Nat Tilander
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Galaxy Magazine and the Vietnam War

A curious thing happened along the way to researching reviews for The Multidimensional SF Guide. One day in the spring of 2006 I purchased several boxes of old science fiction magazines from Logos Books in Santa Cruz. Over the next several weeks, as I was analyzing review data from these magazines, I came upon the June 1968 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine and discovered, in the first few pages where Frederik Pohl’s editorial usually appeared, a rather remarkable 2-page advertisement.

This proclamation came at a moment in history when the furor over the war was perhaps at its highest point. Young men were burning their draft cards, thousands were marching on the Pentagon, anti-war activist Eugene McCarthy was galvanizing the pacifist vote, and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was about to be assassinated .

Into the fray stepped 154 sci-fi writers. The political setting couldn’t have been more turbulent. Some of the most famous science fiction authors in the world had just declared themselves as belonging to either the pro-war or anti-war camps. Not content to couch their views in the typical trappings of what-if fiction, these authors had boldly stepped forward—or been cajoled by the organizers —into public declaration.

Of course, there were a number of authors on these lists whose perspective on the war would have come as no shock to many science fiction readers. Robert Heinlein, for example, the titular “Dean of Science Fiction” and author of Starship Troopers, loyally declared his support for continued US involvement. No great surprise there. He was joined by Poul Anderson, John Campbell, Hal Clement, Dean Ing, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Theodore L. Thomas.

Those casting a vote against the war, on the other hand, included Samuel Delany, Philip K. Dick, Thomas M. Disch, Philip Jose Farmer, Damon Knight, Ursula K. Le Guin, Barry Malzberg, Judith Merril, Robert Silverberg, Margaret St. Clair, Norman Spinrad and Kate Wilhelm. Harlan Ellison, the famous and contentious author of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream also put his name to the “opposed” list, but he was hardly shy about expressing his views. Less than a year later Ellison reportedly referred to the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets as “America’s next generation of Nazis.”

The basic grouping, then, was obvious: Old Wave versus New Wave. Hard SF versus sociological SF. The old guard versus the youngsters.

More surprising was the inclusion of Isaac Asimov, Lester Del Rey, Gene Roddenberry and Ray Bradbury within the upstart anti-war camp. As with the rest of the country, moderates were steadily migrating leftward. Although, come to think of it, Asimov, Bradbury and Del Rey had written a lot of anti-war stories over the years—and Roddenberry, after all, had called his TV show Star Trek, not The Galactic Green Beret.

Also somewhat surprising (at least to me) was the inclusion of Leigh Bracket, Marion Zimmer Bradley, R. A.Lafferty, and Jack Vance in the pro-war group. Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example, had infamously written a number of lesbian sleaze novels during the 60s, and her science fiction typically featured strong female protagonists—suggesting values perhaps more aligned with the surging liberal culture.

Several months after the contentious June advertisement, Galaxy’s editor-in-chief, Frederik Pohl, rather cleverly side-stepped the entire debate with the announcement of a contest for the most constructive solution to the Vietnam War. The winners, which included Poul Anderson and Mack Reynolds, were announced in the November 1968 issue, but their proposals, as far as I know, went unpublished.

Speaking for myself, I can’t say I have a preponderance of favorite authors in either camp, and I haven’t changed my opinion regarding any of these authors’ works based upon their pro or anti-war positions . There were a lot of good writers on both sides of the issue. And yet I’ve found myself peering thoughtfully over the War lists in the years since I first discovered them. If nothing more, they offer an interesting and somewhat nostalgic snapshot of a tumultuous time.

Nat Tilander
January 2011

Famous sci-fi tales on the theme of war in Southeast Asia: Burt Cole’s Subi: The Volcano (1957), Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974), John Stanley’s World War III (1976), Robert Mason’s Chickenhawk (1983), Lucius Shepard’s Black Coral (1984), Elizabeth Scarborough’s Healer’s War (1988), and Bruce McAllister’s Dream Baby (1989).

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