Campbell, John W(ood), Jr. Algis Budrys

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Algis Budrys

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Recently,] Roger Elwood walked into a bookstore and was introduced to an old friend of John Campbell's…. [During the course of the conversation] it developed there were three hitherto unheard-of, unpublished, forty-year-old JWC, Jr. novellas. The guess was they had probably been intended for Hugo Gernsback and shelved when Campbell was hired by Astounding….

The novellas are Marooned, All, and The Space Beyond. They are now out, under a nice Sternback astronomical painting, as The Space Beyond,… and represent the most important SF event ever made available for … [the price]. (p. 27)

The writing is pure pre-Stuart Campbell, right down to the eccentric punctuation…. Marooned is a sort of capsulized The Moon Is Hell, set aboard an exploratory vessel trapped in Jupiter's atmosphere with no way to break free, the food and air running out, and the internal temperature dropping. Fortunately, there are three Campbellian heroes on board, and not only is the problem solved but their flanged-up inventions will be worth a fortune by virtue of transforming modern technology.

All is the prototype on which Heinlein wrote Sixth Column. And The Space Beyond is a superscience interstellar war opera, very reminiscent of The Black Star Passes and similar productions, but with peculiarities. For instance, Campbell, unlike E. E. Smith, tended to back off from depicting personal violence; he could burn a fleet anytime, but one-on-one mayhem at close range is much less often seen in his work. The Space Beyond is thus somewhat atypical, although still clearly pre-ASF Campbellian. (p. 28)

The stories make pretty good reading on their own account, if you are a superscience fan and have developed the necessary selective blindness toward visibly forthright technique. And then they are very interesting as milestones along an honorable road trod by SF and by John Campbell. Finally, they tell us rather more about Campbell the editor than we knew before.

They are almost certainly not final drafts. Marooned, for example, contains many hasty sentences, such as one which superficially appears to read that painting a spaceship black will help it radiate heat. The opening passages are inappropriately flippant, and the pacing of the end pretty obviously shows it's three AM; get it all down somehow and smooth it in the next run-through. (p. 29)

Marooned has obvious echoes of The Moon Is Hell, and on slim evidence I would guess it predates that novel. It tosses off several ideas which appear full-blown as key events in the longer story. It's thinkable that their casual treatment might instead result from a feeling that they'd been fully handled once, but I have to decide that Campbell would not have written Marooned if he had already written The Moon Is Hell. He would, I think, have used some other plot in which to convey his stunningly picturesque vision of Jupiter and the central idea which yielded the image of the floating ocean.

It certainly predates "Stuart's" Who Goes There? , in which the pervading misty cold aboard the trapped ship recurs even more convincingly. I would guess that something about those passages fascinated...

(The entire section is 776 words.)