Tag: john w. campbell

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):

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Dear Mr. Campbell

Dear Mr. Campbell,

I am a relatively new reader of your incarnation of Astounding Science Fiction and I thought I should take a minute to tell you how much I have been enjoying what I’ve found in the magazines so far. I say your “incarnation” of Astounding, because, you see I am time traveler from the future and where I come from, the magazine has a slightly different name, but is still regarded as one of the finest magazines in the field. (I don’t want to give away the future and tell you what the name is, but I will say that if you ever decide to change the name of the magazine, be sure to change it to something that maintains what has become the standard abbreviation, ASF).

I write this letter from more than 70 years in the future, having gotten halfway through the October 1939 issue. It is the forth issue which I have read painstakingly closely from cover-to-cover. I started with the July 1939 issue, which in my time is regarded as a milestone issue of Astounding. While my favorite story in that issue was C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods”, I would suggest you keep a close eye on that Asimov fellow. His letters can be a little bit heated, but I think he’s going places. In the August 1939 issue, Lester Del Rey’s story, “The Luck of Ignatz” was a marvelously entertaining piece, as was that clever tale by Mr. Heinlein. He’s another one to keep an eye on. I was especially fond of Willy Ley’s article on “Space War” which I think made some points which are as important and relevant here in 2011 as they are back in your time. I’m afraid that I didn’t think the September 1939 issue was up to the standard of the previous two issues, but that’s not to say there wasn’t some good stuff in it. In particular, I enjoyed Mr. Gallun’s yarn, “Masson’s Secret”. How I wish I could tell you how and when the moon landings actually unfold, but that is against regulation. Needless to say when it finally does happen, you’ll find that the reality is just as good as the fiction. R. S. Richardson’s article on astronomers was absolutely charming, by the way. I hope you have more of him.

Many of the correspondents in the letter columns complain about the art work. I am no art critic, but I can say that I generally enjoy the covers more than the interiors, and that Rogers and Gladney are outstanding in my book. I’m not going to ask you for smooth page edges, but I would like to humbly suggest moving the letter columns to either the beginning or the end of each issue. The middle seems like an awkward place at best. And keep the letter columns going! They are fabulous to read, and whether or not you realize this, Mr. Campbell, they are of vital importance to science-fiction fandom.

I realize that some of your revenue comes from advertising in the magazine, but surely you, Mr. Campbell, with your background, must have some hint at the dangers of smoking. I imagine there’s no way to eliminate these ads from your pages, but the fact of the matter is that they look antiquated and strange from seventy years in the future. But you live and learn, I suppose.

To sum up, Mr. Campbell, I awaken each day eager to thumb through the next story in the issue that I happen to be reading. Being a time-traveler, I don’t have to wait a month for the next issue to come out. I simply dial my time machine to the appropriate date and presto!–I have the issue in hand. These issues provide me with not only a greater appreciation for the short fiction form (I am, I must admit, a very minor science fiction writer where I come from), but they provide a wonderful respite from the busy world around me. They are a calm point in my otherwise hectic day and when I am stuck in the doldrums of a menial task, I look longingly at the yellowing issue sitting on a table not far from me, wishing that my nose could be between those pages.

So thank you, Mr. Campbell, for producing such a fine magazine. And thank you for what you will do for science fiction. I can’t tell you what that is at the moment, but I can say that your name will be remembered honorably by generations of science fiction fans and writers to come.


Jamie Todd Rubin
Falls Church, VA