issue of Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. You can read it online here.

The Dream Sold to the Legions

Carol Adlar, a government clerk at a rocket station in Arizona, falls in love with both the young astronaut Johnny Pritchard and his dream. Johnny believes the moment that humanity can travel to the stars will be the opportunity to create a new “world with no wars, no disease, no starvation” (84). The scars of the ruined Earth offer lessons to create a better future where the sinful will be able to transcend their timeless tendencies. Carol recounts, after Johnny’s tragic death, that “within a week I had caught his fervor, his sense of dedication” (84). They share the dream. They imagine that they will become “one of the first couples to become colonists for the new world” (84). And against her better judgement, she gives her “heart to a man who soars up at the top of a comet plume” (84).

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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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Book Review: Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

English author Angela Carter (1940-1992) spun postmodern fabulations of decadent futures and decaying urban expanses replete with incisive deconstruction of genre conventions [1]. Her dark, Freudian, and erotic masterpiece The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) ranks amongst my favorite SF 70s visions. From a young age Carter read John Wyndham and, like so many others in the 60s, felt the relentless pull of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine and the larger New Wave movement: “this lode, this seam of intensely imaginative and exciting fiction” [2]. And, as with her contemporary Emma Tennant, the work of J. G. Ballard–and/or his ability to fill the air with his entropic sadness–spurred her to write post-apocalyptic SF [3]. Heroes & Villains (1969) is the product of her inspiration and “her first tale to engage in a recognizably sf displacement of reality” [4].

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Short Story Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950) and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952)

My series on (sometimes quietly) radical 50s stories on sex and sexuality continues. Check out my two earlier installments: post-apocalyptic sexual chaos and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952).

Rob Latham in his article “Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction” (2008) argues that in the early 1950s “a handful of stories were published in the magazines that dealt explicitly with sexual topics” long absent from genre. Latham suggests that some of the notable New Wave takes on science fictional sex read as reconceptualized versions of these stories [2]. With few exceptions, the 50s trailblazing tales were ignored by the major digests of the day and instead appeared in the failing pulps–Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories–or in “second- and third-tier digests just struggling to establish themselves” such as Howard Browne’s Fantastic Adventures. For example, my two previous posts in this series covered Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), which appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952) in Startling Stories. The later was rejected by H. L. Gold, according to John Brunner, at Galaxy with the note: “I’ll publish this if you can get rid of the sex–I run a family magazine” [3].

Let’s get to the stories! Both Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950) and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952) explore polyamorous relationships between humans and aliens. In Leiber’s case, a group of bohemians fall in love with a bisexual alien. In Sturgeon’s tale, a heterosexual couple both fall for a parthenogenetically female “alien” symbiote that appears male to women and female to men.

3/5 (Average)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” first appeared in Fantastic Adventures, ed. Howard Browne (September 1950). You can read it online here.

Four self-proclaimed “‘wild’-young people, bohemians” (61), fresh out of college but still “sponging” off their parents “doing academic odd-jobs” (57), encounter the enigmatic and stunningly gorgeous Helen serving food at Benny’s, an all-night diner. Soon after meeting Helen, Es, “something of an artist,” starts to push the boundaries of her previously staid art (56). The narrator, Larry, who calls himself a writer but spends more time “reading magazines and detective stories, lazing around, getting drunk, and conducting […] endless intellectual palavers” (58) suddenly has something to actually write about–a carnal and intellectual love for Helen that they keep hidden from the rest. Louis, a philosopher, slowly encounters new avenues to explore rather than “merely cultivat[ing] a series of intellectual enthusiasms [..] and fruitless-excitement over the thoughts of other men” (57). And the gruff exterior of Gene, an atomic scientist, begins to mellow. All four view Helen as a “Great Books discussion leader” who serves as an intellectual midwife–who fosters, encourages, and inspires the expansion of their minds.

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Short Story Reviews: Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952) and Wallace West’s “Eddie For Short” (1953)

In the March 1955 issue of John Brunner’s fanzine Noise Level, the young author listed a handful of “thematically edgy stories”–including Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), Theodore Sturgeon’s “The World Well Lost” (1953), and Lester del Rey’s “For I am A Jealous People (1954)–that he considered a “step forward” in the field [1]. The previous year he had praised elements of Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952) in a fan letter to Startling Stories. According to Jad Smith, the stories feature “lived-in, morally ambiguous backgrounds much noisier and dynamic than the two-dimensional backdrops of more conventional fare” that appealed to Brunner’s embryonic views on genre [2]. Brunner viewed social change as a “messy and unpredictable process riddled with moral complexities” [3].

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