Collected editorials from Analog
In his autobiography, _The Way the Future Was_ (1978), Frederik Pohl tells of listening to John W. Campbell lecture him (on, for example, why television will never replace radio). Pohl says that he thought that such talks were examples of a Smart Thing To Do, since they were really rehearsals for future editorials. This observation is probably true. When you read Campbell's editorials, you get the sense that you are reading well-practiced material. And it fits Campbell's style of writing-- relaxed, informal, assertive, colloquial, _folksy_. It is the style of a debater, or, less charitably, the style of a man more accustomed to giving speeches than listening to others talk:
I think the reason why all terrestrial life has the same basic genetic language-- uses the same codon-dictionary-- is simply because That's The Way This Universe Is. Hydrogen is not cultural; it's universal. The laws of chemistry aren't the private opinions of human beings-- or of terresrial life. There is one and only one way of making a hydrogen atom. The interactions of CO2 and H2O are what they are, and there is no alternative. You _can't_ have any different opinions... and stay alive in the universe. (178)
When I was in high school in the 1960s, I was bowled over by Campbell's editorials. They were strong, forceful, intelligent arguments for causes that were unorthodox and exciting to me. Well, I am older now. I know a bit more about science and politics. I see a lot of the holes in Campbell's arguments today, and many of his positions are ones that I strongly disagree with-- particularly those in editorials like "The Lesson of Thalidomyde," "Breakthrough in Psychology," "We _Must_ Study Psi," and "God Is Not Democratic." On the other hand, "Segregation," "Space for Industry," "Hydrogen Isn't Cultural," and "Where Did Everybody Go?" still hit home for me.
In spite of my changing views, I believe that Campbell remains a great editorial writer for two reasons. First, he wrote about things that mattered to people -- politics, science, religion, war, crime and punishment, labor relations, race relations, and education. Second, he took a strong stand on the topics that he wrote about. He didn't worry about offending members of the congregation. Even today, you might praise Campbell, or you might heartily attack Campbell. But you don't _forget_ his editorials.
I do not mean to say that good editorials could never have been written in sf magazines if it weren't for Campbell. But (to mix a metaphor), he raised the bar and opened the door. He made it possible for the editorial-as-essay to become more widely accepted. And not just by editors like Ted White, Ben Bova, and Stanley Schmidt; he also made it possible for editorial columnists like Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg to flourish. I cannot guarantee that you will like this book. But you should read it. It is brisk, lively, and stimulating.