A Statement from the Editor

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.

119 comments

  1. Bravo, folks! A well-written and -argued announcement, and a remarkably quick reaction to the current controversy. I fear your hopes for a nuanced conversation about SF’s past will be in vain, but I appreciate your optimism.

    Adjusting to increased diversity is difficult for institutions, even ones that consider themselves forward-looking. Thank you for showing how it’s done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to differ, to expect any person from several generations or more back in time to hold to the same opinions and sensibilities commonly held today is…. astounding and amazing. Let alone to expect them to hold the “best” opinions – ie the opinions you yourself hold.

      By that criteria, you may get to feel the warm fuzzies about how morally superior you yourself are to individuals of the past, but it’s like getting a participation award instead of an award for actually doing something outstanding or exceptional. Weak sauce. If you yourself were born in Campbell’s time, exposed to the society norms he was exposed to, and surrounded by the influences and people he was surrounded by the chances are pretty damned good you would not hold identical beliefs to the ones you hold today.

      By this criteria, you can easily make a case for every past person being unworthy of honor or recognition. Heck, the mob mentality in play here doesn’t even have to go back a generation or two, if you were a jerk at the age of 13 and it’s documented on social media, that’s grounds for being a non-person.

      The John Campbell Award isn’t intended to honor Mr. Campbell or it’s recipients for their social wokeness or political opinion, at least that’s not the stated reason. If you want to set up an award for that, set up a new one instead of hijacking an existing one and erasing from history those who broke the ground that made Science Fiction (or whatever) a Living Breathing Thing. Campbell certainly did that, and whatever else you can say about the man he deserves more respect for that than this erasure entails.

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  2. Pingback: Warm Equation
    1. No offense, but your comment makes no sense. How would you take it as an instruction?

      Also, as a casual observer, it seems like the industry is doing great.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So its the Astounding Wokeness Award then, I see.

    I subscribed to you for more than 20 years. Dropped it not too long ago due to ever duller stories and ever advancing political correctness. My decision is only confirmed by this sad and shameful announcement.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Bravo!
    John Campbell’s editorial legacy is assured, and rightfully so.
    His views on race (and other sensitive issues) shouldn’t be relegated to the dust bin and forgotten, but shouldn’t be associated with this honor. I applaud the change.

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    1. I agree, Lucius. In a way it pains me to say it, since I admire Campbell’s early “Golden Age” editorial work, and like some of his “Don A. Stuart” stories, but I think Analog’s latest decision was the right one.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this is a mistake, and a bad one, as bad as ALA’s changing of the Laura Ingles Wilder award. It’ll be interesting to see what future award winners do with their award speeches. I doubt they’ll be about the honor of winning the award.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think it’s a great change! I also applaud the ALA no longer naming an award after a writer who had her main characters speak approvingly of the slaughter of Native Americans and First Nations people. (At least Mark Twain had Huckleberry Finn, the hero, act against his “morals” to save Jim, and it was clear the reader was supposed to recognize that society was wrong, not Huck.) I’m saying this as someone who loved the books as a child, even though some of the words were hurtful.
      Key quotes from Little House on the Prairie:
      “There were no people” on the prairie, the line went. “Only Indians lived there.” “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

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      1. And yet, there are other quotes throughout the book that put far more nuance to that whole attitude.

        https://www.pamelasmithhill.com/blog/2018/7/13/little-house-on-the-prairie-is-laura-ingalls-wilder-obsolete-part-one

        Still, that’s not the essence of why I think *THIS* was a mistake. I think they just turned the award ceremony from a celebration of a person’s writing, to an opportunity to stand up on a soap box and rant about whatever “injustice”, real or imagined, the author cares to come up with.

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      2. Tara, thanks for linking the article. You are right — there’s a lot more nuance in the series. Yet the series is for Grades 4 – 8, and I wonder if that level of historical and racial discussion is appropriate for that age group (compared to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is taught at the high school level). Like the 8-year-old Dakota tribal girl who came home in tears after hearing her third-grade teacher read the infamous “dead Indian” passage.

        https://beta.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/yes-little-house-on-the-prairie-is-racially-insensitive–but-we-should-still-read-it/2018/03/12/8e021422-1e40-11e8-9de1-147dd2df3829_story.html
        I am disturbed that you described Jeannette Ng’s speech as soap boxing and ranting. You realize that “In Sixth Column, written by Heinlein and commissioned by Campbell, the United States is invaded by Pan Asians and the story ends with the invention of a race-selective weapon that kills the “slanty” and “flat face”.”? In other words, people like Ng are to be killed in Campbell’s fantasy. (During Campbell’s lifetime, might I remind you, Japanese Americans were rounded up and placed into internment camps for having the wrong ethnic background.)

        Same reason that the World Fantasy award stopped using Lovecraft’s name. Pretty damn awkward to hand an award to black authors when Lovecraft HATED black people, and was considered extreme even by the standards of his day.

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      3. Even Robert Heinlein thought he went too far, and told him in a letter to stop spewing nonsense. He was particularly incensed by the way Campbell was attempting to influence L. Ron Hubbard during WWII, which is saying something.

        I think this is a great idea.

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  6. Though Analog continues to host a myriad of great new writers, some of the recent selections have dulled the anticipation I have enjoyed for over forty years of reading pleasure. Please do remember the heritage of past editors and continue to strive for stories that are outstanding, regardless of irrelevant demographics.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. So now it’s not OK to use the name of the man without whom Analog would not exist today. You all continue to celebrate your social virtue together. Continue to publish on the shoulders of people you unfairly judge and hate, and I’ll go over to bn.com and cancel my electronic subscription now. I bought my first issue of Analog in 1978. I bought my last in 2019. I should have cancelled a long time ago. Good luck with your woke selves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Campbell died almost fifty years ago. Saying that he’s the reason Analog is still publishing is roughly equivalent to claiming that the Ladies Home Journal hung on as long as it did thanks to the ongoing influence of Edward C. Bok.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you ever read any pre-Campbell science fiction magazines? Saying that the field would have died out without him (given, admittedly, that Weinbaum had died) is an opinion hardly restricted to those who approved of Campbell’s political writing — Asimov, for instance IIRC.

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  8. Excellent decision. Nobody’s burning Campbell’s works here, simply acknowledging that it’s easier to honour great authors if we *don’t* name the award after somebody who considered them subhuman.

    One of the biggest draws of SF is the idea of progress, that the world of our grandchildren could be better than the world of our grandparents. I’d like to think that improvement is not only measured in flying cars and teleporters, but also in improvements in society.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The “conversation around the award” is the problem, not the giant for whom it was named. And it was named by people far more cognizant of JWC’s “views” than the petty minds ineptly and inaptly “conversing” about it today. Renaming an historic award for ideological and politically-correct objections to the ideas expressed in a previous century says more about modern indifference to freedom of speech than it does about honoring the young writers who are supposed to practicing same. Nice work.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. This is terrible. As more and more of our cultural heritage is labeled as wrongthink by the politically correct establishment of this postmodern era, history is being rewritten. As a result, one day, the “famous quote” at the end of this article will come full circle.
    1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. How many have even read Campbell’s editorials? I was raised on them. I’ve always said that Campbell taught me to think. Thinking was what his editorials emphasized. I most vividly remember the one he wrote about the Dean Drive. He stated that it did not matter to him whether it worked or not. Because it appeared to work, from the one time he saw it, he felt it should receive a thorough examination to settle the question one way or the other and that did not happen. He got heavily criticized and still is. It’s amazing how many people look for reasons to diss him, such as mocking him for saying the Dean Drive worked when it didn’t. I’m using this as an example. I think every accusation against him should be weighed in light of the Dean Drive. And here’s another point. Has anyone looked at what sf was like before Campbell?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes. This. Very much this. The name change does nothing to the past, but it does help move things forward. There will be folks who will object to the name change. Some of them will even have well thought out ideas on the matter. Some will object because they simply don’t like change. However, the reasons provided by the editorial board for the change seem sound to me and I support the move. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have never read an issue of this magazine but I think I will start. Any organization that can acknowledge the flaws of their past leaders while not forgetting them deserves my business. This name change is a well done thing, thank you.

    Like

  14. Don’t worry, we will still honor the memory of this great man, a provocateur whose legacy is being judged by a mob who has probably never read a complete article of his. A man with so many ideas seems to have had a few that rub the wrong way, shocking! Don’t you think these “objectionable” ideas weren’t criticized at the time? Any criticism of his support of pseudoscience? No, just race right? He had lots of wacky ideas, and maybe, just maybe, some good ones. He is sadly not part of the 100%’ers. That is, right-thinking about everything all the time. I suppose in the not-to-distant future the “Astounding Award” will have it’s name changed because it the magazine supported the slaughter of animals for food!

    Paging Harlan Ellison . . . too bad, he can’t help us now.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a foolish decision. As at least one commented has already pointed out, Campbell’s flaws were even better known to his contemporaries than they are today, even more so his virtues. It’s interesting to note that even though the awards were established after “his” magazine had ceded its dominant position in the field and published a relatively small proportion of the st of the time, Campbell nevertheless published roughly half of the Hugo-nominated fiction written by women, and the first such work to win the award. His role in identifying and nurturing talented writers should not be so casually dismissed.

    And what is actually gained by the name change? The writings that have proved so offensive were, after all, generally published, often prominently, in the magazine whose name the award now bears. And the pre-Campbell iterations of that magazine were rife with racism, sexism, imperialist attitudes, and genocidal. Is honoring a magazine with that kind of history really an improvement?

    My collegiate alma mater recently courted controversy when it replaced the name of a notorious pro-slavery political figure from a prominent part of the institution. When surveyed, I opposed the change, saying that erasing established history to fit today’s sensibilities is poor practice, and that it is important to remember that today’s verities are no less likely than yesterday’s to prove deeply flawed as time passes. Hiding the unpleasant aspects of history only impedes us from making better decisions. In a few decades, should we revoke Jeannette Ng’s award because her championing of the affluent, Westernized citizens of Hong Kong against political repression while ignoring the ongoing cultural and religious genocide of the Uighur minority by the same government may reflect the same sort of attitudes about cultural and ethnic superiority that underlie Campbell’s offensive pronouncements?

    Liked by 2 people

  16. “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”

    That conversation is woke ONLY by those with no understanding or appreciation of history. The shallowness of the moderns is difficult to comprehend.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Well done and well reasoned! The negative remarks here are all of the pretty basic straight, white men who are afraid of becoming obsolete in sci-fi variety. I wouldn’t worry too much about the kinds of folks who object to fiction with characters who are minorities.

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  18. Good decision! You can’t have an award recognizing new talents named after a racist gatekeeper who would have tried to to keep the award winners out from the business, purely based on their skin colour. That is not how you welcome new people.

    A lot of people here talk about recognizing the legacy of Campbell. That is easy! Make contact with the next Worldcon, that would be CONzealand, and say you want to prepare a memorial display for his name. Also book a fan table to talk about his legacy. You can continue to do that every year, as long as you feel his memory should be honoured.

    This is how the Heinlein Society does things. You can do it too.

    Like

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