I recall I was present at a Philadelphia conference — I think it was in 1937 — when Donald A. Wollheim read a speech written by John B. Michel which was a strong and obvious pitch for communism. A lengthy discussion followed and after it had gone on interminably I finally stood up, was recognized by the chairman, and voiced my protest against the insertion of politics into science fiction. I received a round of applause, which showed what most fans thought about the proceedings, and the discussion ended.Imagine an alternate history in which that had gone differently. Or, rather, imagine an alternate history in which that could have gone differently.
It is interesting to note that among the feuding fans were Sam Moskowitz, Donald A. Wollheim, David A. Kyle, Robert W. Lowndes and Fred Pohl, all of whom later made science fiction their profession, either as editors, agents, authors or all three. Years later I visited Wollheim in his home and in the course of conversation mentioned that turbulent period. Wollheim smiled and shook his head. "That was a long time ago."
Much later on, talking about Erle Melvin Korshak of Shasta Press, Eshbach puts both a fact and a perspective on that fact into one very telling parenthetical:
He began reading science fiction in 1934, regularly getting issues of Astounding Stories and Wonder Stories from an older cousin after he had finished reading them. (The cousin later became an oil geologist, a logical development for a Depression teenager who started on science fiction magazines.)For all its beauty, sf has reactionary roots that go deep. And though I will defend the literary virtues of the early pulp years to the death, the damaging propaganda value of a field that can make anti-left mystification and going to work for the oil companies "logical" at the height of the Depression cannot be overstated.
Don't forget, too, that these people saw themselves as a progressive vanguard, pointing the way to the shining future (in some horrifying ways, they were right). What might sf be making logical now?