Campbell, John W(ood), Jr. Theodore Sturgeon - Essay

Theodore Sturgeon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John W. Campbell Jr., escaped from MIT and, a fine traditional sf writer himself (and for a time, as Don A. Stuart, a superb fantasist), took over the editorial chair of Astounding Science Fiction thirty years ago. In less than a couple of years he attracted to himself and the magazine (the same thing, really) a nucleus of extraordinary writers. A few had been around for a while—Simak, Leinster, Lieber; the others he discovered or invented or, it sometimes seems, manufactured. Pratt and deCamp, L. Ron Hubbard …, van Vogt, del Rey, Heinlein, Hamilton—Campbell, through these men, created what has been called a Golden Age of sf.

He was a superb and provocative teacher of science and of fiction. "Give me a story about aliens," he would challenge, "in which they think as well as a man but not like a man." He would return a story because it turned upon the fission of light metals or a compound of argon, and would explain to you in five or six or seven single-spaced pages why this was not possible—and give you something which would really work, and which in some cases, as with our nuclear energy technology, ultimately did. He conveyed his preoccupations with power (all kinds), superiority (our kind) and scientific probability up and down and across the disciplines, so forcefully to his disciples that they produced a body of Campbellian literature on which the entire field pivoted, and which profoundly affects it to this day. The same pressures which produced that first golden explosion also seem to have squirted, like appleseeds, his early converts into other areas; no matter—he discovered/invented/manufactured more, and as Astounding became Analog … the magazine went right on being what it had been since Campbell took over: Campbell. (p. 266)

Theodore Sturgeon, "I List in Numbers," in National Review, Vol. XXII, No. 9, March 10, 1970, pp. 266-67.∗