Friday, August 19, 2011

Essay #7...American Space Program critiques by science fiction

First flight of North American X-15 hypersonic research aircraft.
September 17th, 1959

The following is the sixth installment of nine selected informative, thoughtful, and well-written essays regarding science, science fiction, technology, and literature from Science Fiction Studies .

"Science-Fiction Critiques of the American Space Program, 1945-1958"


Albert I. Berger

July 1978

Science Fiction Studies

The science-fiction community had more than the atomic bomb to celebrate as World War II drew to a close. Not only had Hiroshima proved that their wildest fantasy, nuclear power, was a reality, but the Germans had developed an operational rocket ship as part of their war effort. Space travel had been the most prominent feature of science fiction since long before the war, but even within the science-fiction community there was doubt that men would ever really blast free of the Earth's gravitational pull. Amazing's editor, T. O'Conor Sloane, in his eighties and son-in-law to Thomas A. Edison, refused in 1930 to believe that the stories he printed about interplanetary voyages had any connection with reality.1 Other influential science-fiction editors, notably Amazing's founder Hugo Gernsback and Astounding's John Campbell, were more receptive, but in this country the close relationship between science fiction and rocketry continued to attach the pulp stigma to the rockets, rather than the rocket's reality to the fiction.2 The German response had been somewhat different, as the British discovered on September 8, 1944, when the first V-2s fell on Chiswick and Epping, having reached a height of sixty or seventy miles and a speed of 3,000 miles per hour along the way.3

Campbell had kept his readers in Astounding informed on German rocket progress with two articles by Willy Ley, former vice-president of the Verein fuer Raumschiffahrt, the rocket society which had provided the core of the team at Peenemuende. Ley had left Germany in 1934 and had contributed articles to international scientific magazines as well as both fiction and articles to Astounding on numerous subjects, although concentrating on space flight. His piece on the V-2, while mistakenly assuming that it was designed by rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth, discussed various smaller anti-aircraft rockets along with the jet-propelled V-1 and Me-163 fighter, carefully differentiating them and estimating V-2's size and performance from the maze of misleading figures put out by Nazi propaganda and Allied intelligence. Ley assumed that the Nazis would destroy all of Peenemuende and kill the knowledgeable technicians before the Allies could capture them, so that simply picking up the German pieces would be impossible. But he calculated that by substituting a pilot and instruments for the warhead, the V-2 could be fired to a total altitude of 200 miles, putting a man into the edge of empty space. Simply knowing that the Germans had built V-2 meant that a similar rocket could be built by the Americans for peaceful purposes.4

But Ley's readers were not that confident. In the last days of the war, a science-fiction fan in the Air Force sent Campbell a photo of a V-2's vapor trail taken from a B-17. Wind currents at high altitudes had pushed the vapor into a variety of jagged shapes with no resemblance to the smooth upward path of the rocket's trajectory. It was a phenomenon with which the Germans were familiar, but to the fan and Campbell, who published it under the title of "The Road to the Future," it suggested that rocket takeoffs might be too rough for people.5 The picture ran in the same issue which carried Campbell's first reactions to the atomic bomb, and the two developments shared equal space in the letter column for months afterwards. Of these, the letters on the V-2 were the more technical, drawing the attention of such scientifically literate readers as Arthur C. Clarke, then a Cambridge graduate and RAF technical officer involved in radar development. The concern that all of them displayed, including Clarke, who was aware that only the vapor trail was erratic, gave testimony to the urgency of their feelings about rocket flight. As Theodore Sturgeon would later remark in reference to nuclear power, science-fiction writers and readers had hardly expected to see their fantasies made real in their own lifetimes, and if nuclear power was a cause for shock and fear, the realization of space flight, even on the limited scale provided by the V-2, was a source of excitement and hope. That a real rocket might work, but still bar the road to the stars to humans was a source of dismay. Campbell, immersed in both his editorials and a book on nuclear power, tried to be soothing, erroneously suggesting that the V-2 was a weapon of desperation, hastily built in the waning days of an otherwise hopeless war. A less makeshift rocket would, he believed, be more stable.6

In a way, Campbell's rush to minimize the effort that went into the V-2 was a symptom of the modes of scientific research he and his readers preferred. In Campbell's first story, "When the Atoms Failed," his narrator is called to scientist Steven Waterson's desert laboratory and asked to inspect a spaceship which the inventor has built essentially by himself.7 Shortly after, Campbell was the first of the "world-wrecker" writers to consider the amount of metal in the hundreds of spaceships destroyed in his stories, and make provisions for recovering it after the battles, indicating his awareness of industrial reality. But he could still think of a V-2 crash program without a long lead time and delicate connections with the rest of Germany's highly industrialized economy.8

In this attitude, Campbell was influenced largely by the experience and examples of two men, Ley and Robert Goddard. A professor at Clark University, Goddard had worked alone, or with a very small team in direct defiance of most of the established science in the United States to build the first liquid-fueled rockets in the world. Publishing solely in various reports from the Smithsonian Institution, Goddard died before his reputation extended outside academic or rocket society circles. On the other hand, Ley, who had had experience with group research, the VfR, was extremely skeptical of it as a result of the internal politics of the rocket society, the totalitarianism of the Nazis, whose military built the V-2, and the scientific enthusiasms less respectable than rocket flight to which the Nazi hierarchy was addicted, and on which they demanded research.9 Both sets of experience, along with the traditional science-fiction affinity for individual scientific heroes and rapid breakthroughs, combined to enable Campbell to discount the extensive development, long-term research and bureaucratic infighting which characterized the actual rocket development program.10

Yet the rocket engineers and promoters were often science-fiction fans and writers themselves. Tsiolkovsky, Oberth and Von Braun all wrote space fiction at one time or another. Oberth and the VfR were technical advisers for Fritz Lang's movie Frau im Mond, receiving enough money to build an actual rocket they intended to launch in connection with the film's premiere. The plan went awry, but at least one prominent rocket engineer, Krafft Ehricke, designer of the Atlas booster which sent the first Americans into orbit, was "converted to space travel" by the movie.11 G. Edwards Pendray and Nathan Schachner, both presidents of the American Rocket Society, wrote for science-fiction magazines under pseudonyms, as did Ley himself. Arthur Clarke was an officer of the British Interplanetary Society before he became a successful science-fiction writer. Among a long string of technical articles predating his debut as a professional fiction writer was Clarke's proposal for a communications satellite, written in October, 1945.12

Against this background, the divergence between the various developments in space flight "predicted" by science-fiction writers and those actually taken in the "real world" seem puzzling. Hardly an area of science fiction produces less evidence that science fiction has a firm grasp on scientific reality than the stories about space flight written in the first ten years of the space age. Yet a closer examination reveals not only that science-fiction writers were distrustful of the actualities of organized science, but that they were sufficiently distrustful of it to examine its social roots at a time when social criticism was extremely dangerous in the United States and when it had almost entirely disappeared from even "serious," as well as "popular" literature.

If one is willing to draw an analogy between space-flight fiction and traditional mysterious-voyage fiction, science-fiction's use of the voyage as a vehicle for social satire has an honorable heritage. Even without that heritage, H.G. Wells's looks back at the Earth from the distant vantage point of a spaceship were crucial benchmarks in the development of nearly every science-fiction writer working at the end of the war. Campbell's writers were working within the very heart of their tradition when they built their fictional ships for Astounding's upgraded pages from 1939 on. Significantly enough, young Isaac Asimov, after placing several early stories with other editors, first fulfilled his own youthful dream of selling science fiction to Campbell with just such a story, "Trends."

Stemming from sociological research Asimov was typing as part of his National Youth Administration job, the story's premise has mobs motivated by religious fanaticism vigorously oppose the construction of a moon-bound rocket, sabotage it, and use the resulting explosion as an excuse for banning all scientific research. According to Asimov, it was this social resistance to scientific progress that intrigued Campbell and secured the sale of a story whose dialogue and action were at best routine.13 Similarly, Heinlein's "Requiem" and Alfred Bester's "Adam and No Eve," while dealing with the mechanics of achieving space flight only superficially, are principally concerned with the emotional commitments made by space pioneers and the consequences of a launch accident respectively. Two stories by Julian Chain, "Success Story" and "Prometheus," deal with resistance to space flight stemming not from resistance to scientific progress, but to advances in biological sciences which make people so completely comfortable on Earth that they don't want to explore space.14

The most optimistic of the post-war first-launch stories came from war-ravaged Britain, where Arthur C. Clarke wrote Prelude to Space over a period of twenty days in 1947. The novel was not published for three years, quite possibly because its tone of bland optimism was at odds with the austere times. It has been Clarke's often stated belief that science-fiction reading is preparing the public for the age of space flight, an attitude which this frankly propagandistic novel demonstrates to the full.

Set in 1978, by which time the Thames Embankment has become a spacious and peaceful park, Prelude to Space is narrated by a young historian sent by the University of Chicago and the Rockefeller Foundation to observe the final development and launching of a moon rocket built by a British foundation modeled after the American National Geographic Society, including its financing through a popular magazine. In a preface written after the actual moon landings in 1969, Clarke notes many of the differences between his projection and the actual events of the Apollo program. Most noticeable were the differences in technology; he had suggested reusable boosters, launching catapults and nuclear powered rockets. But he was quick to point out that "The future of space flight lies with such concepts as those described here; politics, and not economics has shaped our present systems, and history will soon pass them by."15

It was no accident that the concepts to which Clarke referred were limited to technology. His defenses are strongest in those areas. But to Clarke the principal theme of his book was not the exploration, but the absurdity of exporting international boundaries into space, and by implication, suggesting his multinational scientific organizations as models for a worldwide society free of nationality. A technological determinist, as well as an incurable optimist, Clarke assumes that the sheer poetry and nobility of the effort to explore space will overcome national differences. He dismisses the "blood-curdling prophecies" of the fifties as an example of mental illness. In his story, set twenty years after the time it was written, he calls plans for the military use of space "a typical by-product of that era's political paranoia. They died, unlamented, as the world slowly returned to sanity and order."16

Pointing proudly to the United Nations Space Treaty of 1967 and to the internationalist sentiments of the plaque on the side of the first Lunar lander, Clarke is able to ignore both the moot nature of the UN treaty, and the extreme nationalist sentiment in the United States, which simultaneously prosecuted the war in Vietnam and prohibited the raising of the UN flag on the moon. Clarke's Interplanetary Foundation is offered as a specific alternative to the isolation and later remorse of the Manhattan Project scientists, who in Clarke's view, as in those of other science-fiction writers, simply did not give enough thought to the consequences of what they were doing before it was a fait accompli in the hands of the military. Yet that too is suggested after the experience of the VfR was known; the society was broken up and subordinated to the military in Germany and then "liberated" by the Soviet and American armies.

In what one critic called his "pseudofiction" Clarke had spoken through the mouth of his narrator, an historian whose previous experience had been studying Renaissance Italy.18 The narrative technique provides a convenient peg upon which Clarke hangs his description of the age of space exploration as a new and more glorious Renaissance, but at the price of ignoring the narrator's conviction that what he had been studying was "a little crowded stage ... a microcosm of intrigues and assassinations."19

But Clarke's neglect of politics might have been related to his residence in Britain, a country in which politics meant, in 1947, the rebuilding of a war-shattered economy and the reorganization of existing industry and technology. Postwar Britain was simply not in a position to consider the political ramifications of expansionism at a time when an existing empire was being dismantled. The novel languished on Clarke's shelves for three years as testimony to the lack of British interest, but the same situation could work in reverse in another country. For Clarke, a political system which was retrenching as his was, was simply irrelevant to the kind of exploration in which he believed. However, the United States has always believed in expansion as a national policy, and it was in the United States that Prelude to Space and the non-fiction The Exploration of Space first saw print and moved Clarke towards his current measure of respect and material success. Prelude was published by a book club operated by Galaxy, but The Exploration of Space, not subject to the "space opera" stigma still attached to science fiction, was sold for a sum in excess of $20,000; published by Harper's, it became a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, serialized in the Baltimore Sun and in Science Digest.20

Despite the evidence of enough interest in space flight on the part of the American public to support Clarke and Willy Ley, and to supplement Wernher von Braun's Army salary, the American government was only minimally interested in space research. Charles Wilson, Eisenhower's shortsighted Secretary of Defense, was uninterested in even military guided missiles unless an "immediate military need" for them was shown, this despite the proven success of the V-2 and the objections of veteran rocketeers that by the time an "immediate need" was apparent, it was too late to authorize new research.21 Vannevar Bush, wartime director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and one of President Roosevelt's initial advisers for the Manhattan Project, had stated that guided missiles were inherently too inaccurate and too limited in range to be worth their astronomical cost, even when armed with nuclear weapons. In his authoritative view, rockets were only good as cheap artillery and for air-to-air combat along lines little different than the end of the just-completed war.22 Independent scientists, such as those in Clarke's Interplanetary Society and Professor S. Fred Singer of the University of Maryland, were showing how existing, or minimally modified, equipment could launch small satellites as early as 1953, but politicians concerned with science at all seemed far more interested in Communist spies in wartime Los Alamos than in artificial satellites in orbit.23 The most prominent scientist to be snared in their nets was J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose security clearance was revoked two months after Singer's proposal for the MOUSE (Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite of Earth) appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. At intervals in the early fifties, science-fiction writers concocted varieties of scientific plots to deceive the world into thinking it was being attacked by aliens; testimony to the despair many of them felt towards the lack of official interest in space flight and the strangle-hold direct military needs held on nearly all American research and development.24

Civil libertarians close to the sciences pointed out the different treatment accorded American left-wing sympathizers like Oppenheimer and the German rocketeers with their close ties to the Nazi regime. But while the rocket men were trusted in a way the former atomic scientists were not, their dreams were granted no greater hearing, at least not until the advent of plans for an International Geophysical Year, and not with any urgency until that day in October 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite. Science-fiction writers found their dream of space flight sandwiched between the extremes of political neglect and rigid governmental control of information in the security system, and they resented it.

Despite his political conservatism, Campbell had begun questioning the security system the government had thrown around nuclear energy almost as soon as its existence became publicly known. These 1946 editorials belabored both the army's security, which had prevented a biologist from delivering a paper on radiation treatments for cancer, and the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) with its death penalty for disclosure of even routine matters which happened to be nuclear related, such as pump engineering data and mass spectographs. Putting the issue of disclosure before the courts, Campbell felt, would require an honest scientist to gamble his life to publish his research results in the normal, pre-war fashion. Classification of research data forced non-government scientists to use cyclotrons since the more efficient reactors were under restrictions. "The result," he wrote, "can only be intellectual starvation and technological decadence." Two years later, after several editorials waxing enthusiastic over the potential research and medical tools provided by nuclear energy, Campbell greeted the establishment of Brookhaven National Laboratories, under the auspices of a consortium of civilian universities, as a major step in research progress, and made a point of covering the opening in a series of articles, photographs and drawings. Later still, after the success of the first Soviet satellites, he discounted the conventional picture of Soviet progress as the result of espionage, pointing out that the Russians could hardly steal "secrets" American scientists had yet to discover.25

Significantly, Campbell, a political conservative, and Cyril Kornbluth, a liberal, shared similar view's of the effects of government-sponsored and security regulated scientific research. Kornbluth, one of the first fans to become a professional writer, had been a leftist in the late thirties, a member of the politically-oriented Futurian Fan Federation, along with such future notables as Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Donald Wollheim, and Harry Harrison. Along with Wollheim, Robert Lowndes, John B. Michel, and Pohl, Kornbluth had been excluded from the First World Science Fiction Convention at the 1939 New York World's Fair by Sam Moskowitz, its conservative organizer, who alleged that the Futurians, like the American Youth Congress to whom they wanted science fiction fans to send a delegation, were a Communist Front.26 A regular writer under pseudonyms for magazines edited by Pohl and Wollheim before the war, Kornbluth returned from the European war to a career in mysteries and a science-fiction partnership with Pohl which produced the major piece of social satire to come out of the genre in the early fifties, "Gravy Planet," also known as The Space Merchants.27 But in his first solo novel, Takeoff, Kornbluth used the construction of the first rocket to the moon as a vehicle to attack the security system, not only for stifling progress, but because the political climate within which it existed made the United States easier prey for the Soviet Union; a sentiment with which Campbell and Moskowitz would have agreed.

The novel's premise is that Atomic Energy Commission scientists have developed a nuclear rocket fuel which can propel a one stage rocket to the moon. Since, in Kornbluth's eyes, the first country to land and establish a base on the moon would forever possess a military advantage on it, speed and secrecy are of the essence, yet he is certain that the complications of the security system, and the tendency of bureaucracies to favor third-raters would, together with congressional stupidity and animosity towards science, delay the project until the Russians reached the Moon. To forestall this, the novel's hero, the General Manager of the AEC, together with a Howard Hughes-like industrialist, begin construction of the rocket in secret, using an amateur rocket society very much like the British Interplanetary and the American Rocket Societies as a front. The rocket club thinks it is building a prototype so complete that the official government opposition to rocket flight would have to change and the government would then develop fuels and engines. Since the ship is being built publicly by a group of "crackpots," it doesn't look like a real project worth the attention of spies. Nevertheless, there is a spy on the project, and his murder by a security agent forms the basis on which the plot moves towards the public revelation of the project and the climactic flight.

Takeoff's criticisms of the security system then were well within the limits imposed upon such criticism by liberals during the Cold War. Like better known critics, including Leslie Fiedler, who wrote in the CIA's clandestinely funded but intellectually respectable Encounter, Kornbluth felt that security and the anti-intellectuality of the right wing would actually harm the country's attempt to defeat the Russians with scientific weapons.28 In stark contrast to Clarke's Interplanetary Foundation, Kornbluth's heroic rocketeers had every intention of exporting national frontiers into space and building a nuclear missile base on the moon. The conservative Campbell had opposed the establishment of the security system because it would restrict the free flow of scientific information; Kornbluth, the former radical, added the critique that it was ineffective. He has Daniel Holland, his AEC Manager-hero explain why he decided to build the rocket secretly, through a private club:

If I had set it up as an A.E.C. project, the following things would have happened. First, we would have lost security. Every nation in the world would shortly have known the space-flight problem had an answer, and then what the answer was. Second, we would have been beaten to the Moon by another nation. This is because our personnel policy forbids us to hire the best men we can find merely because they're the best. Ability ranks very low in the category of criteria by which we judge A.E.C. personnel. They must be conservative. They must be politically apathetic. They must have no living close relatives abroad. And so on. As bad as the personnel situation is, interacting with and reinforcing it, is the fact of A.E.C.'s bigness and the fact of its public ownership. They mean accounting, chains of command, personnel-flow charts — the jungle in which third-raters flourish. Get in the A.E.C., build yourself a powerful clique and don't worry about the work; you don't really have to do any .... 29

Clearly, security and bureaucracy were closely related in Kornbluth's mind, and he continued the tradition of distrusting organized science on principle and placed his faith in men who not only could work outside organizations, but who could not work within them at all. Anyone who stayed long enough in government service was "unmanned." Private enterprise was more highly thought of, primarily on the assumption that independent researchers would be given their heads if only they produced profitable results.30

Takeoff is, however, limited by its acceptance of the assumption of the Cold War, its lightly sketched love story and the device of the secret project masquerading as an amateur rocket club. In historical terms, Kornbluth was on reasonable ground: the Wehrmacht had taken at least part of the VfR seriously. But in view of contemporary developments, Kornbluth clearly had opted for melodrama instead of verisimilitude. Some years later, James Blish returned to the theme of the security system, adding a stronger and more realistic sense of how security fits into society as a whole and deepening the criticisms of it which had begun with Kornbluth and Campbell.

In its composition, They Shall Have Stars was a literary phenomenon which is far more common in science fiction than it is in general fiction. Blish had written a series of short stories for Astounding which had been collected into a novel titled Earthman, Come Home, dealing with a time in the future when anti-gravity devices enable entire cities to leave a poverty-stricken and resource-depleted Earth and search for work throughout the Galaxy. Following its success, Blish wrote a sequel, to carry the story on beyond the conclusion, and two "prequels," to bridge the gap between the present day and the beginning of the original novel. They Shall Have Stars which takes place in 2018 was written second, as the first part of the tetralogy, and because it is the most contemporary, the part of the series which deals most concretely with social criticism.31

Drawing heavily on Spengler's Decline of the West, Blish draws a picture of the United States as a rigid militaristic state under the control of the hereditary director of the FBI.32 Opening with a quote on the necessity for freedom of inquiry from Oppenheimer, Blish, like Kornbluth, scathingly criticizes a system of control which both centralizes control and compartmentalizes research workers and cuts them off from each other, not to protect secrets from a foreign enemy, but to keep themselves safe from the depredations of an unchallengeable secret police. Like Kornbluth, Blish sees little hope for change within the executive branch and insufficient vision to promote change among nearly all the members of Congress. However, he "solves" the problem in a way as ingenious as Kornbluth's Holland but more realistic and, in its way, a telling criticism of the way in which scientific research is funded.

Blish's central hero is Bliss Wagoner, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Space Flight, a freshman Senator from Alaska with neither scientific background nor seniority, whose lack of traditional standing is taken as a sign of the low esteem in which science is held. Space flight exists, and research stations are in place on the satellites of Jupiter and the outer planets, but space flight and science in general have been stagnant for many years. Concerned, Wagoner secretly calls on Dr. Guiseppi Corsi, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, presented as a left-wing organization. Corsi draws a direct connection between the problems of scientific progress in general and the issues of government control raised by Kornbluth.

The more subtle the facts to be discovered become — the more they retreat into the realms of the invisible, the intangible, the unweighable, the submicroscopic, the abstract — the more expensive and time-consuming it is to investigate them by scientific method.

And when you reach a stage where the only research worth doing costs millions of dollars per experiment, then those experiments can be paid for only by government. Governments can make the best use only of third-rate men, men who can't leaven the instructions in the cookbook with the flashes of insight you need to make basic discoveries. The result is what you see; sterility, stasis, dry rot.

Corsi's advice was to avoid gigantic projects modeled on the success of the Manhattan Project, and to have a picked staff go over "crackpot" notions, to see which disregarded piece of information might yield knowledge. Wagoner's staff finds such a notion, which in the end leads them to the anti-gravity device. However, the development of the notion into a workable device requires engineering test data which can come only from a gravitational field greater than the Earth's, so Wagoner becomes the champion of a gigantic "bridge" to be built on Jupiter, at great cost in both lives and money. Blish shows how Wagoner can get the project approved as a defense measure without anyone knowing its purpose, indicting both the hold defense spending has on the political system and the ease with which a project can be approved simply because it resembles a familiar success. Wagoner is well aware of the limitations of the Manhattan Project method which Corsi had sketched for him. He can only justify it to Corsi by measuring its size, not against a terrestrial economy, but against the size of the universe itself. On that scale, the thirty mile high, eight mile wide and constantly growing bridge is nothing more than "a piece of attic gadgetry."34

The bridge, however, is not the only new invention Wagoner's methods develop. Since even at the vast speeds the spaceships equipped with the anti-gravity devices could attain, interstellar flights would be longer than normal human lifespans, Wagoner sponsors drug research to produce "anti-agathics," drugs which will artificially ward off death indefinitely. Even if human efforts to begin exploring the galaxy are only bits of attic gadgetry on the universal scale, on the terrestrial scale they are sophisticated, expensive and complex feats of organized effort. The bridge, with its putative connection with the defense effort, and its existence as a completely government project, obscures that fact, since Blish is so critical of the defense system. But he includes the second project to point it up, complete with a description of the processes with which contemporary drug firms search out new organisms and their pharmaceutical properties.35 Blish, along with physicists like Enrico Fermi and most science fiction writers, was nostalgic for the days when scientific experiments could be run off with bits of string and crumpled paper, and he believed that such experiments produced better results.36 But he was careful to measure his bits of string and paper against both the society from which they came and the universe they intended to measure and explore.

At the end of the novel, the first interstellar ship and its crew are leaving on their first trip, but Wagoner's deceptions have become public knowledge and he is tried and executed for his "crimes." Unlike Kornbluth, Blish had been able to transcend the Cold War and realize how closely the American security system resembled its own picture of a Soviet dictatorship. But like Kornbluth and like Campbell, Blish was entranced with the idea of challenging the expanding complexity of scientific research by allying science fiction's traditional respect for the individual researcher and its equally traditional disrespect for the established scientists who derided the genre's seemingly extravagant claims. Science fiction stories by practicing scientists are among the sources checked by Wagoner in his search for new ideas.37 Wagoner and his admittedly third-rate staff succeed where the entire remainder of the government fail because, having accepted that the respectable scientific method did not work without the freedom of information killed by the security system, he decided to "winnow chaff." If respectable science could not open the road to the stars, there was only one alternative, "to go to the crackpots."38


1. T. O'Conor Sloane, reply to the letter to the editor, Amazing Stories, February 1930, pp. 1091-1092.

2. Paul A. Carter, "Rockets to the Moon, 1919-1944: A Dialogue Between Fiction and Reality," American Studies 15 (Spring 1974), pp. 31-46 to be reprinted in Jack Williamson, ed., SF: Education for Tomorrow (1977).

3. Walter Dornberger, V-2, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1954), p. 22. Domberger was commander of the German rocket development program at Peenemuende which built the V-2. Willy Ley, "V-2: Rocket Cargo Ship," in Adventures in Time and Space, Raymond Healy and J. Francis McComas, eds. (New York: Random House Modern Library, 1946), p. 363, after an initial appearance in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945.

4. Ley, ibid., p. 364.

5. "The Road to the Future," Astounding, November 1945, p. 99.

6. See Astounding's "Brass Tacks" column from November 1945 to July 1946, with particular reference to the March and April 1946 columns in which Clarke's letter and replies to it appeared. Campbell's comments were in his replies to the letters and in his May and October 1945 editorials. Dornberger's V-2 is a good account of the actual development of the rocket, with particular emphasis on economic and political considerations.

7. John Campbell, "When the Atoms Failed," Amazing Stories, January 1930.

8. Campbell, "The Mightiest Machine," Astounding, January 1935, p. 150.

9. Milton Lehman, The High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Co., 1963); Ley, "The End of the Rocket Society," Astounding, August 1943, Rockets, Missiles and Men in Space (New York: New American Library, 1968), 3rd edition, pp. 158-191, 230-235, and "Pseudoscience in Naziland," Astounding, May 1947. This last is a scathing commentary on the attention paid by the Nazi leadership to doctrines claiming variously that the universe was a hollow sphere, with the earth existing on the inside, or imbedded in a gigantic block of ice.

10. Dornberger, V-2 and Ley, Rockets, pp. 228-278.

11. Ley, ibid., p. 406.

12. See Carter, previously cited, and Arthur C. Clarke, "Extra-Terrestrial Relays," Wireless World, October 1945. The legal difficulties Clarke would have had had he attempted to patent his idea is the subject of "The Lagging Profession," by Leonard Lockhard, Astounding, January 1961.

13. Isaac Asimov, The Early Asimov (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1972), p. 61.

14. Robert Heinlein, "Requiem," Astounding, January 1940; Alfred Bester, "Adam and No Eve," Astounding, September 1941; Julian Chain, "Success Story, " Astounding, May 1951; "Prometheus," Astounding, August 1951.

15. Clarke, Prelude to Space (New York: Lancer Books, 1954), p. 8.

16. Ibid., p. 98.

17. Ibid., p. 8.

18. Judith Merrill, "What do You Mean: Science? Fiction?" in SF: The Other Side of Realism, Thomas Clareson, ed. (Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular Press, 1971), p. 61.

19. Clarke, Prelude, p. 24.

20. Sam Moskowitz, Seekers of Tomorrow (New York: Ballantine Books, 1967), p. 384; Clarke, The Exploration of Space (New York: Pocket Books, Cardinal Edition, 1954), p. iv.

21. Ley, Rockets, p. 374.

22. Vannevar Bush, Modern Arms and Free Men (New York. Simon and Shuster, 1949), pp. 85-89.

23. Ley, Rockets, pp. 370-371.

24. For example see Max Ehrlich, The Big Eye (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1949) and Walter M. Miller, Jr., "No Moon for Me," Astounding, September 1952.

25. Campbell, "Secrecy and Death," Astounding, June, 1946; "The Lead Curtain," ibid., October 1946; "Spanish Atoms," ibid., September 1946, p. 5; Brookhaven Sketches," ibid., July 1949; "Project Vanguard Me Too," ibid., January 1958.

26. Moskowitz, The Immortal Storm (Atlanta: Atlanta Science Fiction Organization Press, 1954); "The World Science Fiction Convention," New Fandom, vol. I (6), October 1939, p. 4.

27. Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants (New York: Ballantine Books, 1953), after an original appearance as "Gravy Planet," in Galaxy, June 1952.

28. Leslie Fiedler, "McCarthy," Encounter, August 1954. For an angry and perceptive analysis of both Encounter's CIA connection and the context of Fiedler's critique of McCarthy see Christopher Lasch, "The Cultural Cold War," in The Agony of the American Left (New York: Random House Vintage Books, 1969), p. 61 ff.

29. C.M. Kornbluth, Takeoff (Garden City; New York: Doubleday & Co., 1952), pp. 178-180.

30. Ibid., p. 45.

31. Citations are from James Blish, They Shall Have Stars, (New York: Avon Books, 1957), although the most accessible edition is Cities in Flight (New York: Avon Books, 1970) which contains They Shall Have Stars, A Life for the Stars, Earthman, Come Home, and The Triumph of Time.

32. See R.D. Mullen, "Cities in Flight as a Spenglerian History," in Cities in Flight, pp 597-607, after original publication in Riverside Quarterly in 1968.

33. Blish, They Shall Have Stars, pp. 14-15.

34. Ibid., p. 119.

35. Ibid., pp. 23-26.

36. Laura Fermi, Atoms in the Family (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), p. 239.

37. Blish, They Shall Have Stars, p. 67.

38. Ibid., p. 16.

Essay #1...nuclear energy as a metaphor for power in science fiction

Essay #2...first British science fiction magazine

Essay #3...cosmology and science fiction...a separation of scientists and writers?

Essay #4...the influence of Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We" and H. G. Wells

Essay commentary on the Vietnam War via "Star Trek"

Essay #6...extinction [?] and Wells' "The Time Machine"

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