The Mightiest Machine Essay - Critical Essays

John W. Campbell Jr.


Campbell wrote three sequels to this book, all of which were rejected by the editor of the magazine that published this one. The sequels later were collected as The Incredible Planet (1949).

This story is typical of the planetary romance of the 1930’s. The emphasis on science and invention, frequently at the expense of plot, illustrates the embryonic state of science fiction during this period. Although most of his work to date had followed this formula, Campbell was to be one of the leading influences on the maturing field.

The Mightiest Machine was one of his last fictional efforts under his own name. During the same year this work was published as a serial, he wrote, under the name of Don A. Stuart, the first of a series of stories that were considerably more advanced in literary style, with more emphasis on mood and setting. These are widely considered to have set a pattern for the future.

He wielded even more influence on the field when, in September, 1937, he became assistant editor of Astounding Stories, the magazine in which The Mightiest Machine appeared. He took full charge of the magazine’s editorial policies in May, 1938. Almost immediately, he began introducing his own imprint on the magazine, demanding better writing, more accurate science, and original plots. He also began working with developing writers, offering recommendations, criticisms, and encouragement, and even suggesting plot ideas.

Viewed in this light, The Mightiest Machine might be considered as a watershed. A classic in its own right, it also represents a turning point in Campbell’s career. He wrote very little fiction after this, and what was written was so substantially different that he used a pen name, most often Don A. Stuart, as if to mark that difference. After assuming his editorial duties, which lasted the rest of his life, he devoted his creative energies to shaping the field, demanding quality, experimenting with new ideas, and encouraging new writers.