Posts tagged ‘L. Ron Hubbard’

Fantasy Commentator 59-60

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.

When John W. Campbell, Jr., washed out of MIT by failing to pass their German course, he didn’t stay in Massachusetts. Instead, he returned to his mother’s home in Orange, New Jersey. He had left some close friendships behind, though, and one of the first things he did after relocating was to write a letter to his Massachusetts friend Robert D. Swisher, a pharmaceutical chemist working for the Monsanto Corporation.

That was the first letter of many, and they were all carefully preserved, misspellings, factual errors and all, by Swisher, and then by his widow. Now they are published, under the guise of an article in the late A. Langley Searles’ fanzine Fantasy Commentator, published as a memorial tribute by Searles’ widow, Alice Becker, M.D. The issue contains nothing but the letters. Its length — 156 large pages — is within accepted book publishing standards. So let’s call it a book, the two of us, all right?

This book, then, contains all the letters John wrote to Swisher over a period of more than twenty years, from John’s early attempts at writing science-fiction stories of his own through his triumphal masterminding of the world’s best science-fiction magazine and his intoxication with L. Ron Hubbard’s invention of Dianetics, followed by his final rejection of that cause — though not of the validity of many of its principles which, called by one name or another, he apparently subscribed to until his death.

As a document bearing on these matters, this is not merely a good, readable book. It is an invaluable one, and the credit for the clarity and completeness that make it such a pleasure to read belongs in no small part to its editor, the late Sam Moskowitz. The source material Sam had to work with was a clutch of actual letters, many of them handwritten and some not easy to decipher, and a considerable fraction of them comprising little more than technical descriptions of the cameras, lenses and films for which the two correspondents shared an affection. All of that photography material Moskowitz skillfully redacted away. What remains is the next best thing to a detailed personal diary of the life of a stand-out major figure in the field of science fiction.

Continue reading ‘The Campbell Letters’ »

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

Part 6 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Pohl: I’ve just realized something very significant. Of all the science fiction writers in the English-speaking world who began in the late ’30s and ’40s who have survived since and done reasonably well, there are only two who were not largely and directly influenced by John Campbell. That’s you and me!

John Campbell is the fellow who took science fiction by the scruff of the neck in the late ’30s and changed it. Made it much better. And people like Isaac Asimov and van Vogt and Bob Heinlein, and almost everybody else who really became significant writers around that period owe a great debt to Campbell. They were published primarily in his magazine and got a great deal of advice and guidance from him. And I know I didn’t.

John Campbell was a good friend of mine but he had this one tacky personality trait — be never bought any stories from me! I kept trying but he never would buy them. How about you, Alfie?

Bester: Oh, I had an experience with Campbell! As Fred has said, he really took science fiction by the scruff of the neck and shaped it into something really worthwhile. Up until then it had just been hack writing by guys who were translating westerns into science fiction. Campbell changed all that. He was a great man. I worshipped Campbell, of course.

I wrote a story called “Oddy and Id.” The premise of the story simply was that we are not consciously in control of our actions but this deep Id, this well of primal urges within us, is really in control. I submitted the story to Campbell and got a phone call from him — I’d never met him.

“I want to talk to you about the story. I want to buy it but I want some changes. Will you come and see me?”

“Oh God, yes, Mr. Campbell.” It was when their office was out in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Now, you’ve got to picture me, a guy from Madison Avenue writing scripts; all I know is the networks, the advertising agencies and all that jazz, it’s what I’m used to. I’m also used to the rates that they pay. But I have to meet Campbell.

I go out to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and I come to this goddamn printing plant, this factory, expecting to be ushered into the great office of this great man. But I go into this tacky little office which is about two feet by four feet and here is this guy who is about the size of what we would call in American football, a defensive tackler. He’s about 19 feet high, 47 feet wide, a towering guy. He sits behind his desk and I squirm into the one visitors’ chair.

He says, “Now about your story. Freud is finished!”

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 6: John W. Campbell and Dianetics’ »


This first paragraph is only for people who have seen the L. Ron Hubbard movie Battlefield Earth. If you haven’t ever seen it, count your blessings and do your best to keep it that way for the rest of your life, because it is truly awful.

But if you ever have, we want to ask you two questions:

  1. How many movies have you seen in your life? (Your best guess is good enough.)

  2. Numbering them No.1 for the best to the last of the total numbers you’ve ever seen for the worst, what number would you give Battlefield Earth?

We”ll tell you why we’re bothering you about this after the jump, but please make up your mind about the answers first.

Continue reading ‘Battlefield Earth’ »

Algis Budrys (Photo by William Shunn).

Algis Budrys
(Photo by William Shunn).

By the mid-1960s, Algis Budrys had become a darling of the critics. In the field of science fiction, two of the most respected at that time were Kingsley Amis and James Blish. Kingsley said that the way A J was going, he might become the most honored sf writer since H. G. Wells. Jim was less restrained. He thought that A J was becoming the finest writer in a second language since Joseph Conrad. One of A J’s stories had already been made into a film, though not a particularly good one, and his future was bright.

It was at that point that A J basically stopped writing science fiction and went off to Chicago to get into the public-relations business.


Well, I don’t know why. When A J took off for Chicago and a brief career as Mr. Pickle in a relish promoter’s PR campaign, it was a surprise to me. Perhaps it was because of the merciless difference between salary income and writer income that I alluded to earlier. By then the Budrys family census stood at six, with four healthy infant sons that needed to be fed every day — and would inevitably need more and more as the years advanced. But I lost touch with him for a year or two.

When I reconnected with him he had escaped from advertising and gone to work as the book editor for Playboy.

That made a certain amount of sense to me, particularly as he was showing signs of getting back to doing writing for me again. I was still editing for Bob Guinn, who had gradually enriched my expense account enough to permit annual trips to spur authors along . When in Chicago, I always spent some time with the Budryses. Their lives appeared to have slowed down and smoothed out.

But in that, too, I was quite wrong.

One day, back at home in New Jersey, I got a phone call from A J. He had news. The Church of Scientology had decided to honor their founder and principal sage, the science-fiction (and everything else, but best known for his science fiction) author L. Ron Hubbard, by establishing a new contest for talented entry-level sf writers that would pave the way for some of them to make the transition to professional success. Since none of the Scientology people knew much about publishing, they needed to find someone who did to save them from making too many blunders, and they had found A J.

“What I’m trying to do for them now,” he said, “is to try to find them major writers who —”

“No,” I said.

“— would be willing to be judges — what did you say?”

“I said, ‘no,’” I told him.

“But you didn’t let me tell you the good parts,” he said,

“That’s right,” I said. “I said, ‘no.’ ”

See how I handled it? A quick, firm decision, and then on to the next thing. No looking back, either.

Except that a few months later, when A J called again to tell me that Theodore Sturgeon, who A J had taken on as my replacement, was gravely ill, and A J was in a really tough spot, and if I could just help him out until he could find someone else. . . .

So I did it. I helped him out, and kept on doing it for the next thirty years.

In my defense, I will say that Writers of the Future, now broadened to include artists of the future, is indeed a good thing for beginning writers and artists, who can use all the help they can get. But there it is.

A J didn’t confine his efforts to Writers of the Future for the rest of his life. There was a prolonged, and expensive, period when he tried his luck as publisher of his own magazine Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, but what happened at the end was simply that his health gave out. For the last several years of his life he was housebound in his home in Evanston, Illinois, where he complained that illness had so sapped his strength that he didn’t have energy for anything. Once he said, “There’s a novel I started in January and I’m not even a quarter through it.”

This was sometime in late spring. I said cheerfully, “So keep on plugging away. Sooner or later you’ll get it written.”

“Written?” he said, “I’m not talking about writing a novel. I’m talking about reading one.”

What was wrong with A J’s health was not a single, simple thing. I believe it was diabetes that kept him housebound for so long, but think it was metastasizing cancer that took him away in June of 2008.

He is missed.

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L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

As the 1940s mutated into the ’50s things changed.

All through World War II, and for some time after, Astounding had been king of the hill — eagerly read not just in America but also in England, where a young Arthur Clarke was getting around to mailing in his first story, “Rescue Party,” and in Germany, where in wartime days, Wernher von Braun had been able to get his treasured subscription copies only by means of a false name and a neutral mail drop in Sweden.

Around 1950, though, competitors began to appear — first The Magazine of Fantasy, a more literary take on the field, then Galaxy, a more relevant one, along with lesser titles from others. One might have thought that competition could awaken John’s competitive spirit. It didn’t seem to. He had gone through a period of looking for new editorial challenges before America got into the war, with such ventures as the fantasy magazine Unknown, then an attempt to remake Street & Smith’s hoary old aviation magazine, Air Trails, into a science-news magazine called Air Trails and Science Frontiers, neither of which survived very long.

Then for a time, he seemed adequately fulfilled by concentrating on his services to the war effort. (When the Stars and Stripes ran a piece on new rocket weapons one of the authorities they quoted was described as “John W. Campbell, Jr., physicist and war work consultant.” I sent the clip to John for his amusement, but he may not have been amused. He didn’t reply.)

But when the war was over and he was merely the editor of one really great science-fiction magazine again, he seemed to enter a new phase. That was as a believer in some weird and improbable kinds of — I don’t know what else to call it — magic.

A disclaimer. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one to whom John talked non-stop about all the wonderful and clever things that had been accomplished by “us” — which I took to mean the presiding triumvirate who ran Dianetics/Scientology. That, as John described it to me, consisted of three more or less equal-ranked persons: L. Ron Hubbard, the almost forgotten skin doctor Joseph Winter, and John himself.

I believe that each of the three was considered by the other two to deserve the ranking because of services rendered; in Ron’s case inventing the subject matter; in John’s the fact that it could hardly ever have got off the ground without the mighty boost John gave it with his magazine.

And Joe Winter?. I don’t know the answer to that for sure. I didn’t know Winter well, only met him a few times, never talked with him or about him with either of the other two at any length. But he did have a legitimate M.D. and did wage a rather persistent, if quixotic (and markedly unsuccessful), campaign with the medical establishment to grant Dianetics and/or Scientology some respectful kind of recognition. So I think, with no more evidence than I’ve shown you, that what Winter represented to the other two was a touch of legitimacy.

And, yes, I wish I did know some other people who had heard as much of John’s proud progress reports whom I could ask what they thought of it all. But I don’t.

I’m pretty sure that John’s audience for that sort of conversation would have included just about everybody he saw. But I don’t know who all the others were, and rather few of them can be still alive.

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Some of you may remember that some time ago I warned you (twice, actually) that I couldn’t take on a correspondence or even answer letters because my right hand was basically paralyzed and that was the one I wrote with. Well, it’s still paralyzed. But I have learned some useful ways of getting around that, to some extent, so I’m going to try to respond to a few communications now.

As you know I’m a beginner at this blog racket. I don’t know whether it’s etiquette to use people’s actual names, so I’m going to play it safe this time and disguise them.


First a thank you to one I will call DB. I recently published a short essay on the impetus given to the growth of science-fiction fandom, but said I knew I had published it somewhere already but couldn’t remember where,

DB could. He wrote, “I can tell you where you published this. It’s the opening of the second chapter of The Way the Future Was.”

Well, so it was. That’s a little embarrassing — I didn’t think I was really losing my marbles quite that fast — but anyway thanks!

And happens I have some news about that. I’ve just signed contracts with Baen Books for the reissue of some chunks of my earlier writing in the electronic book format, including The Way the Future Was. Don’t yet know when they’ll be available, but when I do, you’ll see it here.

And since others commented that they enjoyed reading this sort of ancient history now and then we’ll go ahead and publish the rest of the chapter, shortly.


I was tickled by the comments on my story about finally being granted a high-school diploma, seventy-odd years after becoming a dropout. A bunch of old buddies got off their duffs long enough to write things like: “Mazel tov. Now you can make something of yourself,” and, “A person of your intelligence should go on to higher education. By choosing the right major you can expect a good job when you graduate.” Etc.

How disrespectful these people are of their elders. But I love them anyway.


There were almost as many comments on my two postings about L. Ron Hubbard, A couple of them were quite unhappy with me, for example a woman who wrote: “I have been a subscriber.. Now I will unsubscribe.”

I’m truly sorry about that. I’m not trying to make anyone unhappy, so perhaps I should try to spell out what I do try to do.

When I talked about the Scientologists I mentioned that I knew there were reports of terrible things they are said to have done. I didn’t repeat any of the stories because I had no personal knowledge of how accurate they were, and they didn’t need to be reported as some kind of a public service since they were already widely published.

As we get on in the histories of John Campbell and his involvement with Scientology, etc., there will be some reports I will make about events concerning them. I won’t, however, print any unless I myself know them to be true or, alternatively, I have been told about them by people I trust who were on the scene. And if the latter, I will always tell you who my informants were.

Looking at this from the other side: When I wrote about the Writers (and Artists) of the Future contests, I’m sure the heads of that enterprise would have preferred that I be a little less candid about a few parts of it. But I was urging beginning writers to take advantage of it, and I couldn’t fail to mention what I thought were its (relatively few) drawbacks. So candor won.

Candor will generally win in whatever I write. I won’t publish scandal just for scandalousness’ sake, but I’ll try to tell the simple facts except when (rarely) they might cause more pain than benefit. That won’t be a big problem. Most of the sf people I know, which is way the largest fraction of recent generations of them, are basically quite decent folk.