Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, edited by Harry Harrison, is a memorial anthology in honour of the late John W. Campbell, Jr. John W. Campbell was arguable the most influential SF editor of his day. He discovered and published many authors who are still read and loved today. He is also known for his quirks and foibles (such as his embrace of Dianetics) and his troglodytic (even by the standards of the backward era in which he lived) attitudes toward many social issues.
All the authors who contributed to this volume were members of Campbell’s pool of authors. All are men.
Each story is accompanied by an introduction by the piece’s author (or on occasion, by Harrison). Interior art is by Frank Kelly Freas.
Introduction: The Father of Science Fiction • (1973) • essay by Isaac Asimov
A short essay on JWC’s writing and editing, also on Asimov’s interactions with him.
Lodestar • [Nicholas Van Rijn] • (1973) • novelette by Poul Anderson
How Falkayn became disenchanted with capitalism as practiced by the Polesotechnic League. After publishing this story, Anderson seems to have lost interest in the League setting. He wrote just one more League novel: the 1977 Mirkheim, which is generally regarded as not one of his best.
I can’t say that I liked Lodestar, either when I first read it or when I recently re-read it. Re-read: Anderson’s stylistic quirks bugged me. Initial read: at the time I enjoyed the Polesotechnic setting. So I was put off by Falkayn’s rejection of the setting’s initial premise. My views have since evolved.
“Thiotimoline to the Stars” • [Thiotimoline • 4] • (1973) • short story by Isaac Asimov
Another in a series of light entertainments about a material so soluble it dissolves just before you add water.
There is not much substance to this jape, but Asimov knows that the joke is slight and does not overstay his welcome.
“Something Up There Likes Me” • (1973) • short story by Alfred Bester
The tale of two nerds and their super-intelligent satellite.
This is a thin, slight work, a comedown from Bester’s early work. But it’s a lot better than the material he published later, such as Golem100 (which David Langford dismissed as “truly dire”).
“Lecture Demonstration” • [Mesklin] • (1973) • short story by Hal Clement
Clement returns to Mesklin for a demonstration of applied chemistry.
Clement often made his little lessons more interesting than they might have been by making them the pivot of life-or-death narratives. Many chemistry teachers could learn from him.
“Early Bird” • (1973) • short story by Theodore R. Cogswell and Theodore L. Thomas
A star fighter and its pilot inadvertently have sex with an alien bird. Consequently, they acquire the ability to fight pesky interstellar marauders.
Dumb, forced, unfunny, but mercifully short.
The Emperor’s Fan • [Novaria] • (1973) • novelette by L. Sprague de Camp
The ruler of a land loosely inspired by an Imperial China as mis-imagined by Europeans. The emperor acquires a magic fan which makes things disappear and reappear. He misuses it, misrules his nation, and is eventually overthrown. His betrayer’s reward is a mixed one.
Readers will anticipate the ending early in the story. This doesn’t detract; part of the fun is watching a well-deserved fate quietly approach.
Brothers • [Childe Cycle] • (1973) • novella by Gordon R. Dickson
Kensie Graeme dies and his dark and surly brother does something about it.
Moody and bleak. If you’re going to kill one of two brothers, probably best to spare the Baldur figure and take on his grim sibling.
The introduction to this story has an interesting discussion of Dickson’s 1960s difficulty in finding publishers for his longer works.
“The Mothballed Spaceship” • [Deathworld] • (1973) • short story by Harry Harrison
Deathworld’s Jason, Kerk and Meta are hired to de-mothball a five-thousand-year-old starship. The two men opt for brute force. Meta uses her head. Guess which approach works better?
I rather liked the first Deathworld book, but was disappointed in this story and the two (phoned in) sequels to the novel. Still, points for having Meta save the day with brains rather than brawn.
Black Sheep Astray • [Homer Crawford] • (1973) • novelette by Mack Reynolds
Impatient with his father’s lack of progress in reforming North Africa, Homer Crawford’s son employs a bold gambit that makes a problematic situation much, much worse.
Kids. What are you gonna do?
“Epilog” • [City] • (1973) • short story by Clifford D. Simak
Jenkins the robot returns to the Earth, the place where he was first built. Man has been transformed beyond recognition, the Dogs to whom Jenkins shifted his alliance have gone extinct, and even the Ants who took Earth for their own have fallen to inexorable entropy. What is an immortal robot to do?
Possibly the best story in the collection. Also, remarkably bleak even for City, which was generally despairing and hopeless.
Interlude • [Venus Equilateral] • (1973) • novelette by George O. Smith
Wacky fun with the Venus Equilateral boys and a teleportation device that has some undocumented features.
Total fluff. It stands out in this collection because it’s not as melancholy as the other stories.
Helix the Cat • (1973) • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
An inventor, having accidentally made a type of glass which can trap souls, agrees to install one trapped soul in the inventor’s cat, Helix. This requires some upgrades to the cat. Only the cat is pleased by the results.
It’s never a bad idea to ask oneself “will my research program create a feline Moriarty?” Mildly amusing fluff.
Probability Zero: The Population Implosion • [Probability Zero] • (1973) • short fiction by Theodore R. Cogswell
A somewhat asinine puff piece misusing math to prove (ahem) that the population is rapidly decreasing.
Mostly harmless. That is, it can do no harm now. At the time it was published, it wasn’t appreciably less factual than many articles run as science in Astounding/Analog,
Afterword (Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology) • (1973) • essay by Harry Harrison
What it says on the tin. Harrison was a fan of Campbell’s work. If he had not been, he would not have assembled this anthology.
This anthology is representative of Campbell’s pool of writers. Don’t go in expecting sparkling prose or (with a few exceptions) central characters who aren’t SWM. Most of the authors revisit established settings, and in most cases do not further enrich those settings. The overall tone is melancholy, which is perhaps appropriate to a memorial anthology.
Whatever I may think of this collection, I must applaud the approach. It’s a good way memorialize an editor, whose work is likely to have been invisible to readers. Back when Jim Baen died, I thought this could have served as a template for a memorial to him. I think the closest he got was 2005’s The World Turned Upside Down,which he co-edited. Ah, well.
Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology is out of print.