Over the past few days there’s been a remarkable jump in traffic to this page of my website. The letters reproduced there are from the late 1930s and debate the role of women in science fiction. I adore them. They’re funny, warm, silly and just plain gorgeous. A little investigation revealed links from mumpsimus, coalscent, swisstone and Läst och tänkt i annien (tragically, I don’t read Swedish, so I have no idea what that means and I don’t share my husband’s love of wacky google translations).
The commentators do seem to be remembering that Asimov was a kid at the time, just eighteen. And, by all accounts, he was a young eighteen with little knowledge of sex, theoretical or otherwise. Readers of these letters should also keep in mind that he was a possum stirrer of the first order, frequently arguing in the letter columns for the sheer joy of arguing. A type not entirely unknown in our equivalent of the letter cols of yesteryear—the comments sections of blogs.
It’s unsurprising that it’s Asimov the commenters focuss on, after all, he’s the big name, but the letter I find most moving is the first one, “five of a kind”, from a Naomi Slimmer of Russell, Kansas. It provides such a vivid window into her life back then. I wondered why none of the people posting and commenting about the letters had mentioned it. Then I realised that I hadn’t put the full text up. Woops. That is now remedied. Thanks to those linking and commenting for giving me the nudge to notice my oversight.
And a little extra treat just for those who read my blog. Here’s my favourite line from a letter to an sf magazine. For context—the letter was part of a debate about whether “sexy” covers and interior illustrations (i.e. scantily clad women) belonged in sf mags or were cheapening a clean and nobel genre:
“What’s wrong with sex inside or outside as long as the gal shows expression in her eyes?”
—B. W. Williams
Startling Stories January 1953, p. 136.