Campbell, John W(ood), Jr. Thomas J. Remington - Essay

Thomas J. Remington

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Introspection is a bug-bear that affects most genres of popular culture once the purveyors and consumers of the genre begin to take themselves seriously. Usually this introspection takes as its points of departure attempts to define historically just exactly what the genre is; then through the establishment of rules for inclusion and exclusion it tries to demarcate those practitioners who belong (or don't belong) in the genre.

Science Fiction has been experiencing such growing pains for some time now…. (pp. 58-9)

The clearest example is Astounding Science Fiction: July, 1939, a facsimile reprint of "the first 'great' issue" of that classic SF pulp "produced under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Jr."…

For SF historians, the association of John Campbell's editorship with Astounding stands as the event in the "Golden Age" of science fiction. Campbell's Astounding is revered for giving birth to much of the early work of such major SF authors as Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, and A. E. van Vogt. The particular issue here reprinted contains, in fact, the first stories published in Astounding by both Asimov and van Vogt.

But the sensitive reader will be quick to surmise that, for all the hoary legends citing it as the mother lode of the Golden Age of SF, Astounding was no Megalia Nugget….

None of this is to say that this facsimile edition of a 40 year old pulp has no value; it does, but the value is hardly esthetic.

Like the Blickling Homilies, to cite a random example, the facsimile does much more to establish a context that it does to arouse literary excitement. Thus it goes far to moderate the credulity of the modern student of SF who keeps hearing the old buffs moon about the times "when every issue of Astounding was a great new adventure." The book does exemplify what science fiction was in the early days of the "Golden Age," and in that sense, at least, scholars and historians may cheer its publication. (p. 59)

Thomas J. Remington, "SF: Mapping the Territory," in The North American Review, Vol. 266, No. 2, June, 1981, pp. 58-62.∗