Dear Mr. Campbell

Dear Mr. Campbell,

I am a relatively new reader of your incarnation of Astounding Science Fiction and I thought I should take a minute to tell you how much I have been enjoying what I’ve found in the magazines so far. I say your “incarnation” of Astounding, because, you see I am time traveler from the future and where I come from, the magazine has a slightly different name, but is still regarded as one of the finest magazines in the field. (I don’t want to give away the future and tell you what the name is, but I will say that if you ever decide to change the name of the magazine, be sure to change it to something that maintains what has become the standard abbreviation, ASF).

I write this letter from more than 70 years in the future, having gotten halfway through the October 1939 issue. It is the forth issue which I have read painstakingly closely from cover-to-cover. I started with the July 1939 issue, which in my time is regarded as a milestone issue of Astounding. While my favorite story in that issue was C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods”, I would suggest you keep a close eye on that Asimov fellow. His letters can be a little bit heated, but I think he’s going places. In the August 1939 issue, Lester Del Rey’s story, “The Luck of Ignatz” was a marvelously entertaining piece, as was that clever tale by Mr. Heinlein. He’s another one to keep an eye on. I was especially fond of Willy Ley’s article on “Space War” which I think made some points which are as important and relevant here in 2011 as they are back in your time. I’m afraid that I didn’t think the September 1939 issue was up to the standard of the previous two issues, but that’s not to say there wasn’t some good stuff in it. In particular, I enjoyed Mr. Gallun’s yarn, “Masson’s Secret”. How I wish I could tell you how and when the moon landings actually unfold, but that is against regulation. Needless to say when it finally does happen, you’ll find that the reality is just as good as the fiction. R. S. Richardson’s article on astronomers was absolutely charming, by the way. I hope you have more of him.

Many of the correspondents in the letter columns complain about the art work. I am no art critic, but I can say that I generally enjoy the covers more than the interiors, and that Rogers and Gladney are outstanding in my book. I’m not going to ask you for smooth page edges, but I would like to humbly suggest moving the letter columns to either the beginning or the end of each issue. The middle seems like an awkward place at best. And keep the letter columns going! They are fabulous to read, and whether or not you realize this, Mr. Campbell, they are of vital importance to science-fiction fandom.

I realize that some of your revenue comes from advertising in the magazine, but surely you, Mr. Campbell, with your background, must have some hint at the dangers of smoking. I imagine there’s no way to eliminate these ads from your pages, but the fact of the matter is that they look antiquated and strange from seventy years in the future. But you live and learn, I suppose.

To sum up, Mr. Campbell, I awaken each day eager to thumb through the next story in the issue that I happen to be reading. Being a time-traveler, I don’t have to wait a month for the next issue to come out. I simply dial my time machine to the appropriate date and presto!–I have the issue in hand. These issues provide me with not only a greater appreciation for the short fiction form (I am, I must admit, a very minor science fiction writer where I come from), but they provide a wonderful respite from the busy world around me. They are a calm point in my otherwise hectic day and when I am stuck in the doldrums of a menial task, I look longingly at the yellowing issue sitting on a table not far from me, wishing that my nose could be between those pages.

So thank you, Mr. Campbell, for producing such a fine magazine. And thank you for what you will do for science fiction. I can’t tell you what that is at the moment, but I can say that your name will be remembered honorably by generations of science fiction fans and writers to come.

Sincerely,

Jamie Todd Rubin
Falls Church, VA

14 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Campbell

  1. Michael, I thought about this as a piece of recursive fiction, but I have enough on my plate at the moment, and between stuff that Barry has done, and your own “Cosmic Corkscrew”, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot I can add to the dialog.

  2. The issue from the future: Campbell received a letter from a fan that reviewed a non-existent issue of Astounding, purportedly from the future; he named authors and titles and went into detail on each one.

    Campbell gave the titles and letters to the named authors and they then wrote the stories, which all appeared in an anniversary issue of Astounding.

    Nice piece here. Just out of curiosity Jamie – where did you obtain your issues?

  3. Steve, that issue of the future sounds really cool. Can’t wait to get to it.

    I don’t yet have the complete set of Astounding from 1939-1950. I have many that are scattered through the decade and most of these I just picked up in used bookstores over the years.

    More recently, the first 20 consecutive issues from 7/39 – 3/41 almost all came from eBay. A few of them came from specialty online bookstores.

  4. Michael, okay now you’ve got me thinking about the recursive s.f. line as a piece of flash fiction and it just so happens I’ve come up with a plot. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. 🙂

  5. While googling around today, I came across a death notice for a Richard A. Hoen of Hamburg, NY (September 14, 1928-August 2, 2010). He would have been twenty when the prophecy letter appeared, so it very well may have been the same person.

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