Confetti Our Readers on Parade: [Letter responding to genre of LoTR posed by Anna Sinclare: science fiction or fantasy]

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[page 1] HOW DRAGGED WERE MY HEELS* Everybody knows exactly how much sex there should be in science fiction. There is even a pious platitude on the subject, which everybody dutifully mouths every time the subject is brought up, after which everyone beams, confident that the last word has been said on _that_. I'd better put it down here, and get it over with; "Sex is okay in science fiction if it's part of the story, but it should never be dragged in by the heels for its own sake. " That sounds fine. But like all pious platitudes, it serves only the purpose of an easy substitution for real thought on the matter. What exactly does this mean? What _sort_ of sex is justifiable in science fiction? Even more aptly, what sort of sex can we point to, saying "_This_ was dragged in by the heels." The extremes are easy to spot. Philip Jose Farmer has written several books which embody serious inquiry into alien more @mores@ and manners in other times and places; not even the worst prude or idiot could justifiably call these stories prurient or pornographc in intent. VENUS PLUS X, like BRAVE NEW WORLD, is a satire on our own time, and deals largely with our own sexual mores; in both of these, the depiction of sexual manners both alien and familiar are justifiable and form "an integral part of the story." Let us leave aside for a moment the tricky question as to whether sex forms a suitable subject for scientifictional exploration at all @.@ I think we can agree that Farmer and Sturgeon use sex as a necessary part of their gestalt, and that their artistic consciences are clear. But how do you draw the fine line in cases less clear-cut? At the other extreme--laws of libel, and the postal regulations in the USA, being what they are, I won't name names -- you have the writer who turns out a novelette or paperback original for some magazine or paperback house, such as Beacon Books or VENTURE, where the editor is known to be receptive toward strong sex scenes, where his writers are urged to write "strong, realistic, human" stories. The writer knows the editor observes no taboos except the basic ones of mailability. But it is not fair to assume that the writer has deliberately injected sex into his story to make it more acceptable to the editor. We need not assume that he has "dragged in sex by the heels" when he permits his hero and heroine to engage in various popular indoor sports. Possibly he is simply writing, for this permissive climate, what he would have been writing all along if he had be~n allowed to do so. There are some writers who believe, in all sincerity, that a story with no mention of sex when two characters of *Copyright 1961 by Marion Zimmer Bradley. All rights reserved, especially that of quoting excerpts out of context. [page 2] assorted gender are presented, is unrealistic and hypocritical. Their argument --and it may well be a valid one,-- runs like this; "Sex is a part of life. My story deals with real people. Real people have sexual drives. If these two people were together in real life, they would obviously have some sexual reaction, either positive or negative, toward one another. If I do not deal with this I am shirking a very real issue in my story." Obviously this author is not sitting down and deliberately cooking up sex scenes to give the reader a buzz. He is presenting two characters; the development is such that they act out all their drives, including the sexual, in the reader's eye rather than outside the context of the story. This must be respected. On the contrary, this begs the question of the entire assigned topic. If stf by its nature is a fiction of ideas, the introduction of a sexual element may detract from the ideational nature of the material. (I said, _may_ detract. I am equally willing to examine the probability that it may add; but we should in all fairness examine the contention that it will at times detract.) By its very nature, stf is not realistic ftction. It is either fantasy or logical extrapolation. The argument against sex here would be that unless one were using s-f as a satire for the purpose of shedding light on present-day mores, sex is misplaced in stf because it can he better dealt with in the context of _today_; thst @that@ the realistic approach to man's personal, emotional an sexual problems should be laid against his real environment rather than an imaginary one; that problems of sex should be dealt with in novels of the mainstream. The writer who is genuinely dedicated to realism, in stf or elsewhere, will look on this argument as footling. He will say vehemently; "But that's just evading the issue! People are people! Sex is just as much a part of life on Mars or on board a spaceship, as it is in Greenwich Village, 1962!" And his opponent will declare with equal vehemence that "Yes, but _that_ isn't why we write stf! If you want to write sex novels, why not write mainstream novels?" Now they have both stated their cases reasonably. However, if they want to _fight_, they go on like this; "But I don't want to write _about_ sex, I just want to handle the sex realistically in a science fiction novel!" Whereupon the opponent of sex in science fiction will draw himself up and deliver what is meant to be his crushing final argument; "Yeah, but elimination is part of life too, and you don't tell about every time your hero visits the plumbing." And if the defender of sex has any sense, he _won't_ answer this. Not because there isn't any argument left, but because anyone who holds a view as extreme as all that is unconvinceable anyhow, and argument a mere waste of the time of both parties. In an extreme case, "who has the last word" is immaterial. Keeping on after this point usually means that things get pretty messy and at the very least, names are called and friends are lost. However, he does have a point. Extremists in realism _can_ get so preoccupied with "not leaving out any part of life" that the main march of their story is lost in a lot of compulsively- [page 3] mentioned details; they feel that they are shirking a vital issue if their hero doesn't stop and go to the bathroom every four or five hours. The extreme example, of course, is Rabelais' description of a day in the life of Gargantua or Pantagruel, complete with every wind-breaking, nose-wiping, belch or other physical function. He carries realism to its extreme. There are those who extravagantly admire this sort of thing, and I admit it can serve as an effectual antidote to the _other_ extreme-- where the hero can spend five days tied up in the ship's hold and emerge smelling only of manly sweat. The works of Henry Miller take a Rabelaisian view of life, and even the U.S. Supreme Court has admitted artistic purpose to that view of life. Set against this, of course, is a perfectly cogent and sensible argument --to which devotees of Rabelais and Miller refuse any validity -- that a piece of fiction exists in a particular gestalt or context. Private functions are acceptable only in certain contexts; fiction being selective, the compulsion to discuss in fiction (a public context) matters which are usually reserved for private contexts, is exhibitionistic and should be discouraged unless unavoidable. Even the old maids who censor books for adolescents in high school libraries do not usually object to the discussion of a bowel movement in Norhoff and Hall's classic of starvation on the high seas, MEN AGAINST THE SEA: the narrator is a doctor and he is reflecting on the way the bodies of the sailors have reacted to starvation. This, they would say, is an acceptable context for the discussion of a private function. And there are many writers who would agree. Just as children are taught not to play with their dirty diapers, a growing artistic maturity ---they contend-- will outgrow the compulsion to parade on paper one's knowledge of sexual matters. An adult's sex life they say, is his own business; just as your friends do not discuss their marital experiences, so the characters in a book "deserve some privacy." A word here should be said in defense of school libraians. Theiy must guard against the narrowest-minded parents in the community, not against the vast average. One outraged puritan can do more harm to a school library than the 99 tolerant and permissive parents who are content if their young are not explicitly instructed in the elephantine books. They are occasionally forced to take the pragmatic approach --"What will the parents stand for?" to keep their libraries open at all; rather than the ideal approach of "Have the parents any _right_ to censor their kiddies reading?" If you bring up the begged question as to whether a closed library may not be as good as a censored one, I must shrug my shoulders and say that I have no immediate answer. We have gone far afield into the ethics of the artistic conscience _per se_. Now let us return to our subject, and discuss sex in science fiction in the light of a few specific cases. [page 4] The far extreme of science fiction is; no sex at all. What one writer called "obscenely sexless." This, of course, does not refer to such stories as ALAMAGOOSA, where the subject dealt with has absolutely no sexual application, but those tales where --for instance-- a spaceman and a girl spend six months on an unihabited planet, and the subject never once comes up. Yet they are "in love" and when rescued they marry. Now I ask you! It isn't as silly as it sounds from that flat denunciation. The story is concerned with some other context, perhaps. Men and women _do_ work together without sexual involvement. The personal context of the story, perhaps, is concerned with some _other_ basic drive, and their personal lives are left outside the story; the reader can assume what he likes about what they do "between chapters." One cannot here use the "realistic" criterion; the story is fantasy, and deals with a single fantastic gestalt. Sex here would indeed be gratuitous. And, sometimes, _is_. Very silly things can happen when a writer of straight s-f, existing outside a sexual context, decides that he must move with the times and starts writing sex into his stories simply because most s-f nowadays deals with some sex. The goofiest example I can think of, offhand, comes not from a Galaxy Beacon Book, but from a writer whom, otherwise, I admire tremendously as a creater of s-f, and virtually love as a man: fandom's own beloved "Doc" Smith. THE GALAXY PRIMES is a tragedy of what can happen to a writer of traditional stf when he tries to be "modern." E E Smith on his own level, is a superb creator of science fiction of a particular kind; the almost-epic fantasy. THE GREY LENS-MAN is probably the best thing of its kind ever written. And that E E Smith can handle real people, and create emotional situations beautifully, is evident to anyone who has read CHILDREN OF THE LENS. Some people don't like this kind of story; "it's just too damn galactic." I do. And I remember-EEEvans writin to me once about CHILDREN OF THE LENS, in regard to my commentary on the superb emotional scene in which Chris recieves her second-stage from her son, "I dig it out and re-read it every few months." E E Smith is a master writer --on his own level. But I maintain that THE GALAXY PRIMES is probably the worst example of dragged-in-by-the-heels sex in all the literature. An absolutely inordinate part of the story is obscured by two of the main characters--not in the fact that they sleep together, but by their endless discussion and wran gling @wrangling@ about when, where and how. It is naive, and it is embarrassin. E E Smith is writing out of context. He is not simply a goop about writing-about-sex-in-stf. In that same GALAXY PRIMES, there is rather a good bit of rationale about why the "Primes" do not interbreed with the natives of the various planets. ....although I admit that to me, it sounded dangerously as if the author were trying to give his heroes an acceptable reason for not being conventionally promiscuous. And much of the heavy-handed sexual discussion in GALAXY PRIMES was just as embarrassing to me as if that dear decent hearty old gentleman himself had walked into the convention hall clad [page 5] only in fresh air and a few inches of striped socks. There are people who could do this, and it would be acceptable; they would simply be demonstrating the courage of their convictions. But in E E Smith, it is appalling. I think a similar gratuitous example appenrs in Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS. Poul never descends to the naively salacious, but at times his emphasis is misplaced. The first time he uses the device of some shuddersome alien entity lurking outside to seize the hero when he "has unholy thoughts" --i.e. when he permits himself to think sexually of one of the beautiful girls in the story -- this is effective and chilling. The second time it is less so, and the third time, the reader groans and says "Oh, no! Not _that_ again!" There are--as I said before-- good reasons for a story to ignore sex. I am thinking at the moment of Tolkien's masterly evocation of Aragorn's indifference to any woman but Arwen; in THE RETURN OF THE KING, last of the series, there is a moment when Eowyn almost literally throws herself at Aragorn; and he, gently but very firmly, rejects her. This particular point always seems apt to me, because at one time I happened, for my sins, to get hold of a whole succession of historical-legendary novels of the I-SLEPT-WITH-JULIUS-CAESAR persuasion, in which the heroes bedded down as many females as they conquered cities. When I read that particular sequence--or rather, when I re-read it critically for the purposes of my PALANTIR paper --I amused myself imagining how Frank Yerby or someone would have handled the relationship between Eowyn and Aragorn, or how some of the sex-in-every- chapter boys would have impugned the hero's masculinity, because he failed to demonstrate sufficient msculine interest in the gal. After all, they would deliver their rationale, it isn't realistic. Verily, and amen; it isn't. Realism here would be grotesque. As it happens, I don't _like_ that scene between Aragorn and Eowyn. (I always identify with Eowyn, you see, and my feminine vanity is wounded, I guess. I feel rejected.)· Heinlein, I think, strikes a nice balance for the kind of story where the sex is underplayed. I ought to remark that I have not yet read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND: I've ordered the book, but it hasn't caught up with me yet. In TIME FOR THE STARS, the adolescents aboard the starship are chaperoned, yet take a normal interest in each other. And in THE PUPPET MASTERS, sex never forms a context of the story (except where Mary diagnoses two "zombies" by their lack of normal interest) yet no one could accuse Heinlein of "ignoring" the relntionship between Sam and Mary. In short, sex is neither intrusive by its presence or ridicuously conspicuous by its absence. This may, just possibly, explain why THE PUPPER MASTERS is the only Heinlein novel for which I have any real affection. DOUBLE STAR and THE DOOR INTO SUMMER left me indifferent on a second reading, LUMMOX and HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL struck me as idiotic, and I never could struggle the rest of the way through THE STARSHIP TROOPERS. There is also what one could call the "halfway realistic" approach to sex in science fiction. This would apply to such novels as THE DEMOLISHED MAN , or J T M'Intosh's ONE IN THREE [page 6] HUNDRED, where the characters have-- along with their other problems- some sexual problem or other within the framework of the story, and it is simply dealt with as it arises; neither ignored nor made an undue focus of interest. I suspect that this is the ideal at which the pious platitude quoted at the beginning of this paper is aimed, but I personally think it can apply only to a certain type of story and excludes too much at both ends. The amount of sex included in THE DEMOLISHED MAN would conceivably be too much in a novel of pure adventure. And cutting VENUS PLUS X down to that level would be an unwarrantable restriction on the author's freedom of subject matter and treatment. The sex novel _per se_ probably made its first bow in science fiction with Phil Farmer's THE LOVERS; and I do not use the term sex novel in any disparaging sense, but a genuinely descriptive on. It deals, definitely and specifically, with a problem in sexual mores; and it does so validly and well. Unfortunately, seeing the success of this book, other editors and other writers have jumped on the bandwagon and imitated the sexual freedom of expression without imitating the context of the story which made the sex a legitmate preoccupation. As the editor of my college text of Rabelais said; the editor of any dirty book will call it "Rabelaisian" and the casual reader will look for obscenity and usually find it; not because obscenity is all there is to Rabelais, but becasue obscenity is the only Rabelasisian quality which any fool can imitate. Thus one could say; sex is not all there is to Philip Jose Farmer, but it is the only thing which the ordinary writer can imitate. They proliferate, and only Sturgeon exists on an equally high level. The editors may be to blame for this. I know personally of two unpublished science fiction novels, and I am positive there are at least a dozen others in existence, which deal with science fictional subjects on a level of erotic realism. One is my own; and parts of this novel were confiscated by the United States Post Office when I stupidly displayed portions of it to the wrong people. In essence, the purpose was honest; to portray the fashion in which a love affiar would intertwine and interweave with the entire community life among a race of telepaths where no secret desire, no matter how unconventional, could be hidden or repressed. The other novel -- mailable, but probably unprintable as it stands -- was written by a fan who has done no professional work, and deals with the possibility that homosexuality will very possibly exist as a preliminary condition among all-male spaceship crews. The question arises; will such novels ever become publishable? SHOULD they? (Erratum; for "unprintable" above, read "unpublishable for the average trade-list publisher.") And since we've brought up the subject, what about such unbreakable taboos, for magazine, fiction, as homosexuality? I think we should examine them, as editors are forced to do. Some people say "Away with all taboos." Are we to have tolerance only for that viewpoint, and be wholly intolerant of those who would like to retain some areas for private rather than public contexts? As an offended writer, I personally would like to see the taboos go. But have I the right to force my own views of life on the reading public? [page 7] I spoke on a previous page of the proliferation of sex-problem novels in science fiction. Eric Maine's WORLD WITHOUT MEN deals with the invention of an "absolute contraceptive", and takes the to-me-untennable @untenable@ position that the normal kind of procreation would therefore cease; the idea being that no woman would EVER agree to bear a child if she could possibly get out of it by a foolproof method. This may say something about the author's experience with women --I don't know. He proceeds along a perhaps-logical sequence of a race to invent parthenogenesis, a disappearance of the normal male from the earth, and the logical notion that everybody would immediately turn lesbian. If I disagree with all these premises, I suppose I am free to write a story refuting them, and stating that --given Maine's parthenogenesis-- an almost completely sexless race, like worker bees, would evolve. And some writers --Judith Merril in a book whose name I have forgotten--glanced on the possibility that future spaceship crews or colonies on the moon, all-male, would have to compesare @compensate@ for possible repressed homosexual desires in themselves. Jerry Bixby, in SHARE ALIKE, has made almost the same point in a rather shuddery story of a man who enjoys contact with a (male) vampire. But must we now have a rash of stories whose·authors feel conscientiously obligated to deal with the inevitable problem of homosexuality 'rearing its ugly head' in every spaceship story from now on, just because that problem is well and truly dealt with in one or two such stories? The writing on the wall might indicate that perhaps we must. The context of today decries male friendship to the point where the Hero and his Faithful Sidekick are no longer an acceptable story-material.....someday remind me to print my commentary on the something-or-other person who deseribed _Batman and Robin_ in those terms. And yet I wonder if this can't be as grotesque as the compulsive attempt to prove via fiction that this hero and his girl couldn't live chastely in a spaceship for two weeks. I'm thinking of Tolkien again, perhaps because this point recurred so often in my paper on _Men, Halflings and Hero Worship_. The "Mount Doom" sequence, Sam's care for and emotional preoccupation with Frodo, the growing closeness and intimacy between them, the intensely emotional and moving quality of their love for one another, certainly places this in the category of classic David-and-Jonathan friendships. And you know what our hypothetical compulsive seeker of Freudian realism would say about _that_! I emphasize this point because it was forcibly called to my attention when a friend suggested that I should include the last two of the Tolkien series on my annual listing of fiction dealing with homosexual and variant themes. I pooh-poohed the notion, as did my co-editor. However, once the point _had_ been raised in my hearing, I discussed it -- not to put to fine a point on the matter --with several persons who, to my knowledge, were capable of at least an emotional response and/or reaction to their own sex. All agreed on one point; that this portrayal was both innocent and at the same time particularly moving for [page 8] the quality of unselfish love and devotion expressed. All -- to my mild surprise, being used to hearing some of these biased critics demand that David and Jonathan must be openly claimed among the homosexual aristocracy -- were in absolute agreement that Tolkien's "real" meaning could safely be left to a psychoanalyst and that the books should NOT be included on such a listing! Once again we have wandered far afield, and made no conclusions except to reiterate our hoary old platitude; that sex should neither be dragged in my @by@ the heels nor swept under the rug in such fashion as to leave untidy lumps and blank patches. ARE there no new conclusions to be reached on such a subject? I have been accused of writing too much about sex in my own science fiction -- at least by editors. (I have also been accused, by editors of my mainstream books, of writing too little. See?) I consider present-day manners and _mores_ to be gravely in need of reappraisal, and I suppose that when I leave the modern context and range afield into the past and future, I permit myself to speculate --perhaps overmuch -- about the effect of differing social codes on the end result in the lives of the characters. I do not belive my work has been _unduly_ censored at any time, though. I am thinking in particular of THE PLANET SAVERS, printed in AMAZING STORIES, where toward the end of the story the hero, Jason, twice dismissed his unwelcome _alter ego_, Jay, by making a sexual advance to Kyla, the free-Amazon guide in the story. At one point Jason is making love to Kyla and I finish the scene with him kissing her. Shift to next morning. Did they continue their love-making beyond that point? I never said. At the climax of the story, however, when Jason renounces the hope of a life of his own with Kyla, I wrote "It wasn't the end. She--pleaded with me, and I didn't know how I resisted. But at last she ran away crying, and I threw myself down by the fire, hating myself..." Now. In my original version, "But before morning I felt her arms around my neck...." Kyla has returned, saying "At least I'll have you while I can." Cele Goldsmith cut this scene, leaving it at the point where Kyla ran away. Am I angry? Offended? Miffed _NO_. The point I was making in this story was not a sexual conflict, but an emotional one. If the reader wishes to assume that Kyla and Jason carried their love-making to conclusions, I don't particluarly care. If conversly, he wishes to assume that they found enough satisfaction in kissing and exchanging words and pledges of love, that's all right too. In all honesty, I never really bothered to stop and figure it out for myself; that was entirely their own business. I was concerned with their emotions --- concerned with their actions only insofar as they affected the progress of the story. Why Jay rejected Kyla, and why Jason found her attractive, was far more important in the context of this story than precisely what overt expression they have to their feelings. Who cares? Not me, certainly. And I think if the author handles the emotional context of the story rightly, then the amount of overt sex to be portrayed is immaterial. He can write as little as his tates dictate or as much as the editor permits, and still produce an honest story. And if the feeling is false, no amount of bedsport, or lack of it, will prevent him from producing, whatever his aim, a dishonest one.

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