Campbell, John W(ood), Jr.

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Sam Moskowitz

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

There is a school of thought that holds that the dramatic Orson Welles War of the Worlds scare, on the evening of October 30, 1938, provided the real basis of the science fiction magazine boom of that period. That the program may have helped give impetus to the spate of new publications is quite possible, but that it inspired them is impossible, since four new magazines … had been publicly announced as forthcoming before the date of the program.

Until wartime paper shortages curtailed publishers' optimism … [fifteen additional science-fiction magazines] would be added to the list. By contrast, before the boom there had been but four magazines in publication, and one of them was predominantly supernatural…. (p. 336)

The demands of this widening market naturally attracted to the field many authors who had never written science fiction, as well as lured back others who had been absent for a long period. Most important, it encouraged the development of new talent, writers destined to remake the form of science fiction.

The key figure in this process is John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science-Fiction. Campbell … had become the editor of Astounding Stories in 1937. Though only twenty-eight, he was regarded then as one of the half-dozen greatest living writers of science fiction. He had established his first reputation by composing great super-science epics which involved action on a galactic scale and which he laced through with hundreds of provocative ideas. When the popularity of that type of story began to ebb, he adopted the pseudonym Don A. Stuart and specialized in delicate mood pieces directing sympathy toward the works of man, displaying the creations of the human mind and the manifestations of research and discovery as fundamentally benevolent and trustworthy. He also underscored the need for incorporating some cementing philosophy as an ingredient of science fiction, in the process engaging in a high degree of experimentalism in presentation of ideas which had a substantial influence on the writers who followed him.

The magazine he edited was stable, profitable, and the accepted leader in its field. It paid top rates and was regarded as a prestige publication. The editor of such a magazine was in a position to assume literary leadership and shape the direction of the entire field. This Campbell proceeded to do.

It was a peculiarity of Campbell's outlook that he was forever mentally hypothesizing his own universes, philosophies, "natural" laws, to fit whatever tidbits of information intrigued him at the moment. If he ran across a seeming paradox, he fabricated his own train of highly imaginative logic to explain it. Frequently, some relatively minor research would have revealed that the answers were already known and documented, but Campbell was always suspicious of pat theories and, besides, he found them rarely as fascinating as his own.

This was an attitude made to order for a successful science fiction writer. Campbell, as a result, was a fount of ideas that never ran dry. These ideas he fed to his authors at such a prodigal rate that it can be truthfully said most of them owed as much of their success to him as they did to their own talent. (pp. 336-38)

Sam Moskowitz, "The Future in Present Tense," in his Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, World Publishing Co., 1963, pp. 334-50.∗

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Sam Moskowitz