John W Campbell: Encounter With A Batshit Freak

What with the Hugo Awards this weekend there’s been a lot of- very justified- talk about Astounding editor John W Campbell’s horrendous politics and views on ethnic minorities. The man was dreadful and people have been saying this for decades.

But another facet of the man is often overlooked: he was a complete tool. A gullible dickhead, a credulous buffoon with a stuffed puffin smeared in peanut butter inside his skull. An utter tit.

Alfred Bester, a sci-fi author who was never nostalgic about Campbell, once recounted a tale to Tangent Magazine of he and Campbell’s first meeting in Campbell’s office regarding a story sale. Things get increasingly absurd. The whole interview can be found in the Winter issue of Tangent, 1977.

“Anyway, we sit down and talk (and I’ve got a sense of humor, and that’s why I could never get along with him).*

Anyway, Campbell said to me out of the clear blue sky, “Of course you don’t know it, you have no way of knowing it yet, but psychiatry–psychiatry as we know it–is dead.”

And I said, “Oh, Mr. Campbell, surely you’re joking.”

And he said, “Psychiatry as we know it is finished.”

And I said, “If you mean the various Freudian schools and the quarreling that’s going on between them…”

He looked at me and said, “No, what I mean is that psychiatry is finished. L. Ron Hubbard has ended psychiatry.”

I said, “Really?”

“Ron is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”

“Has John gone yet?” Alfie Bester: no man’s Scientologist

And I said, “Wait a minute. I’m sorry, Mr. Campbell, but you’ve lost me. You have to understand that I’m out of Madison Avenue. Outside of the normal networks I don’t know what the hell’s going on.” And I thought, Or in this tacky little office, in this tacky little room, and this guy is full of it.

He said to me, “Would anybody who ended war win the Peace Prize?”

I said, “Sure.”

“L. Ron Hubbard has ended war.”

“Wait a minute, you’ve lost me. How?”

“Dianetics.” (Worrad note: Dianetics was the original name for Scientology)

“Honestly, Mr. Campbell, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And he said, “Here. Read this.”

“Here and now?”


“Couldn’t I take a set of galleys home with me?”

“No, no, it’s the only set I’ve got.”

So he’s going about his business, talking to his secretary and whatnot, and I read the first galley and said to myself, “I can’t make any sense out of this mishmash,” so I turn to the second galley and I start to skip over a little, then a little more, but I figure this Campbell looks like a pretty shrewd guy, so I allow enough time for each galley, then I go on to the next one — and hell, there must have been 12 to 15 of these galleys, it was an enormous stack — and so I finished, put them on his desk, and he looks at me and says, “Well? Are we going to win the Nobel Peace Prize?”

And I said, “Well, I can’t tell…but it was very interesting, very interesting concepts behind it…I don’t know. If I could read more of it, I…”

“No, no. The galleys are being rushed in right now.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“That’s alright. People always reject new ideas.”

“Not me, Mr. Campbell. I’m like a monkey; I’m always curious about these things.”

And he said, “No, no, no.” He wouldn’t listen to me.

So we went to this tacky little lunchroom. It had no windows, four walls, and people were screaming their orders in, and we finally got our orders in and Campbell all of a sudden turns to me and says, “You know, we can remember…we can remember all the way back to the fetus.”

“Back to the fetus?”

“Ah, yes. The fetus remembers.” And he stands up over me and says, “You can clear yourself. Put your mind back…think, think…remember, remember…when your mother tried to abort you with a button hook and you’ve never stopped hating her!”

And I was really shaken. I said to myself, Oh dear God, don’t let me laugh in his face.

And the only way out of it was to agree, so I said, “You’re absolutely right, Mr. Campbell, I can’t go through with it, the emotional scars are too strong.”

He sat down and we went on chatting.
But all he wanted was all the Freudian things taken out of the story so it wouldn’t get in the way of the new Dianetics.

Of course, when (my story) “Oddy and Id” was reprinted I went back to the original. But that was the one session I had with Campbell and it was the last. That guy was a maniac!

* “I had the same trouble with Arthur Clarke. I said something once about never being able to get along with Arthur Clarke because he didn’t have a sense of humor. And Arthur wrote me this bitter, wounding letter, and the gist of it said, “I have so got a sense of humor.” But he had included clippings from his reviews that he said proved he had a sense of humor.”

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