The Gunn Center Makes a Change, and Further Thoughts on the Reassessment of John W. Campbell

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas has announced that it’s changing the name of its annual conference from the Campbell Conference (named after Analog editor John W. Campbell) to the Gunn Center Conference. In the same announcement, it notes that it is discussing alternative names for its current Campbell Award, this one for best novel (yes, there were two different Campbell Awards for over 40 years; yes, this was a source of no small amusement during that time). “When a decision is made, we will announce it,” the Gunn Center said, which suggests that it’s not a question of if the name change will happen, but the timing of it.

This will no doubt start another round of anguished wailing from certain quarters about the erasure of John W. Campbell from the annals of science fiction history. The answer to this is he’s not being erased, he’s merely being reassessed. And the reassessment is: His extensive paper trail of bigotry, reactionary thought and pseudo-scientific nonsense wasn’t a great look at the time — a fact amply detailed by a number of his contemporaries in the field — and it’s even less of a great look now. As a result, his name is being taken off some things it was on before, because it staying on them means those things (and the people administering those things) would then have to carry the freight of, and answer for, his bigotry, reactionary thought and pseudo-scientific nonsense. And they would rather not.

“But why now?!?” comes the anguished cry. What is it about 2019 that suddenly makes John W. Campbell’s star fall? It’s easy for those angry to blame Jeannette Ng, who in winning what was then called the Campbell Award (the one for new writers, not the one for best novel, see, it was confusing) went up on stage and called Campbell a fascist. She wasn’t the first to say it — Michael Moorcock allegedly said it out loud and in public as far back as 1971 — but she said it while on a stage, accepting an award with his name on it.

But Ng wasn’t an errant spark that caused an unexpected explosion; she was the agitant that caused a supersaturated solution to crystallize. Generations of writers, editors, readers and fans have come up with no personal connection or allegiance eother to Campbell, or his particular vision of science fiction and fantasy. These generations include (and indeed have at their forefront) those who Campbell would have implicitly and explicitly not welcomed into the field. What was basically a long-standing whisper network about Campbell’s reputation became a shout when Ng said what she said. Ng could not have precipitated a change so suddenly if there wasn’t already something to precipitate. This was a long time coming.

Blah blah blah political correctness blah blah — Look. Campbell’s reputational demotion isn’t just because he “once said something that wasn’t nice.” Campbell was for many years the apex editor in his field. Writers aspiring to write in the field wrote to his specifications in the hopes of selling to him; writers established in the field (even Heinlein) wrote to his specifications and to his direction to continue to sell to him. If Campbell rejected a story, writers would send those stories out for submission to other places — which meant that even stories that appeared in other magazines and anthologies were written for Campbell first. Science fiction was made in Campbell’s image for decades.

Right! Which is why those awards should still have his name on them! Hold on there, chuckles. Science fiction was made in Campbell’s image for decades — and Campbell was also a bigot and a reactionary, and liked his stories just so. For some people, he was the primary market to sell to, for better and for worse. For others, he was damage to be routed around, or put up with, and an impediment to the work they could publish. Not because their writing wasn’t good or interesting or important in itself, but because they were who they were as writers and humans, and Campbell was who he was as a writer and editor.

The field of science fiction is what it is in many ways because of who Campbell was. This, however, is not an argument that science fiction was the best it could have been because Campbell was who he was. Was the field genuinely best served by having a man who was a bigot and a reactionary as its apex editor? Jeanette Ng wasn’t the first to think it wasn’t — indeed, entire branches of science fiction literature arrived at least in part as a reaction to Campbell and his editorial dictates. Today’s writers, editors, readers and fans are not inherently bound to Campbell by sentimentality, by duty, or by philosophy, editorial or otherwise. They don’t owe him deference, nor are they required to see his decades-long primacy in the field as a wholly positive thing (or indeed, positive at all).

People aren’t perfect and you take the good and the bad together — but every generation, and every person, gets to decide how to weigh the good and the bad, and to make judgments accordingly. In the early seventies, in the wake of Campbell’s passing, such was Campbell’s reputation in the field of science fiction that he could be memorialized by two separate awards in his name, and apparently nobody batted an eye (or if they did, they didn’t count). Nearly fifty years later and at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, such is Campbell’s reputation in the field of science fiction that Campbell’s name is off one award, and may be off the other soon enough. In another 50 years, Campbell’s reputation in the field may be different again, or may simply be what so many things are after a century, which is, a historical footnote.

Campbell’s current reassessment doesn’t mean he stops being a part of the history of science fiction, or an influence on the field. I’ve noted before I write science fiction in a fashion that is essentially “Campbellian” in broad subject matter and tone, and it’s done pretty well for me, and I suspect will continue to for a while to come. It would be difficult (and dishonest) for me not to acknowledge his influence on my work, or his continuing impact on the field in general. I also acknowledge that so much of the best science fiction and fantasy today is not Campbellian in subject or tone, and written by people and voices I suspect Campbell wouldn’t have deemed essential to the genre. The state of the genre today is such that it has room for all of us, and the genre has never been healthier. There’s no one editor serving as a bottleneck, either for writers or readers. This is good news.

Campbell is and will always be part of science fiction’s history. But history isn’t static, even if the facts of history stay the same. Anyone notable enough to be part of the historical record will find themselves the subject of reassessment, for however long they grace history’s record. It is, weirdly, a privilege not many people get. Campbell was never guaranteed a pedestal, or an award, or a conference in his name, even if he got them for a while. He was never guaranteed to keep them. No one is.

79 thoughts on “The Gunn Center Makes a Change, and Further Thoughts on the Reassessment of John W. Campbell

  1. Notes:

    1. Mallet in the warming chamber. Be polite to each other, please.

    2. This comment thread is not the place to re-litigate what Jeannette Ng should or should not have done in accepting her award. Any attempt to do so will get the mallet.

    3. I should also note that I do find the “But where does it all end?!?” sort of hand-wringing boring and not on point; the judgment of history changes, but not everything is a slippery slope. So if you’re going to come in from that angle at least try to make it interesting.

  2. There is an unsubtle difference between remembering someone and honoring them, and between withdrawing an honor to them and erasing them from history. As Our Gracious Host said, Campbell remains part of sci-fi history, but those who refuse to re-assess that history risk being relegated to that history while the rest of the world embraces the future.

  3. This does bother me. I really don’t care that people are taking his name off awards and institutions. I was appalled that anyone would have celebrated him in the first place. So his name is gone now? Good riddance, begging your pardon.

    But folks kissed his butt to be published back in the day. They were willing to kiss his memory for decades afterwards to their own benefit. Today his name is gone. Whose butt is being kissed now? Or should I assume we’ve somehow improved?

    Well, whatever. I’m just a spectator. Just don’t expect my applause.

  4. I always thought of Campbell as an idiot savant: savant in sci-fi, an idiot in everything else. He elevated sci-fi and deserves respect for that. However, given everything else he believed and did, I (reluctantly) agree that we need to move on (a group he would have hated.

    This is not unique to Sci-Fi. The medical community renamed a serious illness after it was learned that its eponymous describer had been an active Nazi. His activities had been hidden by his admirers. He was also posthumously stripped of an award. His name was not erased and decades of medical literature remain, but henceforth we will no longer actively promulgate his memory and instead use the clumsy new term, granulomatosis with polyangiitis, for the disorder he described.

  5. A while back, you wrote that you were a huge fan of H.L.Mencken when you were younger. For all his contributions to journalism, Mencken was pro-war. He was, to be frank, a racist with unequivocally discriminatory views toward Jews and African-Americans. He thought Einstein’s theory of general relativity was a joke. In very many respects, his views didn’t age well at all.

    Would you agree that we should take his name off the places and awards that are named after him? If not, why?

  6. Why now?

    Why did it take so long for what so many people knew about Bill Cosby to finally have an effect? Or Harvey Weinstein? Or R. Kelly?

  7. A lot of currently well respected people with awful views in their closet are getting upset that we’re now opening closets, and they fear that their “legacy” will also be reappraised; possibly in their lifetime too. Hence the supposed uproar from them and their fans. I just hope the Gunn Centre choose a better name for it than the “Astounding” Award, which (yes, I know it is after a publication but still), with the best will in the world, still sounds like an award from one of those tabloid magazines which talks about celebrity fashion and which box of chocolates goes best with red wine.

    I generally dislike awards (and buildings and organisations, and navy ships) which are named after people anyway. It is always divisive and there is always drama lurking in their past waiting to explode at some point. Better to name things (especially navy ships) after things like concepts.

    That is just me though. This fuss though, mainly just people looking at their own past and realising it is not as good as they think it is and kicking back at people pointing out the bad behaviour, rather than admitting it and working to fix their own flaws.

  8. Considering how many people Campbell ticked off in his own time it’s actually kind of amazing that his name wound up on ANY awards; he was always a problematic personage.

  9. I have yet to hear a “yeah but” defense of Campbell that does translate to “yeah but if we judge campbell for his bigotry, then someone might judge ME for my bigotry”.

  10. If my brain still worked I could tie this into the topic at hand better, but it IS related to John W. Campbell’s trying (rather successfully for a time) to make the entire genre in his image:
    What I wanted to say is that when [person or persons unmentioned] are whiny-babying about suddenly noticing protagonists in THEIR genre who look and think different from THEM, well, having been a girl child in the sixties, loving Science Fiction above all other readable things, my heart just bleeds for their pain, if I can stop laughing my ass off at their poor tender feelings. I somehow coped with No protagonists like me, and they can cope with the OCCASIONAL protagonist not like them.
    Anyway, Campbell did great things for the genre. And now he’s out of the way and even greater things keep coming.

  11. I have mixed feelings about the Campbell Memorial Award being renamed. I don’t generally think it’s a good idea to name awards after people, but Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg, the inaugural winner, would have made Campbell livid enough for blood to shoot out of his ears.

    By 1960, JWC was a sideshow act. The editorials were tedious and uninteresting for the most part. I’m good with taking his name off of the awards.

  12. I’ve gotten shamefully behind in reading new SF, especially by younger authors. But I gather that most Campbell/Astounding award winners these days either by content or by authors being The Wrong Sort Of People would have had blood shooting out of JWC’s ears. If he were alive today (medically unlikely as that would be) would he be DEMANDING that people take his name off the award?

  13. I’m not a fan of statues of traitors Confederate leaders, either. There’s a huge difference between recognizing the 1861–62 strategic and tactical superiority of a certain West Point engineer and anthropomorphizing those later-self-undermined achievements in statues (and university names!) placed precisely where those harmed by his objective can’t evade them. (The less said about the statue of Douglas MacArthur at the entrance to West Point, the better.) The biggest problem with naming an award after a single person is that it reifies that person — and that person only — as an exemplar of all that is right and good about an entire field. In this instance, “Excellence in speculative fiction” — ‘new’ writers on one hand, specific novels on the other — means that there’s only ONE KIND of speculative fiction.

    Darn. I think I’ve just given my position away by invoking Harlan Ellison’s introduction to DANGEROUS VISIONS. There’s more than one kind of speculative fiction; not just Ellison’s, but Le Guin’s, Delaney’s, Tiptree’s, (Cordwainer) Smith’s — and that’s just among those writing while Campbell was still editing who were, umm, strangers to Analog..

    {sarcasm} What’s next? Renaming the awards at the World Science Fiction Convention because Hugo Gernsback chiseled authors out of compensation and was careless with copyrights and other legal rights? {/sarcasm} Hmm. Maybe so. Maybe deserves some thought. Or maybe it’s not just speculative fiction; consider librarianship (the ALA recently renamed its top professionalism award after a quarter of a century of grumbling that Dewey was a racist misogynistic nationalist), or supposedly-less-controversial fields like aviation (the Lindbergh Award, the Arnold Air Society).

    Some of what Campbell did was worthy. Some was not. That we’ve evolved to the point that the “not” makes (at least some of) us uncomfortable — most especially the “next generation” who will be responsible for not just maintaining, but expanding, “excellence” in the field — should be a great big hint that not all is or was well with the hero-worship of the past.

  14. “For others, he was damage to be routed around, or put up with, and an impediment to the work they could publish. Not because their writing wasn’t good or interesting or important in itself, but because they were who they were as writers and humans, and Campbell was who he was as a writer and editor.”

    Freaking *this*. If you look at the pulps and slicks of the 1930s and 1940s, you’ll find a substantial amount of science fiction published completely outside the world of science fiction as it was then, in a variety of magazines like COSMOPOLITAN and BLUE BOOK and other well-paying venues. The writers who wrote those sf stories–which were on the whole better than 90% of what appeared in ASTOUNDING–not only never got published in ASTOUNDING, they never bothered to *submit* to ASTOUNDING.

    Why? Because of Campbell’s personality and his editorial process. Getting published in ASTOUNDING simply wasn’t worth the hassle, for these writers, of dealing with Campbell.

    So, yeah, much of the history of sf was influenced by Campbell’s brand of sf. But without Campbell, sf would still have rolled along–and been the better for his absence.

  15. I would also add that the parallel “Oh yeah, then what about the Tiptree Award?” question seems to be getting handled thoughtfully and intelligently by its administrators.

  16. People are complicated. There are many Fritz Haber’s out there, and there’s something about heroes having feet of clay.

    Nonetheless, while I agree with removing Campbell’s name from awards I also think it’s because we find ourselves in a time in history when we’re close enough contemporaneously to be well aware of his flaws. In another half-century his name would be just another name on an award that no one knows why it has that name. Pretty much like the Nobel Prizes, where what Alfred Nobel did and the reason he endowed the prizes has been long forgotten and all that remains is the award in his name.

  17. Which flaws of personality require removing a name from an award?

    I’ve seen discussions after the Campbell-to-Astounding change ranging from changing the name of the Hugo itself because Hugo Gernsback had some problematic traits, to James Tiptree Jr’s name possibly being removed from her eponymous award (they chose not to, for now: https://tiptree.org/2019/09/alice-sheldon-and-the-name-of-the-tiptree-award).

    I don’t have an answer for this, but I’m starting to think that robertreynolds66 above was correct, and that they should just strip the names off the awards and rename them for concepts or something.

  18. Grigory of Siberia:

    Re: Mencken, you should see where typing “mencken.com” into your browser gets you.

    Also this quote from Mencken is eerily prescient: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    I admire Mencken hugely as a writer, and that admiration doesn’t ignore or excuse his bigotry, which was and is unacceptable. Aside from the Mencken.com domain name, I’m not in charge of anything related to him, so it’s not up to me if anything named for him remains so. If the administrators of those things want to re-examine their association with him, I support that. If they decide a change is warranted, great; if they don’t, then that’s their right, too.

    I can say generally that as a rule I don’t think there’s much benefit to naming awards for people.

    With that said, I don’t think this is the place to litigate every single award named for people, so let’s not.

  19. As a person who came of age in the early 2000s (when email and websites were already overtaking zines, phone calls, and word of mouth in the punk community), the idea that one single person could have so much power over who succeeds and who doesn’t is slightly bonkers to me. For all that the internet is often a cesspool, I’m really glad to live in this sort of a world: One where there’s a lot of different outlets and a lot of people doing rad, creative things, and it’s all outside of one single person’s ability to control. Campbell’s influence is just as much a reflection of the time and technology that he lived in as it is a reflection on him as a person, however talented he was. If he were alive and working today, he wouldn’t have nearly the influence that he was able to command in the 1960s.

  20. [Deleted because if you lead with “not that my opinion matters” and follow with “and this is not necessarily about the post itself” I’m left to conclude that in point of fact you didn’t actually mean to leave a comment in this particular thread and the fact that you did was result of a strange, involuntary spasm. Next time, please a) post only opinions that you feel might matter, b) are on topic to the post — JS]

  21. Thanks for the comprehensive reply, John – and yes, I knew about the .com redirect. :) Great point about not naming awards for people as a rule…

  22. In response to the commentator who suggested that back in the day those who also wrote science fiction and published it in the magazines like Redbook, etc., didn’t even submit to Campbell because of his indefensible attitudes about race and gender — Imma going to disagree. I disagree not because I think all those writers who did write an sf story at times were necessarily not bigots and racists. I disagree because they could get published in Redbook, etc., and those magazines paid in the thousands of times better than a Campbell sf publication did. Race and gender matters matter! But — so does money.

  23. It’s a problematic issue. To be honest there are two sides and I see both. Campbell was a weirdo (particularly by modern lights) but he also did some pretty great work. One thing people forget is that, like other editors, he was trying to get submissions people would buy – and the times he lived in were far more conservative than today. Some of his hassle/rejections etc. were undoubtedly servicing that reality which he most certainly could not control.

    People are problematic. Like our host, I’m a huge fan of H. Beam Piper – yet Piper as an individual human I’m pretty sure I would not have liked, even though I loved his writing. I love John M. Ford’s work too – very much, yet the one time I met him before his untimely passing, I found him to be rather a total jerk. Apparently that wasn’t ‘usual’ for him (so I’m told by those who knew him better) but that is definitely who he was that day at that moment – and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

    So – I’m not sure about all this. JS feels that this is fine – maybe he’s right – I don’t know. I can’t help but wonder though. No one screams about pulling down statues of William Tecumseh Sherman – because he was on the ‘right’ side. Yet if you know anything about the man he was an absolutely horrible person and in modern terms would have been guilty of both war crimes and genocide. Robert E. Lee, despite being a much better person, was on the wrong side and now everyone wants to erase him. These are stances that I don’t think are well thought out.

    As to the statement that ‘there are no gatekeepers’ – I don’t think that’s true at all. There are different gatekeepers and history may well judge them as harshly as Campbell is currently being judged. The destructive trends in YA fiction are evidence of this – and there are more. Calls for censorship over various ‘triggers’ etc. These are not good things. If you don’t like something – don’t read it. But not everything can be sterilized for every reader or we will literally have nothing left in stories.

    So – I at least am of two minds about this. I have no problem with Ng calling Campbell a fascist as, by modern definitions – he likely was. But I think erasing people from history – and on this one I disagree with John as I think this kind of whitewashing really does remove people from public consciousness – is not a good thing. I think Campbell should be left. His issues noted, taught and serving as a warning to us to be better than he was – to not repeat his mistakes, but still to celebrate his accomplishments. Otherwise we will forget both the bad and the good – and the bad will be repeated.

  24. “Campbell was never guaranteed a pedestal, or an award, or a conference in his name, even if he got them for a while. He was never guaranteed to keep them. No one is.”

    The upset over Campbell’s name being removed has had little to do with Campbell himself and everything to do with concern that there’s more of an equality of voices in the field among authors and fans. But old traditions that papered over the cracks in the field are not going to be honored by those who have been or could be stymied by those cracks. It doesn’t erase the past. It’s just more honest about it.

  25. It’s a strange and awesome thing (in the classical sense) to be living through a sea change like this one.

    You can think of the entire genre as a caravan on a journey, with many people joining it and leaving it over the years, traveling through all these different lands. Sometimes it was a small caravan, and sometimes it was a big caravan. Sometimes the journey through one land was short while another one was long.

    But we got to be big while traveling through this land called Campbell, and the journey took so long that many folks thought the caravan only traveled here. I, for one, was born into this caravan without knowing there was anything else. Now we’re finally coming to the border—it’s still a ways off, but it’s visible on the horizon, and nobody knows what land is on the other side of it. Few remain to remind us that the caravan was ever anywhere else, or suggest that leaving was always inevitable.

    Some people are scared and think we should stay in Campbell, that maybe the caravan was at its best inside the border. Others think we’ve dallied too long and done a disservice to those who said our time would be better spent somewhere else. Many still are just along for the ride and will keep the company they’ve always done while continuing on.

    I, for one, look forward to continuing the journey into somewhere new, and I’m glad so many others haven’t forgotten the longing for the new and unknown. So thank you.

  26. On a scale of 1/10, how butthurt are you when I tell you that some of us will continue to refer to the Campbell Award as the Campbell Award, to refer to the Campbell Conference as the Campbell Conference, and to speak of Campbell with the reverence he deserves?

  27. John W. Campbell Admirer:

    If you had read previous posts, which it seems clear you have not, you will find I wouldn’t care one bit what you do, and also, I’m not the boss of you anyway. So probably a zero.

    That said, the Campbell Conference is no longer called the Campbell Conference, and at least one (and it seems likely in the near future, both) of the Campbell Awards is no longer called the Campbell Award. So if you persist in calling future editions of them names that no longer apply to them and are therefore not accurate, you will be a) seen as a silly little person stomping their teeny feetsies because things have changed in a way you don’t like, b) showing that the vector of “butthurt” is running pretty much in a direction opposite to the one you seem to suggest it is.

    But that will be your karma, not mine, so, enjoy.

  28. Reading this and that publicly available web site, I’ve heard those who disagree with this decision suggest that starting a JWC award at the Dragon Awards would meet with a more receptive audience. I expect they’re right so far as Dragon voters being more conservative. But from what I understand they’re also a much younger and less bookish crowd. I strongly suspect JWC’s name would mean nothing to them at all.

  29. John W. Campbell Admirer: I stopped calling JFK Airport “Idlewild” a half-century ago. (But no one calls Sixth Avenue “The Avenue of the Americas” except a real-estate agent.) Soon nobody will know what you’re talking about except your fellow worshipers.

  30. “She wasn’t the first to say it — Michael Moorcock allegedly said it out loud and in public as far back as 1971 — but she said it while on a stage, accepting an award with his name on it.”

    I always thought it was instructive that when the Golden Age science fiction community, every one of whom knew Jack Campbell pretty well, came together in the 1950s to create the most prestigious award in their genre, they named it after science fiction magazine editor… Hugo Gernsback, who most people today know *only* because of the Hugo Awards.

    Even Campbell’s own proteges didn’t really think his name belonged on awards.

  31. @JWC Admirer:
    When I was growing up, we had someone on our street who refused to call Sri Lanka anything except Ceylon because he thought Ceylon ought to be its real name because that was the name it had when he was a child himself. We thought he was an idiot.

  32. This sentence is pure gold:
    “But Ng wasn’t an errant spark that caused an unexpected explosion; she was the agitant that caused a supersaturated solution to crystallize.”

  33. If we look real hard at historical figures we’d probably all live on First Avenue or Seventh Lane… How many colleges would change their names if the full measure of their namesakes were widely known? Towns and cities?

  34. I think someone is using Donald Trump’s magic sharpie to write their own version of history….

    Reverence indeed…

  35. Kirt Siders: Today people can figuratively set sail on an ocean of science fiction media and stories. Its history is not even a topic of curiosity for most of them. That was not true when these awards were named.

    Speaking of the Hugo Award: What was originally conceived as the “Science Fiction Achievement Award” soon received a nickname. Why Hugo? Although H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others had written in the genre beforehand, Most fans at the time were well aware that Hugo Gernsback was the first person to publish an all-sf-genre magazine, beginning in 1926. And while promoting his magazine, he did things that helped plant the seeds of science fiction fandom.

    But it would be getting it backwards to leave the impression the award was motivated by a desire to honor Gernsback. The award was created by fans to celebrate and make it easier to draw journalistic attention to their favorite genre, and the 1953 World Science Fiction Convention that was giving the award. Since the original name was regarded as a little dry, they soon decided it needed something parallel to “the Oscar.”

  36. I’m pretty sure DragonCon would not be onboard with starting their own “John W. Campbell Award.” Not out of any particular animus toward Campbell, but because it would make them look ridiculous.

    I’m also not entirely convinced that it’s accurate to call them a “conservative” convention. As a whole, they represent a more… mainstream? audience, which is why the literary awards are pretty low-key and don’t attract much fanfare, or many voters. This is basically why the Puppy remnants have been able to carve out a pretty consistent toehold in the shortlists, alongside winners like Andy Weir and James S.A. Corey.

  37. Aaron:

    The Dragon Award press releases note 10k+ voters, although whether that is aggregate total votes or the number of voters voting on multiple categories is unclear. In either case, it’s not out of line with some other more established awards. I suspect the Dragon Awards do reasonably well with the Puppy types because the Puppy types decided it was the award they were going to focus their attention on. Which is fine.

  38. If y’all are going to be taking the name of Hugo Gernsback in vain, you should first read the (rather academic IMO) book “The Mechanics of Wonder”, which is a deep dive into both Gernsback and Campbell’s influence. FWIW, the author rather prefers Gernsback, and tags him as THE progenitor of modern SF.

    Follow it up with (the much more readable) “Astounding” for a closer look at what a bunch of freaks and weirdos Campbell, Hubbard, Heinlein, and to a lesser extent, Asimov were.

  39. “Astounding” featured a shouting match between Campbell and Heinlein, I forget what about, where Campbell said Heinlein was not a responsible member of society because he didn’t have children. Mildly surprised Heinlein didn’t punch him.

  40. The Dragon Award press releases note 10k+ voters, although whether that is aggregate total votes or the number of voters voting on multiple categories is unclear.

    Fair enough, and of course I don’t have any insider knowledge. I’ll only say I suspect that the literary awards attract relatively little interest. Not that that’s a problem or anything, but there just aren’t that many committed Puppies left, and they get some stuff on the ballot every year even without the benefit of a public slate.

    Not that, say, Larry Correia couldn’t ever make a ballot on the votes of non-Puppy fans… but combine the persistent presence of Puppy celebrities with the group’s stated interest in the awards, and it’s not a stretch to assume that like a hundred people wield significant influence on the shortlist.

  41. The Campbell/Heinlein fracas is also discussed in “The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein” by Farah Mendlesohn, which also has other unflattering things to say about Campbell.

  42. James:

    You can think of the entire genre as a caravan on a journey, with many people joining it and leaving it over the years, traveling through all these different lands. Sometimes it was a small caravan, and sometimes it was a big caravan. Sometimes the journey through one land was short while another one was long.

    But we got to be big while traveling through this land called Campbell, and the journey took so long that many folks thought the caravan only traveled here. I, for one, was born into this caravan without knowing there was anything else. Now we’re finally coming to the border—it’s still a ways off, but it’s visible on the horizon, and nobody knows what land is on the other side of it. Few remain to remind us that the caravan was ever anywhere else, or suggest that leaving was always inevitable.

    Some people are scared and think we should stay in Campbell, that maybe the caravan was at its best inside the border. Others think we’ve dallied too long and done a disservice to those who said our time would be better spent somewhere else. Many still are just along for the ride and will keep the company they’ve always done while continuing on.

    That’s beautiful! Thanks for the metaphor.

  43. How many kids did J Campbell have, anyway? I never heard of any of them.

    And Mencken.com !!! I had no idea, congratulations on the hilarity of that scoop !!! LOL funny, although I had to suspect what it was going to be after your lead in, but still really funny ;-)

  44. Hell, just sell the naming rights to all the awards, conferences, etc. How much would Jeff Bezos pony up to have the World SF Society hand out the Amazon Awards? The Society could probably use the money. And yes, I’m aware that.from an author’s point of view there may not be much difference between Amazon and Gernsback, but money can smooth over a lot of things.

  45. “for a closer look at what a bunch of freaks and weirdos Campbell, Hubbard, Heinlein, and to a lesser extent, Asimov were.”

    I suspect that *anyone* who writes, not just in the fields of fantasy and s/f is a bit of a freakish weirdo ;-)

    Heck, I wrote numerous articles about *fishing*, to say nothing of fanfic etc. ‘Normal’ people maybe read the newspaper, maybe a few books…

  46. “where Campbell said Heinlein was not a responsible member of society because he didn’t have children.”

    Theodore Roosevelt held the same opinion of the childless.

  47. Tim Morris if you read Astounding you would have known how many children he had and grand children also, and even great grandchildren that were at DublinCon this year. Maybe if you actually read and did research before you decide to type and make a comment that would be wonderful. Best regards Campbell Heirs.

  48. Question – were any of the current SF writing awards established as the result of an endowment? Pulitzer and Nobel were, of course… the Tony is named to honor one of the founders of the awarding entity.

    Also, to Jaws: Is there a specific criticism of HH Arnold your comment was in reference?

  49. The Heinlein biography I cited above talks repeatedly about RAH’s strong belief in the importance of family and child-raising (you can see it in his novels) and suggests that Heinlein was seriously affected by his (probably medical) inability to produce a family of his own.

  50. I am late to this discussion, and Campbell means almost nothing to me anyway, but here goes anyway:
    I adored G.K. Chesterton, but by the time I read most of what he wrote, I was cringing with horror whenever he mentioned Jews, and sighing with embarrassment whenever he mentioned Darwin.
    I still love Chesterton, but if I recommend his work I try to be upfront about his failings (and I would argue that his nasty stuff was also his worst-written work; I suspect that he was out of his depth and upset, and it shows).
    I would distinguish between “naming” an award, and “giving” an award: naming an award after someone, is, in a sense, a popularity contest, and if someone is no longer popular, why not rename the award?
    On the other hand, if someone has been given an award, I’ve always thought taking it away was petty … there have been British officers who lost their medals, not because they didn’t earn them, but because they were convicted of “ungentlemanly conduct” (I think bouncing cheques) but I always suspected that the English cared more about class than competence.

  51. Too bad our host isn’t a dead white male, with expired copyright, because if only I was a college composition teacher then I would use this blog post as one of my examples for sheer skill of writing, as well an example to the young students for having content informational, ethical, emotional and fun.

    I wonder what students would say in small group discussions.

    My favourite metaphor: Ng could not have precipitated change so suddenly if there wasn’t already something to precipitate.

  52. While I’m not a big fan of Campbell and don’t care if he’s remembered or not I care less to read posts by people who belittle the oppinions of those they disagree with. Just wondering if you think you’ll persuade any of is fans or if you don’t care and are only interested in getting praise from the chior?

  53. This allegory: “she was the agitant that caused a supersaturated solution to crystallize” is so fitting and effective it gave me a little shiver down the spine. Instant clarity of the situation. Thanks.

  54. Though it pales in comparison to his massive flaws as a human being, on top of everything else, by the late 50s/early 60s Campbell wasn’t a very good editor. You can compare works by authors sent to Campbell with those sent to Fred Pohl or Cele Goldsmith and there is a clear difference in quality. Gordon Dickson and Randall Garrett offer good examples of this. There are also stories that would never have been published by anyone, but the authors appear to have carefully ticked off as many boxes as possible on Campbell’s list of bugaboos, so he ran them.

    By the time the Space Age began, Campbell was an active hindrance to the development and growth of science fiction.

  55. Dave:

    Persuade you about what? The changes that have been made are not matters of persuasion, they’re matters of fact. Even if you can’t be persuaded to accept the facts, the facts remain what they are.

    Otherwise, read the site disclaimer, which is linked to over there in the sidebar. It applies to you. And if you don’t like it, you can leave. Hope that helps.

  56. I know a few (not voluntarily) childless couples, and they don’t talk much about the private hell that is theirs. To put them down is not mere insensitivity, it is cruelty. (Nor do I have a problem with non-parents-by-choice.)

  57. A few commenters stated that Campbell was not being erased from history. Perhaps true, but he ought to be, he was a privileged bigoted white male who held SF back. SF is so much better today because he and others like him are gone, erase him.

  58. Candice, I disagree. You can’t tell the story of several formative decades of SF without him. But he doesn’t have to be front and center on an award given to the very writers who are going to form the future of the genre. Tell his story, when you’re talking about the past, but tell the whole thing.

  59. Candice, you appear to be kinda bigoted yourself. But that’s okay. I learned years ago that everyone is entittled to their opinion when it relly doesnn’t effect me or the things I care about. But to your point, Campbell didn’t exist in a vacuum. He, and the purchasers of science fiction, were a product of the society they lived in. The market he served just didn’t have women flying spaceships. Issues such as gays, lesbians, gender change,etc., were hardly discussed in society as a whole. You see that as wrong. But it is a fact. Had he launched into stories that you appear to want he would have been gone and the genre would have suffered. He published “hard” science fiction while the industry as a whole was publishing damsels being attacked by a BEM who is defeated by a man with a ray gun.

    Campbell published Asimov and Heinlein while Amazng published Shaver. IOW, science fiction as spectulaive fiction survived. It could not have survived as rewritten westerns. Galaxy came into being and the market expanded. Bradbury wrote “The Fireman” and the issue of a world without books was examined. Even Startling published Farmer’s “The Lovers.” examining a future of reigious tyranny and and love between species.

    Thankfully, over time, the world has changed and some of his positions are now seen as wrong. Some are misunderstood. Some were written to foster debate. That the industry wants to remove his name on current awards is fine. Awards should reflect the time they are in.

    But that is not enough. You want to erase him. Be careful. You appear to be just a step away from throwing books on a burning pyre and screaming a salute with a rigid extended arm.

  60. I’ve done a lot of thinking about named awards, and about how yesterday’s hero is tomorrow’s villain. I hate to think what terrible things might be said about, for instance, Ursula K. LeGuin in fifty years, and perhaps she and other authors would prefer not to face the scrutiny of the future.

    For clarity: I know of nothing bad about LeGuin; that’s why I chose her name.

    All this is to say, maybe all “official” names should be after inanimate things, and only nicknames should be named.

  61. A couple of others have mentioned the work “Astounding” by Alec Nevala-Lee. As a result of current scholarship, I think it goes a long way for honest discussion of Campbell the man, and goes a long way to allow the rest of us the proper assessment of Campbell’s place in SF history. I really want the “Golden Age” of SF to continue to have an influence…there are some great stories there that deserve to be read. Context needs to be assessed over time so that the future will understand, the same way I need annotated works to understand large parts of the Bible.

  62. Candice – If you erase people from history, that hurts the oppressed, not the oppressor. Erase the bigots from SF’s past, and when people ask “why are there fewer women/POC/queer/etc. writers published in early SF periodicals?”, and the people standing in their way no longer are acknowledged, the answer will become “I guess they weren’t good enough”, and a new wave of bigotry is justified (and indeed, it is today’s bigots who most often erase history, by sanitizing the records of people like Campbell, and erasing the writers who do are not heterosexual white males).

  63. From an outsider point of view, when I first heard about the change my response was the same as the name of this blog: whatever. I didn’t know Campbell, and I figured the name of an award was a less important detail than the fact of the award. A rose by any other name, after all.

    But the more I read what others had to say the more my attitude shifted. It’s not so much the literal name change as it is that there’s no clear consensus in the community. It’s like, to heck with those who disagree, this is happening. It feels like, well, bullying behavior.

    One of the criticisms leveled against Campbell is that authors wrote to his specifications. This is saying that he had a huge impact on the field, but it’s also suggesting that he forced the genre into a singular vision that didn’t particularly pay any mind to the wants of the rest of the community. He single-handedly shaped the field and to heck with those who disagreed.

    Seems to me that there’s always been a camp trying to control the direction of things.

  64. Dear John,
    If I may quote you. “Blah, blah, blah.”
    To really change the world, we have to help people change the way they see things. Renaming awards is just a superficial band aid that may make some people feel righteously good about themselves but will also, without true communication, just add to the divisions. Betterment is a process. Change has to be worked for on a deeper level than just removing a name.. So if you want to see real change, educate humanity on how similar we all are, rather than exacerbating differences. Strive to be the change you want to see in the world,

  65. Jo:
    It’s bullying that people who can’t exist and no longer want to read or write in the Campbellian mold of “Straight White Guys are the heroes, pretty White women are the prizes, everyone else is a mook or doesn’t exist” to stand up and say, “we exist”? Really? We’re bullying people by existing and wanting that acknowledged, by insisting that we too have worthwhile things to say? Wow. Someone should have told me when I was born that I was oppressing men and White people by my very existence.

    People did tell me in subsequent years that SF was for and by White men and if I didn’t like that I could acknowledge my inherent inferiority and stop trying to read ~their~ literature (let alone write it); I for one am delighted to see the science fiction community in recent years deciding that maybe isn’t the case after all. And I find it risible that this acknowledgment is bullying anyone.

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