For some it is about marking territory

Good news from the people at Analog magazine – the Campbell Award for New Writers is going to be renamed the Astounding Award.

A swift (in the end) change and a clever new name that connects the future of the award with its past.

The story is well covered elsewhere, so I’m off to look at the inevitable grumbling. And where better to find said grumbling than Brad Torgersen. In the wake of Jeannette Ng’s speech at the Hugo Awards, Brad declared:

“I was one of the very last Campbell Award nominees who actually respected the Campbell legacy. I was proud to hold a Hard SF flame aloft, in the woke murk of the (then new) decade.”

Brad Torgersen, Facebook 23 August

For Brad this was a matter of ‘erasure’, which is weird the more I think about it. Campbell doesn’t cease to exist when his name isn’t attached to an award. The same rhetoric was used when the World Fantasy Award dropped the weird H.P.Lovecraft bust as its award trophy. We were told that Lovecraft was being erased. Several years later and there doesn’t seem to be any drop-off in discussion about H.P.Lovecraft. Far from being erased, work about or inspired by Lovecraft is as prevalent as ever — what had already changed was HOW people talked about and looked at his ‘legacy’.

John W Campbell isn’t being erased either. Frankly, if the only way you’d ever know that he ever existed was that an award had ‘Campbell’ attached to it then he would have already been erased. The award may as well have been named after a can of soup. Actual erasure is when people avoid the actual history of a person. A big part of this name change was the OPPOSITE of erasure and specifically Alec Nevala-Lee’s historical work Astounding that actually looked at Campbell’s legacy.

Brad has added a comment to his earlier post as a reaction to the news:

“This was inevitable. After they trashed the World Fantasy Award (hating on Lovecraft) it was only a matter of time before they came for Campbell. No old white dead men shall survive the Great Wokeness of these sorry, silly decades. Heinlein was right. It’s the Crazy Years.”

Now Brad says some silly things but even he isn’t so poor at structuring thought to really think that Campbell now just vanishes in a puff of wokeness. In fact, looking over Brad’s own posts about Campbell it’s also clear that all he presents about Campbell is a very vague idea. It’s about ‘legacy’ and traditions and hand-waving around something. It’s very much not about the man himself. Campbell simply is a marker.

For Brad having Campbell’s name on an award was no more and no less than a territorial mark. The removal of the mark is an affront because it is a loss of territory. The only question is who does he think this imaginary territory belongs to?


45 responses to “For some it is about marking territory”

  1. Given Brad’s minimal knowledge of the history of science fiction, and his apparently extremely limited reading of the works of the era that he keeps hearkening back to, the fact that he has only a vague handwavy notion of what Campbell was actually like is unsurprising. Frankly, it would shock me if Brad has read more than one or two of Campbell’s actual stories. I also have significant doubts as to whether he has actually read any of Campbell’s infamous editorials.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Brad would need to have a better grasp of actual science to be able to write “hard SF”. I recall reading one of his stories where he confused velocity for acceleration. I also recall another where he massively miscalculated the fuel mass for a starship, and when someone pointed this out his response was “I don’t have enough time to bother with getting the details right”.

        Brad may think he writes “hard SF”, but he seems to be too ignorant and lazy to actually do that.

        Liked by 4 people

      • The hero Heinlein took the time to get that orbital maths right, and he didn’t even have computers to help him. Shouldn’t his self-appointed successors emulate him?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Totally agree! Also his editorials, and other (less famous) stories he had edited are really something.

      He has the “idea” of these magazines, I don’t believe he had hold one in his hand ever.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the new name, and I love the new World Fantasy trophy. Both are improvements and better fits for what their awards honor, regardless of what you think of Campbell or Lovecraft.

    (Recently there were two sister websites named LoveKnitting and LoveCrochet which were combined and renamed LoveCrafts. So now I keep expecting to see nothing but patterns for Cthulhu toys and like items there. Can’t say I’m a fan of that name change.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It was… entertaining?… to watch that guy who stopped by at File 770 to complain about “erasing” history, and the way several people calmly tried to explain to him exactly what you said – that if you keep the name or the statue and insist the history doesn’t matter, *that* is erasure – with each of them sharing examples like “I grew up not knowing anything about the history behind the name of such-and-such thing, but then when people campaigned to change the name of the thing, that’s how I learned the history.” And this guy was like: “You may have a point… but, then again, think about this! I grew up not knowing anything about the history behind the name of such-and-such thing, but then when people campaigned to change the name of the thing, that’s how I learned the history!” In other words, the same exact point they had made, but not recognized by him as such. I haven’t seen such a pure failure of reading comprehension in some time.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Well, Brad answered that question, didn’t he? Whether or not he meant to.

    “No old dead white men will survive.”

    The real question is why should he think SF (and fantasy/horror, re: Lovecraft) should belong to said old dead white men?

    Liked by 7 people

    • Surviving is a pretty neat trick when you’re dead, independent of whether you’re old or white. Of course, in horror you have to worry about those old guys clawing their way out of their graves and coming after you.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Brad is accidentally right. These are the crazy years. It’s just who’s causing them that he’s a little confused about.

    Quoth Camestros The only question is who does he think this imaginary territory belongs to?

    The obvious answer is: Himself, and his fellow white, right-wing ‘hard’ male writers. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists.To Brad, those are the only people qualified to own the territory. All the rest of us are mere interlopers who must be punished if we dare to claim that we belong here too.

    And of course it’s so entertaining to see him impotently ranting at the sky, unable to change even the slightest bit of the way SF is evolving and leaving him behind.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Now Brad says some silly things but even he isn’t so poor at structuring thought to really think that Campbell now just vanishes in a puff of wokeness.

    You have a far higher opinion of his intelligence than I do, sir!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “We’ve lost power!”

    “What power?”

    “Old dead white man power!”

    “Is that a thing? Because they still have plenty of them in school curriculum.”

    “All old dead white men must be revered!”

    “Even the liberal ones?”

    “Um, no, not the liberal ones.”

    “Astounding Magazine was full of old dead white man writers and editors, so now the name honors all of them instead of just one of them.”


    “Old dead white man power lives!”

    “There you go.”

    Liked by 5 people

  8. “I was one of the very last Campbell Award nominees who actually respected the Campbell legacy.”
    That’s a bit of a slam against Brad’s own SP nominees for the Astounding, isn’t it?
    Mind you, Brad chose to deliberately keep out Andy Weir in his first year of eligibility despite him being a great example of what Brad claimed to want, so it’s not like he’s well-known for his consistency. Luckily Weir got through next year, of course.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Perhaps he should be pushing the Dragons to name their categories in honour of these authors: the Campbell Award for Science Fiction, the Lovecraft Award for Horror etc. Two birds with one stone – the authors’ legacies are preserved, and the Dragons’ SEO problems are fixed.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. He is jealous that he missed the time when men like Campbell would give give mediocre White male writers, like himself, opportunities at the expense of everyone else.

    I wonder how many careers Campbell stymied due to his racism. Or how many great writers turned to other genres because they didn’t feel welcome. Of course, Brad doesn’t give a shit about them.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I tend to think Torgersen is following the Campbellian tradition in his take on life too, avoiding all social nuances for a hard take on reality from a black and white technological perspective. I mean, his talk about “hating on Lovecraft”.

    Heck, I *love* Lovecraft. I wrote fan fiction in school. Played Call of Cthulhu. Searched with my friends for all movies based on his works. Read all the books. The biographies. I once had a friend calling me from Syria, enthusiastically shouting that he had found a temple to Dagon. Then we chanted “Ia! Ia! Ftaghn!” over the phone while he sacrificed a cheese sandwich (I think it was). The joy his works and all the derivates has given me is astounding (see what I did there). But even though I love Lovecraft, I still do not think his bust was fitting trophy for the “World Fantasy Award”. And the new trophy is gorgeous. I do admitt that I might have been more reluctant to change it if it had been a horror award.

    And this is where Torgersen runs into a wall, because from his Campbellian Perspective, things are mutually exclusive. Love-Hate doesn’t exist. You can’t love Lovecrafts work and importance if you also hate is racism. You can’t hold the Cthulhu Mythos in high regard if you don’t think Lovecraft is the best fit for a trophy for a Fantasy Award. It is either or.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yup, you can also like both hard SF and fantasy like Jeannette Ng’s (and everything in between that the Best New Writer winners/finalists represent over the years). Actually, Ng’s novel isn’t so un-Campbellian if you realize the scientific detail that went into the pendulum sun itself.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Plus Campbell was also the editor of “Unknown” Magazine, where ‘Under the Pendulum Sun’ would have fit right in, but again, we’re dealing Campbell the Eidolon, not Campbell the Actual Person…

        Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks for that link to Jeannette Ng’s essay Laura. A nice insight into her process.
        I’m only physics adjacent myself, but have done similar calculations for fun in my youth

        Liked by 2 people

  12. In addition to everything else, I’m darkly amused that people claim that Campbell is being “erased” or whatever when we’re still regularly giving him Retro Hugo Awards.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. And yet he went out of his way so he wouldn’t have to wear the Campbell* diadem should he win…

    * Does the regalia continue under the Astounding Award?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Laura, the tiara wasn’t there- I’m sure Jeannette will get it at some point. Lavie Tidhar has it, AFAIK, and since he lives in israel, it’s been difficult. I believe they did.

    Liked by 2 people

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