They Also Serve
First, a nod to the fine blog “Galactic Journey,” http://galacticjourney.org/ which posts entries on sci-fi and pop culture from 55 years ago, and is where I first heard of the story in the September 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
A little bit of our literary history. The September 1962 issue included the story “They Also Serve,” by Evelyn E. Smith. This was back in the days when “homosexual” would have been the preferred term rather than “gay.” The two main characters, Morson and Garnet are obviously gay, but not actually identified as such. One is a senator’s son; the other is an Admiral’s nephew. Both are Navy men in a future that has not apparently embraced LGBT equality, as this is being projected from the early 1960’s.
The Navy has assigned the pair for a year to the planet Persiper, a source of precious Prozius stones. (Just think of them as fashionable dilthium crystals.) Previous missions to Persiper ended with the planet’s inhabitants killing the Earth crews and Morson and Garnet (who are regarded as an embarrassment by the Navy) are basically sent to the planet to die.
Garnet and Morson are stereotypes but in a story that appeared in 1962 it was almost revolutionary to present gays as heroes (non-tragic ones who survive the story by the way) and while the story is intended to be humorous, it is Garnet and Morson’s Navy superiors who wind up being the butt of the cosmic joke.
Still, lines like this one would not fly today:
Morson made a face. “I hate the idea of establishing rapport. Seems so pushy. Must we?”
In “They Also Serve,” the pair comes off like Marty and Darryl, the gay couple who were recurring characters on the “Barney Miller” TV series from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. They were stereotypes too, but were considered controversial and even groundbreaking in their day. We have come a long way.
Contrast the earlier story with Samuel R. Delany’s “The Hermit of Houston,” in the September/October 2017 MFSF with such frank lines as:
“Everyone knows straight men and women do lots of different things…you can describe that act for anyone as much as you wish…But the mentioning of anything else outside of marriage could get you shot.”
Times have indeed changed.
And, if the reader has gotten copies of the two magazine issues discussed here (the ’62 is not impossible to find online) don’t forget to peruse the issues other contents. This is, after all, MFSF one of the best spec-fic magazines ever. The ’62 issue is a special issue featuring author Theodore Sturgeon, including essays, a Sturgeon story and a story by Sturgeon’s daughter! And don’t miss the column by Isaac Asimov which, to paraphrase Editor Avram Davidson, is worth the price of the back issue. The 2017 issue features a cover story by Michael Swanwick with the feel (to me at least) of a dream you would have beneath a starry summer sky.
And by all means check out the covers of both issues.
Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of every month. He has been published in QSF’s “Renewal,” among other places and also appears on Facebook as “Jeff Baker, Author.” He also blogs and posts fiction at https://authorjeffbaker.com/ He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl and a lot of back issues of sci-fi digest magazines.