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New Campbell Biography

(17 posts)
  • Started 3 weeks ago by Marian
  • Latest reply from dolphintornsea

  1. Marian
    Member

    A biography of Campbell and Astounding and Heinlein and Hubbard will be out soon. I am impressed with the amount of research the author did so I am assuming it will be good. Here's a writeup by the author, Alec Nevala Lee https://theastoundinganalogcompanion.com/2018/03/27/astounding-stories/

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  2. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    I've read an advance version of the book and I recommend it highly.

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  3. CarlGlover
    Member

    Interesting article, Marian. Thank you. Here's hoping Lee's emphasis is on Campbell as fictioneer, editor and science fiction revolutionary, and not the politically incorrect libertarian intellectual and "redneck prude," as John Clute once famously characterized him. I've got my fingers crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  4. I wonder too what the emphasis will be, JWC's professional or personal life, or a mix of both.

    Was putting together my weekly Saturday Old Time Radio episode and chose an Exploring Tomorrow episode from George O. Smith. Campbell hosted the shows and it's always a kick to hear his voice in the opening. During research I learned that in Smith's collection The Worlds of George O. (1982, he died in 1981) he wrote autobiographical prefaces to each story. OTR show this week is Smith's "Meddler's Moon" that JWC pubbed in 1947. So Smith is recounting how the story came to be in his collection. Says he, L. Ron Hubbard and his lady, and JWC's first wife Dona used to go to L. Ron's house to play bridge on the weekends and have a few drinks. One time L. Ron calls Smith to tell him that Dona would be coming over but without Campbell, so don't mention dianetics to her cuz she'd tell John, and L. Ron wanted to tell him first when the time was right because he didn't want Campbell to make it his new hobby horse until L. Ron felt the time was right.

    So Dona comes over to L. Ron's to play cards because she just had to get away from John and his new hobby. JWC was infatuated with the new "high fidelity" and had rigged a 50-watt amp and was playing his 78 rpm records loud enough to make the house shake.

    Dona gave Smith the germ of the idea he used to write the time travel story "Meddler's Moon." So about 10 years later in 1958 Campbell had Smith adapt the story for Exploring Tomorrow. But here's the kicker: Two years after Campbell pubbed "Meddler's Moon" in 1947, Dona left John (they were married in 1931 and John used Dona's maiden name of Dona Stewart as his early pseudonym Don A. Stuart) and ran off and got married to Smith. John then remarried in 1950 to Margaret (Peg) Winter, to whom he remained married until his death in 1971.

    So when Dona left John and ran off with Smith it strained the men's nearly decade-long working and personal relationship, to say the least. I knew about the origins of John's early pseudonym and where it came from, but either didn't know or had totally forgotten that Dona had left John to marry George.

    So am wondering what the primary focus will be for the Campbell part of the book, the professional, the personal, or both? I know Gordon has read the Campbell letters, and am curious if any of them cover when Dona left him for George (of Venus, Equilateral fame).

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  5. CarlGlover
    Member

    Fascinating info, Dave. Thanks. I had previously heard that Dona left John for Smith, but didn't know the details. I have read vol. 1 of the Campbell letters as published by Perry Chapdelaine, but don't recall anything being said about the breakup.

    I misremembered Clute's comment about Campbell. It now occurs to me that what he really said was "redneck bluenose." Sorry about that.

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  6. Was trying to keep my post above reasonably short and thus had to compress time a little bit. The part about Dona leaving John for Smith I got from wikipedia. The rest of it is unconnected and was taken from Smith's preface to "Meddler's Moon" in the World's of George O. Whatever troubles Dona and John had to facilitate their breakup I don't know (maybe John's 50-watt amp at full power finally drove her out).:-) All I know is that John and Smith had been friends for close to 10 years, and that John pubbed George's "Meddler's Moon" in 1947 and Dona left John two years later in 1949 and married George. I still find it an interesting set of circumstances and friendships (add L. Ron and lady/wife to the mix of Smith and the Campbell's). Fly on the wall and all that. :-)

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  7. Mark Pontin
    Member

    Dave T. wrote:'So am wondering what the primary focus will be for the Campbell part of the book, the professional, the personal, or both?'

    The focus is both, and more. It's a quadruple biography weaving the careers and interactions of the four principals -- Campbell, Heinlein, Hubbard and Asimov -- into an integrated whole.

    I read a first draft Alec Nevala-Lee sent me last year -- Gordon may have seen a later version -- because he wanted my comments in case I knew something he didn't. However, Alec has been amazingly diligent and steeped himself in every detail of the era. I had nothing to add except maybe to mention some alternative sources for certain apocryphal stories and the contact info for a certain writer who's recently published his first SF short story in 40 years in F&SF (with the proviso to Alec that that writer in question is a nice guy at a difficult time in his life).

    Carl Glover wrote: 'Here's hoping Lee's emphasis is on Campbell as fictioneer, editor and science fiction revolutionary, and not the politically incorrect libertarian intellectual'

    This book will have more on Campbell's achievement at ASTOUNDING/ANALOG and how it happened than any other text I've seen. That said, this also means more on Campbell the human being.

    There the story is what it is. Alec has dug up some new true accounts to add to the old (including one from Greg Benford I hadn't heard before). I can only say that, especially during the last decade of Campbell’s life, it’s striking -- well, I was struck -- by how much his behavior would simply lead people today to assume he was 'on the spectrum.'

    To put it kindly. I grew up on Algis Budrys's writings and reviews of SF, which tended to take in the personalities and historic place in the literature of those figures he considered (forex., see Budrys's examinations of Lovecraft and Campbell himself in this magazine in the late 1970s). So I wanted Alec to do something more like that and to be _more judgmental_ of Campbell than he was in the first draft I saw. One reason being, based on the facts Alec presented, it was hard not to conclude that some of Campbell's behavior -- especially during the latter decades of his life -- was that of an emotionally autistic near-moron. It's hard to sweep all that under the table and to avoid reaching some judgement about such pathetic behavior.

    Sorry if this offends you. Needless to say, too, alongside Campbell, Heinlein and Hubbard also come across as having their moments of rampant egotism (in Hubbard's case, that moment arguably being lifelong).

    By contrast, Asimov comes across as quite well grounded, precisely because – as Nevala-Lee makes clearer than do most accounts of the man, including Asimov's own – Asimov’s IQ and memory were off the charts from the time he was a small kid. As the recently-departed S. Hawking commented: "Boasting about your IQ is for losers." Thus, where Campbell, Heinlein and Hubbard felt compelled to make claims for their ubermensch smartness, Asimov did the opposite and played the 'Good Doctor' as protective coloration to reassure the normies, but was up there in the John von Neumann IQ range or close to it.

    Posted 3 weeks ago #
  8. Mark, the only problem I have with anything you wrote above is that you wanted Alec to be "more judgmental." Why not just lay out the facts and let the readers make their own judgments? After all, you made your own personal judgment after reading Alec's facts, so why not let readers do the same, rather than placing any one individual's (Alec's or yours) subjective opinion on the facts, thus influencing the reader who may be coming to these subjects for the first time?

    No one is perfect. People, talented, smart people have character flaws to go along with their positive aspects and achievements. Presenting in a book like this a well-rounded snapshot of these people is a good thing, but actually and pro-actively asking the author to be "more judgmental" is, to me, not the right way to go.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  9. CarlGlover
    Member

    Mark:

    Nothing you said offends me. Why should it?

    I knew none of these people personally, so I have no opinions based on first-hand information. I only know what they achieved in their lives. Campbell revolutionized the field and is the father of modern science fiction. Asimov, who did know him, said that he was a genius. That's good enough for me. True geniuses are often eccentric individuals, different from you and me. But to say that Campbell was "an emotionally autistic near-moron" is probably taking even extreme eccentricity a little too far. Based on what he achieved, he was anything but a moron. Maybe you're unaware of the definition of the term.

    As for Asimov's IQ, "intelligent" is as "intelligent" does. I have no idea what his IQ score was on standard tests (do you?), but his lifetime achievements in his chosen field paled beside those of Campbell, Heinlein and Hubbard. The Good Doctor spent his life typing away in a windowless room but left little of value for his efforts. His fiction is mediocre at best, with few exceptions, and his nonfiction, while better written, was simply a matter of "copying the encyclopedia," as one of his colleagues at Boston University once remarked. As a researcher and scientist, he was a flop. I have no idea how Asimov behaved around Campbell, Heinlein and Hubbard, since I wasn't there (were you?), but I have heard that he was always the first one in the room to let you know how smart he was. If there was any "protective coloration" involved, it was there because Asimov almost certainly felt inferior to that famous trio. Why wouldn't he?

    I am content to await the publication of Lee's book before reviewing it. I am anticipating an honest and even-handed effort that is less judgmental than objective, more fact-based than opinionated. But, given your comments above, I am less optimistic than I was before reading them.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  10. CWJ
    Member

    Good writing is persuasive writing. This includes nonfiction. This includes even and especially scientific research articles. What you write should have a point. Otherwise it's just a pile of facts, but a pile of facts is no more good writing than a pile of bricks is a house.

    Even "objective" writing, if well done, should draw a conclusion. If it is objective, then the author lays out the evidence that leads to her or his conclusion. Opinion is not based upon factual evidence, or is only weakly based upon such evidence, or is highly selective.

    An author who just provides a pile of facts and refrains from *any* interpretation or commentary is nothing more than a typist--or a coward.

    That said, a good author should also briskly interrogate her or his conclusions. Do they really stand up to the evidence? Is there contradictory evidence?

    So good writing can be both objective and come to a conclusion, or even a judgement--as long as the author fairly lays out the evidence. If the evidence is complex, then the judgement should be too.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  11. CWJ wrote: "If the evidence is complex, then the judgement should be too."

    And I say, "Who says the judgment needs to be complex just because the evidence may be?" There's a non-sequitor large enough to drive a truck through there.

    And it was pretty clear to me that Mark's wanting more judgmental opinion from Alec was more than just asking for his opinion. It's obvious from what Mark wrote about Campbell and the others what he was hoping Alec would include. If an opinion ranges too far into obvious auctorial judgmental bias and the reader senses it then you've lost them, knowing the clear bias skews everything else they read. So I still kind of think that Mark went too far. No one intimated there should be no opinion from Alec, so that's not an issue.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  12. CarlGlover
    Member

    Yes, Dave. Exactly so. Couldn't have said it better myself. No one is advocating just typing facts without some interpretation. In general, what would be the point of that? But in this specific instance, it is clear that Mark is advocating more than ordinary interpretation of existing evidence. His rather inflammatory language about Campbell betrays a bias which has the potential to corrupt the entire enterprise. I expect to see opinions in biographical works. Naturally. But take it too far and you've ruined everything.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  13. CWJ
    Member

    But Dave did write

    "Why not just lay out the facts and let the readers make their own judgments? After all, you made your own personal judgment after reading Alec's facts, so why not let readers do the same, rather than placing any one individual's (Alec's or yours) subjective opinion on the facts, thus influencing the reader who may be coming to these subjects for the first time?"

    So in fact he did argue against Alec giving his opinion.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  14. CWJ, I meant that in a general sense, of course, and in view of what I perceived as what Mark wanted, that being even more judgmental opinion from Alec than is normally expected.

    From what I've learned about all the extensive research Alec did, which was incredible, by the way, I see nothing inherently amiss by him giving both sides of whatever subject matter he discusses, and then offering the reader that while some think X, others think Y, and it is up to the reader to form their own views. Or to say something like, for instance, while there are those who think X and those who think Y, it would seem that those holding view X seem to predominant (or vice versa). Lay it all out there first, the biographer weighs both sides for the reader (where a personal opinion is bound to come into play, overtly or otherwise) and then the reader can take whichever view they wish.

    For example, we all know JWC held eccentric views on certain subjects like Dianetics and whatever else. We know he held personal beliefs not in line with a fair number of his writers--those are documented and well known. We know Bester and Malzberg and others thought he was nuts. Fine. That's part of the record. JWC was the most famous, influential, and high profile SF editor for decades, so everything he said or did was out there on front street, under a microscope, probably more so than any other editor, past or present (we're still talking and arguing and writing books about him, after all).

    But there are those who, while acknowledging JWC's faults and eccentricities, held a milder, more understanding view of him that I think might not be reported or known. Here's a quote from the Ed Hamilton interview I did with him and Leigh in the mid-70s. Notice that Ed has his problem with JWC too, but also stuck up for John at the same time. Does Ed make a valid point? Did others perhaps feel this way as well? Is John to be portrayed only in the negative, personally, or with at least some counter-balancing from other sources? I'm including the leadup question as well for context:

    BRACKETT: I'm interested mainly in never trying to mold the field into one particular thing. I think it should be free to have every type of thinking, every type of story. I think you should have the ecological stories, the political stories, the Big Think type of story. I mean, what anybody wants to write. What I hate to see are the occasional attempts that are made, periodically, none of them ever last very long, to mold the field into one particular thing, and say science fiction has to be such and such and so. In other words, just what I happen to think science fiction should be. It's the one field that you cannot really whack down into one simple thing--

    TANGENT: What about John Campbell?

    HAMILTON: Yes, he did try to do that, and that is one of the chief reasons I didn't like to work for John Campbell. I sent him one story and never again. He bought it, but I could not subordinate every idea I had into the Campbell formula. Added to which, he didn't particularly like his writers to be writing for the lesser science fiction magazines. Damn few could make a living writing for John Campbell.

    I admired Campbell. I testified to this the other night when we were talking about the old days. In fact, he was one of the great pulp magazine editors. Yet, science fiction did not begin with John Campbell. There were other editors, who may not have had as big an influence, although I think Tremaine was right up with Campbell there, in the early Astounding Stories. But, Campbell had kind of a dogmatic, rigorous mind; it has to be this way or that way, but it can't be that way. He was a difficult chap to work for. She sold her first stories to him.

    BRACKETT: And I still don't know why he bought them. They weren't very good stories. Unless he hoped he was discovering a new writer. Unfortunately I didn't go the right direction. I kept trying to sell him things because he was the top market, but when you wrote a Campbell-type story and it didn't sell then you had no place else to go with it. He rejected one of mine rather viciously, so I decided it was a waste of time, and never--

    HAMILTON: He was a very stiff, odd, portly sort of a chap. I never sent him a story after 1938 because I had to revise that one. First, to suit John's idea, and then to suit John's wife's idea. That was a little hard to do, so I never sent John any more stories.

    Sprague de Camp told me a few years later that he'd always been irked with me because I didn't send him any more stories. And I told Sprague that he no doubt wanted the pleasure of rejecting them. When I'd see John at science fiction conventions we were somehow always the invisible people; he couldn't quite see us. Several years ago I saw him sitting at a convention and I walked over and said to him, “What the hell's the matter with you, John? You can't see me anymore. We were friends before you ever edited that bloody magazine. What is this, anyway?” And he just stammered, “Uh, uh, uh.” But I think he was glad I had broken the ice because he didn't want to carry on this thing much longer. And I was glad I had too, because he only lived a couple of years longer. After all this long freeze we'd had we ended up with our arms around each other, and he turned to me and said, “Ed, we old-timers have got to stick together.” (Chuckling)

    BRACKETT: One big trouble I had trying to sell to Campbell was of course the fact that I did not have any great scientific or engineering background. And this is one thing he insisted on in his stories, and I admit uh, Ed had a great background in physics and electrical engineering that I didn't have, and I tried to make up for it by writing a new type of story. But it was just not Campbell's type of story.

    HAMILTON: When Ray tried to get scientific once (laughing) –

    BRACKETT: He had this story where he had written 'hundreds and hundreds of degrees below zero,' and somebody wrote in and said, “Ray, haven't you ever heard of absolute zero?” And he said, “No. What's that?” (Laughing) Now of course I don't think Ray ever sold to Campbell--

    HAMILTON: He never sold but tried like anything.

    BRACKETT: As I recall it, Astounding was a brilliant magazine too, in those days. You had the young Heinlein, the young Sprague de Camp, A. E. van Vogt; they were all starting out in writing and wrote beautiful, brilliant stuff. It wasn't until some years later that Campbell got a little bit fossilized and the magazine got a little bit fossilized, it seemed to me.

    HAMILTON: Oh, no doubt about it. He wanted all of us to write for him in the early days. He was anxious to get the magazine on a firm footing and he had a wide acquaintance with all of us old-timers. He was one himself. He became, oh let's say, the Pope of science fiction. He felt his position very keenly. And as I said, he got to the point where he didn't like his writers to write anything for these inferior science fiction magazines.

    BRACKETT: And he alienated quite a few of them by getting off onto these kicks. He went off on a psionics kick and there for awhile there it looked like all the stories were cut from the same bolt of cloth. Then he got into the Dianetics thing, with L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

    HAMILTON: Remember he demonstrated the Heironymous Machine? That's silly stuff. And so everybody was much pained by this. In fact, at Peterborough in England we were at a convention and some of those who attended were making some bitter remarks about him and this nonsense, and I got kind of angry at this despite the fact that John couldn't “see” me anymore, so I got up and made a passionate defense of him. And I said, “He's the trunk of the whole science fiction tree and you've kissed his feet for years, and now because he has a momentary aberration on this matter why are you all turning on him?”

    It was unfair. It was dirty pool. They went around licking his cuffs all of the time and then they turned on him. But anyway, he didn't like his writers writing for the inferior science fiction magazines. The only two writers who could write for Campbell all the time and the other magazines all the time were Murray Leinster and Henry Kuttner. Murray, of course, was an absolute pro. He could write anything for anybody. I used to ask Henry, “How do you do that? Do you slant your stories for Astounding?” He said, “No. I never slant a thing.” I'll bet he unconsciously slanted them.

    https://www.tangentonline.com/interviews-columnsmenu-166/1270-classic-leigh-brackett-a-edmond-hamilton-interview

    And now we know it was Dona, John's first wife, who got Ed's story rejected because she didn't like it. Ed says he never sent JWC a story after 1938. John and Dona were married until 1949 so she was the culprit. :-) Now we know the rest of the story.

    XXX

    How many times has anyone read a review of someone's biography and the reviewer remarks that it is tainted by the biographer's prejudice or bias? Same with any general historian's work from any given time period. If the reviews keep noting any specific slant the historian seems to have the whole work is questioned. Just don't want, and hope, it doesn't happen with Alec's book is all. Be as fair as is humanly possible. The book isn't about the author or his or her views _per se_, but in giving readers a fair look at the subject(s).

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  15. CWJ
    Member

    Richard Feynmann once said, "The most important thing is not to fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool." He said this with regards to science, how easy it is to select facts that confirm your own prejudices and assumptions and discard those that go against it. It's of course true in general.

    If by "be fair as humanly possible" one means be aware of this and not simply, even unconsciously, discard or dismiss inconvenient or contradictory data, then I wholeheartedly agree.

    If it means "present data without a strong, overarching thesis" then I fiercely disagree. That would be a boring, insipid book, and it is poor writing.

    I realize Dave and Carl took Mark to mean "downplay Campbell's achievements in changing the course of science fiction." That would be wrong, but I think they misunderstood him. (Perhaps they understood him correctly, but I think not.) I read Mark as encouraging Alec to have a stronger, and more vivid thesis, in other words, to write a stronger, better book. A strong thesis, supported by evidence, is not intrinsically biased or prejudiced; it is at the heart of good writing. (A thesis which ignores inconvenient or contradictory data *is* bad writing, of course, which is probably at the heart of Dave and Carl's concerns.)

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  16. Ron
    Member

    Mark, in part, wrote:'" So I wanted Alec to do something more like that and to be _more judgmental_ of Campbell than he was in the first draft I saw. "

    I take a more charitable reading of the above comment. I take it as saying that the biographer should have critical engagement with the ideas and actions of the person written about.

    This goes into interesting questions about historiography. One can just lay out the facts, even in an intellectual biography. (One could go to an extreme, and lay out irrelevant facts. I'm a member of a internet list which has historians, scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers, and some on the list discussed whether Kepler took a bath more than once a year. I was wondering, what does that have to do with anything?)

    My view is that one of the things that the biographer should do is to write about the problems faced by the subject, how the subject dealt with the problems faced, and critically discuss the solutions of the subject.

    For example, one of the problems faced by John Campbell is what stories to select for his magazine. The biographer could point out good--and even great--stories published by Campbell, and also duds.

    If memory serves, Larry Niven said all his stories were rejected by John Campbell. They were published elsewhere, such as in Galaxy. A biographer could ask Larry Niven about it. If true, then Campbell could come under some justified criticism.

    Another problem that John Campbell set for himself was determining what is true in psychology. His rejection of psycho-analysis, I agree with. His support of parapsychology, and the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard, I don't agree with.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #
  17. dolphintornsea
    Member

    There is this widespread notion that Ray Bradbury never sold to Campbell (I assume it's Bradbury referred to in the above interview).

    He did. He had two pieces in the "Probability Zero" section: "Eat, Drink, and Be Wary" (July 1942) and "And Watch the Fountains" (September 1943).

    He also had one "proper" story in Astounding: "Doodad" (September 1943). It was never collected.

    That's not much, but he did sell to Campbell.

    Thanks for the interview, Dave---I enjoyed it a lot.

    Posted 2 weeks ago #

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