The Golden Age

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T WILL PROBABLY BE BEST TO RETURN TO THE DAY IN 1938 WHEN I FIRST ENTERED THIS FIELD, THE DAY I MET JOHN W. CAMPBELL, JR., A DAY IN THE VERY DAWN OF WHAT HAS COME TO BE KNOWN AS THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION.”

     In addition to what is told of that day in Ron’s frequently quoted introduction to Battlefield Earth, let us provide the following: John W. Campbell was then twenty-eight years old, and not quite a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (He had failed to master the requisite languages, and so finally earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Duke University.) He had nonetheless proven himself a capable enough author of the genre with a spaceship driven epic, appropriately entitled The Machine series. In suggesting Campbell had originally resisted publishing L. Ron Hubbard and Arthur J. Burks, however, Ron is touching upon a highly significant point of science fiction history, i.e., Campbell was not initially that force majeure behind the genre’s golden age; it was the far less scientifically minded F. Orlin Tremaine, who had then held an editorial directorship over Street & Smith’s Astounding, and had indeed invited LRH and A. J. Burks into the fold because he wished an infusion of character-driven stories. Or as Ron himself explains, “he was going to get people into his stories and get something going besides machines.” Then, too, in describing himself as initially diffident and, actually, “quite ignorant” of that science fiction realm, Ron is touching upon another highly significant point: that is, what initially fueled that golden age was not, as is so frequently argued, a John Campbell vision of brave new technological wonders penned by a stable of techno-authors from MIT and Cal Tech. No, what fueled the new science fiction was the same stuff fueling all great pulp fiction – which is to say, all we have thus far examined in “this business of writing.”

The Golden Age continued...


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