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John W Campbell Memorial Award

Entry updated 4 March 2022. Tagged: Award.

Created by Harry Harrison and Brian W Aldiss, this is given annually in July for the best sf novel of the previous year published in English, selected by a committee of academic critics and sf writers. The membership of the jury has undergone a number of changes, and the award has been variously administered from first the USA, then the UK, Ireland, Sweden and then back to the USA at the University of Kansas at Lawrence in 1979, since when the committee has been chaired by James E Gunn. The selections have occasionally been criticized as overintellectual; the first was judged by some to be untrue to the memory of John W Campbell Jr. (In response, one judge commented that it was no good trying to guess what Campbell would have chosen; the only honest thing to do was to choose for oneself: "You can't second-guess the dead.") The award, which has not always been well publicized, got off to a shaky start, but there is certainly room for an award voted on by a small panel of experts, as opposed to fans (the Hugo) or writers (the Nebula). The winning books have generally been in interesting contrast to the Hugo and Nebula winners, and include distinguished work that might otherwise have largely escaped notice. Special additional awards were given in 1973, 1974 and 1976, in the last case when there was no award for a novel of the previous year.

In the wake of criticism of the associational baggage brought by Campbell's name to the unrelated John W Campbell Award for new writers (renamed as the Astounding Award), it was announced that the name would be changed. Long silence followed, and the award was not presented in 2020 or 2021. It may be that the death of its long-time champion James Gunn, together with disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, has marked the end of this award. [PN/DRL]

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