John W. Campbell Memorial Award
History and Inception

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year was established to honor the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, now named Analog. Campbell, who edited the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971, is called by many writers and scholars the father of modern science fiction. Authors and scholars Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell's name as a way of continuing his efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work: "to carry on and expand the tradition that Campbell had started, that of assuring the literary growth and development of science fiction."

In 1977, Harrison wrote this about the award's inception:

"When John died it was a blow to all of us. After the memorial service a number of his writers were talking, and out of the talk came the Astounding anthology, what has been called the last issue of the Campbell magazine. It was a good tribute to a good editor. There is another tribute I think of just as highly, the award for the best SF novel of the year presented in his name and memory. An award I am sure he would have loved because it instantly became involved in controversy when the first prizes was presented. How John enjoyed a good argument and a good fight! That this fight sprawled through the letter columns of Analog for some months would have cheered him even more."

The first Campbell Memorial Award was presented at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1973. Since then the Award has been presented in various parts of the world: at California State University at Fullerton in 1974; at St. John's College, Oxford, England, in 1975; at the First World SF Writers Conference in Dublin, Ireland, in 1976; in Stockholm, Sweden in 1977; at the World SF meeting in Dublin again in 1978; at the Campbell Conference and Awards in Lawrence, KS, starting in 1979; in a joint Campbell Conference / SFRA Conference event in Kansas City in 2007; and as part of the special "Campbell Conference Academic Programming" track of MidAmeriCon II (WorldCon 2016) in Kansas City, Missouri.

Since 1979, the Campbell Award has been presented during the Gunn Center's Campbell Conference Awards Banquet, usually held on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, as the focal point of a weekend of discussions about the writing, editing, illustration, publishing, teaching, and criticism of science fiction.

What follows is an article originally published in The Diversifier, March 1978. By Harry Harrison & Sam J. Lundwall.

John Campbell:
The Man and the Award

I have the Sphere edition of The Best of John W. Campbell before me, and on the back cover I am quoted as saying "When I was fifteen years old, I thought John W. Campbell was God." I don't know where the quote was found, but it has the right ring to it. One of the greatest pleasures in my writing career was working with the man whose magazine I had admired so much through the years.

When John died it was a blow to all of us. After the memorial service a number of his writers were talking, and out of the talk came the Astounding anthology, what has been called the last issue of the Campbell magazine. It was a good tribute to a good editor. There is another tribute I think of just as highly, the award for the best SF novel of the year presented in his name and memory. An award I am sure he would have loved because it instantly became involved in controversy when the first prizes was presented. How John enjoyed a good argument and a good fight! That this fight sprawled through the letter columns of Analog for some months would have cheered him even more.

This year [1977] the awards are being presented in Sweden. Sam J. Lundwall is in charge of the award ceremony and he has sent along this history of the awards to date.

    - Harry Harrison

In the history of science fiction one editor stands head and shoulders above all the others. John W. Campbell, who has been truthfully the father of modern science fiction. When he began editing Astounding in 1937 that magazine was one with all the others. A garish pulp sharing the excesses of the rest of the pulps, but sharing as well the strengths and weaknesses of the other SF magazines. Campbell took this magazine and bent it - and the writers - to his stern will. He was still editing this same magazine when he died suddenly in 1971. But in the intervening years he had not only changed the magazine beyond recognition, but in doing so had changed science fiction itself from just another pulp-adventure medium to the expanding, literate, and exciting field of fiction that it is today.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award was founded in 1972 as a continuing tribute to his memory. The hope was that the award would carry on and expand the tradition that Campbell had started, that of assuring the literary growth and development of science fiction. The founders of the award, Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss, had long been concerned by the fact that while SF had no limits to its scientific and technological explorations it was, to say the least, a form of writing of almost uniformly indifferent literary quality. In an attempt to draw attention to this situation they founded the first little literary magazine to take a serious look at this field, SF Horizons. This journal had a brief and happy life, and it led the way for many others to follow.

Just as there had been no science fiction literary journals, so were there no SF literary awards. What the founders of this award visualized was an annual prize for a novel chosen in a manner that would be completely unbiased -- unprejudiced by popularity, friendship, chicanery or anything other than sheer literary merit. With this in mind a panel of judges was envisaged, people who would read every novel published in an annual period, read them with open minds and critical skills. The judges were to be writers, critics, academics, with proven talents in one or all of these fields. The only things they were to have in common was a knowledge and love of science fiction, this backed by literary or critical skills in fiction as a whole. The hope was that their labours might draw attention to works of literary merit that were good science fiction at the same time, books that might have been overlooked in the surge of attention for more easily popular writers.

The first awards were given in 1973, for the best novel, and two runners up, for the calendar year 1972. The chairman of the first awards committee was Dr. Leon E. Stover, and they were presented at the Illinois Institute of Technology where Dr. Stover taught one of the very first university courses in science fiction. The first prize award went to Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg, a book that fulfilled all of the committees fondest hopes. A novel by a new writer, powerfully written, that explored ideas barely mentioned in science fiction up until then.

The link with the universities was now firmly established. In 1974 the award was presented at California State University, Fullerton, under the chairmanship of Dr. Willis McNelly. This year there seemed to be a number of strong books, but none of singular strength that stood above all the others. The first prize award was a tie, so a double award was made to Malevil by Robert Merle, and Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clark.

A continuing feature of the award has been its internationality. For the first time, in 1975, the award ceremony itself took place outside of the United States. The executive secretary, Dr. T. A. Shippey, arranged for the presentation of the awards at St. John's College, Oxford. First prize was given to Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick.

In 1976 the First World Science Fiction Writers Conference was held in Dublin, Ireland. The awards chairman, Brian W. Aldiss, presented first prize to Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker. The judges felt that there had not been a novel published in 1974 of a quality high enough to be given this award. Therefore, instead of voting no award, it was decided to honor a major novel published just before the award itself was founded. It was felt that this novel had never received the critical or popular attention it deserved, and that the award could best perform its dedicated function by drawing this to public attention.

Now, in 1977, the award is fulfilling the international as well as critical standards that the committee has worked for since its conception. The newest member is Sam J. Lundwall and, with his aid, the award ceremony is being held in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 1978 the award will be again presented in Dublin, at the second science fiction writers conference. This conference will also see the formal founding of a World SF Organization, a sign of the continual international growth of science fiction.

This year the chairman is Brian W. Aldiss. In addition to Sam J. Lundwall, the other members of the permanent awards committee are T.A. Shippey, James Gunn, Harry Harrison, Mark J. Hillegas and Willis McNelly. Authors, critics, editors, teachers, residents of four countries whose uniting bond is an appreciation of science fiction and the desire to encourage its continuing, flowering growth.

The physical award is a fine bronze sculpture executed by the Irish artist John Behan. But the non-physical prize is just as concrete, the labour of dedicated and enthusiastic judges who sincerely bestow awards and encouragement, in the memory of John W. Campbell, upon those authors who worked hard to earn and deserve it.

    - Sam J. Lundwall


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updated 1/3/2017

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