Read INTRODUCTION of The Black Star Passes , free online book, by John Wood Campbell, on

These stories were written nearly a quarter of a century ago, for the old Amazing Stories magazine. The essence of any magazine is not its name, but its philosophy, its purpose. That old Amazing Stories is long since gone; the magazine of the same name today is as different as the times today are different from the world of 1930.

Science-fiction was new, in 1930; atomic energy was a dream we believed in, and space-travel was something we tried to understand better. Today, science-fiction has become a broad field, atomic energy despite the feelings of many present adults! is no dream. (Nor is it a nightmare; it is simply a fact, and calling it a nightmare is another form of effort to push it out of reality.)

In 1930, the only audience for science-fiction was among those who were still young enough in spirit to be willing to hope and speculate on a new and wider future and in 1930 that meant almost nothing but teen-agers. It meant the brightest group of teen-agers, youngsters who were willing to play with ideas and understandings of physics and chemistry and astronomy that most of their contemporaries considered “too hard work.”

I grew up with that group; the stories I wrote over the years, and, later, the stories I bought for Astounding Science Fiction changed and grew more mature too. Astounding Science Fiction today has many of the audience that read those early stories; they’re not high school and college students any more, of course, but professional engineers, technologists and researchers now. Naturally, for them we need a totally different kind of story. In growing with them, I and my work had to lose much of the enthusiastic scope that went with the earlier science fiction.

When a young man goes to college, he is apt to say, “I want to be a scientist,” or “I want to be an engineer,” but his concepts are broad and generalized. Most major technical schools, well knowing this, have the first year course for all students the same. Only in the second and subsequent years does specialization start.

By the sophomore year, a student may say, “I want to be a chemical engineer.”

At graduation, he may say, “I’m going into chemical engineering construction.”

Ten years later he may explain that he’s a chemical engineer specializing in the construction of corrosion-resistant structures, such as electroplating baths and pickling tanks for stainless steel.

Year by year, his knowledge has become more specialized, and much deeper. He’s better and better able to do the important work the world needs done, but in learning to do it, he’s necessarily lost some of the broad and enthusiastic scope he once had.

These are early stories of the early days of science-fiction. Radar hadn’t been invented; we missed that idea. But while these stories don’t have the finesse of later work they have a bounding enthusiasm that belongs with a young field, designed for and built by young men. Most of the writers of those early stories were, like myself, college students. (Piracy Preferred was written while I was a sophomore at M.I.T.)

For old-timers in science-fiction these are typical of the days when the field was starting. They’ve got a fine flavor of our own younger enthusiasm.

For new readers of science-fiction these have the stuff that laid the groundwork of today’s work, they’re the stories that were meant for young imaginations, for people who wanted to think about the world they had to build in the years to come.

Along about sixteen to nineteen, a young man has to decide what is, for him, the Job That Needs Doing and get ready to get in and pitch. If he selects well, selects with understanding and foresight, he’ll pick a job that does need doing, one that will return rewards in satisfaction as well as money. No other man can pick that for him; he must choose the Job that he feels fitting.

Crystal balls can be bought fairly reasonably but they don’t work well. History books can be bought even more cheaply, and they’re moderately reliable. (Though necessarily filtered through the cultural attitudes of the man who wrote them.) But they don’t work well as predicting machines, because the world is changing too rapidly.

The world today, for instance, needs engineers desperately. There a lot of jobs that the Nation would like to get done that can’t even be started; not enough engineers available.

Fifty years ago the engineering student was a sort of Second Class Citizen of the college campus. Today the Liberal Arts are fighting for a come-back, the pendulum having swung considerably too far in the other direction.

So science-fiction has a very real function to the teen-agers; it presents varying ideas of what the world in which he will live his adult life will be interested in.

This is 1953. My son will graduate in 1955. The period of his peak earning power should be when he’s about forty to sixty about 1970, say, to 1990. With the progress being made in understanding of health and physical vigor, it’s apt to run beyond 2000 A.D., however.

Anyone want to bet that people will be living in the same general circumstances then? That the same general social and cultural and material standards will apply?

I have a hunch that the history books are a poor way of planning a life today and that science-fiction comes a lot closer.

There’s another thing about science-fiction yarns that is quite conspicuous; it’s so difficult to pick out the villains. It might have made quite a change in history if the ballads and tales of the old days had been a little less sure of who the villains were. Read the standard boy’s literature of forty years ago; tales of Crusaders who were always right, and Saracens who were always wrong. (The same Saracens who taught the Christians to respect the philosophy of the Greeks, and introduced them to the basic ideas of straight, self-disciplined thinking!)

Life’s much simpler in a thatched cottage than in a dome on the airless Moon, easier to understand when the Villains are all pure black-hearted villains, and the Heroes are all pure White Souled Heroes. Just look how simple history is compared with science-fiction! It’s simple but is it good?

These early science-fiction tales explored the Universe; they were probings, speculations, as to where we could go. What we could do.

They had a sweep and reach and exuberance that belonged.

They were fun, too....

John W. Campbell, Jr.
Mountainside, N.J.
April, 1953