Friday, February 29, 2008

National Review of Science Fiction

The many obits on William F. Buckley, Jr. fail to mention what his greatest accomplishment might have been: his magazine, the "National Review" had a real column devoted to reviewing recent works of science fiction. The reviewer was no less than Ted Sturgeon. Back then this was amazing and astounding, almost a fantasy fulfillment, almost as if I was transported to a fantastic world of tomorrow.

Science fiction was now acknowledged in the magazine of William F. Buckley, the erudite man of letters and rapier witted host of "Firing Line." I used to search for new copies of the "National Review" every time I visited the school or base library. One thing I noticed: the other articles seemed dull and lifeless in comparison to Sturgeon's column, and the merciless fortnight deadline meant that the "National Review" often resembled a political zine rather than a polished journal (still NR never was never as bad as the "New Republic" in the 1980s). The "National Review" has the proud disintinction of having discovered Philip K. Dick years ahead of the "Rolling Stone."

Thanks to a progressive English teacher, I had been reading Marshall McLuhan, and I understood enough to realize that Buckley's true medium was television. Television captured his wit and patrician graciousness. Only television could capture Buckley's prep tell: he always and unconsciously unfastened his lower coat button when he sat down and immediately re-fastened it when he stood up.

For those who lament that we lost sophisticated discourse and civility on television in the era of Limbaugh and Colbert, I would suggest viewing the debate between Buckley and Gore at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Then as now, there were insulting comparisions to the Third Reich and sexually oriented insults:


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I didn't know that the National Review had ever done science fiction.

Not really something I would have expected. Back in those day I would have seen them more going over the latest collection of mathematical story problems or leather bound sets of the Federalist papers.

It does in a way make sense though (as some person wiser than me pointed out) as most SciFi books have plot elements you would classify as libertarian or conservative.

Steve said...

Oops, wrong button. That comment above was me.

Diligent Blogger said...

Looking through the archive index, I noticed that "National Review" ran excerpts of Heinlein, which is pretty much right-wing porn. I read in the obits that Buckley purged the Ayn Rand nerds from the new conservative movement, and the science fiction column might have been there to tap into a new generation of sci-fi libertarians. Still, science fiction wasn't getting any respect back in the 60s from the other magazines, Buckley managed to tap into pop culture.