The John W. Campbell Blurb-Spoiler Game


As I proceed through my Vacation in the Golden Age, I have come to notice something that I think a lot of writers and fans from the late 1930s and early 1940s probably recognized pretty quickly: the blurbs Campbell wrote to proceed each story in the issue often times gave away the whole point of the story. I’ve been meaning to touch on this subject on one of the Golden Age posts, but those posts are already packed with my thoughts on the specific issue in question. This subject deserves a post of all it’s own.

A few examples of Campbell’s blurbs that I’ve come across (and keep in mind there are spoilers below if you haven’t read these stories before):

For Heinlein’s “Blowups Happen”:

Control was impossible–except on theory. And that drove men mad, and madmen invited an explosion that would wreck the planet.

For Asimov’s “Homo Sol”:

The Galaxy had a nice, stable civilization–till Earthmen, the prize gadget maniacs of space, came along!

Or how about this one for Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”:

The more complex, the more integrated a civilization is, the more fragile it becomes to–sabotage!

Or this clincher to blurbing the final part of A. E. van Vogt’s “Slan”:

And in next month’s issue, A. E. van Vogt will, I think, prove to you that what I said about “Slan” was true: it gets stronger in every installment, and you don’t know what it’s all about till the last paragraph.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but these blurbs (and especially the last) seem to be somewhat spoilerish. But this is pretty typical of what I’ve seen of Campbell. It got me thinking, if Campbell were blurbing books and stories today, how might he blurb them?

So here are a few blurbs that I imagined Campbell would have written for the works in question. I’ll get things started and then I expect you all to continue the game in the comments.

For Joe Haldeman’s Forever War:

War is hell. And its more so when what the thing that separates the two sides is a tiny misunderstanding. And a lot of empty space.

For Robert Reed’s “Marrow”:

On the inside of a giant asteroid-world, the only thing more surprising than finding a civilization there is finding another deep within the core.

Okay, who wants to start? Perhaps with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game? Have at it! Channel your best Campbell.


  1. Nah, you did great with Forever War.

    Allow me to suggest one thing: Campbell’s blurbs were what his readers wanted. They weren’t concerned about the revelation of plot points because it was the gadgets and things they wanted to read about. Well of course at least one of the characters is going to live – otherwise, no one to tell the tale we’re already reading.
    Spoilers are kind a spoiled by that kind of attitude on an audience’s part.

    1. Steve, good point about the readers of the time. That wouldn’t have occurred to me but it makes a lot of sense. As a 21st century reader, I find myself slightly (but only slightly) turned off by the gadget-frenzy in some of those old stories, but I can see that they would have been a big draw to the readers of the time. Still, I have to imagine that at least some of the authors were annoyed with Campbell’s spolier-laden blurbs.

  2. Campbell, what, edited something like 1400 stories for ASTOUNDING? As far as I know no one has put together a collection of his favorite stories. Am I missing something somewhere? Is there a JOHN W. CAMPBELL BEST OF ASTOUNDING OMNIBUS that breezed by me when I wasn’t looking?

  3. Paul, there has been an anthology of JWC’s favorite stories from Astounding. It was published in 1952 by Simon & Schuster under the unusual title “The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology”. ISFDB listing:

    Also, until his death in 1971, Doubleday published an annual collection of his selected stories from Analog.

  4. Mark, thanks for the info. Will ferret it out. (Any John W. Campbell “goes loggerheads” with another substantial editor stories? THAT would be interesting!

  5. Alright, how about this: any John W. Campbell “goes loggerheads” with ANYONE stories?

  6. To Anybody,

    Good Grief. It’s been 9 months since anybody has said anthing!! C’on. A John W. Campbell story please.


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