12 votes

John W. Campbell Award Is Renamed After Winner Criticizes Him

43 comments

  1. [10]
    patience_limited
    Link
    This is long overdue. While the Sad Puppies and other cultural debacles keep roiling the waters of discussion about what's "good" speculative fiction and whose stories are worth promoting, it's...

    This is long overdue. While the Sad Puppies and other cultural debacles keep roiling the waters of discussion about what's "good" speculative fiction and whose stories are worth promoting, it's time to be done with unexamined founder veneration in a literary genre that claims to value visions of the future.

    While John W. Campbell had enormous impact on science fiction as a published genre, his editing and promotion of racism, sexism, fascism, and pseudoscience don't deserve honor. He was considerably more than a product of his times; Campbell was an active enforcer of race and gender exclusion in his selection of authors, and a promoter of authoritarian, colonialist storylines and characters.

    Samuel R. Delany's essay, Racism and Science Fiction, on the culture of science fiction publishing that Campbell established, should be required reading when evaluating John W. Campbell's legacy.

    While Alis Franklin's Everything Wrong With Science Fiction Is John W. Campbell's Fault essay is over the top and unnecessarily provocative, she's not wrong and definitely worth reading as a modern perspective on the topic.

    16 votes
    1. [9]
      mike10010100
      Link Parent
      I agree with everything you said, but the idea that an essay detailing the extent that racism, sexism, and fascism was accepted into the science fiction community is "unnecessarily provocative",...

      I agree with everything you said, but the idea that an essay detailing the extent that racism, sexism, and fascism was accepted into the science fiction community is "unnecessarily provocative", when we are now dealing with fascism's rise around the world, doesn't quite add up. The consequences of this are being felt right now. It's not speculation any more.

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        Did you read Ms Franklin's essay? While it raises valid points, as you say, it does so using deliberately provocative language - starting with the titular statement that "everything wrong with...

        the idea that an essay detailing the extent that racism, sexism, and fascism was accepted into the science fiction community is "unnecessarily provocative", when we are now dealing with fascism's rise around the world, doesn't quite add up.

        Did you read Ms Franklin's essay? While it raises valid points, as you say, it does so using deliberately provocative language - starting with the titular statement that "everything wrong with Science Fiction is John W. Campbell's fault". "Everything"? Really? John Campbell has to take the blame for everything that's wrong with science fiction?

        She also makes statements like this:

        Because for all mid-1900s sci-fi is referred to as “the Golden Age”, for those of us who are not members of the SWARM5 and have tried to read the works it produced, it may as well be called the “Alienating Bigoted Garbage Age”.

        It seems like she's trying to push the "outrage" button.

        And this:

        Campbell is credited as being the man who fostered the careers of pretty much ever notable author of mid-century science-fiction—e.g. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke—and, as such, the shape of all modern English-language sci-fi to this day.

        Ms Franklin herself italicises "all" in "the shape of all modern English-language sci-fi to this day" - but this is entirely untrue. The most obvious example is the New Wave movement of the 1960s, which was decidedly un-Campbellian. All that emphasis on women and sex and human emotions would never have made it into Campbell's magazine. One might say that the New Wave was a reaction to Campbell's supposed Golden Age, which means that he is even responsible for this phase of science fiction, but I think that's putting too much responsibility at his feet. It's also worth pointing out that he has now been dead for longer (45 years) than he was editing and publishing science fiction (35 years), and all his protégés are similarly dead. I'd say we're well out of the shadow of his influence by now.

        Franklin might be right that Campbell had a big influence on science fiction, and that he was racist and sexist, and nurtured racist and/or sexist writers, but to say he's responsible for everything wrong with science fiction is to overstate even his influence on the genre.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          mike10010100
          Link Parent
          If, as you said in one of your other comments, he was the "trigger" for the Golden Age of SciFi, then he must also be saddled with the consequences of his actions during the time he exercised his...

          If, as you said in one of your other comments, he was the "trigger" for the Golden Age of SciFi, then he must also be saddled with the consequences of his actions during the time he exercised his influence in the genre. Especially when there were so many voices that could have been promoted, so many ideas that could have been presented to the public, that were not due to his own shittiness.

          You say he's a product of his time. But there were so many of that time who did not buy into this bullshit.

          In any case, if you truly believe that people shouldn't be judged for being the product of their own time, why wouldn't you cut this writer a break? After all, she's just a product of her time, a time in which online writing is heavily dictated by whether or not one can get clicks, which heavily favors absolutist and extreme titles.

          It's weird that you offer this kind of softness to someone who objectively did shitty things, vs someone who is trying to call them out and bring them to light.

          2 votes
          1. [3]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            Which automatically precludes the use of "everything", as Campbell has been dead for over 40 years. By your own definition, he hasn't exercised influence on the genre since his death in 1971,...

            then he must also be saddled with the consequences of his actions during the time he exercised his influence in the genre.

            Which automatically precludes the use of "everything", as Campbell has been dead for over 40 years. By your own definition, he hasn't exercised influence on the genre since his death in 1971, which means the author of this essay is being deliberately provocative when she blames him for everything wrong with science fiction. Not "everything wrong with the Golden Age of science fiction" or "everything wrong with science fiction up to 1971", but everything wrong with science fiction without restriction.

            But there were so many of that time who did not buy into this bullshit.

            I'd need to see some examples of this. Please show me a science fiction magazine editor of the 1940s & 1950s who was publishing women writers and black writers in numbers proportional to their representation in the wider population. And pseudonymous women like the ones I mention elsewhere in this thread don't count: the editors had to know the writers they were publishing were women. In fact, seeing as you've said "so many", I'd like to see a couple of examples of editors like this.

            It's weird that you offer this kind of softness to someone who objectively did shitty things, vs someone who is trying to call them out and bring them to light.

            I feel like you're grossly misinterpreting me here, and it's extremely difficult for me to defend things I didn't say or imply.

            I am not being soft towards Campbell, nor am I being hard on Franklin. In both cases, I'm assessing their work. Campbell did a lot to develop science fiction, even if he didn't do everything he should or could have done. Franklin wrote an inflammatory essay with factual errors.

            4 votes
            1. [2]
              mike10010100
              Link Parent
              But certainly you'll admit that many "founding fathers" decisions can have long-reaching consequences that continue to affect people long after their deaths, yes? Hey, arbitrarily adding clauses...

              Which automatically precludes the use of "everything", as Campbell has been dead for over 40 years.

              But certainly you'll admit that many "founding fathers" decisions can have long-reaching consequences that continue to affect people long after their deaths, yes?

              Please show me a science fiction magazine editor of the 1940s & 1950s who was publishing women writers and black writers in numbers proportional to their representation in the wider population. And pseudonymous women like the ones I mention elsewhere in this thread don't count: the editors had to know the writers they were publishing were women. In fact, seeing as you've said "so many", I'd like to see a couple of examples of editors like this.

              Hey, arbitrarily adding clauses to make the search all but impossible! What a neat tactic!

              It's almost like the culture of the time didn't promote people like that into these kinds of positions, making their contributions limited to local or academic publications!

              And maybe I was talking about literature in a broader sense rather than merely science fiction! Or perhaps even broader than literature! Perhaps the kinds of people drawn to science fiction were such that these voices couldn't be heard over the din of racism, sexism, and conservatism!

              In both cases, I'm assessing their work.

              But in one case, you're excusing the bad parts of one's work because he's just a "byproduct of his time", yet not allowing any leeway for the fact that modern online journalism requires absolutist and clicl-bait-y language to sustain a publication and get views.

              And what factual errors, pray tell?

              1 vote
              1. Algernon_Asimov
                Link Parent
                Yes. But not everything. I'm pretty sure that noone would reasonably make the case that the Founding Fathers of the USA, for example, are responsible for everything that has happened in the USA...

                you'll admit that many "founding fathers" decisions can have long-reaching consequences that continue to affect people long after their deaths, yes?

                Yes. But not everything. I'm pretty sure that noone would reasonably make the case that the Founding Fathers of the USA, for example, are responsible for everything that has happened in the USA since their deaths.

                Hey, arbitrarily adding clauses to make the search all but impossible! What a neat tactic!

                Fine. Show me any science fiction editor of that era who regularly published women or black writers. Be warned, though: there weren't a lot of women writers or black writers in that time and place, for reasons that had very little to do with the editors of science fiction magazines.

                It's almost like the culture of the time didn't promote people like that into these kinds of positions, making their contributions limited to local or academic publications!

                I know, right? It's almost like Campbell wasn't unique. It's almost like he was similar to his peers. It's almost like it didn't matter whether it was him in the chair or some other man of his times.

                And maybe I was talking about literature in a broader sense rather than merely science fiction! Or perhaps even broader than literature!

                And maybe the discussion at hand is about one man's influence on science fiction, rather than literature in a broader sense, or even broader than that.

                And what factual errors, pray tell?

                The aforementioned "everything" stands out as a prime example.

                I was going to point out that Campbell didn't foster Arthur C Clarke's career, as Clarke was generally known as the one of the Big Three (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke) who wasn't part of Campbell's group of regular writers. However, I did some checking and it turns out that Clarke's first couple of professional sales were to Campbell at Astounding, so that turns into an issue of interpretation rather than fact. Given that Clarke was based in England and Campbell was in the USA, it's not likely that Campbell took as close an interest in him and his writing as Asimov, Heinlein, and others who were physically closer.

                On re-reading, it seems there aren't as many factual errors as I remember. It's not her facts which are wrong, but the way that she overstates them which make them seem wrong.

                By the way... I'm getting bored of this conversation. We're not going anywhere. I don't promise to reply any further.

                5 votes
      2. [2]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        That's my own preference for moderation in tone at work. It's not always a good measure of the correctness of the argument, but I've found, as @Algernon_Asimov pointed out, that it's hard to prove...

        That's my own preference for moderation in tone at work. It's not always a good measure of the correctness of the argument, but I've found, as @Algernon_Asimov pointed out, that it's hard to prove provocative, categorical statements like "everything is due to x", except in mathematics.

        2 votes
        1. mike10010100
          Link Parent
          Except, as I've pointed out, the writer is a product of our times, where SEO and clicks require certain language be used in order to stay afloat.

          Except, as I've pointed out, the writer is a product of our times, where SEO and clicks require certain language be used in order to stay afloat.

      3. BuckeyeSundae
        Link Parent
        Whether someone says "unnecessarily provocative" or "needlessly hyperbolic," the point is the same. Alis Franklin's writing is too happy to put too much blame at one person's feet for things that...

        Whether someone says "unnecessarily provocative" or "needlessly hyperbolic," the point is the same. Alis Franklin's writing is too happy to put too much blame at one person's feet for things that have much more diverse and complicated origins.

        2 votes
  2. [32]
    Algernon_Asimov
    (edited )
    Link
    I am sick and tired of "presentism" - judging historical figures by modern-day standards. Also, doing bad things does not negate the good you do. Should we reject democracy because it was invented...

    I am sick and tired of "presentism" - judging historical figures by modern-day standards. Also, doing bad things does not negate the good you do.

    Should we reject democracy because it was invented by people who not only owned slaves, but prevented those slaves, along with women, from voting?

    Should we reject most scientific and technological advances made before the mid-1900s because they were made by men (rarely women) who were almost certainly sexist and racist? These people were not angels.

    Are we going to judge people because they did not have access to the decades or centuries of thought which occurred after their deaths?

    John W Campbell was no saint, but he did make a very significant contribution to the field of science fiction. That contribution doesn't suddenly cease to exist just because he was a racist or because he believed in telepathy.

    Isaac Asimov wrote repeatedly of his gratitude to Campbell. He also wrote of his difficulty in selling certain types of stories to Campbell. I don't have the exact quote to hand, but Asimov wrote something like "Campbell only wanted stories where humans won. Aliens could never be better than humans. And Campbell wanted only one particular type of human to win: white. And more than that, North American and white. Campbell's idea of the best human matched who he was." Asimov actually had to rewrite one of his stories because it originally showed humans being outsmarted by more advanced aliens. He then got around Campbell's restrictions about aliens never being allowed to be better than humans by inventing a human-only universe, in his Foundation stories.

    Campbell was racist to the core. But he still triggered the Golden Age of science fiction and developed numerous writers without whose contributions science fiction would be a lesser version of itself. He also wrote classics himself, such as "Who Goes There?" which people might recognise in the movie it spawned: "The Thing".

    Do those contributions cease to exist? Did the Golden Age never happen? Did the stable of writers he nurtured not go on to write classics of the genre? Does Astounding/Analog get erased from history? No. Those things he did really happened and they did benefit science fiction. His racism doesn't negate that.

    13 votes
    1. [12]
      patience_limited
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      [Length Warning] I'm not necessarily the person who should provide the extensive historical essay your opinion deserves in response, but I think we're both informed connoisseurs of the genre in...

      [Length Warning]

      I'm not necessarily the person who should provide the extensive historical essay your opinion deserves in response, but I think we're both informed connoisseurs of the genre in question.

      Let's clarify categories here, to avoid what seems like a common error in discussion.

      There are overarching philosophical systems, like "democracy", which have arisen in multiple places and times throughout history. We recognize various historical figures as codifiers and experimenters in making the democratic philosophy work for purposes of governance, regardless of how well or consistently they applied that philosophy.

      The "presentism" you decry, when applied to these people, probably doesn't serve any useful purpose in discussing the utility of the underlying philosophy. An attack on Thomas Jefferson as a slaveholder doesn't need to reconcile his hypocrisy to validate or invalidate democracy as a philosophy, though it certainly has meaning in a discussion of the mechanics of democratic governance.

      In the U.S., modern liberals are not seeking to remove Confederate monuments because the personages represented were historically insignificant, lacked valor, or were poor military figures - we seek to remove their memorials because these people endorsed and fought for a system of values which were, and should remain, abhorrent.

      Science or speculative fiction as it was recognized in John W. Campbell's time and milieu was a commercial product, not necessarily aimed at refining a specific philosophy or value system, but rather, sales maximization. This is a very different proposition in choosing who merits lasting personal honors for development of the genre.

      The rules, norms, and values of the literature were constantly being re-tailored for sales appeal to the tastes of target audiences which had money to spend. Young Anglo-Saxon males were the predominant group that had jobs providing disposable income. Futurism was certainly a dominant theme in science fiction, but there wasn't a coherent, enumerated philosophical or value system other than those already dominant in English-language societies at the time. It's all about the economics and mechanics of publishing, and that's the point at which individual rules, norms, values, beliefs and behaviors matter.

      Campbell's principal contribution was the discovery, enumeration, and shaping of a specific set of values and tastes. His editing satisfied the existing interests and fantasies of young Anglo-Saxon males, while smuggling in his personal values and philosophies to modify them. In that respect, consciously or not, he was science fiction's Rupert Murdoch; Campbell established and codified a system of rules and values that defined the genre, the product, and the consumers, according to his own purposes.

      The original Astounding Stories of Super Science magazine was founded in 1930, and had two editors, Harry Bates and F. Orlin Tremaine, prior to Campbell. It was one among several competing magazines more or less focused on science-themed stories. There was a contemporaneous sea of pulp outlets for stories with literary writing, fantasy content, detective/murder stories, and so on, all of which provided writers with opportunities. The market more or less collapsed with the Great Depression, as magazine publishers (including the original Amazing publisher, Clayton Magazines) went bankrupt. The remaining publishers consolidated the marketplace, with an emphasis on sales volume.

      Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, the first specifically science-themed magazine outlet, was founded in 1926. The separation of science and fantasy content into Astounding and Unknown magazines occurred under the publisher prior to Smith and Smith, Clayton Magazines, which also paid the then unheard-of sum of $0.02 per word. Smith and Smith hired John W. Campbell, who paid the Depression-era standard of $0.01/word.

      Campbell was fortunate in having an historically unprecedented concentration of talented writers in the city of New York - many of them bright, hungry, first- or second- generation immigrants, including your namesake. Campbell had extraordinary power to impose his own rules, norms and values, using the labor of well-corralled talent working for that penny subsistence, with few if any alternatives. He was an autocrat in accordance with his own political and philosophical leanings, with artisans dependent on his patronage.

      Calling this as a "Golden Age" elides a great deal of economic suffering, as well as the pains of rejection on the basis of race, gender, conflicting values, or Campbell's other personalized criteria. It's instructive that Campbell's reign began to diminish with the post-WWII U.S. economic revival, and the re-growth of other outlets (e.g. Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, etc.) for those writers.

      Setting aside the economic conditions of science fiction publishing, others have more thoroughly addressed the ways in which John W. Campbell's rules, norms, and values proved harmful to the development of the genre, not to mention the potential writers and readers, and why he should not be honored. Even at the economic level, the marketplace has changed - young Anglo-Saxon males aren't the only ones capable of purchasing the entertainment and education the genre offers.

      Since the former "Campbell" award for new writers is meant to encourage future producers, and give them some indication that they have valuable opportunities in the genre, it seems reasonable that they shouldn't be obligated to honor a widely offensive, outdated model of rules, norms and values in editing.

      [This is haphazard and incomplete - the spouse is hastening me to get Outside To Enjoy the Day.]

      20 votes
      1. [11]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        Firstly, this is a great response - as I said when I labelled it as 'Exemplary' (after at least one other person had already done so). You point out the economics of the era. Here's a couple of...

        Firstly, this is a great response - as I said when I labelled it as 'Exemplary' (after at least one other person had already done so).

        You point out the economics of the era. Here's a couple of brief points:

        • Campbell didn't set the payment rate: his publishers did.

        • Campbell paid his writers on time, unlike many other editors.

        Competition to Astounding didn't start with Galaxy and F&SF in the 1950s. There were numerous competitors to Astounding all through the 1930s & '40s. However, despite this, Astounding was the market-leading magazine for over a decade. Whatever Campbell was selling, people were buying it - and buying it in preference to other products.

        You keep mention "Anglo-Saxon males". Without trying to contradict your point, I would expand this to "white males": a notable number of the writers and readers at the time were Jewish, and not Anglo-Saxon.

        You say this:

        The "presentism" you decry, when applied to these people, probably doesn't serve any useful purpose in discussing the utility of the underlying philosophy.

        But then you say this:

        the ways in which John W. Campbell's rules, norms, and values proved harmful to the development of the genre, not to mention the potential writers and readers, and why he should not be honored.

        This sort of assessment is presentism. It's saying that, even though science fiction changed due to John W Campbell's influence on the genre and due to his nurturing of the talent that defined the genre for the next couple of decades, we shouldn't recognise Campbell because the changes he made then are not the changes we would make today. We're assessing his contributions to the genre of 70-80 years ago and finding those contributions lacking by today's standards. But, just because he failed to include diverse voices in his stable of writers, and because he even actively discouraged the depiction of certain types of characters in the stories he published, that doesn't mean his contribution was worthless. He found science fiction an immature genre and added maturity. He developed writers who went on to write classics of the genre. Sure, he wasn't perfect by today's standards, but he did make a contribution to the genre. He changed it.

        I hate this attitude in all its varieties. "George Washington was a bad president because he owned slaves." "Orson Scott Card's writing is bad because he's homophobic." "John Campbell didn't make a worthy contribution to science fiction because he was racist." We should stop assessing the work based on the worker's personal views. If someone does something good, it's still a good thing even if the person had bad opinions or did other bad things.

        6 votes
        1. patience_limited
          Link Parent
          Let me address your "presentism" complaint more specifically. Even if you find this re-evaluation distasteful, the lens of history moves. The relative importance of various figures magnifies or...

          Let me address your "presentism" complaint more specifically.

          Even if you find this re-evaluation distasteful, the lens of history moves. The relative importance of various figures magnifies or shrinks as the impact of their ideas and acts becomes evident through the passage of time.

          Also, stretching the metaphor a bit, the focal point of history's lens has always depended on who has power to control the view. The fineness of its resolution depends on who has access to what information.

          In the case of John W. Campbell, we have a longer span of literature produced since he passed from power, and a greater opportunity to see the results of his ideological influence. We can access a picture of the-man-in-full, in ways that simply weren't accessible a couple of decades ago.

          We can hear from people whose voices were omitted, ignored, or forcefully suppressed at the time. When they voice what should be legitimate criticisms, I believe it would be both irrational and immoral to avoid reassessment.

          This is particularly so when it's quite evident through John W. Campbell's historical record, that his racist, sexist, and pseudoscientific beliefs deeply influenced his work. He may have been a towering giant in the development of the genre, the fulcrum for the levers that moved the world, but let's refocus the damn lens onto other important contributors who removed Campbell's morally awful straitjacket* (even Harlan Ellison, who's endlessly icky on a personal basis, but occasionally managed to write female characters who weren't simpering idiots or harridans) and wrote or edited better.

          * I had an interesting exchange with David Brin at a litcon around 1996. Brin's no mean SF historian, and I managed to get him into full frothing spew about the persistent presence of Übermensch characters throughout "Golden Age" science fiction, with a particular hate-on for John W. Campbell. This quote from his 1997 Locus interview was indicative: "One of the rules I try to follow is that normal people are going to be involved even in heroic events. Even if you have superior protagonists, I hate to make them slans**. I hate the whole ubermensch, superman temptation that pervades science fiction. I believe no protagonist should be so competent, so awe-inspiring, that a committee of 20 really hard-working, intelligent people couldn't do the same thing..."

          **A reference to A.E. Van Vogt's novel, Slan, one of Campbell's publications, which provoked its own dubious fan history.

          7 votes
        2. [6]
          vivaria
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I feel like criticism towards these people is generally more nuanced than what you're building it up to be. To quote the acceptance speech which triggered the article: That, to me, sounds very...

          "George Washington was a bad president because he owned slaves." "Orson Scott Card's writing is bad because he's homophobic." "John Campbell didn't make a worthy contribution to science fiction because he was racist."

          I feel like criticism towards these people is generally more nuanced than what you're building it up to be. To quote the acceptance speech which triggered the article:

          “He is responsible for setting a tone for science fiction that haunts this genre to this very day,” she said. “Stale, sterile, male, white, exalting in the ambitions of imperialists, colonialists, settlers and industrialists.”

          That, to me, sounds very different than "didn't make a worthy contribution to science fiction." I think you're attacking a strawman with the comments you've made in this thread.

          From my understanding, when people (too broad) levy criticisms at historical figures, they're not saying "Well, they could have met modern day standards, but failed to do so, so they are fully and completely a bad person." As you've pointed out, that isn't really fair, or even a possible thing. I see it more as "We have so many historical figures to celebrate and revere, and to name awards after -- why choose this person when we could choose someone else?"

          I think a comparable example is the decision to include Viola Desmond on the Canadian $10 bill, whose "stand at a segregated Nova Scotia movie theatre made her into a civil-rights icon for black Canadians." Like with Campbell, many people were up in arms at the removal of John A. McDonald, a noted racist and colonizer. And, like you're doing here, many people came to McDonald's defense, citing his positive contributions and the need to judge his actions in the context of his time. But, to repeat my question, "Why choose this person for this symbolic honor when we could choose someone else?" Elsewhere you say:

          Removing his name from the award is tantamount to saying that contribution is no longer worthy of recognition. [...] You can't get recognised for the good you do if you happen to think badly - and not just badly by the standards of your own time and place, but of all future times and places.

          I strongly disagree that that is what this says. He's had plenty of time to be celebrated and recognized. It's not like that will be retroactively undone -- it's already happened. But, regardless of the impact he's had, his time in the spotlight doesn't need to be eternal. I don't even think the discussion should be focused on John Campbell (a long-deceased person who does not feel the supposed unfairness of our actions now.) I think it's more productive to focus on the burgeoning young writers this award is meant to inspire. With that in mind, do the names of racist, misogynistic, homophobic people need to forever be attached to modern-day awards? Who do we hurt in the present by providing them continued visibility? Who could we choose instead? Whose representation could have a positive impact on modern-day people?

          6 votes
          1. [5]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            Firstly: good response. Not regarding Orson Scott Card. I've seen people say they're boycotting everything he ever writes, or any works inspired by his writings, due to his homophobia. There's not...

            Firstly: good response.

            I feel like criticism towards these people is generally more nuanced than what you're building it up to be.

            Not regarding Orson Scott Card. I've seen people say they're boycotting everything he ever writes, or any works inspired by his writings, due to his homophobia. There's not really much nuance there.

            From my understanding, when people levy criticisms at historical figures, they're not saying "Well, they could have met modern day standards, but failed to do so, so they are fully and completely a bad person."

            As a one-time moderator of /r/AskHistorians, let me assure you that some people do think this way.

            But, regardless of the impact he's had, his time in the spotlight doesn't need to be eternal.

            I don't see anyone clamouring to rename the Hugo Award, which recognises Hugo Gernsback, who created the first magazine devoted to publishing science fiction - and that award is about 20 years older than the Campbell Writers Award. If it's about renewal, then let's start with the oldest award in the science fiction genre. Hasn't Hugo Gernsback's time passed? Does he need to spend eternity in the spotlight?

            This is not about renewal. It's about a posthumous discrediting of John W Campbell because his attitudes (which were mostly attitudes of his time and his culture) don't match the attitudes of today.

            2 votes
            1. BuckeyeSundae
              Link Parent
              I don't feel like you've wrestled here with the most fair points that @vivaria has brought up. It's strange to me because usually I think you're pretty solid at that. It makes me think there's...

              I don't feel like you've wrestled here with the most fair points that @vivaria has brought up. It's strange to me because usually I think you're pretty solid at that. It makes me think there's something more going on here.

              I'm very sympathetic to the idea that some people take these criticisms out of the context of the historical figure's time, and that some other people still use one (hugely) abhorrent aspect of an important figure's life to discredit everything that person did. These points are plainly fair, when applied to the people who are engaging in that behavior.

              But what about the point of using this institution honoring someone important to the genre to honor someone who might be more worthy of that honor in the current environment? The honors we bestow say a lot about who we are right now. Why should we choose Campbell over other important figures of the time? What about Campbell's background should be used to inspire those who want to receive the award named in his honor? What story are we telling here? What story should we be aiming to tell? Are there historical figures that better match that ideal story?

              The presentism you're upset with seems more about poo-pooing figures of the past for its own sake, but the purpose I often see behind the tactics of those you're calling out is necessarily iconoclastic. Some people might believe the only way to create the space to consider whether someone else might be a better fit for what we want this honor to inspire (and who we want to inspire) is to tear down these figures as much as possible. The point, though, seems to be more about lifting up a person who might be more fitting for the current goals of what we want to be doing with these institutions.

              Perhaps if we were better about talking about people who might similarly deserve recognition alongside Campbell, people who might be better fits for our current values, those who engage in this sort of anachronistic thinking would be less prone to hyperbolic reaction.

              5 votes
            2. [3]
              vivaria
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              To me, I see you conflating the opinions of "some people" (largely anonymous people on internet forums) with the opinions of people with far more credibility (Jeannette Ng, as well as those...

              This is not about renewal. It's about a posthumous discrediting of John W Campbell because his attitudes (which were mostly attitudes of his time and his culture) don't match the attitudes of today.

              To me, I see you conflating the opinions of "some people" (largely anonymous people on internet forums) with the opinions of people with far more credibility (Jeannette Ng, as well as those referenced in @patience_limited's post.) It seems like you've built up a point of view based on exposure to impulsive, hasty, cheap-shot comments on Reddit (I relate to that!) and are now unfairly applying that point of view to people who've spent a lot more time thinking about this than those Reddit folks.

              I don't see anyone clamouring to rename the Hugo Award

              Is that relevant here? I mean, Jeannette Ng hasn't just won a Hugo Award for which she was able to give a speech acknowledging Hugo's past actions. Criticism of Hugo isn't a prerequisite for criticizing John Campbell's presence on this award, I don't think. So, I'm not sure how that discredits what people have already said about John Campbell.

              2 votes
              1. [2]
                Algernon_Asimov
                Link Parent
                Not that I'm aware of. Apart from Isaac Asimov's writings, this thread is the first time I've seen criticism of John W Campbell's racism. My reaction is to what I've read in patience_unlimited's...

                To me, I see you conflating the opinions of "some people" (largely anonymous people on internet forums) with the opinions of people with far more credibility

                Not that I'm aware of. Apart from Isaac Asimov's writings, this thread is the first time I've seen criticism of John W Campbell's racism. My reaction is to what I've read in patience_unlimited's post and what people are writing here.

                Is that relevant here?

                You mentioned the idea that a person's time in the spotlight doesn't need to be eternal, and that "it's more productive to focus on the burgeoning young writers this award is meant to inspire". While the Hugo Awards might not be specifically aimed at young writers, they are intended to inspire modern science fiction writers in general. If we want the awards to be inspiring to modern people, and that means removing old people's names from the awards, then the obvious first candidate has to be the oldest award in science fiction which is named after a person. Why not rename the Hugo Awards as the "Amazing Stories Awards"? Hugo Gernsback's time in the spotlight doesn't need to be eternal.

                On another note, if it's about making the awards more relevant to a modern group, why choose to rename the young writers' award using a defunct magazine title? Why use Astounding instead of Analog?

                These things aren't happening because the point isn't to refresh and renew the awards for a modern audience. The point is to eliminate one man's name from one award.

                I mean, Jeannette Ng hasn't just won a Hugo Award for which she was able to give a speech acknowledging his past actions.

                So one has to win an award named after a significant person before one can criticise that person? In a way, that seems somewhat ungrateful. "Thanks for this award which is named after a person whose influence was so significant as to cause this award to be created and named after him... but his name should be taken off this award I just won."

                3 votes
                1. vivaria
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  I didn't say that. I mentioned that bit because I think whether or not a person can or can't be criticised depends on the visibility of the person wanting to do the criticising. We're hearing...

                  So one has to win an award named after a significant person before one can criticise that person?

                  I didn't say that. I mentioned that bit because I think whether or not a person can or can't be criticised depends on the visibility of the person wanting to do the criticising. We're hearing about this criticism because someone had a visible platform for that moment and decided to use it to champion an issue they felt was important, then an article got shared on Tildes.

                  Why not rename the Hugo Awards as the "Amazing Stories Awards"?

                  Because there is no magic finger snap that instigates change. AFAIK change like this tends to happen when someone speaks out in a brave and public way, and the voice of that person catalyzes change. We witnessed this here, it hasn't happened yet with the Hugo Awards. For all we know, there are lots of people who want this to happen. But, we're here on Tildes, and they're out there, waiting to be heard. Just because you haven't heard them doesn't mean they don't exist.

                  5 votes
        3. [3]
          mike10010100
          Link Parent
          But you're assuming that nobody else would have stepped up and produced similar content would they not have been held back by the prevalent racism/sexism of the day, no?

          But you're assuming that nobody else would have stepped up and produced similar content would they not have been held back by the prevalent racism/sexism of the day, no?

          1. [2]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            You've hit the nail on the head: "the prevalent racism/sexism of the day". Not of Campbell, but of the day. Campbell was mostly a product of his times. It's not like there were women editors and...

            You've hit the nail on the head: "the prevalent racism/sexism of the day". Not of Campbell, but of the day.

            Campbell was mostly a product of his times. It's not like there were women editors and black editors in the field back in the '30s, '40s, & '50s. Most (all?) of his editorial competitors during the "Golden Age" were also middle-aged white men who generally had similar views. If Campbell had never existed, the science fiction magazines wouldn't have suddenly been filled with stories about women and black people because most other editors at the time wouldn't have published those stories either.

            I'm reminded of the fact that there were a few women writers back in those times who used male or gender-neutral pseudonyms in order to get published: James Tiptree Jnr was a front for Alice Sheldon; C.L. Moore was really a Catherine Louise behind her intials; Andre Norton was born an Alice. They didn't invent those pseudonyms for Campbell's benefit: all these women I've mentioned started writing and selling stories under those pen names years before Campbell took over Astounding. They used pseudonyms to sell to all the male editors in the industry.

            Campbell didn't single-handedly repress all women and black writers. He had help. If he hadn't existed, it would have been some other sexist and racist white man in his place.

            We need to assess him in his context. We need to judge him against the standards of the day.

            2 votes
            1. mike10010100
              Link Parent
              Yes, but there were many of the day who weren't suppressing women or minority voices. Why should we celebrate someone who objectively held their voices back? Why not generalize the award to the...

              Yes, but there were many of the day who weren't suppressing women or minority voices. Why should we celebrate someone who objectively held their voices back? Why not generalize the award to the team that build the empire that we now recognize as the Golden Age of SciFi? It seems kind of ridiculous to honor and revere a person who wasn't working towards a better future when there are so many who were but we're held back by the likes of Campbell, no? After all, even if he wasn't solely responsible, he overwhelmingly contributed, to the point where he had an award after him.

              3 votes
    2. [7]
      DanBC
      Link Parent
      But he didn't, did he? He hindered it. He held it back. He published a very narrow range of books that appealed only to his world view and he was powerful enough that the rejected books struggled...

      But he still triggered the Golden Age of science fiction

      But he didn't, did he? He hindered it. He held it back. He published a very narrow range of books that appealed only to his world view and he was powerful enough that the rejected books struggled to have influence elsewhere.

      There were a wide range of great books and authors that didn't get published because of him.

      11 votes
      1. [6]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        But he did. There is a widely recognised "Golden Age" of science fiction, and the start of that Golden Age is usually dated to the time that Campbell took over editing the 'Astounding' magazine....

        But he didn't, did he?

        But he did.

        There is a widely recognised "Golden Age" of science fiction, and the start of that Golden Age is usually dated to the time that Campbell took over editing the 'Astounding' magazine. In his first year or so on the job, he discovered and published many of authors who would become big names in science fiction over the next few decades. The Golden Age started due to his influence. It existed because of him. It happened, and he made it happen. John W Campbell triggered the Golden Age of science fiction.

        Just because you don't like what was - or was not - published, that doesn't stop there having been a period of science fiction which is referred to as the Golden Age. And just because you don't like John W Campbell, that doesn't stop him being acknowledged as the man who single-handedly started that Golden Age.

        You can't rewrite history. It happened, and it happened a certain way, whether you like it or not. There was a Golden Age of science fiction, and John W Campbell started it.

        Or, are you saying there was no Golden Age of science fiction?

        6 votes
        1. [5]
          Nexu
          Link Parent
          Dear Staunch Algernon, The point here is, just because you believe that John W Campbell triggered the "Golden Age" of science fiction, doesn't make it so. Just because you throw a tantrum about...

          Dear Staunch Algernon,

          The point here is, just because you believe that John W Campbell triggered the "Golden Age" of science fiction, doesn't make it so.

          Just because you throw a tantrum about the name of this award being changed, doesn't make your opinion right.

          Times change. What "science fiction" means has changed. The renaming of this award reflects those changes. You can't rewrite recent history. It happened, and it happened a certain way, whether you like it or not.

          In fact, I'd argue that the "Golden Age of Science Fiction" is an arbitrary demarcation, cultivated by literary critic-elites over the years. So yes, I'd argue that there was no Golden Age of science fiction.

          8 votes
          1. [4]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            It's not just me. I don't know why you think it's just me. This isn't my personal opinion. This is me passing on what I've learned from various sources: "One leading influence on the creation of...

            It's not just me. I don't know why you think it's just me. This isn't my personal opinion. This is me passing on what I've learned from various sources:

            • "One leading influence on the creation of the Golden age was John W. Campbell [...] Most fans agree that the Golden Age began around 1938-39 [...] The July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction is sometimes cited as the start of the Golden Age." Golden Age of Science Fiction: From Gernsback to Campbell

            • "There is little argument about when the Golden Age began. The term is nearly always used of genre magazine sf (see Genre SF), and it is almost always seen as referring to the period ushered in by John W Campbell Jr's assumption of the editorship of Astounding in October 1937." Golden Age of SF

            • "As editor of Astounding Science Fiction (formerly Astounding Stories of Super Science, which Campbell renamed when he gained full control in March 1938), Campbell's influence on SF is without peer. He singlehandedly transformed the core of the genre from pulpy adventures of super-science to what we now call the Golden Age of SF" John W. Campbell - The Man Who Inspired the Award

            This isn't just a crazy crusade by "Staunch Algernon". The existence of a Golden Age of science fiction is widely accepted, and it's generally associated with John W Campbell. So, if you want to argue there was no Golden Age of science fiction, I suggest you take it up with Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and most other cataloguers of the genre.

            What "science fiction" means has changed. The renaming of this award reflects those changes. You can't rewrite recent history. It happened, and it happened a certain way, whether you like it or not.

            I'm not here arguing that the genre of science fiction has not changed, nor that the award has not been renamed. But even in accepting that the genre has changed, one concedes that sci-fi was formerly different to what it is now - else there could be no "change". (As a side note: the genre has undergone major changes quite a few times since its inception. The current state of science fiction is just another phase. It'll change again.) And even in accepting that the award was re-named, one has to concede that the award was previously named something else - else there could be no "renaming".

            So, this leads us to wonder what the award was previously named. And it was previously named the John W Campbell Award. And then one wonders why that name was chosen. And it was chosen because John W Campbell was seen as the man who almost single-handedly changed the genre of science fiction.

            There was a Golden Age, and it was started by John W Campbell. You can't revise that history away just by saying "but we're different now". Sure we're different now. We're also different in lots of other ways. We no longer own slaves. We no longer believe lightning comes from the gods. But that doesn't mean those things didn't happen in the past.

            In other words: you can take Campbell's name off the award today, but you can't change what he did in the past.

            10 votes
            1. [3]
              Nexu
              Link Parent
              The dissonance of your remark is its focus on "presentism" - judging historical figures by modern day standards. I'm not trying to say that Campbell didn't have an impact on sci-fi, or that the...

              The dissonance of your remark is its focus on "presentism" - judging historical figures by modern day standards.

              I'm not trying to say that Campbell didn't have an impact on sci-fi, or that the award wasn't named after him because of his work in the field, or even that there isn't a consensus agreement as to the existence of a "Golden Age".

              Not in this argument, at least ;-)

              Nor do I think we should discredit Campbell's work per se, simply that it's necessary at this point to acknowledge the context.

              Why is "presentism", in as much as drawing attention to the difference of normative context between history and present, a bad thing?

              Do you fear that this presentism renders one incapable of seeing the "good" that Campbell did, just because one acknowledges that he did "bad" things, which don't align with or make sense to exalt based on our present day values?

              Because I don't think it should, and I don't think the renaming of this award should equate to the "Cancelling" of Campbell.

              It's simply an acknowledgement, more forward-facing than anything, of a realignment of values in the sci-fi community.

              4 votes
              1. [2]
                Algernon_Asimov
                Link Parent
                Well, maybe don't write things like "yes, I'd argue that there was no Golden Age of science fiction". :P It seems so. I've seen quite a few historical people become demonised when modern people...

                I'm not trying to say [...] that there isn't a consensus agreement as to the existence of a "Golden Age".

                Well, maybe don't write things like "yes, I'd argue that there was no Golden Age of science fiction". :P

                Do you fear that this presentism renders one incapable of seeing the "good" that Campbell did, just because one acknowledges that he did "bad" things, which don't align with or make sense to exalt based on our present day values?

                It seems so. I've seen quite a few historical people become demonised when modern people realise that the views held by those historical people don't match the views held by modern people.

                This award was named after John W Campbell in recognition of his extremely significant contribution to science fiction. Removing his name from the award is tantamount to saying that contribution is no longer worthy of recognition.

                In other words, people are saying that someone's personal opinions are more important than what they may have done. You can't get recognised for the good you do if you happen to think badly - and not just badly by the standards of your own time and place, but of all future times and places.

                5 votes
                1. Nexu
                  Link Parent
                  It's possible to argue against the existence of a Golden Age, while accepting and acknowledging the existence of a consensus agreement :-) I agree this is a problem and more tact is required than...

                  Well, maybe don't write things like "yes, I'd argue that there was no Golden Age of science fiction". :P

                  It's possible to argue against the existence of a Golden Age, while accepting and acknowledging the existence of a consensus agreement :-)

                  It seems so. I've seen quite a few historical people become demonised when modern people realise that the views held by those historical people don't match the views held by modern people.

                  I agree this is a problem and more tact is required than simply denouncing historical individuals outright.

                  But just as I agree that people like Campbell shouldn't have their "good" forgotten, we also shouldn't have a problem bringing up the comparative "bad".

                  Maybe the problem is the deification of historical figures in general? This kind of thing always degenerates into a blind mythology anyway...

                  5 votes
    3. [4]
      babypuncher
      Link Parent
      I'm a firm believer in separating the art from the artist. The Pianist is a beautiful film, despite Roman Polanski's crimes. I think it would absolutely be in poor taste to name a filmmaking award...

      I'm a firm believer in separating the art from the artist. The Pianist is a beautiful film, despite Roman Polanski's crimes. I think it would absolutely be in poor taste to name a filmmaking award after him.

      I don't think changing the name of this prize takes away anything Campbell has done for science fiction. His contributions will always be remembered in history books, as well as the famous works he helped bring into the world.

      Should we reject democracy because it was invented by people who not only owned slaves, but prevented those slaves, along with women, from voting?

      Nobody is arguing that we should undo or ignore any of the work Campbell has done. The award in question didn't even exist until two years after his death.

      9 votes
      1. [3]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        That separation might be difficult in this case because Campbell's racism had artistic consequences too. Asimov's stories didn't have any aliens in them because he knew what Campbell was like....

        That separation might be difficult in this case because Campbell's racism had artistic consequences too. Asimov's stories didn't have any aliens in them because he knew what Campbell was like. Maybe he would have written better stories if Campbell were a more open-minded editor?

        Counterfactual reasoning is tricky that way. When deciding whether someone deserves credit or blame, the question is: compared to what?

        10 votes
        1. [2]
          patience_limited
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          There's evidence for Isaac Asimov being a better, or at least more interesting, writer when he shed Campbell's leash. My personal favorite Asimov novel, The Gods Themselves, was first serialized...

          There's evidence for Isaac Asimov being a better, or at least more interesting, writer when he shed Campbell's leash.

          My personal favorite Asimov novel, The Gods Themselves, was first serialized in Galaxy. It features aliens that are actually smarter than humans, with alien sexuality and motivations convincingly described, exciting physics, unconventional structure, a plot worth book length...

          There's nothing in it which Campbell would have permitted (see spoiler for more that Campbell would have rejected). Nonetheless, though it's largely forgotten now, The Gods Themselves was the winner of both major genre awards, Hugo and Nebula, in the year of its publication.

          Spoiler

          The aliens eventually choose not to use their superior technology to destroy the human universe, even at the expense of their own survival, because at least some of them are also more ethical.

          6 votes
          1. Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            The Gods Themselves was partly a response to people continually criticising Asimov for never writing about aliens or sex. This criticism came during and after the New Wave of the 1960s, when...

            The Gods Themselves was partly a response to people continually criticising Asimov for never writing about aliens or sex. This criticism came during and after the New Wave of the 1960s, when science fiction became more inclusive and more gritty and more human. As I've mentioned elsewhere, Asimov avoided writing stories about aliens due to influence by John W Campbell, but his avoidance of sex was nothing more than his own personal preference. However, one of the things he decided to do with The Gods Themselves was to address these criticisms. The second section is all about aliens AND sex.

            Campbell might have rejected The Gods Themselves, but

            for slightly different reasons.

            The aliens didn't decide to stop using their superior technology. Dua fought against it, but she was a one-person crusade against the establishment. When she finally merged with Tritt and Odeen to become Estwald, we realise that she, as part of Estwald, is not going to stop the Pump.

            In fact, the solution was created by a human scientist who found a way to open a new universe to pump the excess electrons into.

            So, Campbell wouldn't have rejected it because aliens solved the problem - because they didn't. However, he might have rejected it because aliens invented the technology which created this power source.

            4 votes
    4. [6]
      mike10010100
      Link Parent
      Perhaps we shouldn't be idolizing people at all? That would seemingly solve this problem, no?

      Perhaps we shouldn't be idolizing people at all? That would seemingly solve this problem, no?

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        That's just silly! Of course we can idolise people. However, we should be able to idolise people for what they achieved while still acknowledging that they are flawed human beings. People don't...

        That's just silly! Of course we can idolise people.

        However, we should be able to idolise people for what they achieved while still acknowledging that they are flawed human beings. People don't need to be saints to be recognised for their contributions to the world.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          mike10010100
          Link Parent
          But why? Why should we idolize people at all? What advantage does that give us, when we could simply idolize their actions, specifically?

          But why? Why should we idolize people at all? What advantage does that give us, when we could simply idolize their actions, specifically?

          3 votes
          1. [3]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            Because it's people who do the actions. One doesn't idolise the first landing to the Moon, one idolises the people who did it and made it happen.

            Because it's people who do the actions. One doesn't idolise the first landing to the Moon, one idolises the people who did it and made it happen.

            3 votes
            1. [2]
              mike10010100
              Link Parent
              So? Anyone could have done those actions. It's the actions that resonate throughout history, not the people who just so happened to luck out and have the chance to do it. It reinforces this idea...

              So? Anyone could have done those actions. It's the actions that resonate throughout history, not the people who just so happened to luck out and have the chance to do it.

              It reinforces this idea that there is some undefinable, intangible aura that these people contain that make them literally irreplaceable in history.

              If you separate the person from the action, then you can start celebrating the test pilot who flew to the moon, and the brilliant scientists who made it happen, rather than the people, who have both good and bad qualities, most of which are not "test pilot" or "scientist".

              It goes hand in hand with this whole idea that we are our careers or we are what we do. That could not be further from the truth. It's how we interact with the world, what we are that defines us.

              2 votes
              1. Nexu
                Link Parent
                I agree with this.

                I agree with this.

                1 vote
    5. [2]
      envy
      Link Parent
      That's interesting. It goes a long way to explaining why classic old sci fi stories feel more exuberant but more homogenous compared to today.

      That's interesting. It goes a long way to explaining why classic old sci fi stories feel more exuberant but more homogenous compared to today.

      1 vote
      1. Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        It's worth noting that, while John W Campbell was instrumental in starting what is commonly known as the Golden Age, and while he exerted a lot of influence over the writing of the time, he was...

        It's worth noting that, while John W Campbell was instrumental in starting what is commonly known as the Golden Age, and while he exerted a lot of influence over the writing of the time, he was far from the only person with influence. There were other science fiction magazines, with other editors.

        If any of those other editors wanted to publish different, more heterogeneous, stories, they could have. It's not all on Campbell.

  3. jtvjan
    Link
    It is now called the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, after the previous name of the Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine (Astounding Stories of Super-Science). It was previously called...

    It is now called the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, after the previous name of the Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine (Astounding Stories of Super-Science). It was previously called John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

    2 votes