The Sins of John W. Campbell Revisited

Author Jeannette Ng – image found at the Angry Robot website

Just for giggles, I revisited the comments at File 770‘s article Storm Over Campbell Award. As you may recall from my own wee missive Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award Acceptance Speech and Here We Go Again, Ms Ng, a fantasy writer based in the UK, was recently given the John W. Campbell award for best new writer, which she accepted, and then went on to point out Campbell’s terrific flaws, which included being a fascist.

There are now over 200 comments on Mike Glyer’s commentary on Ng and Campbell, and of course, they all damn Campbell, some even comparing him (more or less) to Mussolini. Further, one person said that anyone with even the tiniest hint of actually liking anything Campbell ever did is considered a fascist sympathizer. Really. I had heard of Campbell, but before this, I never had any idea about his political beliefs.

However, even according to Wikipedia, while he may or may not have been a fascist, he certainly was a racist.

His opinions go far beyond the occasional “joke in bad taste,” and many well known authors, including Michael Moorcock and Isaac Asimov, lambasted Campbell for his even then unpopular and heinous ideas.

So what to do? Everyone was aware of Campbell’s perspectives for decades, but Jeannette Ng decided to call out the long dead Campbell in the most public of ways, while accepting the award which bears his name (yes, she kept it).

While the pundits at File 770 are heartily patting themselves on the back for jumping on the “denounce John W. Campbell bandwagon,” are they willing to also shred Hugo Gernsback for his poor treatment of authors, and thus rename the “Hugos” more generically (to the best of my knowledge, no one has breathed a word about this)? For that matter, famed comic book creator Stan Lee was noted for his terrible treatment of artists, including the legendary Jack Kirby, among others in the Marvel bullpen of the 1960s and 70s. Should we drag the recently deceased Lee (Lieber) through the mud in order to make ourselves feel better, more enlightened, and, dare I say it (dare, dare), progressive?

Recently, I took another look at someone’s idea that even beloved author Ray Bradbury may have held racist ideas, although the allegations against him seem far less damning than those against Campbell. Perhaps the statue erected to honor him should be torn down and melted to slag.

Since I relate better to Jewish commentaries than Christian ones, I found an article at called Accidental Racism in the Jewish World, written by Aryeh Ho, a convert to Judaism.

He presents a far more nuanced view of racist comments in the Jewish (and much wider world including liberal Manhattan) realm relative to his being Asian. Unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her #squad (or is that lynch mob in terms of Israel and the Jewish people?) who seem to think that anyone who disagrees with them about anything at all is automatically racist, sexist, and Hitler, Ho actually does an intelligent and compelling analysis of how he and his family have been treated, even by well meaning and accepting people.

Racism is certainly woven into the fabric of western culture, so much so, that we might even be blinded to how it lives within ourselves. That said, Ho doesn’t use it as a blunt instrument with which to pummel anyone who might hold a difference of opinion from him, especially when said opinion has nothing do to with race.

Screen capture from Jeannette Ng’s twitter account.

In Campbell’s case, yes, he was a racist. He was a racist in the 1940s and his recorded opinions make him a racist today. Should he have an award named after him? Depends. If you can’t separate his racism from what he accomplished in the world of science fiction, then I guess the award should be relabeled and Campbell’s name should be erased from the annals of history as an undesirable element (and let’s consider mass book burnings while we’re at it).

But if you’re going to do that, then, to avoid hypocrisy, you should also rename the Hugo Award for similar reasons, and never, ever create an award named for Stan Lee. While Ms. Ng was no doubt correct in calling Campbell who he was, she still accepted his bloody award, even proudly announcing it on her twitter account (yes, I follow her, and yes, I took the above screenshot just in case she decides to “poof” the announcement).

36 thoughts on “The Sins of John W. Campbell Revisited

  1. Shakespeare penned a eulogy for his character Marcus Antony to declare over the body of the assasinated Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, which included the observation: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”. I can’t help but wonder if John Campbell is receiving similar treatment. Nonetheless, he, along with others like Hugo Gernsback and Stan Lee, is dead and buried. Regardless of any sins that any of them may have committed during their lifetimes, none of them are doing so any longer. The legacy for which any of them is remembered is that they promoted good storytelling. I have not heard anything about them that indicates that their memory has done anything to encourage eggregious political or racial attitudes on the part of anyone who honors them. These men are not guilty of spreading any of the evil that is now attributed to them in the past.

    Hence, anyone who now denigrates them publically for their past shortcomings is engaging in a behavior that is properly called grandstanding and demagoguery. They cannot claim credit for upholding a higher moral stance, when their very own arrogance and slander condemns them. (Yes, a statement can still be deemed slanderous even if it contains truth.) If we consider a Jewish standard regarding what one says about another, such denunciations are certainly “lashon ha-r’a” (an evil tongue). The current evil behavior of a slanderer is far worse than any statements that in the past may have been uttered by any of these men. It cannot be justified even as an educational exercise describing “proper” attitudes.

    If one wishes to identify a particular expression of views in literature that may be criticised on one ground or other, one may do so without accusing their author of holding the same views. The author and his or her product must be evaluated separately, regardless of any suspicion about syncretism between them. Without explicit testimony by the author affirming any given view, one must allow the possibility that the author merely experimented with the notion of seeing through someone else’s viewpoints.

    Thus, James, I am agreeing with your sense of injustice on behalf of these deceased writers and publishers who made positive contributions to their craft and who cannot now defend their reputations. Targeting them now is nothing but a cheap shot.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ng’s hypocrisy is stunning. If she is so offended by Campbell, she should have refused to accept it and demanded that the name be changed.

    She did not do so. As I mentioned in my own blog post over this she wants to “have her cake and eat it to.” She’ll take the boost in book sales from being a Campbell Award winner and score points with her “woke” compatriots.



    • If she would have refused the award and then denounced Campbell, then I could at least say she has the courage of her convictions, but she failed to do that. Maybe she was flustered at the moment, because she admits that she didn’t expect to win and didn’t even have an acceptance speech prepared ahead of time. That said, and and I mentioned in reply to ProclaimLiberty, she not only accepted the award, but has since reiterated her comments about Campbell (and perhaps old white men in science fiction in general), and it looks likely that Ng could be the last person to be granted that award under Campbell’s name.

      Look, there’s no doubt that Campbell had racist views which his peers found reprehensible, but the award bearing his name has been around for nearly half a century and nobody was hurt by it. In fact, we can have no heroes in our lives anymore who don’t pass the social justice litmus test, so why bother naming anything after people anymore?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I doubt anyone could withstand having their life put under a microscope after they are gone. Which is why we really should separate the person from that which they created.

        I’m also having a little trouble buying her line about “not expecting to win it” and then having the first words out of her mouth after having won be a blistering attack on Campbell and white men in SF/F in general.

        A normal person, upon an unexpected victory, would go up and pretty much say “wow, I wasn’t expecting this” or “wow, this is amazing” and not “Fuck all the white guys in SF/F and especially the dude this award is named for.”

        Just my 2 cents…


      • Supposedly, she was crafting her acceptance speech on her phone after being announced as the winner. I’m not sure how much time she had until she had to accept it on stage, but it must have been long enough for her to ponder Campbell’s being a “fascist.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is my shocked face that they are coming after you. I imagine my name is being bandied about the halls of the House of 770 Vile Aromas as well.

        Wear it as a badge of honor and welcome to the saintly realm known as the Hall of the Wrongthinkers. 😉


      • Actually, only two people really came at me hard. A third one did comment, but was actually pretty nice about it. I really do try to get along with most folks, but that isn’t always easy when I also have an opinion about most everything. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Its early yet, but hopefully they won’t get after you too much.

        My best advice when it comes to the vile place is just not respond to them. No matter what you say they are only going to respond with “Reeeeeeeeeee, you racist!” They really aren’t worth the time.

        Unless of course you’re like me and like to play with my prey for awhile, lol


      • That was the amazing part. All I had to say was that my wife and kids are Jewish and we support the Jewish state of Israel, and all the wheels fell off the cart. Well, I also mentioned that I was critical of “The Squad,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her cohorts, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley. That got me labeled “racist” as well as accused of denying human rights to the Palestinian people (yes, I do have definite opinions about the history of the middle east that fly in the face of popular belief). It’s astonishing how quickly the term “racist” is brought up, but then, for various politicians on social media, particularly twitter, it’s a commonly used phrase these days. I guess that practice has leaked into the general population.

        As an aside, I’ve made a few innocuous comments on Glyer’s fanzine over the past several weeks. They were all ignored, except for one where I pointed out a typo, which got me a nice “Thanks.” The vast majority of 770’s content is pretty neutral, and a lot of it I gloss over because I don’t have the time to read everything. It’s only topics like this one, which can be polarizing, when people (including me) get a little sparky.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, I don’t see myself as a racist or a bigot, but this guy certainly does:
    Can someone take a few minutes and read out exchange at File 770 plus re-read this blog post and see if I’m really as bad as this person makes me out to be? I’d appreciate it. I’ve tried to be as reasonable as I can with him, but I’m pretty much out of patience with his hostility, so I won’t respond to him anymore. I suppose I could have just not replied to him in the first place. He seems to be one of those fellows that shouts “hate speech” whenever you disagree with him.


    • I read the “exchange”

      At best, they come across as Orwellian, at worst haters of anyone who they perceive as to the right of them. I didn’t see the initial post where they made mention of Mussolini, so I cannot comment on that. (As a rule, I do not visit the site without a very very good reason. Too many of the people who post there rub me the wrong way.)

      FWIW, if they really want to removed the stain of racism from the award, they should not go with Astounding. It needs to either be The Analog or The Dell award for best new SF writer.

      Of course those at MiniTrue will eventually find a way to erase the real history behind the name, so who knows.


      • So far, only three people have “chastised” me, and the last one was really nice about it. The other two went from zero to rage pretty quickly. I stopped responding to the first one and just ignored the second. Actually, I looked up the first person, and his twitter account told me a great deal about why he was reacting to me in such a hostile manner. It’s interesting, because my initial comment on the current “Campbell” blog post was really benign. However, my primary critic looked up this commentary of mine, which I admit to crafting in a very snarky manner, and of course, he took offense.

        I finally decided to follow File 770 because, politics and social viewpoints aside, sometimes they do put out useful or at least interesting information. I’m one of those people who patronize a number of different data sources rather than focus staying in an echo chamber. It’s also a way to keep tabs on other opinions concerning a variety of issues, including finding links to places I might otherwise be unaware of. I mean, I’d never even heard of Jeannette Ng before this, and I was completely oblivious to Campbell’s history. Having done a bit more reading now, I believe Ng may have just tipped a set of scales that was already heavily loaded against Campbell’s name being retained on the award. It was going to happen anyway, even if she hadn’t made her comments while accepting the honor.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You have a much higher constitution that I do. I’ve seen hateful comments on that page enough to know that reading more than a articles is bad for my mental (and to some degree physical) health.

        I am very much of the “avoid it” mind set when it comes to conflict. I see fur flying, I leave. If I see it enough I stop going. I don’t mind having ideas challenged, I just have no stomach for Ad hominem attacks, or the vitriol that come from such people.

        Oh, the second person who responded isn’t worth your time. He is a known troll. (in case you didn’t already know.)


      • I noticed, Kat. As I mentioned to Richard, I gloss over most of the 770 content if, for no other reason, than I just don’t have time to read everything. I also said that as far as I can tell, at least in the main articles, the content is pretty neutral, so there’s not a lot to react to. It’s those few “sparky” folks you referenced that can definitely get in your (or my) face.


  4. Hugo Gernsback’s non-payment issues are known, have been discussed and have regularly come up during discussions of removing various and sundry names from some awards.

    There are two known instances – a tiff with H. G. Wells over reprint rights fees (though this may very well have been confusion between dollars and pounds and Wells continued to accept payments at Gernsback’s rates – $50 as opposed to 40 pounds – after that tiff so that seems to have been settled; and with Donald Wollheim who sued and won and was subsequently paid.

    But no one has yet unearthed misogyny, racism, bigotry in his writings or found anything to suggest that he held beliefs other than that science fiction should be for and enjoyed by everyone.


    • My point Steve, is that just about everyone we admire for something isn’t a perfect person and probably held beliefs we don’t agree with. If we want to avoid even the hint of impropriety in these awards, we will have to avoid naming them after human beings.


    • Does this mean, then, that you may confront him to challenge him directly to substantiate his accusations against you, and to clarify his definitions upon which they are based? Your description of the exchanges suggest that he may be a classic bully who may lack the courage to face an adamant challenge.


      • Well, that’s do-able. But doesn’t that still leave him free to spread his trollish slander to everyone else who hasn’t yet blocked him? I suppose you could post an announcement that you had blocked him, which could be read as a kind of public shaming; though its effectiveness would then depend on others joining in that same response.


      • I’ve mentioned here that I blocked him on twitter, but I really don’t want to invest anymore time in this fellow. I did scan the comments section of a few posts at File 770, but he hadn’t shown up there. For that matter, the clicks to this article from there have fallen off, so folks have moved on. I am posting a follow up in a few minutes based on related issues. I won’t be mentioning anything about it at 770, however.


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