Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder
| Once upon a time, there
was a private discussion
group of a kind that had never existed before, consisting of science
writers and editors and a few well-placed SF fans.
The organizer of the group was the disorganized but lovable Theodore Cogswell, a college teacher of English perpetually a thesis shy of his Ph.D., who had published several excellent SF stories in the early Fifties.
Contributors would send Cogswell short letters or long, or sometimes reprints of pertinent essays or reviews they had written. From time to time, he would type them up -- at first in hektographed form in primitive purple -- and send an accumulation to all the members. The result was something like a very slow, all-at-once, internet mailing list of a highly selective kind.
The group's publication was called The Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies or PITFCS. Six issues were published in 1959, six in 1960, three in 1961, and two in 1962, with one last issue of material dating from 1963 published belatedly in 1979. In 1992, all eighteen issues of PITFCS would be gathered and published in one volume by Advent:Publishers as a unique reference work.
The members of the group talked to each other about the sad current state of science fiction publishing, the difficulty (or impossibility) of making a living writing SF, and whether they ought to form a science fiction writers union -- the seed from which the Science Fiction Writers of America would grow. They teased each other in a collegial way and, following Cogswell's example, they indulged themselves in verse. And they talked about what SF ought to be.
One of their most interesting and longest running discussions was devoted to the most controversial SF novel of the time -- Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.
The debate was touched off in issue #131 (the PITFCS numbering system began with #127A for the pure arbitrary delight of it), dated August 1959. Editor Cogswell offered a quote from Starship Troopers, then in serialization in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction under the title Starship Soldier:
"When you reached that spiritual mountain top you felt something. Perhaps you haven't words for it (I didn't when I was a boot). So let an older comrade lend you the words, since it often helps to have discrete words. Simply this: the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war's desolation."
Cogswell paired this with a poem by Wilfred Owen, most highly regarded of the World War I poets, who was killed in 1918, saying that if you ever witnessed a death from gas attack you would not be so ready to tell children the lie that it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for their country.
The debate over Starship
Troopers would continue
for more than two years, through half the issues of PITFCS.
debate is reprinted here.
PITFCS #133, February 1960 -- Poul Anderson,
PITFCS #134, March 1960 -- James
PITFCS #135, April 1960 -- Sidney
PITFCS #136, June 1960 -- Poul Anderson
PITFCS #138, December 1960 -- John Brunner,
PITFCS #139, March 1961 -- Philip
PITFCS #141, November 1961 -- Robert A.W.
Lowndes, Brian W.
Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First
Century Studies is available from Advent:Publishers at PO Box
Chicago, IL 60690. Hardcover, $50. It includes
by dozens of major science fiction writers of the 1930's, 1940's, and
from E.E. Smith to Isaac Asimov to Harlan Ellison, discussing their own
and each other's work, as well as a variety of other novel and