Retro Fandom Friday – One Letter to Make You Think

Friday , 21, October 2016 6 Comments

More Sex In The Future? appeared in the letters column of the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. Though we’ve included the text in its entirety, it can be read here at Archive.org.Planet Stories Logo

I’ve noticed in the last couple stories I’ve read, including two of the three that I’ll be talking about in the upcoming weeks, one by Poul Anderson and another by A.E. Van Vogt, that in the post-war stories, around the cusp of 1950 (give or take a few years, there’s no hard line) there’s been a gradual change in both the tone and the kinds of stories being published in Planet. Less hopeful, more grey, and definitely not in the heroic tradition that one would’ve come to expect from reading stories by Rocklynne, Brackett, Wells, or any other number of space romance writers.

In the last Retro Fandom Friday, I talked about how Planet was mulling over axing their letters section (they didn’t) over some gripes about the letters they were receiving. While I can’t and won’t say “this is the kind of letter that made them consider axing Vizi”, nor can I say this letter writer is necessarily representative of greater fandom, it does contain many of the things I’ve seen begin to crop up in the letters section in the late 40s that might raise an eyebrow. Beginning with appeal to reason, moving into the need for ‘serious discussion’ and call for ‘serious’ science fiction, this writer meanders through psychology and atomic science to the Kinsey Report to denigrating Western sexual mores in favor of delicious polyamory and cultural relativism.

Dear Editor:

These letters squawking emotionally against the inclusion of sex in science-fiction stories leave me disappointed, disturbed and more than a little disgusted. They seem to be the work of inhibited repressed personalities. I am not placing myself in the position of endorsing smut or pornography, but I believe the subject of sex deserves some straightforward, adult handling.

If science-fiction has anything to offer other than mere escapism, its value lies in promoting a receptive, questioning attitude and freeing the mind from the narrow, superstition-bound, taboo-ridden ruts of accustomed thought channels.

Nearly every science-fiction story is a glimpse into some writer’s conception of a possible future, and as change is the one certainty in this universe, the future will be different from the present. How different? Our present-day patterns are neither perfect nor static. Some of our better brains have concluded that if we don’t rapidly learn as much about our own psychology and social structures as we already know about the guts of a uranium, we are heading for disaster on a grand scale.

Anyone not entirely prejudice-blinded can see that the conventional standards of sex conduct of today are irrational, hypocritical, and simply are not working. The Kinsey report indicates clearly that a socially dangerous schizoid gap exists between “moral principles” and actual conduct.

Our self-appointed “Moral leaders” have decreed certain rules, to which everyone is supposed to adhere unquestioningly on blind faith alone. And they insist on the face of contrary evidence that these rules are eternal and immutable and unchanging. They carefully ignore the fact that other civilizations have done as well or better than our own in promoting human welfare, using an entirely different set of standards of conduct.

Polygamy has been successful in many places, until our own civilization intervened with superior military and police forces. (And the present Hollywood concept of marriage is nothing but legalized serial polygamy.) Many cultures, those of Crete and Athens and Bali, for instance, have accepted costumes which left female breasts fully exposed and yet have not lapsed into unbridled lewdness. Many civilizations have experimented, some quite successfully, with premarital and extramarital sexual freedom.

And if our own civilization doesn’t radioactivate itself into oblivion or sterility, increasing biological knowledge will surely give us complete control of reproduction. Children will be born only when they are definitely desired. That too will alter the social patterns.

Sex will probably remain one of the basic human drives as long as homo sapiens is recognizable as such. So let’s quit trying to hide the fact beneath a mound of taboos. Whether the authors see the future patterns as puritanism or libertinism, monogamy or polygamy or polyandry or eugenic mating controlled by bureaucrats, that makes little difference. To each author his own dreams. But a writer can’t very well depict the social structure of a hypothetical future world without including man-woman relationships—and in these sex will be a basic factor.

So I contend that discussions of sex have just as legitimate a place in science-fiction as nuclear physics and military technology and synthetic foods and the eternal struggle of dictatorship vs. freedom. If science-fiction can persuade people to look openmindedly at themselves and their emotion-dominated attitudes, it can do us all a great service.

So let’s start jettisoning the taboos!

Sincerely, John Higgins

 

Other letters in this issue include complaints about the unbearable whiteness and American-ness of Science Fiction. We have to get rid of this anglo-Americentric vision for the future! It’s up to you Sci-fi editors to achieve this! Some of the garbage in this issue’s Vizigraph could have been written yesterday on Vox, Kotaku or The Mary Sue.

 

6 Comments
  • PCBushi says:

    It’s funny, I just myself became aware of this the other day – that even in the 40s and 50s there was this SJW move to control SFF. Walter Hooper mentions it in the preface to CS Lewis’ “Of This and Other Worlds” – that Lewis ignored literary voices decrying escapism and calling for themes like social justice. Heaven forbid reading and imagination should be fun.

    • Alex says:

      As I’ve hit my 30s, I find myself sounding a lot like Fry’s dad from Futurama: “Commie sleeper agents answering to Moscow sent here to destroy our culture and ruin our science fiction!”

  • Nathan says:

    Early 1950s would put it at the peak of the Futurians’ attempt to redefine science fiction into a more social and socialist friendly genre and fandom. A quick perusal of Wikipedia shows that there were members of that Worldcon fandom group submitting art and stories for years before. It’s no surprise, as Planet’s standards on sex and violence were lax compared to its competitors.

    I noticed that Planet went through four editors in the span of two years from 1950-52. It would be curious to see if the rot crept in before or during this turbulent span.

    • cirsova says:

      Yeah, I want to say that Payne was the editor who was complaining heavily about people constantly bringing up the issues of race and Kinsey in the Viz and was in charge when they proposed axing it; he was out an issue or two after the vote was “keep”.

      Funny because you start seeing more “big” name SF writers who we think of today as being “big” in the 50s when the overall tone of the stories seems to be undergoing a change. Brackett is still being Brackett, of course, but there’s definitely a cynicism that wasn’t there under early Payne or the issues I’ve read that Peacock was editor for.

      It is worth noting that Reiss remained principal editor for the magazine’s whole run, but I gather he was more hands off after he started letting the associate editors handle things; very few of the associate editors remained very long, but Peacock & Payne were the longest, with a brief stretch of a couple issues by Whitehorn.

  • Daddy Warpig says:

    I recognize that cant. That’s the cant of the enemy.

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