Daily Trivia : ASF magazine…The story of a visionary editor

Astounding Stories was one of the most popular science fiction magazines in America in the 1930’s. It was a pulp magazine which published stories that were action packed and fantastic, though they often had little to do with real science.

A state of affairs that changed when John W Campbell took over as the editor of the magazine in 1937. Campbell changed the name of the magazine to Astounding Science-Fiction (and later to Analog), and he transformed it. He wanted to change its reputation from that of a pulp fiction publication to one based on real science.

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He recruited and championed writers like Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon. He insisted that the stories published in the magazine should have convincing science as well as convincing characters. He preferred uncomfortable ideas that would push readers, and he had no qualms insisting that his writers completely change the endings of stories if he didn’t like them.

Isaac Asimov said of Campbell that, “What he wanted were people who would write stories in which the science was realistic. Not realistic in the sense that they couldn’t go out into the blue yonder, not realistic in the sense that they couldn’t extrapolate wildly, but realistic in the sense that people who worked in science resembled people who actually worked in science. That scientists acted the way scientists do, that engineers acted the way engineers do — and in short, that the scientific culture be represented accurately.”

According to Brian Aldiss, Campbell, “forced his writers to think much harder about what they were trying to say, and clamped down on the Gosh-wowery.”

His training as a scientist also aided his stable of authors, many of whom would receive notations back with their manuscripts that helped with the technical side of the fiction. No longer satisfied with gadgetry and action per se, Campbell demanded that his writers try to think about how science and technology might really develop in the future-and, most importantly, how those changes would affect the lives of human beings.

This new sophistication soon made Astounding Science Fiction the undisputed leader in the field, and Campbell began to think the old title was too “sensational” to reflect what the magazine was actually doing. He chose Analog in part because he thought of each story as an “analog simulation” of a possible future, and in part because of the close analogy he saw between the imagined science in the stories he was publishing and the real science being done in laboratories around the world.

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One of the key resources that Campbell was able to draw upon was a new generation of authors who had grown up reading the science fiction stories from the pulp era. They didn’t have to define the genre that they worked in: Within the long boundaries of the genre, they were able to create and respond to other stories. With the focus on realism over the sensational, Campbell had set the tone for the stories that would come over the next several decades.

As of 2013, Analog Science Fiction and Fact is the longest running continuously published magazine of its genre

Sources:

writer’s almanac

Analog science fiction website.

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