John W. Campbell, Jr.

Conspiracy for a Better World Snapshot: John W. Campbell, Jr.

This is next in my series on L. Ron Hubbard’s dedication in Battlefield Earth to “all the merry crew” of what became known as America’s Golden Age of Science Fiction. And as Hubbard stated, “They are all worth rereading, every one.” And one prominent name is John W. Campbell, Jr.

John W Campbell was an American science fiction writer and editor. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from late 1937 until his death in 1971, as well as a short 4 year run with Unknown (1939-1943), he is generally credited with shaping the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He rejected and approved almost all science fiction for over a decade. He was the virtual czar of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Many of this merry crew openly acknowledge his influence on their work. As an educator I can relate to his goals, his way of operating. He took over Astounding in full in May of 1938. He wanted stories about mankind’s place in the stars. The robots taking over had grown cliché. I think the public had grown bored with lifeless science fiction with no relatable characters. His writing prompts were clear, full vibrant life had to be in the stories. As any good educator will tell you, they are trying to stimulate the mind. They want the students to think, to create, to make a subject theirs, to own that knowledge they are learning. Campbell was an educator to America through his writers. He sought and found the best talent who would be his co-conspirators for a better world. He wanted stories that would stimulate the mind. Without the science fiction writer positing tomorrow’s possibilities, we wouldn’t have our scientific breakthroughs that are today’s realities.

As an additional note, John Campbell met L. Ron Hubbard when the publisher at Street & Smith introduced the top rated adventure writer (Hubbard) to the editor of the new science fiction publication (Campbell) with the order to publish whatever Hubbard submitted. The consistent story quality led Campbell to write to Hubbard when creating a new publication called Unknown, “I’m damn glad you’ll be with us on the Arabian Nights stuff and you needn’t worry about having it yours. I’ve been telling a few of the boys to read Washington Irving as an example of pure fantasy and complete acceptance of magic, enchantment, et cetera, and adding that they aren’t to do Arabian Nights because the field is preempted by you. It’s been held open for you. I’m reserving the Arabian Nights to you entirely.”

Campbell also became interested in Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine and his theories about ESP, telepathy and telekinesis. This was straight from his Duke University parapsychology lab which Campbell had access to. Which phenomena, by the way, plays a central role in Star Wars. It is quite conceivable that without Campbell’s leadership, America wouldn’t have created its technical advantages.

Any stories not hitting his standards were tossed overboard. I think they were pitched for good reason too. The past was filled with ugly warnings. The atom was God and man was nothing.  Hitler was on the rise and this was ushering in materialism. The Third Reich and the men behind them were beating the drum for eugenics, the “perfect” Aryan race, the might of the state—and all this with a single person being insignificant.

As I wrote at the outset of this post, L. Ron Hubbard dedicated his novel Battlefield Earth to those who brought about Science Fiction’s Golden Age. And it is very interesting how this novel poses the ne plus ultra of materialism in the planet Psychlo, and how it was ultimately brought down as a result of an individual becoming educated.

I am an educator and education has made all the difference in my life. For me growing up in Colorado the story resonated and has enriched my life more than I could express.

This story helps answer the question, why learn? Motivation is the switch many teachers struggle with. Why learn calculus, physics and all the rest? Science fiction from the Golden Age and more recently Battlefield Earth have messages and themes that are original and vital to our future scientists.  Knowing many astronauts and men of science, their motivation comes from the pages of science fiction. If you’re struggling with a student’s motivation have a look at one of the most motivated men I know, Elon Musk. His motivation is legendary and that came from this vital genre.

I think Campbell would’ve been quite pleased with, Battlefield Earth, this piece of pure science fiction written a decade after his passing. Science fiction and the authors from that Golden age were in a conspiracy to help man survive to give him a better world than a burnt planet and dead families. Earth was headed and still teeters on oblivion, but for the imaginative minds of writers and people like John W. Campbell, Jr. and the merry crew, it could all change.

To the stars!

About Diego Martinez

Diego Martinez

Diego Martinez

Guest blogger Diego Martinez earned a degree from Adams State University in chemistry/secondary education in 2007. He began his teaching career at Antonito High School where he taught a scientific research class. In 2010 he became a Teacher Liaison for the Space Foundation and while working with a small team of dedicated science and math teachers they secured a reputation for scientific research earning “San Luis Valley Regional Science Fair School of the year” six years in a row.

In addition to being a Teacher Liaison for the Space Program, Diego was awarded the Colorado Lockheed Martin Science Teacher of the Year, is an Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award Contributor 2013, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator finalist and currently involved in the Space Educators Expedition Crew 2017-18.

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