The World Well Lost

"The World Well Lost" is a science fiction short story by American writer Theodore Sturgeon, first published in the June 1953 issue of Universe.[1] It has been reprinted several times, for instance in Sturgeon's collections E Pluribus Unicorn, Starshine, and A Saucer of Loneliness. The story takes its title from the subtitle of John Dryden's verse drama All for Love.

Universe science fiction 195306 n1
June 1953's issue of Universe.


The tagline for the Universe cover was "[His] most daring story".[2] Its sensitive treatment of homosexuality was unusual for science fiction published at that time, and it is now regarded as a milestone in science fiction's portrayal of homosexuality.[3] According to an anecdote related by Samuel R. Delany, when Sturgeon first submitted the story, his editor not only rejected it but phoned every other editor he knew and urged them to reject it as well.[4]

Plot summary

In the future, two members of an alien race called the Dirbanu come to Earth. They win humanity's heart by their grace and love for each other. Earth's media has dubbed them the "Loverbirds," and almost everyone on Earth is touched by the Loverbirds' tender displays of wonder and affection.

Dirbanu heretofore had almost no contact with Earth, except for one short investigative trip in which the ambassador of Dirbanu made clear that he found Earth disgusting. However, the Dirbanu government breaks the silence with Earth in order to demand the return of the Loverbirds. Allegedly, the Loverbirds are fugitive criminals and must be extradited. Earth's government, hoping to profit by cooperation with this powerful planet, dispatches spacers Rootes and Grunty to return the Loverbirds.

Rootes, the Captain of the team, is an arrogant, loquacious womanizer. Grunty serves under the Captain. He is a hulking, taciturn poet, so-named because he grunts rather than speaks. Despite their radically different personalities, the two friends are famed in space travel circles for their teamwork and efficiency. They refuse to travel with any other spacers.

The faster than light propulsion employed by Earthmen has the side-effect of stunning the human nervous system to a variable degree. Rootes is deeply affected, while Grunty is almost unaffected, resulting in an extensive period of time after each "jump" in which Grunty is the only aware entity on the ship, a situation that to him is priceless.

While Rootes sleeps off the first jump, Grunty realizes that the Loverbirds are telepathic and have sensed a deep personal secret of his. Grunty prepares to kill them to protect his secret. To dissuade him from committing murder, the Loverbirds sketch for him a series of four drawings. The first is of Rootes, Grunty, and a beautiful human woman, all clothed. The second depicts all three humans nude. The third sketch depicts the Loverbirds themselves and a short, round extraterrestrial, all clothed. The fourth sketch depicts the three aliens nude.

When viewed in sequence, it becomes clear that the short, round alien is a Dirbanu female. Dirbanu males and females vary vastly from each other in appearance. The two Loverbirds, whom humanity had presumed to be male and female because of their physical similarity to Earth males and females, were actually both male. When Grunty realizes the significance of the sketches, he sets them free in an escape pod. The escape pod heads away from the planet, towards the outer reaches of the universe.

Upon awakening, Rootes is furious that Grunty has seemingly sabotaged the mission. Grunty justifies his actions by showing Rootes the four sketches. Realizing that the Loverbirds were a pair of male lovers, the outraged Rootes declares that he would have killed them if he had known. Grunty, having known this, allows Rootes to think this is why he set the Loverbirds free, avoiding the potential consequences if it were to be discovered that an Earth operative had killed Dirbanu citizens. His anger abated, Rootes is impressed by what he perceives as Grunty's cleverness.

Pondering aloud, Rootes realizes that the Dirbanu government's reluctance to interact with Earth must be based on homophobia: since human males and females both resemble Dirbanu males, the Dirbanu were presumably disgusted by the impression that Earth is a "planet full of queens". Although the Dirbanu intellectually know that this is not the case, their visceral reaction to the concept nonetheless repels them. Rootes also hypothesizes that the Dirbanu government wanted to bring the Loverbirds home, as they were ashamed to have the Loverbirds viewed as representatives of the Dirbanu planet.

Upon arriving at the Dirbanu homeworld, Rootes reports that the Loverbirds died of natural causes in transit, and the Earth ship is abruptly dismissed, leaving future interactions between the two worlds questionable. On the return trip, with Rootes again fallen unconscious, Grunty ponders him lovingly. The reader realizes that Grunty is gay and secretly in love with Rootes. Earlier in the story, the omniscient narrator had noted that the only way to destroy the pair's working bond would be to attempt "to explain it to Rootes". The story's conclusion clarifies the full meaning of this statement.


  1. ^ ISFDB 'Universe Science Fiction', published by Palmer Publications, Inc., was a new name for 'Other Worlds' (q.v.) in June, 1953. It had ten issues before Palmer reverted its name in 1955.
  2. ^ Ruminations on The World Well Lost Archived 2009-02-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Eric Garber, Lyn Paleo Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, p 130, G K Hall: 1983 ISBN 978-0-8161-1832-8
  4. ^ Samuel R. Delany, Introduction to Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, p xviii, Ed. Eric Garber, Lyn Paleo G K Hall: 1983 ISBN 978-0-8161-1832-8
All for Love (play)

All for Love or, the World Well Lost, is a heroic drama by John Dryden written in 1677. Today, it is Dryden's best-known and most performed play. It is a tragedy written in blank verse and is an attempt on Dryden's part to reinvigorate serious drama. It is an acknowledged imitation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and focuses on the last hours of the lives of its hero and heroine.

E Pluribus Unicorn

E Pluribus Unicorn is a collection of fantasy and science fiction stories by American writer Theodore Sturgeon, published in 1953 by Abelard.

Eliza Lynn Linton

Eliza Lynn Linton (10 February 1822 – 14 July 1898) was the first female salaried journalist in Britain, and the author of over 20 novels. Despite her path breaking role as an independent woman, many of her essays took a strong anti-feminist slant.

Gaylactic Spectrum Awards

The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards (1999–present) are given to works of science fiction, fantasy and horror that explore LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) topics in a positive way. Established in 1998, the awards were initially presented by the Gaylactic Network, with awards first awarded in 1999. In 2002 the awards were given their own organization, the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Foundation.The major award categories are for best novel, short fiction, and other works. The winners and short list of recommended nominees are decided by a jury. One of the most recognized authors, Nicola Griffith has received the most awards overall, with three wins. Griffith also jointly holds the record for most nominations with Melissa Scott, both having received five nominations. Works of any format produced before the awards were first given were eligible to be inducted into the "Hall of Fame", although no work has been inducted since 2003. The list of award winners and Hall of Fame inductees has been called a "who's who of science fiction" by This article lists the winners in each of the categories, and the inductees to the Hall of Fame.

Harvard Classics

The Harvard Universal Classics, originally known as Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf, is a 51-volume anthology of classic works from world literature, compiled and edited by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot and first published in 1909.Eliot had stated in speeches that the elements of a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf. (Originally he had said a three-foot shelf.) The publisher P. F. Collier and Son saw an opportunity and challenged Eliot to make good on this statement by selecting an appropriate collection of works, and the Harvard Classics was the result.

Eliot worked for one year with William A. Neilson, a professor of English; Eliot determined the works to be included and Neilson selected the specific editions and wrote introductory notes. Each volume had 400–450 pages, and the included texts are "so far as possible, entire works or complete segments of the world's written legacies." The collection was widely advertised by Collier and Son, in Collier's and elsewhere, with great success.

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 15 (1953)

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 15 (1953) is the fifteenth volume of Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories, which is a series of short story collections, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, that attempts to include the best science fiction stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The editors date the "Golden Age" as beginning in 1939 and ending in 1963.

This volume was originally published by DAW books in December 1986.

John Bell (publisher)

John Bell (1745–1831) was an English publisher. Originally a bookseller and printer, he also innovated in typography, being responsible for an influential font that omitted the long s. He was also noted for drawing the reading public to "the best literature" by commissioning attractive art work to accompany the printed work.

John Dryden

John Dryden (; 19 August [O.S. 9 August] 1631 – 12 May [O.S. 1 May] 1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was made England's first Poet Laureate in 1668.He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. Walter Scott called him "Glorious John".

LGBT themes in speculative fiction

LGBT themes in speculative fiction refer to the incorporation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) themes into science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction and related genres. Such elements may include an LGBT character as the protagonist or a major character, or explorations of sexuality or gender that deviate from the hetero-normative.

Science fiction and fantasy have traditionally been puritanical genres aimed at a male readership, and can be more restricted than non-genre literature by their conventions of characterisation and the effect that these conventions have on depictions of sexuality and gender. However, speculative fiction also gives authors and readers the freedom to imagine societies that are different from real-life cultures. This freedom makes speculative fiction a useful means of examining sexual bias, by forcing the reader to reconsider his or her heteronormative cultural assumptions. It has also been claimed by critics such as Nicola Griffith that LGBT readers identify strongly with the mutants, aliens, and other outsider characters found in speculative fiction.

Before the 1960s, explicit sexuality of any kind was rare in speculative fiction, as the editors who controlled what was published attempted to protect their perceived key market of adolescent male readers. As the readership broadened, it became possible to include characters who were undisguised homosexuals, though these tended to be villains, and lesbians remained almost entirely unrepresented. In the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy began to reflect the changes prompted by the civil rights movement and the emergence of a counterculture. New wave and feminist science fiction authors realised cultures in which homosexuality, bisexuality and a variety of gender models were the norm, and in which sympathetic depictions of alternative sexuality were commonplace.

From the 1980s onwards, homosexuality gained much wider mainstream acceptance, and was often incorporated into otherwise conventional speculative fiction stories. Works emerged that went beyond simple representation of homosexuality to explorations of specific issues relevant to the LGBT community. This development was helped by the growing number of openly gay or lesbian authors and their early acceptance by speculative fiction fandom. Specialist gay publishing presses and a number of awards recognising LGBT achievements in the genre emerged, and by the twenty-first century blatant homophobia was no longer considered acceptable by most readers of speculative fiction. There was a concurrent increase in representation of homosexuality within non-literary forms of speculative fiction. The inclusion of LGBT themes in comic books, television and film continues to attract media attention and controversy, while the perceived lack of sufficient representation, along with unrealistic depictions, provokes criticism from LGBT sources.

List of Gaylactic Spectrum Award winners and nominees for best short fiction

The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards are given to works of science fiction, fantasy and horror that explore LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) topics in a positive way. They were founded in 1998, first presented by the Gaylactic Network in 1999, and in 2002 they were given their own organization, the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Foundation.Awards are given in categories for novels, short fiction and best other work, although in some years the award for short fiction has not been presented due to lack of sufficient nominees or no nominee of high enough quality. Other categories have also been added and removed in intervening years, and works produced before the inception of the awards are eligible to be inducted into the "Hall of Fame". The short fiction category is open to submissions of short written works released during the prior calendar year in North America that includes "significant positive GLBT content". The long list of nominees is reduced to a short list of finalists, and the results are generally announced and presented at Gaylaxicon, a convention dedicated to LGBT science fiction, although they have also been presented at Worldcon in the past.

This article lists all the "Best short fiction" award nominees and winners, and short fiction hall of fame inductees.Each award consists of an etched image on lucite on a stand, using a spiral galaxy in a triangle logo, which is based on the logo the Gaylactic Network. The award winner's name, work title, award year and award category are etched on a small plaque on the base or on the plexiglass itself. A small cash stipend is awarded to winners in the Best Short Fiction category. The cost of the awards is paid for through individual donations and fundraising events.

Steve Berman has the record for most nominations, having been a finalist four times without winning. No writer has won the short fiction award more than once.

List of LGBT-themed speculative fiction

Many science fiction and fantasy stories involve queer characters, or otherwise represent themes that are relevant to LGBT issues and the LGBT community. This is a list of notable stories, and/or stories from notable series or anthologies, and/or by notable authors; it is not intended to be all-inclusive.

List of science fiction short stories

This is a non-comprehensive list of short stories with significant science fiction elements.

Other Worlds, Universe Science Fiction, and Science Stories

Other Worlds, Universe Science Fiction, and Science Stories were three related US magazines edited by Raymond A. Palmer. Other Worlds was launched in November 1949 by Palmer's Clark Publications and lasted for four years in its first run, with well-received stories such as "Enchanted Village" by A. E. van Vogt and "Way in the Middle of the Air", one of Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicle" stories. Since Palmer was both publisher and editor, he was free to follow his own editorial policy, and presented a wide array of science fiction.

Palmer entered a partnership with a Chicago businessman in 1953 to create Bell Publications, and printed Universe Science Fiction from June 1953. Palmer used the new company to abandon Other Worlds and launch Science Stories, in order to escape from Clark Publications' financial difficulties. Hence Science Stories can be considered a continuation of Other Worlds. Science Stories was visually attractive but contained no memorable fiction. Universe, on the other hand, was drab in appearance, but included some well-received stories, such as Theodore Sturgeon's "The World Well Lost", which examined homosexuality, a controversial topic for the time.

Palmer's Chicago partner lost interest, so he took over both Science Stories and Universe Science Fiction under a new company. In 1955 he culled both magazines and brought back Other Worlds, numbering the issues to make the new magazine appear a continuation of both the original Other Worlds and also of Universe. In this new incarnation the magazine was less successful, but did print Marion Zimmer Bradley's first novel, Falcons of Narabedla. In 1957 Palmer changed the focus of the magazine to unidentified flying objects (UFOs), retitling it Flying Saucers from Other Worlds, and after the September 1957 issue no more fiction appeared. Palmer eventually settled on Flying Saucers, Mysteries of the Space Age as the title, and in that form it survived until June 1976.

Sex and sexuality in speculative fiction

Sexual themes are frequently used in science fiction or related genres. Such elements may include depictions of realistic sexual interactions in a science fictional setting, a protagonist with an alternative sexuality, or exploration of the varieties of sexual experience that deviate from the conventional.

Science fiction and fantasy have sometimes been more constrained than non-genre narrative forms in their depictions of sexuality and gender. However, speculative fiction also offers the freedom to imagine societies different from real-life cultures, making it an incisive tool to examine sexual bias and forcing the reader to reconsider his or her cultural assumptions.

Prior to the 1960s, explicit sexuality of any kind was not characteristic of genre speculative fiction due to the relatively high number of minors in the target audience. In the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy began to reflect the changes prompted by the civil rights movement and the emergence of a counterculture. New Wave and feminist science fiction authors imagined cultures in which a variety of gender models and atypical sexual relationships are the norm, and depictions of sex acts and alternative sexualities became commonplace.

There also exists science fiction erotica, which explores sexuality and the presentation of themes aimed at inducing arousal.

Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon (; born Edward Hamilton Waldo, February 26, 1918 – May 8, 1985) was an American writer, primarily of fantasy, science fiction and horror. He was also a critic. He wrote approximately 400 reviews and more than 200 stories.Sturgeon's science fiction novel More Than Human (1953) won the 1954 International Fantasy Award (for SF and fantasy) as the year's best novel and the Science Fiction Writers of America ranked "Baby is Three" number five among the "Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time" to 1964. Ranked by votes for all of their pre-1965 novellas, Sturgeon was second among authors, behind Robert Heinlein.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Sturgeon in 2000, its fifth class of two dead and two living writers.

Timeline of science fiction

This is a timeline of science fiction as a literary tradition.

Twisted (anthology)

Twisted is an anthology of horror short stories edited by Groff Conklin. It was first published in paperback by Belmont Books in May 1962 and reprinted in 1967. British paperback editions were issued by Horwitz in 1963 and Four Square Books in 1965. It has also been translated into Spanish.The book collects fifteen novelettes and short stories by various authors, together with an introduction by the editor. The stories were previously published from 1843-1961 in various magazines.

Wound licking

Wound licking is an instinctive response in humans and many other animals to lick an injury. Dogs, cats, small rodents, horses, and primates all lick wounds. Saliva contains tissue factor which promotes the blood clotting mechanism. The enzyme lysozyme is found in many tissues and is known to attack the cell walls of many gram-positive bacteria, aiding in defense against infection. Tears are also beneficial to wounds due to the lysozyme enzyme. However, there are also infection risks due to bacteria in the human mouth.

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