The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer began in 1973 as a way to honor exemplary science fiction and fantasy authors whose first work was published in the prior two calendar years.
Named for Campbell, whose writing and role as editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact) made him hugely influential in laying the groundwork for both the Golden Age of Science Fiction and beyond, the award has over the years recognized such nominees as George R.R. Martin, Bruce Sterling, Carl Sagan, and Lois McMaster Bujold, as well as award winners like Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, and John Scalzi.
However, Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners, and supporters.
As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever, so after much consideration, we have decided to change the award’s name to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.
The nomination and selection process will remain the same, and we will be working with the World Science Fiction Society through future Worldcon committees to ensure the award continues to remain supportive of emerging authors.
It is also important to note that this change in no way reflects on past winners or their work, and they continue to stand deserving of recognition.
Though Campbell’s impact on the field is undeniable, we hope that the conversation going forward is nuanced. George Santayana’s proverbial phrase remains as true today as when it was coined: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We neither want to paper over the flaws of those who have come before us, nor reduce them to caricatures. But we have reached a point where the conversation around the award is in danger of focusing more on its namesake than the writers it was intended to recognize and elevate, and that is something nobody—even Campbell himself—would want.
I am late to this party, but poked my head in to see what it was all about.
When I heard the name was being changed due to a speech given by an award winner, I expected something profound to have been said for it have caused such shockwaves through the community. And I thought, as an award winning writer, the critic would have said something very well to inspire such a major change.
But that was not the case. The critic opened by calling John W Campbell a “fascist”. Upon reading this I expected to discover how or in what way he was a fascist. Perhaps he supported Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy during the war. Perhaps he was a Holocaust denier.
But this was not the case. The first thing the critic thought of in defining the term fascist was “Sterile. White. Male.” Afterward she fills in a few details about “imperialism” etc, which do not rise to the definition of fascism. Hitler wasn’t fascist because he was “Sterile. White. Male.” but because of his political program. Anyone with a Political Science 101 course under their belt can tell you that. And yet here we have an award winning science fiction author who cannot muster a proper definition of an accusation leveled during a ceremony bearing the name of the man who is being accused.
Having read his Wikipedia page, probably edited by the friends or associates of this same critic, I discover that he is thought by some to be a racist. Fine, let him be accused of racism. And if that is the issue, remove the name. But where is there proof he is a fascist? And how has fascism come to be defined as “Sterile. White. Male.”
Sorry, but that’s all kinds of problematic in itself. Yet somehow we are all supposed to admire how progressive this is.
Are “sterile white men” supposed to admire this? If “sterile white males” are supposed to be the fascists we are wiping off the face of history, there is not going to be any place for “sterile white males” in the political utopia proposed by the critics. “Sterile white males” will have to form their own associations.
I’m just astonished that this statement is viewed as anything but problematic in itself, that it is being held up as a shining example of truth telling, when it is in fact racist and sexist and ableist. Imagine a literary community that cannot detect irony. That truly is astounding.