Campbell Name Could Come Off Award

The South China Morning Post reports that Dell Magazine, sponsor of the John W, Campbell Award for Best New Writer, “admits it is considering renaming the award and it is only a matter of finding the right time” — “Hong Kong winner of John W. Campbell sci-fi award stands by ‘fascist’ comments as new name for accolade is considered”.

The interviewer who spoke to Jeannette Ng about her award acceptance speech at Dublin 2019 also reached out to Analog editor Trevor Quachri and here is what she learned:

The controversy has not gone unnoticed. Trevor Quachri, editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (the science fiction magazine is owned by Dell Magazine, which sponsors the award), admits he is considering renaming the award and it is only a matter of finding the right time, given it is Analog’s 90th anniversary next year.

Reading an early draft of Nevala-Lee’s book on Campbell prompted the decision, says Quachri.

“It’s a nuanced account of [one of ] the major figures of the era, which neither papers over their flaws nor reduces them to caricatures. But it does make clear that some of the things that we may have once been able to dismiss as idiosyncrasies or being ‘of their time’ went beyond that.”

The article follows the quotes with this comment:

Ultimately, the major purpose of the prize is to honour and elevate new writers, which should not be overshadowed by the contentious name of the award. Just as important as recognising how white men like Campbell have limited the voices and perspectives in science fiction is realising and celebrating how things have changed.

The Campbell Award is owned by Dell Magazine which publishes Analog.

[Thanks to Hampus Eckerman for the story.]

71 thoughts on “Campbell Name Could Come Off Award

  1. @Cassy B: Just like almost every American who doesn’t own two mansions and a yacht, or isn’t homeless on the street, consider themselves “middle class”, provided there isn’t a reason not to — I’ve heard of a congresscritter who said ~”No, I’m just folks — ‘middle class’ is making $200K-$300K/yr.” (This was some years (decades?) ago, and attitudes may have changed — or in his region, they may not have.)

  2. It never fails to amaze me that people will rail against “political correctness” and “isms”, when what they call “PC” (generally with a sneer) is what I call “common courtesy.”

    Honestly, it looks to me like they are fighting for the right to behave like assholes. My GRANDMOTHER taught me to be polite and courteous, and to treat others as I wish to be treated. And she was born in 1898, so I challenge anyone to call her “politically correct”, or valuing “isms” more than people.

  3. Danny Sichel:

    “Terrible person, yes. Doesn’t deserve the honor, sure, not arguing about that. But I had the impression that it was named for him because of his role in discovering new talent?”

    Absolutely. But since then we have had a discussion about his role in keeping away fresh talent as a gatekeeper. Such as when he refused to publish Delaney, because his story included a black hero.

    When Hugo winners think of him as someone who would have tried to stop their careers based on their skin colours, his name is no longer fitting for an award for new talents.

  4. bill:

    “Today, -isms are more important than they used to be in the perception of Fandom, and what dead white guys did half a century ago, not so much.”

    This is such a strange comment. The whole discussion has been about what Campbell has done, said and written. That has been the important part of all discussions I’ve read. Some people has seen as it enormously important to instead discuss the definitions of different “isms”, thinking it would change something, but those have been minority.

  5. Apropos of not much, there are several streets in Glendale, Arizona named after some of my wife’s high school classmates. But the only claim to fame for “Diana”, “Ruth” and “Alice” is that they were the daughters of the developer who first built homes in the area.

  6. @Bill Yes, fandom is more conscious of, and more willing to criticize, racism and sexism. This is a problem why?

    We honor those we think deserve it, and “he was influential umpteen years ago” is not sufficient reason without considering how he used that influence. My alma mater recently took Calhoun’s name off one of the residential colleges, because the administration concluded that they can do better than “alumnus who is famous for his pro-slavery political career.” It is now named for a Navy admiral who was one of the founders of computer science. And, not so incidentally, the first one named after a woman.

  7. @JJ: I’m pretty certain that a lot of people did not bother reading Nevala-Lee’s book because they assumed that it was a hagiography of the men named in the title. I hope that they will read it now.

    I passed on reading it because a (favorable) review I read of it implied a large chunk of the book is about L. Ron Hubbard – about whom I already know more than I care to. Is this not the case? Because that would make it much more interesting to me.

  8. A portion of the book is about Hubbard. It is interspersed with the portions of the book that are about Asimov, Heinlein, and Campbell.

  9. @PhilRM

    I definitely found out more about Hubbard than I wanted to know – he was the worst character in a group that set a pretty low bar at times – but he wasn’t the main focus of the book and I found the whole history fascinating.

  10. Yeah, I found the Hibbard chapters the least pleasant- but still rate the book very highly.

  11. Agree. The book is top notch in my book but some of the revelations about the principals…yeah.

  12. @Vickie Rosenzweig

    @Bill Yes, fandom is more conscious of, and more willing to criticize, racism and sexism. This is a problem why?

    It’s not a problem, and nothing I said implies that it is. It is an observation.

    When the Campbell award was initiated, people overlooked (if they knew about it) his racist writings. No one did any kind of review of his past writings to vet his beliefs. They simply recognized that he had been instrumental in developing the careers of many of the important writers of the previous decades, felt that was worth honoring, and named the award for him.

    Now, when a new award is started (Lodestar) or an old one is renamed (Astounding, Wilder Medal), sponsors avoid naming them after people. So you end up with anodyne names.

    (I still don’t see how naming the award after the magazine that Campbell edited is significantly better than naming it after Campbell. Astounding is where he established the sterile white male tone “that still haunts the genre to this day.” Would a black person receiving the award feel honored, knowing that blacks were excluded from Astounding? I’m not black, so I wouldn’t presume to know. But if Campbell was so problematic that the award should have been renamed, I can’t see that naming it for his soapbox is an improvement.)

    (Now that the precedent is firmly in place, I’m waiting for someone to recognize that Hugo Gernsback was racist and sexist and call for the renaming of the Hugos.)

  13. @ P J Evans — rather than saying snarky stuff, if there’s something I wrote that is either factually wrong or that you disagree with, feel free to respond in kind. Perhaps you think that people were just as concerned with casual racism in SF 40-50 years ago as they are now.

  14. Lets all be passive aggressive and talk through speculation, innuendos, alternative futures and questions without answers.

    That is the best way to avoid voicing any opinions at all, but still show approval/disapproval in a way that can always be denied.

    It will make for fun discussions.

  15. @bill – you know which people were concerned about casual racism 40-50 years ago?

    the people against whom the racism was directed. they were people too.

  16. I think Astounding is a nice compromise. The magazine had that name before Campbell, and he made a point of changing it later. Perhaps because he had wanted to for a while and didn’t think it fit anymore…hmmm.

  17. @laura
    He changed it in the mid-1960s, IIRC. There was an editorial where he explained his reasons.

  18. @Bill —

    I still don’t see how naming the award after the magazine that Campbell edited is significantly better than naming it after Campbell. Astounding is where he established the sterile white male tone “that still haunts the genre to this day.”

    That one’s easy.

    Calling it “Astounding” honors everyone who was ever published in that magazine — and it wasn’t their fault that Campbell had the policies and beliefs that he did. It’s also a cool name — “Hey, everyone, I won the Astouding Award, ’cause I really am that astounding!”

    (Now that the precedent is firmly in place, I’m waiting for someone to recognize that Hugo Gernsback was racist and sexist and call for the renaming of the Hugos.)

    You’ll probably be waiting a long time. From what little I know about Gernsback, it sounds like he was a pretty progressive guy for his time.

  19. @P J Evans
    From Wikipedia (for whatever that’s worth, although I remember reading something along these lines in the Astounding book):

    In 1960, Campbell changed the title of the magazine to Analog Science Fiction & Fact; he had long wanted to get rid of the word “Astounding” in the title, which he felt was too sensational.

    So I think it’s kinda poetic that his reasons behind changing the magazine name are somewhat akin to those behind changing the award name. People have been talking about a need for a change for a while. And the old name had become “sensational” because, as Trevor Quachri said in his statement, “the conversation around the award is in danger of focusing more on its namesake than the writers it was intended to recognize and elevate.”

    I also think it’s notable that while the Astounding name is largely tied to Campbell, the magazine was already established a few years before he took over, and the name was one he eventually rejected. So again I think it makes the award’s new name kinda poetic.

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