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.