Science Fiction Studies

#99 = Volume 33, Part 2 = July 2006


Sin-a-Rama, Daddio. Adam Parfrey’s LA-based Feral House Press has been, for well over a decade, the preeminent publisher of outré, fringe-culture materials, including the first biographies of grade-Z filmmaker Ed Wood (Rudolf Grey’s Nightmare of Ecstasy, 1992) and of rocket-scientist-cum-sex-magick-guru Jack Parsons (John Carter’s Sex and Rockets, 2000). One of their latest productions is a lavishly illustrated volume designed for the coffee tables of doting trash-culture mavens: Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties, edited by Brittany A. Daley, Hedi El Kholti, Earl Kemp, Miriam Linna, and Adam Parfrey. The interest of the volume for sf scholars and fans lies in its coverage of the crossover between the porn publishing scene and science fiction during the period chronicled in the book.                

Robert Silverberg’s essay “My Life as a Pornographer” explains what this famous sf author was doing when he left the genre between 1959 and 1964: writing 150 porn novels, “30 a year, better than one every two weeks, month in and month out,” most under the pseudonym Don Elliott. Much of this work—with titles like Sex Jungle, The Love Goddess, and The Orgy Boys—was produced for Nightstand Books, a publishing house founded by William Hamling, who had edited the sf digest Imagination during the mid-1950s. Silverberg’s editor was sf author Algis Budrys, and Harlan Ellison was briefly a member of the Nightstand stable. Despite their use of euphemistic language (“his aroused maleness,” “the moment of ecstasy,” etc.), Nightstand and other soft-porn publishers were under constant scrutiny by federal authorities, and Silverberg recounts a visit he received from FBI agents, to whom he boasted of his sf and popular-science writings. The essay offers an amusing portrait of how high-production professionals such as Silverberg were compelled, by the contraction of the sf magazine market, to shift their business elsewhere, making a fortune in the process.                

Other items of interest include Michael Hemmingson’s brief interview with Earl Kemp, an sf fan who won a Hugo award for best fanzine in 1961 and who went on to edit, along with Hamling, Nightstand Books, Greenleaf Classics, and other porn imprints. Kemp gives some sketchy background on the Mafia influence in the porn industry during the 1960s and offers compelling testimony about his three-month stint in federal prison on charges of obscenity. Finally, the volume includes a photo-essay on “Future Sin” that features cover art and brief excerpts from vintage porn paperbacks devoted to sf themes—e.g., Martian Sexpot (1963), Those Sexy Saucer People (1967), Nude in Orbit (1968). The lurid covers are priceless examples of truly deranged kitsch.—RL

The Hidden Homosexual: Reexamining Star Trek’s Sulu. The cancellation of the Enterprise television series in spring 2005 put to bed the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise, but not the continuing dialogue about its under-representation of homosexual men and women. George Takei’s subsequent decision in October 2005 to publicly disclose that he is gay, and in a long-term relationship with another man,1 offers a timely incentive to revisit Takei’s original-series character, Hikaru Sulu, from a queer perspective. Placed in context of TREK’s forty-year history, Sulu becomes—independent of Takei’s own sexuality—distinctly symbolic of a closeted gay man. (With his Vulcan drive to repress his emotions, Spock offers a queer subtext as well—yet largely under the umbrella of the alien “other.” Sulu’s distinct masculinity and sexuality, on the other hand, are fully human.) A supporting character in the original series (1966-69), Takei’s Lt. Sulu (like Nichelle Nichols’s Lt. Uhura) served as a visible sign of ethnic diversity on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Although racial discrimination contributed to skin-deep characterization and a shortage of major storylines for non-white actors at the time, a matter discussed in Takei’s autobiography, To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu (New York: Pocket Books, 1994), insights from several episodes give the character a queer complexity.

Sulu stands out as TREK’s only principal male character devoid of a romantic storyline,2 yet he harbors a romantic vitality below the surface. In “The Naked Time” and “Shore Leave,” two episodes that explore the crew’s hidden feelings and unconscious desires, Sulu demonstrates a passion for fencing and conveys his longing for an antique police pistol. The interests are compatible with Sulu’s duties as a phaser-firing helmsman, while the phallic Freudian imagery also might suggest a sublimated search for masculinity (or, a masculine other). In “The Man Trap,” the only episode to show Sulu’s quarters, Yeoman Janice Rand visits briefly with Sulu as he cares for his exotic plants. Sexually objectified by men on several occasions during Star Trek’s first season (notably “The Enemy Within” and “Charlie X”), Rand experiences no discomfort with Sulu. Rather, it is the carnivorous plants in his quarters that keep her at bay. The humorous scene introduces a nurturing aspect to Sulu’s personality, while at the same time making his domestic space uninviting—effectively closeting those emotions, at least in part, from the rest of the crew.  

Although an episode set in a mirror universe initially throws a wrench into a queer interpretation of Sulu, TREK remarkably solves the problem three decades later. In “Mirror, Mirror,” Sulu’s brutal counterpart from a parallel world makes forceful sexual advances toward Uhura, defining Sulu as heterosexual via proxy when the episode first aired in 1967. But not so, when viewing Star Trek’s spin-off series in their entirety. During her seven years on Deep Space Nine, Major Kira Nerys enters into exclusively heterosexual relationships. Yet in “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” an episode set in the same “Mirror” universe, Kira’s doppelgänger expresses sexual interest in other women—while never implying that Kira herself might be lesbian or bisexual.3 Therefore, mirror-Sulu’s demonstrative heterosexuality does not define Sulu himself as heterosexual.           

After the original series was cancelled, the films continued the adventures of the original crew. Though focusing largely on Kirk and Spock, the TREK movies offer modest yet telling information about Sulu’s home life. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Paramount, 1986), the crew travels back to twentieth- century Earth to save humpback whales. While landing the spacecraft at its California destination, Sulu tells the others: “San Francisco: I was born there.” The revelation doesn’t serve to advance the plot, yet it deserves attention given TREK’s early convention of using place-of-origin as a shorthand route to characterization (e.g. McCoy is a self-described “country doctor”; Chekov is Russian; Scotty is Scottish). Following the 1978 murder of San Francisco’s openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk, popular culture closely associated San Francisco with the gay community.4 As a result, Sulu’s link to San Francisco remains significant from both a queer perspective and from a TREK perspective.5           

The Voyage Home also establishes that Kirk was born in Iowa, as he explains to a twentieth-century marine biologist that he merely works in outer space. The film’s two revelations about place of origin suggest, albeit subtly, that Sulu’s shipmates (and fans) know as little about his personal life as a stranger might know about Kirk. Star Trek: Generations (Paramount, 1994) perpetuates this interpretation. In the opening scene, Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty (the only original-series characters to appear in the film), greet a new ensign on board the Enterprise, Sulu’s daughter, Demora. Chekov provides necessary exposition, mentioning that Kirk last saw Demora when she was twelve years old.

Kirk: Scotty, it absolutely amazes me. Sulu? When did he find time for a family?
Scotty: Well, like you always say, if something’s important, you make the time.

Kirk’s surprised reaction suggests that Sulu had a closed-mouthed (i.e., “don’t ask, don’t tell”) approach to his personal life. Although viewers might infer that Sulu had married a woman, none of the characters mention a wife/mother in the Sulu family.6 Instead of marrying a woman, Sulu might have just as easily entered into a committed relationship with another man. Given today’s political and legal battles over gay marriage, Sulu’s masculine mystique serves as a retroactive metaphor for a contemporary gay man. Interpreting Sulu in this light requires a queer lens, yet without discarding or discrediting Star Trek’s television and film canon. Forty years after his first appearance, Hikaru Sulu is heterosexual only through inference; he remains discernibly queer.—James Satter, Science Museum of Minnesota

Star Trek (original series) episodes cited: “The Man Trap,” original air date: September 8, 1966; “Charlie X,” original air date: September 15, 1966; “The Naked Time,” original air date: September 29, 1966; “The Enemy Within,” October 6, 1966; “Shore Leave,” December 29, 1966; “Mirror, Mirror,” original air date: October 6, 1967; “The Deadly Years,” original air date: December 8, 1967; “The Lights of Zetar,” original air date: January 31, 1969; “The Way to Eden,” original air date: February 21, 1969.
                1. Now a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, Takei has discussed his experiences as a gay man, including his long-term relationship with Brad Altman. See<>.
                2. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock have multiple opposite-sex romantic interests throughout the original series, and full episodes explore the heterosexual relationships of the other male characters: Dr. McCoy, “The Man Trap”; Ensign Chekov, “The Way to Eden”; Chief engineer Scotty, “The Lights of Zetar.”
                3. Although one of Kira’s relationships is with the changeling Odo, the relationship was decidedly heterosexual in nature. “The Emperor’s New Cloak” originally aired on February 1, 1999.
                4. The Times of Harvey Milk (Telling Pictures, 1984) won an Academy Award for best documentary, strengthening public awareness of San Francisco’s gay community at the time. Given TREK’s early emphasis on internationalism, establishing San Francisco as Sulu’s hometown also forged a connection between the character and California’s Asian-American community. Takei himself was born in Los Angeles.
                5. Star Trek: The Next Generation also names San Francisco as the location of Starfleet Academy in “The First Duty,” originally aired on March 30, 1992.
                6. In the character’s official biography, it is stated that Sulu married <>, but a spouse is not named. George Takei reprised the role of Sulu in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Flashback” (original air date: September 11, 1996), which developed his role as captain of the USS Excelsior but did not mention the character’s spouse.

Interviewing Asimov. Though I am naturally pleased by Aaron Parrett’s quite favorable review (SFS 33.1: 188-91) of Conversations with Isaac Asimov, which I edited, I would like to put in a word for the estimable James Gunn, one of the elder statesmen of our field, about whom Parrett says some harsh things. He calls Gunn “less discerning” than Bill Moyers, because Moyers keeps his questions for Asimov very brief, whereas Gunn’s questions are sometimes of what Parrett considers excessive length. My own opinion is that Gunn’s interview is one of the best—maybe the very best—in the volume and that, in general, there is more than one good way to conduct an interview. The approach of the self-effacing interviewer, who aims only to provide opportunities for the interviewee to talk, is perfectly legitimate; and Moyers is certainly one of the masters of this style. But equally legitimate, and, for some of us, even preferable, is the approach of the interviewer who, like Gunn, engages the interviewee in real dialogue and thus produces a genuine conversation. For one thing, this style is more likely to help the interviewee generate new thinking rather than merely restate long-held views. I would point out that one of the great critical books of the late 1970s—Politics and Letters (Verso, 1979)—was constructed in exactly this way, as Perry Anderson, Anthony Barnett, and Francis Mulhern extensively questioned, challenged, and conversed with Raymond Williams.                

Be that as it may, I’m glad that Parrett thinks highly not only of the Asimov volume but also of the whole series of Literary Conversations in which it was published by the University Press of Mississippi. He may be interested to know that I have a companion volume, Conversations with Ursula Le Guin, currently in preparation.—Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

Women Science Fiction Writers Archive. The J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at the University of California, Riverside announces the creation of an archive of women writers. The Eaton Collection is the world’s largest institutional collection of sf, fantasy, and utopian literature. Founded in 1969, the collection currently consists of almost 300,000 items, including books, pulp magazines, fanzines, and comic books, as well as film and visual material and the archives of science fiction writers. Each writer’s archive will be processed, catalogued and stored under strict preservation standards. Information on the archives will be accessible through the online catalog and Special Collections website of the University of California, Riverside. Use will be limited to onsite visitors. Over the next months I will be contacting the first group of women writers that have been selected. Any suggestions for writers that you feel should be part of the WSFW archives are welcome; my email address is <>. —Sheryl Davis, Assistant Head of Special Collections, University of California, Riverside Libraries

SF Website at University of Kansas. Through funds contributed by SFRA, SFWA, Tor Books, and a couple of individuals, we have implemented an idea proposed by David Brin to create a half-time graduate position here as a Coordinator of Volunteer SF Activities. To date, the most complete part of the project is the Speaker’s Service on our new website. Any of you who are willing to give talks about science fiction, particularly at local schools but in statewide or national venues as well, can list your names on the site and indicate what topics you are qualified to address and a range of honoraria. You can read more about it on the site. We also hope to make the website a repository for information about the teaching of science fiction at the primary, secondary, and university levels. The address is <>. There’s not too much on it at the moment, but with input it will grow.—James Gunn, University of Kansas

International Comic Arts Festival. The deadline for paper proposals regarding speculative and fantastic fiction in comics will have passed by the time that readers of SFS see this, but all are most welcome to attend the 11th Annual International Comic Arts Festival (ICAF), which will be meeting at the Library of Congress again this year from October 12-14 under the sponsorship of the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. We anticipate a packed three-day event, with papers, comics creators, and scholarly keynotes.—Charles Hatfield, ICAF Executive Committee

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