The Big Three and a Lesson About Fixing Things Wrong

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944. Heinlein and Asimov were two of The Big Three. Who was the third?

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944. Heinlein and Asimov were two of The Big Three. Who was the third?

Last weekend, Vox Day set out to score a point for Infogalactic over the Wikipedia. Infogalactic is the rival online encyclopedia Day launched in October.

…And finally, another example of how Infogalactic is fundamentally more accurate than Wikipedia due to the latter’s insistence on unreliable Reliable Sources.

Robert Heinlein on Wikipedia

Heinlein became one of the first science-fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science-fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered the “Big Three” of science fiction authors.[5][6]

Robert Heinlein on Infogalactic

He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often erroneously considered to be the “Big Three” of science fiction authors.[5][6]. The original “Big Three” were actually Heinlein, Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt.[7]

This is what winning the cultural war looks like. Getting the facts straight one at a time.

Since Vox Day’s post, an Infogalactic editor has revised the Heinlein entry to phrase the correction even more emphatically:

He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered to be the “Big Three” of science fiction authors[5][6], however the inclusion of Clarke is erroneous. The original “Big Three” were actually Heinlein, Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt.[7]

Proving that you’re never too old to learn, while I knew Heinlein, Asimov and van Vogt were Campbell’s top writers in the 1940s, I couldn’t recall ever hearing them referred to as the Big Three, whereas I had often heard that term applied to the trio named by the Wikipedia.  (Michael Moorcock wrote that Clarke was one of the Big Three in an article published just this month.) Was the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke identification really “erroneous”? I have to admit that seeing Infogalactic’s cited source was a John C. Wright essay from 2014 made me want to check further before accepting the information.

Google led me to the Fancyclopedia (1944). Originally, “the Big Three” was a label 1930s fans applied to the three dominant prozines. Obviously at some later point they also endowed it on three sf writers. When did that happen, and who were the writers?

Isaac Asimov supplies the answer in I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994):

There was no question that by 1949 I was widely recognized as a major science fiction writer. Some felt I had joined Robert Heinlein and A.E.  van Vogt as the three-legged stool on which science fiction now rested.

As it happened, A.E. van Vogt virtually ceased writing in 1950, perhaps because he grew increasingly interested in Hubbard’s dianetics. In 1946, however, a British writer, Arthur C. Clarke, began to write for ASF, and he, like Heinlein and van Vogt (but unlike me), was an instant hit.

By 1949, the first whisper of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov as “the Big Three” began to be heard, This kept up for some forty years, for we all stayed alive for decades and all remained in the science fiction field.

Therefore, John C. Wright (in “The Big Three of Science Fiction” from Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth) correctly stated that Heinlein, Asimov and van Vogt were “the three major writers of Campbell’s Golden Age.” (The Science Fiction Encyclopedia also calls them “the big three”.)

But Infogalactic, unfortunately motivated by a need to get in a jab at the Wikipedia, has oversold Wright’s argument and missed a chance to be really accurate. The truth is that both trios were “the Big Three,” each in their own era.

60 thoughts on “The Big Three and a Lesson About Fixing Things Wrong

  1. I think the most common phrasing I hear is along the lines of “the Big Three were Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein” often followed by “…but many argue for Van Vogt instead of Clarke” or less commonly a suggestion that Van Vogt was original Big Three before being replaced by Clarke (i.e. exactly what you suggest.)
    The Wikipedia article covers itself with the word “often” – it is the most common formulation of who the Big Three were, but not the only one.
    I think the question they really need to ask themselves is why they’re having this debate in Heinlein’s entry? They could just write that he’s a member of the Big Three and leave the debate about who they are for the entries on Clarke and Van Vogt.
    I imagine this is all motivated by their ongoing efforts to smear Clarke (for which see last year’s SSaRR)

  2. supergee: Is Clarke purged because he was foreign or because he was gay?

    Because he was gay — but interestingly, Asimov is not being purged, despite being a notorious groper of women.

  3. Wikipedia of course would not regard a personal blog like JCW’s as a reliable source.

  4. Wait, you’re saying this is all relative to your frame of reference?!? That’s crazy talk! I suggest you familiarize yourself with the theory of luminiferous authors. These things don’t happen in a vacuum…

  5. These people have absolutely no idea of how Wikipedia works and the argument about “unreliable Reliable Sources” is just stupid. Until 2008, this was part of the Van Vogt page:

    “Many fans of that era would have named van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov as the three greatest science fiction writers.”

    This was removed as no source could at that time be found for the statement. However, Asimov’s memoirs could absolutely be used as a source. The only thing it would have taken would have been an edit of the Wikipedia page and then perhaps an entry to the talk-page.

    So this is mostly Beale trying to find an excuse to look stupid again.

  6. I really don’t have a horse in this race, but I’m happy to see some appreciation for Mr. Van Vogt.

  7. @Supergee

    Being British isn’t really being foreign to Beale. They had an empire over enough untermensch to really look good to Teddy. I’m suspecting it’s gay cooties he’s worried about.

  8. What the heck? I thought the Big Three were Walt Willis, James White, Chuch Harris and Bob Shaw.

  9. puzzling … most people over the age of 40, regardless of whether they are SF fans, have heard of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke. Maybe especially Clarke, due to the movies based on his books. Not so much Van Vogh. You can define “Big 3” however you like, but certainly based on popularity (i.e. who’s heard of you) I think Clarke has to be number 1 or 2.

  10. As someone who lives in the suburbs of Detroit, I assure you “The Big Three” are Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors! 🙂

  11. The Big Three are Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy.

    Close. Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Booberry.

  12. I’m really not sure what exact points are scored here by making the corrections on his own site and not, say, making an edit on Wikipedia proper.

    I also seem to recall him once saying that his site would vary based on its understanding of the reader’s own ideology. So far it seems more to be simply doing Conservapedia2. Did I dream up that statement?

  13. Iran, Iraq, North Korea?

    Harry, Hermione, Ron?

    Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh?

    Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop?

  14. I denounce you all as irreligious or unreligious or religious hating mumpnuts or whatever the overwrought Wrightian term I’m supposed to use is! It’s the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Heathens! Morlocks! Lutherans!

  15. Water, Barley, Hops!

    (I think you have to hope that the yeast shows up on its own.)

  16. It’s the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Heathens! Morlocks! Lutherans!

    So, wait. Is the Father the Heathen and the Holy Ghost is Lutheran?

    Around these parts, the Big Three are Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. But I don’t think Captain America is Lutheran.

  17. Carrots, onion, and celery, if you’re doing mirepoix. Which reminds me, I have a split pea soup to get to.

  18. Kurt Busiek: But I don’t think Captain America is Lutheran.

    He’s shy and a bachelor, but not Norwegian.

  19. ROFL at/with all y’all. 😉 Also, a totally different kind of laughter at (but not with) Beale’s silliness.

  20. @Helen

    Carrots, onion, and celery, if you’re doing mirepoix. Which reminds me, I have a split pea soup to get to.

    Carrots, celeriac and leek for Suppengrün and green peppers, celery and onion for the holy trinity of Cajun cooking.

    @MikeGlyer

    He’s shy and a bachelor, but not Norwegian.

    Nor German either.

  21. Cora: Nor German either.

    For sure. (I was slipping in a Garrison Keillor reference which you may not know. Your comeback was good, regardless.)

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