In Episode 38 of my Vacation in the Golden Age, which covered the August 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, John Campbell had this rather telling news to report in his In Times To Come column, regarding what the War had done to science fiction:
As previously stated, L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein were both regular navy men. With the outbreak of war, they were in, and Astounding out two top writers automatically. In rapid succession since, we’ve gotten word that “This one’s probably my last for the duration” from Anson MacDonald, L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov.
Schneeman was drafted in the spring of 1941, released as one of the over-twenty-eight group in the fall of ’41, and, of course, taken back after December 7th. Cartier went in late last fall. Rogers is in the Canadian army now.
I sometimes have a vision of these Golden Age writers as being cooped up in their tiny apartments, or gathered together in some basement doing their writing without much concern for what is going on in the outside world, but when you look at the history of the genre in the Golden Age, it is clear that nearly every able-bodied science fiction writer served in the military in some capacity. Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke did. Frederik Pohl served in Europe. Cyril Kornbluth was in the Battle of the Bulge. H. L. Gold also saw combat in World War II. Jack Williamson served, as did L. Sprague de Camp and many other writers who went on to some measure of fame within our genre. Some of them never fully recovered from their service.
I find it interesting that we know many of the names of the writers who served during World War II, but we know few of the names of the men and women of our genre who serve today; this despite the power of the Internet. I know, for instance, that Hugo-, Nebula-, and Campbell-award-nominated writer Brad R. Torgersen serves in the reserves. I know that Myke Cole also serves. I saw him present an award at the Nebula Weekend in his dress uniform.
I’m grateful for the service of all the men and women who volunteer (and those who were drafted, back when the draft still existed), but I am also humbled by those of my fellow writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror who have put their beliefs into action. Often times, as a writers, our words are our weapons, but we sit safely behind out computers when we write them. It is an honor to know folks like Brad and Myke–and there are certainly others that I am not aware of–who have made sacrifices that include their writing careers, to help protect our freedoms.
So on this Memorial Day, I’m thinking of Brad and Myke, but also of Isaac and Robert and Sprague and Arthur and Cyril and Frederik and Jack and all those other who had the courage, voluntary or not, to serve our country.