John W. Campbell (1910-1971) was one of the most influential editors of American science fiction. Dr. Isaac Asimov called Campbell “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” This was not an exaggeration. Although only a minor author himself, Campbell helped shape the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Algis Budrys wrote “John W. Campbell was the greatest editor SF has seen or is likely to see, and is in fact one of the major editors in all English-language literature in the middle years of the twentieth century.”
He was controversial in his lifetime, and remains so after his death. He supported many psuedosciences, not just as possible topics to extrapolate upon in science fiction stories, but actually believed in some of them: racism, Dianetics, ESP, and quack medicine, Most critics agree that Campbell was whom Heinlein had in mind when he made the vulgar complaint in Stranger in a Strange Land that editors don’t like the flavor unless you let them pee in the soup first. Certainly, he influenced the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “”Far Beyond the Stars,” where Sisko dreams he is a 1950s sci-fi writer facing racial prejudice. In 1967, Campbell rejected Samuel Delaney’s Hugo-winning novel Nova on the grounds readers would not be able to relate to a Black protagonist.
John Wood Campbell, Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey, June 8, 1910. He began writing science fiction as a teenager attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MT). He did not graduate from MIT, but went on to Duke University and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1934. Unlike most of his generation, he did not serve in WWII.
In 1996, Campbell was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Campbell wrote space opera under his own name. Under the pen name Don A, Stuart, his stories under the pen name Don A. Stuart took a loftier tone.
Campbell’s most famous story was the 1938 novella “Who Goes There,” which Hollywood filmed three times: The Thing From Another World (1951), The Thing (1982), and The Thing (2011).
Campbell edited Astounding Science Fiction, later renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact from 1937 to 1971. In 1939 he founded the fantasy magazine Unknown.
John W. Campbell, Jr. died July 11, 1971. He was married twice and divorced once.
From 1957 to 1958, Campbell hosted a weekly radio show, Exploring Tomorrow
Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase “to infinity and beyond” in Disney’s Toy Story movies actually came from one of Campbell’s novels, The Mightiest Machine, published in 1947.
Campbell was responsible for the grim ending of Tom Godwin’s classic story “The Cold Equations.” He sent the story back to the author to rewrite three times before Godwin wrote the story Campbell wanted.
Robert A. Heinlein said the notion the death rays in Sixth Column could be set for different racial groups was Campbell’s idea.
The University of Kansas’ Center for the Study of Science Fiction established the John W. Campbell. Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer had its name changed to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer after complaints that Campbell was a fascist and racist.
Campbell believed Anglo-Saxon and Scottish names looked better in a byline and sounded stronger. He encouraged many of his writers to adopt British sounding pen names.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.