Venture, March 1957: A Retro-Review

Venture, March 1957: A Retro-Review

venture-science-fiction-march-1957-smallAnother magazine from 1957, at the cusp of the Space Age, though this one appeared several months before Sputnik. Venture was a companion magazine to F&SF, intended to focus on pure Science Fiction. Ten bi-monthly issues appeared beginning in January 1957. It was revived in 1969, and six quarterly issues appeared from May 1969 through August 1970. I’ve always thought it a shame they couldn’t (it would seem) make a go of it, though I must say I’d never read a copy until now.

The look and feel of the magazine is similar to F&SF: 132 pages (including the covers), same font and column layout. Unlike F&SF, there are interior illustrations (by John Giunta). There are no features except for a sort of editorial (called “Venturings”) on the inside front cover.

The cover illustration, for Leigh Brackett’s “The Queer Ones”, is by Dick Shelton and it’s a bit odd: in two colors (red and olive green, plus black and white), showing a woman shooting a sort of raygun. It does accurately (if in a slightly symbolic way) depict a scene from the story.

As I said, no features, so let’s get right to the fiction. The stories are:

“Too Soon to Die” by Tom Godwin (15,100 words)
“The Lady was a Tramp” by Rose Sharon (6,700 words)
“Friend for Life” by Gordon R. Dickson (5,200 words)
“The Queer Ones” by Leigh Brackett (14,000 words)
“Blind Alley” by Charles L. Fontenay (2,600 words)
“Vengeance for Nikolai” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (7,700 words)

The Godwin and Brackett pieces were listed as “novelets”, consistent with the then common* practice of putting the dividing line at about 10,000 words. (A sensible practice, I say! And then call “novellas” short novels instead, beginning at about 20,000 and extending to perhaps 50,000 words.)

(*Common at, say, Astounding and F&SF. Galaxy called stories of 6,000 words novelettes, and some of the pulps called stories of as short as 10,000 words “complete novels”.)

tom-godwin-the-survivors-small“To Soon to Die” is the story of a group of humans from a colony ship that was intercepted by a ship of the Gern Empire, aliens at war with humans. (Actually, the story portrays this incident as the precipitating factor in escalating the formerly “cold” war between Gerns and Humans into a “hot” war.) The Gerns took the most qualified humans prisoner, but marooned the “Rejects” on what they called an “Earth-Type” planet. The supposedly “Earth-Type” planet, of course, turns out to be a “hell-world”, called Ragnarok, with 1.5 g’s, long and fierce seasons, inimical local fauna, and a terrible disease that kills many of the humans.

The story follows several human generations as they struggle to survive, often failing, the population dropping to 200 or so, but then adapt and hatch a scheme to lure the Gerns back and take revenge. It’s all a bit preposterous, but kind of fun too. I didn’t believe most of it, but I did like reading it.

I haven’t read Godwin’s one novel, The Survivors, but I know enough about the book to recognize that it is an expansion of “To Soon to Die.” Can anyone say whether it adds much to the novelet?

The first thing I thought when reading Rose Sharon’s “The Lady Was a Tramp” was, gee, “Rose Sharon” sure seems like a pseudonym! And sure enough it is – “Rose Sharon” was Judith Merril.

I’m not sure why she used a pseudonym for this story – she collected it only three years later under her own name. According to the ISFDB, it’s the only time she used a pseudonym for a solo work. (Of course, she and Cyril Kornbluth published two novels (“Mars Child,” aka Outpost Mars, aka Sin in Space; and Gunner Cade) under the rather transparent pseudonym “Cyril Judd”.

Anyway, “The Lady Was a Tramp” is about a talented graduate of the Space Academy, an IBMan (a curious term to our ears, apparently a computer programmer for the navigation system of the ship) named Terry Carnahan, who has been assigned not to a gleaming new Space Navy Transport, but to a creaky “tramp steamer” sort of ship, the Lady Jane.

He is disgusted by this, and even more disgusted to learn that of the crew of five, one is a woman, the Medical Officer, who seems to freely offer her body to everyone on the ship. It turns out (not surprisingly) that this is part of her duty as Medical Officer – to keep the men on the ship psychologically in good shape.

outpost-mars-smallA horribly sexist idea, to my mind. Terry must either come to terms with this idea, or flush out of the service … Obviously, one thing going on here is conflating Terry’s feelings (and those of all the crewmen) for the ship (called a lady, obviously) with the Medical Officer. And both are, I guess, tramps. More sexism, I think! Maybe I missed something, maybe Merril was being satirical, but this story doesn’t work for me.

“Friend’s Best Man” is a Gordon Dickson sociological set-up story … really a very Campbellian sort of thing. (In fact, the Godwin and “Sharon”(Merril) stories both read to me as if they might have been aimed at Campbell, as well.) A rich man comes to an isolated frontier planet to meet an old friend, and learns that the friend has been murdered by a local nogoodnik. And that despite the dead man being universally popular, the nogoodnik largely reviled, and the facts of the case not being in dispute, nothing is being done about it.

The reason soon becomes obvious – the planet is labor-starved, and they can’t afford to lose the work done by the bad guy. The only solution is for the rich visitor to replace him – then justice can be done, and the bad guy punished. But will the rich guy have the balls to give up his easy life for the hard work of a frontier planet? Dickson is here straining to make a point, a point that frankly I don’t believe for a second. The strains of the set-up show, and there is no examination of the ultimate stresses – and resulting loss of productivity – that such a system would cause.

I really liked Leigh Brackett’s “The Queer Ones,” but then I tend to really like Brackett. A newspaperman in a mountain town gets hints of a story – one of the mountain girls brought her boy into the doctor, and x-rays showed he was really strange. The girl swears she’s going to marry the handsome man who knocked her up – but he seems to have run off. But then he’s back, and so is his exotic sister, who makes a connection with the protagonist … It’s clear enough what’s going on, though Brackett runs a couple of nice variations on it, and it ends with classical Brackettian regret.

Charles Fontenay’s “Blind Alley” is a nice little “biter bit” story, with a spy trying to steal the specs to a matter transmitter, and messing himself up in the process. A bit of fluff, but clever fluff.

And finally, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Vengeance for Nikolai” might have been rather controversial in its time. The heroine is a Russian woman, and the villain is an American General. Some time in the future, the U. S. has invaded Russia, for no apparent good reason. Marya’s son has been killed, and she volunteers to be captured, trusting that she will be able to get close to the general and kill him. The story is very straightforward – it sets up the situation, and moves quickly in a direct line to the expected conclusion. No twist, no subtlety. But quite well executed.

[See all of Rich Horton’s Retro-Reviews here.]

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James Enge

I never read “Too Soon to Die” but I did read THE SURVIVORS (at Project Gutenberg under the title SPACE PRISON). I found it a bit of a slog–not an embarrassment, but the sort of thing where I was frequently asking myself, “Why am I reading this, again?”

I haven’t read the “Sharon”/Merril story, either. But I bet it’s (directly or indirectly) a response to this infamous proposal about sending some “nice girls” along with the real astronauts on any mission to Mars (and if they could take dictation, so much the better).

There was a C.S. Lewis story (“Ministering Angels”) that mocked the proposal, published in F&SF in Dec 1955. Venture was the sister magazine to F&SF, so maybe Merril’s story was intended to be a direct rebuttal to Lewis’?

[edited to add]

Lewis’ story was published in 1955, but not in F&SF it seems. It first appeared in the Saturday Review of Literature and was later reprinted (in 1958) in F&SF. So maybe Merril’s story rebutted Lewis, but then the reprint of Lewis rebutted Merril, “and so ad infinitum“.

Anyway, belated thanks for the retro-review. Always interesting to see these guys in conversation with each other.

Dave T

The Merril story sets up some neat speculation for us. The story postulates that women were sent along with the male crew to provide sexual release, thus keeping the men psychologically balanced.

What if the story’s roles were reversed and men were sent along (primarily) for the same purpose. Would that be sexist as well? The immediate knee-jerk response (today) would probably be Yes.

But take a step back and realize that whether we like it or not the human race is biologically separated into males and females. We can’t deny or change this natural biological fact. And also realizing that a healthy sex life does help keep us psychologically balanced (so it has been said by professionals at any rate), then given the time period in which the story was written and our then understanding of space travel and the current technology — why (playing devil’s advocate here) is the proposal in question sexist? Why would it be sexist the other way around (if males were sent to provide sexual release for the female crew)?

Which leads me to wonder if the males and females had equal roles piloting the ship and both provided sexual release for the other (as nature will always take its course)–would they _both_ be guilty of sexism for their use of the other sex for release, though both sexes had equal roles on the ship?

The core conceit is that sexual release is needed as a biological fact. (If we wish to debate _this_ issue, it is a different discussion entirely, but for now it’s the premise we’re to take as a given.) How it is fulfilled is the question here, I think.

So we must think a bit more about what is sexist and what maybe isn’t, given the biological fact of our necessary male/female imperatives in this area.

Would reversing the roles be sexist? Would equalizing the roles, still with the sexual component there be sexist? Is no scenario really sexist after all?

Interesting food for thought given our sexual biologies as determined by nature (or God if you wish).

James Enge

I’m not sure that your premises are in order, though. Sexual release doesn’t necessitate vaginal intercourse. And it’s a fact that all-male crews in the age of sail went on voyages of months or years at a time with minimal or no contact with shore populations. Maybe they weren’t psychologically balanced, but they were able to do difficult and demanding work under difficult and demanding conditions.

Another issue about your comments: you’re assuming that sexual biology and gender identity map onto each other 100%. That’s really not the case.

Anyway, the presumption that space crews would necessarily be male is now hopelessly dated (not in a good way).

What’s sexist about the “nice girls on Mars” idea is its reduction of a woman’s identity to nothing more than an object for male sexual release. Men are never reduced to being merely sexual objects for women, except sometimes in daydreams.

Further echoes of the “nice girls on Mars” controversy: the opening pages of Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (where the grand old man concisely points out that mixed crews might have their own problems); Larry Niven’s rather homophobic version of the problem in “How the Heroes Die” (which might be subtitled “No Nice Girls on Mars”).

Dave T

I was using “sexual release” for vaginal intercourse because that’s what the females were, in essence, there for.

Screw that crap about sexual biology and gender identity not mapping 100%. Of _course_ not everyone is hetersexual, but so what? _In the story_ it’s a given that everyone is hetero. This specific issue has absolutely zero to do with this specific story. It’s a hetero male crew with the females brought along for them. It’s that simple.

Also, you neglected to address the issue of role reversal. What if the crew were female and males were sent along for sex? Using the same logic this would be reverse sexism (reverse sexism only because it seems the baseline definition of sexism is that perpetrated by males).

I also disagree with your statement that males are never reduced to sexual objects by women. Ever hear of gigolos? Why do women go to all male strip clubs? What universe are you living in? Men are constantly being sexually scoped out by women as sexual objects. Maybe society and the media play it up differently but it exists nevertheless. 🙂

Now, again, what if the crew were equally balanced according to sex and job roles and had sex for reasons of horndogism (on both sides)? Is having sex purely for sex and not love sexist, in that each sex uses the other for sex only?

The assumption that spaceship crews would necessarily be male is indeed sexist, but that’s not what the real controversy is about. It’s about the use of women as sexual objects for a specific purpose.

This is the issue from the story: women as sexual objects. But turn it around or make it equal and what conclusions can we draw from that intellectual exploration where “sexism” is concerned? It’s a gedanken exercise friends. Think it through carefully and question your assumptions is all I’m trying to ask.

Dave T

Allow me to clarify one statement I made from above. I said: “Why do women go to all male strip clubs?”

Make that “Why do women go to all female strip clubs to see men take it all off? Chipendales anyone? Or even more X-rated clubs where women go to see male strippers?”

James Enge

“I was using ‘sexual release’ for vaginal intercourse because that’s what the females were, in essence, there for.”

In the story, you mean? Does that really make a difference? I thought we were talking about the ideas embodied in the story and suggested by the story. If we are, there are other obvious forms of sexual release: masturbation, etc, etc. Maybe an updated version of the “nice girls on Mars” theory would be “sex toys on Mars” or maybe “sexbots on Mars”.

“Men are constantly being sexually scoped out by women as sexual objects.”

That’s not the issue, though. The “nice girls on Mars” idea reduces women to being _only_ objects of sexual gratification for men. (All the words are there because they all count.) It’s their sole social function. That doesn’t happen to men.

And apparently men who make a living at sex work are servicing male clients, not female ones. One might ask why this might be, and I suspect the answer would involve sociology and biology, but it means that gigolos are no more relevant to this discussion than unicorns.

“Screw that crap about sexual biology and gender identity not mapping 100%.”

If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, and you’ve never been in a long-term all-male environment (like the Navy or prison or an old-fashioned British public school), I recommend that you read something realistic about those environments (like William Golding’s RITE OF PASSAGE or Robert Graves’ autobiography GOODBYE TO ALL THAT).

You sound a little angry about this. If you really want to think about it, you might to put that aside. If you don’t want to think about it, that’s okay with me. I’m not an advocate, devil’s or otherwise.

Dave T

“And apparently men who make a living at sex work are servicing male clients, not female ones.”

Excuse me? The term gigolo also refers to men servicing women for money. Remember the 1980 movie starring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton called “American Gigolo”?

“The “nice girls on Mars” idea reduces women to being _only_ objects of sexual gratification for men. … It’s their sole social function. That doesn’t happen to men.”

Again, maybe not as prevalent, but women _do_ think of men as only sex objects at times, where their only function is to provide sex (re the strip clubs where women go to see men strip–and some even more than that, the gigolo escort services for females, etc.).

You still haven’t answered the question of whether it would be sexist if an all female crew brought along males for sex only.

The down and dirty question here, at heart, is whether or not males or females can be sought out (“used”) for sexual gratification only–whether aboard a spaceship or on the mean streets of today.

Therefore, should prostitution be legalized, as it provides a service that like any other, and has but one purpose.

Or what about hooking up for a one night stand? A social contract is implicitly made to and agreed by both willing parties to provide only sexual gratification to the other. Just that one purpose and function, with no other emotional strings attached. Sex is “traded” like any other commodity.

Here’s another scenario to ponder. What if that all-male crewed spaceship had brought along professional female prostitutes who knew what their sole function would be and willingly accepted it? Would that be classified as sexist, or sex-ism? Or if the crew were female and the willing prostitutes males?

Ted Sturgeon’s trademark quote was “Ask the next question.” He signed his autographs with and arrow running through a circle to illustrate this “ask the next question” philosophy. The Sturgeon award is even made in the likeness of this symbol, denoting “Ask the next question.” This is all I’m doing here, for my own working out of ideas as well as anyone elses.

So what exactly does it mean to be “sexist”? Simply using someone for sexual reasons? Does time, place, circumstance, or prevalent (and ever-changing) custom dictate or inform our definition? Is it an ironclad definition…or are there certain circumstances where the definition is bendable and may not apply? You all tell me.

I’m not angry, James. Merely being matter-of-fact, straightforward, and direct with my questions.

James Enge

“Excuse me? The term gigolo also refers to men servicing women for money. Remember the 1980 movie starring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton called ‘American Gigolo’?”

This movie was not a documentary, though. It’s not evidence of anything except that Hollywood made a movie about gigolos in the 80s. It also made one about unicorns (Ridley Scott’s LEGEND).

“So what exactly does it mean to be ‘sexist’? Simply using someone for sexual reasons?”


Dave T

C’mon, James. Are you flat out denying that there are male gigolos who cater to women for money because “American Gigolo” was not a documentary? Seriously? Talk about living in a cocoon and denying real world evidence we all know is true…

And for at least the third time now you haven’t addressed the scenarios I offered, and I asked if they would be sexist as well. I wonder why the avoidance?


One of the applied definitions of sexism in the wiki piece is a disdain for or prejudice towards someone, most often women (I closely paraphrase).

I have a strong prejudice _for_ women when it comes to sex, because it’s the way I’m wired. I am hardly disdainful of them any more than they are of men because we (men and women) want to have sex with each other.

I find it a bit curious that rather than arguing your point from the heart–or internal learned knowledge– you cite an external source–a wiki article. But okay, I guess. 🙂

Your last answer agrees that sexism isn’t merely using someone for sexual reasons, so there’s no sexism from that angle in the story. I guess the sexism comes then from the fact that the women on board the ship were treated in a sexist manner because they weren’t on board as equal members of the crew. But wait. They were brought aboard solely to service the men sexually, right? So if sexism isn’t _necessarily_ using someone purely as a sexual outlet, then under the conditions presented in the story it wasn’t sexist at all to have them aboard in that role. The real crime was in not having them be a part of the crew _because they were women_, which would indeed be sexist.

So the sexism occurs because of their not being considered as part of the crew because of their gender, not necessarily their function as sex partners. Which works for me.

I guess the sex thing would have been okay if they had been navigators or ship physician or in communications or even the captain. You know, if the women hold responsible jobs equal to the guys it’s okay to have sex with them because it’s not their only role. But if their only role is to have sex with the men it’s not okay, and sexist. Hmm. I’ll have to think that one over to make sure what I think about that, and why.

Dave T

Hi, Rich. The simple proposition that women or men, or any group of men or women are brought together (on a spaceship or anywhere else) solely for the purpose of sex is, in and of itself, not sexist if all parties agree. Swingers clubs all over the world do it all the time and to serve one and only one purpose: to have sex.

If a spaceship purposely included sex workers precisely for the psychological health of the crew, and you don’t think that would be sexist, i.e. demeaning to either gender sex worker because they’re there only to have sex with, then why do you think it would be sexist in the Merril story? I haven’t read the story so I have to ask if they were on the ship of their own free will or not, and did they know why they were on board the ship?

If the answer to both is Yes, then I don’t see any sexism because of the sexual issue. If the answer is No, and they were forced to have sex with the crew then it would be a simple case of rape and entirely unacceptable.

Firefly had a female (gorgeous) sex worker; her title was “companion,” wasn’t it? No sexism there because it was her chosen profession.

If the women on the spaceship were otherwise treated with respect and dignity and they weren’t forced to have sex with the crew, then whither the sexism?

I can think of all sorts of scenarios where having people around only for sex is not (as I said before) in and of itself sexist. Unless, that is, you believe every syllable of the activist and vocal feminist segment that has led you to believe that it is, through their convoluted logic as they’ve tried to make everyone believe for the past 40 years or so, by pounding it into everyone’s head until they come to believe it unquestioningly and now take it for granted without re-examining the core principles leading to their viewpoint. But of course to question these “truths” is unacceptable and must be shouted down, usually by labeling the questioner or anyone who might disagree as a sexist, or racist, or homophobe, or what have you. Labeling and intimidation is unfortunately quite effective these days in a thought-stifling PC atmosphere.

I do not, at face value, believe all the definitions of sexism as touted by many today. I want to take a good hard look at the defining principles of what constitutes “sexism” and figure out for myself where these current definitions may or may not hold water.

We toss out terms like sexism or racism far too often and easily these days, many times to the point of absurdity. Someone cries “sexism” and it’s all too easy to jump on the bandwagon without carefully examining any perceived instance of it, even when on the surface it seems like an easy case to judge.

If the male crew of the Merril spaceship were known to actually dislike women per se and thought them only good for sex under any circumstances and treated them like dirt on or off the ship, then _that_ would be sexism and I’d certainly be agin it. But hey, if the women knew why they were there and it was okay with them, then that’s okay with me. 🙂

James Enge

“C’mon, James. Are you flat out denying that there are male gigolos who cater to women for money because “American Gigolo” was not a documentary? Seriously? ”

Dave: You offered AMERICAN GIGOLO as proof that there are gigolos (i.e. male prostitutes that service women). It’s not adequate for that purpose. Seriously. I linked to an article about sex workers: that’s the basis for my assertion. Gigolos are a fantasy, not a reality. Seriously.

Dave T

for everyone’s edification and delight I offer only two websites (of many more I found) either explaining the art of becoming a male gigolo (for women) or pointing to a website where you can apply to become one.

So yes, James, gigolos are real and not a fantasy.

Dave T

Here are 2 websites about real-life gigolos. One even features an ABC report by Cynthia McFadden about them.

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