John W. Campbell

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John Wood Campbell, Jr. (8 June 191011 July 1971) was an influential American science fiction editor and writer, known for his challenges to writers.


  • The world’s prize stupid oaf is the man who thinks he already has all the answers.
    • Second-Order Logic? (editorial) in Astounding, Feb. 1955, p. 6
  • A successful crackpot is still a crackpot.
    • Point of Diminishing Returns (editorial) in Astounding, April 1955, p. 160
  • The curve of progress in the physical sciences is, assuredly, still rising rapidly. But I wonder how fast the curve of human-effort-invested-per-discovery-achieved is rising?
    • Point of Diminishing Returns (editorial) in Astounding, April 1955, p. 161
  • Hypnosis has been a seriously neglected factor of the human mind; now it must be attacked as a major engineering problem. For once, we have an aspect of the mind that ties directly into a solid engineering job; it will require that psychology submit to that harshest of all disciplines—the absolutely inflexible, utterly autocratic, uncompromisingly dogmatic discipline of “Does it work?”
    • Design Flaw (editorial) in Astounding, October 1955, p. 92
  • It’s frustrating to have to yield one’s Opinion to someone else; the ancient, surging feeling “I have a right to my own opinion!” resents that necessity violently. O.K., friend, your opinion may, indeed, be just as good as mine . . . but is it as good as the Universe’s? The cultural group was able to apply pressure that forced Galileo to retract his stated opinion, and that proved his opinion wasn’t as good as theirs, didn’t it? Winning the argument is not equivalent to proving yourself the better and righter man. You may, in the more general terms of the Universal Laws, simply be the more bigoted and stupid man.
    • A Word for It (editorial) in Astounding, November 1955, p. 5
  • Logic happens to be one of the levels of reality; ignoring it is perfectly possible, just as it is possible for a drunken driver to ignore the concrete-and-steel bridge abutment in his path. The difficulty is that logic—like the bridge-abutment—won’t ignore the individual man.
    • A Word for It (editorial) in Astounding, November 1955, p. 158
  • History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, 'Can't you remember anything I told you?' and lets fly with a club.
    • Statement in Analog Science Fiction/Fact magazine (1965)
  • Immunity corrupts; absolute immunity corrupts absolutely.
    • Editorial in Analog Science Fiction/Fact magazine (1970)

About Campbell[edit]

  • Of course, I never wrote the "important" story, the sequel about the first amplified human. Once I tried something similar. John Campbell's letter of rejection began: "Sorry — you can't write this story. Neither can anyone else."
  • In the so-called Golden Age of American science fiction, when the late John W. Campbell, editor extraordinary, gathered around him in a handful of months the greatest stable of science fiction talent ever seen, he would throw out challenges to his writers, like: "Write me a story about a man who will die in twenty-four hours unless he can answer this question: 'How do you know you’re sane?'"; and this one — surely one of the most provocative of all: "Write me a story about a creature that thinks as well as a man, but not like a man."
  • [Stanley] Weinbaum met the challenge of a demand John Campbell was to make of his writers in later years: "Write me a story about an organism that thinks as well as a man, but not like a man."
    • Isaac Asimov, in the introduction to the 1974 compilation The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
  • Suppose you meet a man who asks you what your field of endeavor is and you tell him that you are the world's greatest living vertebrate paleontologist, which is, of course, what you are. And suppose that, on hearing this, the man you meet fixes you with a glittering eye and proceeds to lecture you for five hours on vertebrate paleontology, getting all his facts wrong, yet somehow leaving you unable to argue them. You will then have met [John W.] Campbell.
    • Isaac Asimov, as quoted in Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)

External links[edit]

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