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Campbell, John W, Jr

Entry updated 18 March 2024. Tagged: Author, Editor.

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(1910-1971) US author and editor who took a degree in physics in 1932 from MIT and Duke University, where it is likely he became aware of J B Rhine's early experiments in parapsychology (see Pseudoscience). Campbell was a devotee of the SF Magazines from their inception, and sold his first stories while still a teenager, beginning with "Invaders from the Infinite" to Amazing Stories; however, the manuscript was lost by editor T O'Conor Sloane, so it was his second sale, When the Atoms Failed (January 1930 Amazing; 2016 dos), that became his first published story. An inferior novel drafted circa 1928 was rewritten at Campbell's request by Clifford D Simak in 1939 or 1940 and eventually appeared as Empire: A Powerful Novel of Intrigue and Action in the Not-So-Distant Future (1951) as by Simak alone, Campbell having refused both to be co-credited or to share the receipts.

In the early 1930s Campbell quickly built a reputation as E E "Doc" Smith's chief rival in writing galactic epics of superscience. The most popular of these was the Arcot, Morey and Wade series, in which the heroes faced a succession of battles of ever-increasing size fought with a succession of wonderful Weapons of ever-decreasing likelihood. Initially published in various magazines from 1930, they were put into book form as The Black Star Passes (coll of linked stories 1953), Islands of Space (Spring 1931 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1957) and Invaders from the Infinite (not his first, lost story) (Spring 1932 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1961); all were assembled as A John W. Campbell Anthology (omni 1973). Also well received was The Mightiest Machine (December 1934-April 1935 Astounding; 1947), but three sequels featuring its hero Aarn Munro were rejected by Astounding's editor F Orlin Tremaine, eventually appearing in The Incredible Planet (coll of linked stories 1949).

The second phase of Campbell's career as a writer began with "Twilight" (November 1934 Astounding), a tale of the Far Future written in a moody, "poetic" style, the first of a number of stories, far more literary in tone and varied in mood, published under the pseudonym Don A Stuart. From now on, Campbell wrote little sf under his own name, preferring to concentrate on the highly popular Stuart stories; exceptions included the Penton and Blake series published in Thrilling Wonder Stories from December 1936 to October 1938 and collected in The Planeteers (coll of linked stories 1966 dos), and, on one occasion, the use of the name Karl Van Campen for a story in an issue of Astounding that already contained a Stuart story and part of a Campbell novel. He was by now becoming closely identified with Tremaine's Astounding, where all the Stuart stories appeared; these included the Machine series: "The Machine" (February 1935 Astounding), "The Invaders" (June 1935 Astounding) and "Rebellion" (August 1935 Astounding). In 1936 he began, under his own name, a series of 18 monthly articles on the solar system, and from 1937 he also published a number of articles as Arthur McCann.

The climax of his popularity came with the very effective Stuart tale "Who Goes There?" (August 1938 Astounding), a classic sf Horror story about an Antarctic research station menaced by an Alien invader and Shapeshifter, which was first filmed, without the shape-changing aspect, as The Thing (1951), directed anonymously by Howard Hawks (1896-1977), and later, also as The Thing (1982), with the basic premise restored. Several volumes were assembled to take advantage of the success of this tale: Who Goes There?: Seven Tales of Science Fiction (coll 1948; vt The Thing and Other Stories 1952; vt The Thing from Outer Space 1966), followed by The Thing from Another World (1953 chap), and finally – with differing contents from the former collection – Who Goes There? and Other Stories (coll 1955). Far more famous under its original title – at least within the sf field – than under the film-influenced book retitling, "Who Goes There?" was perhaps the climax of Campbell's fiction-writing career, and came close to its end; the last Don A Stuart stories appeared in 1939. Frozen Hell (written circa 1935; 2018), never published in Campbell's lifetime, is an earlier, longer and previously unpublished version of this story discovered long after Campbell's death among his papers deposited at Harvard.

In September 1937 Street & Smith appointed Campbell as editor of Astounding, a post he would retain for thirty-four years until his death at the age of sixty-one (the magazine being retitled Astounding Science-Fiction in 1938 and Analog in 1960); henceforth he wrote almost no fiction.

Campbell brought to his editorial post the fertility of ideas on which his writing success as both Campbell and Don A Stuart had been based, together with a determination to raise the standards of writing and thinking in Magazine sf. New writers were encouraged and fed with ideas, with remarkable success. By 1939, Campbell had discovered Isaac Asimov, Lester del Rey, Robert A Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon and A E van Vogt, though the two latter writers had already been publishing for some time in other genres, and Heinlein came to him as already a mature man with his own agenda. L Sprague de Camp, L Ron Hubbard, Murray Leinster, Clifford D Simak and Jack Williamson, already established sf writers, soon became part of Campbell's "stable". Henry Kuttner and C L Moore became regular contributors from 1942. These were the authors at the core of Campbell's "Golden Age of SF" – a period corresponding roughly to World War Two – when Astounding dominated the genre in a way no magazine before or since could match. Most of these authors, and many others, acknowledged the profound influence Campbell had on their careers, and the number of acknowledged sf classics which originated in ideas suggested by him would be impossible to assess. Asimov persistently credited Campbell with at least co-creating the articulation of the three Laws of Robotics (see also Isaac Asimov; Robots). A startling example of the pervasiveness of his influence can be found in The Space Beyond (coll 1976); it contains – along with other stories originally published under his own name – a hitherto unpublished Campbell novella, "All", which forms the basis of Robert A Heinlein's Sixth Column (January-March 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald; 1949 as Heinlein; vt The Day After Tomorrow 1951).

In addition to editing Astounding/Analog, Campbell initiated the Fantasy magazine Unknown, which from its birth in 1939 to its premature death (caused by paper shortages) in 1943 was influential in its field, though Campbell's emphasis on Rationalized Fantasy and Slick Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] had in fact a retrograde effect. After World War Two, Street & Smith recruited Campbell to edit their non-genre model aeroplane and aviation magazine Air Trails Pictorial. His first issue was September 1946, with an editorial discussing a Rocket to the Moon and atomic energy; he changed the title to Air Trails and Science Frontiers in January 1947. The November 1946 issue, with another editorial on atomic energy, had a long article on rockets and Space Flight by Willie Ley (who had been a contributor before Campbell took over). Campbell's final issue of Air Trails was January 1948.

Although the writing had been on the wall ever since about 1945, the period of Astounding's dominance can be said to have ended, quite abruptly, with the appearance of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1949 and Galaxy Science Fiction in 1950. By this time Campbell's domineering editorial presence had become restricting rather than stimulating and several of his central authors had left the stable (sometimes acrimoniously); comparatively few major writers after 1950 began their careers in his magazine. Nevertheless, between 1952 and 1964 he won eight Hugo awards for Best Editor. Much of his interest and energy became focused in his editorials, many of which showed an essentially right-wing political stance. Some are reprinted in Collected Editorials from Analog (coll 1966) edited by Harry Harrison; and the characteristic flavour of his mind comes across, perhaps even more clearly, in The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1 (anth 1986) assembled by Perry A Chapdelaine, Tony Chapdelaine and George Hay. He flirted with various kinds of Pseudoscience, notably Psi Powers and L Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, which was loosed on an unsuspecting world through an article in Astounding. The bellicose appetite for knowledge of his early years, and the revelation that Competent Men might be able to figure the world's plumbing, narrowed into an incapacity to brook dissent. However, the magazine remained popular and commercially successful, winning seven Hugo awards under Campbell's editorship. His death in 1971 was marked by an unprecedented wave of commemorative activity: two awards were founded bearing his name (the John W Campbell Award for new writers and the John W Campbell Memorial Award for novels, both still presented), a memorial anthology was published – Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology (anth 1974) edited by Harry Harrison – and an Australian symposium about him – John W. Campbell: An Australian Tribute (anth dated 1974 but 1972) edited by John Bangsund – appeared. More recently, with the institution of the Retro Hugo awards, he was posthumously reckoned Best Editor for 1951 and 1954, years he had previously missed. In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Such a range of response was justified; although in later years he had turned his back on most developments in sf, during the first two decades of his career he had created two significant writing reputations under two separate names, and had come to bestride the field as an editor. He may not have written the most significant sf of the 1930s, but more than any other individual, he helped to shape the modern American genre. [MJE/JC]

see also: Anthropology; Automation; Computers; Crime and Punishment; Definitions of SF; Disaster; Economics; Edisonade; End of the World; ESP; Evolution; Faster Than Light; Future Histories; Future War; Heroes; History of SF; Hyperspace; Invasion; Invention; Jupiter; Machines; Mars; Monsters; Near Future; New Worlds; Nuclear Energy; Optimism and Pessimism; Outer Planets; Paranoia; Politics; Religion; Scientific Errors; Sex; Skylark Award; Social Darwinism; Sociology; Space Opera; Stars; Superman; Taboos; Technology; Thrilling Wonder Stories; Utopias; Venus.

John Wood Campbell Jr

born Newark, New Jersey: 8 June 1910

died Mountainside, New Jersey: 11 July 1971



Aarn Munro

Arcot, Wade & Morey

individual titles

collections and stories



The John W Campbell Letters

individual nonfiction titles

works as editor




  • Prologue to Analog (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1962) [anth: Analog: hb/Ben Robinson]
  • Analog 1 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1963) [anth: Analog: hb/Hiram Ash]
  • Analog 2 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964) [anth: Analog: hb/Lawrence Ratzkin]
  • Analog 3 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1965) [anth: Analog: hb/Lawrence Ratzkin]
  • Analog 4 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1966) [anth: Analog: hb/Richard Weaver]
  • Analog 5 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1967) [anth: Analog: hb/Jim McMullen]
  • Analog 6 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1968) [anth: Analog: hb/Seymour Chwast]
  • Analog 7 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1969) [anth: Analog: hb/Seymour Chwast]
  • Analog 8 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1971) [anth: Analog: hb/Frank Gavere]

about the author


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