John W. Campbell, Jr.

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(June 8, 1910 – July 11, 1971)


John W. Campbell, Jr., was an early sf writer, editor of Astounding from 1938 to 1971, principal creator of the Golden Age of SF, discoverer of Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt, Sturgeon, and many other writers, acclaimed editor, opinionated crank, and all in all, probably the most important and influential person in the history of sf. He was one of the two people (with Robert A. Heinlein) to have three times been Worldcon GoH: Philcon, SFCon, and Loncon.

Campbell was a huge correspondent, writing legendary letters to his writers critiquing their stories and often inspiring them. Perry Chapdelaine published two volumes of the John W. Campbell Letters featuring letters by Campbell.

He is the main subject of the excellent 2018 history Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee, the story of Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction. It's not exactly a biography of Campbell, but it is the closest thing we have.

Campbell wrote sf under the pennames of Don A. Stuart (a combination of his then-wife Doña Campbell's first name and her mother's maiden name of Stuart, and under Karl van Campen. (As Don Stuart, he was a bit character in Rocket to the Morgue.) Probably his most important writing was done under the Don A. Stuart penname in the 1930s.

At a time when sf was still basically pulp adventure, he wrote stories which stand up well even today. Probably his most famous story is "Who Goes There?". Other significant Don A. Stuart stories include "Twilight" and "Forgetfulness".

He was highly opinionated and prone to taking contrarian viewpoints. When he began championing pseudoscience, such as Dianetics, he alienated many in the sf community. Campbell wrote controversial essays and letters supporting segregation, and made repellent remarks regarding slavery and race. He pressed Jewish writers in his stable to take Anglo pseudonyms, in the belief that they would sell better. (Frederik Pohl wrote that Isaac Asimov escaped this only because he had previously been published under his own name.)

Among Campbell’s oft-quoted opinions: “Sex and Science Fiction Don't Mix.”

The Campbell Award was named after him. It was for new writers, and reflects the enormous impact he had on the field through the discovery, development and encouragement of new writers. However, Campbell again became a controversial figure in 2019 when that year’s award winner denounced him as a fascist in her acceptance speech, and the award was renamed the Astounding Award.

There is also the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, which is different.

He attended the First Worldcon in 1939.

He was married twice, to Doña from 1931–49 (they named one of their daughters for Leslyn Heinlein) and then to Margaret “Peg” Winter in 1950.

More Reading:[edit]

Awards, Honors and GoHships:

Campbell’s list of Hugo nominations and wins is impressive, especially considering that by far the most important part of his career happened before the Hugos were instituted: Under his editorship, Astounding was nominated for Best Professional Magazine from 1953 to 1972, winning in 1953-1957, 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1965. In addition, he won the Best Professional Editor Retro Hugo every time it was awarded, from 1996–2020 (for 1939, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1951, and 1954), and the 1939 Best Novella Retro Hugo in 2014.

See also: Pseudo-Campbell.

Notable Works[edit]

Who Goes There?[edit]

A classic novella written by Campbell under his Don A. Stuart pseudonym and published in the August 1938 Astounding.

Scientists working in Antarctica discover a crashed alien spaceship. In the course of investigating it, they accidentally revive one of the crew by thawing it and -- in due course -- discover that it is made of some protean substance which can consume and duplicate human beings. Which of them have already been taken over? The tension is substantial, and humanity only triumphs by hard work and last-minute good fortune.

It was made into a movie three times, starting with The Thing from Another World in 1951.

See also: In the Original German.

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