Sky Pirates and Interstellar Wars: The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell

Sky Pirates and Interstellar Wars: The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell

The Black Star Passes-small The Black Star Passes-back-small

Art by Chris Foss

This was the cover of the paperback I had as a youth — still my favorite thing that Campbell published under his own name (with The Moon is Hell running a close second).

Campbell’s best stuff is unquestionably the work he published as Don A. Stuart (e.g. “Who Goes There?”, “Twilight,” “The Elder Gods,” etc). And the heroes of this series, Arcot & Morey, are chemically free from any trace of personality.

But the same is not true of their partner Wade, who appears in the first story “Piracy Preferred” (from Amazing Stories, June 1930) as a super-scientist sky pirate, and after he is cured of his criminal tendencies becomes a valuable and prankish member of the team.

The title story in The Black Star Passes (from Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1930), tells the tale of an interstellar war. But the bad guys are not simply ravening bug-beasts from beyond the void, and the story ends without the happy genocide so common in space opera. (“YAY! We have destroyed an entire intelligent species with our superior science knowhow! Too bad they weren’t Civilized, like us!”) In Campbell’s story, the invaders are defeated, but the collective effort involved in the invasion saves their civilization.

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Thomas Parker

Campbell’s (non Don A. Stuart) prose was pure Gernsback – sentences so hard and rigid you could jimmy a door with them.

Rich Horton

You’re right, Thomas, and it’s hard to understand why he got so better so quickly writing the Stuart stories. Though it should be added, later stories under his own name, such as THE MOON IS HELL and “The Idealists” are written much better than the early ones.

That cover looks like Chris Foss but kind of weird — the spaceship doesn’t seem to have the John Schoenherr-like ceramic look that other Foss ships have. It’s pretty noticeable, however, how similar Foss’ composition (arrangement) of paintings with spaceships is from painting to painting.

Thomas Parker

Rich , I’m right in the middle of reading Alec Nevala-Lee’s Campbell/Heinlein/Asimov/Hubbard bio Astounding, and he credits Campbell’s wife, Dona Stebbins with the loosening up of Campbell’s prose. Even a great editor needs an editor, I guess!

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Eugene R.

Mr. Parker,

Regarding the loosening of Mr. Campbell’s prose under the influence of his first wife, it is no surprise that he used her name (Dona Stewart Stebbins) as his pseudonym.

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