John Campbell's Solar System


Isaac Asimov described these pieces as his first realization that science could be explained in an accurate and exciting way. In I.Asimov he says in 1936 and 1937 Campbell "wrote an eighteen-part series for Astounding on the latest developments in solar system science. This was one of the first ventures of a science fiction writer into the realm of straightforward science." In an essay for Before the Golden Age: Book 3 he says
For the first time, I read a modern account of the Solar System. (Until then, I had gotten my astronomy out of more or less out-of-date books in the public library.) For the first time, astronomy was made truly dramatic to me in Campbell's somewhat overcharged prose.... Campbell's articles taught me more. They taught me that non-fiction could be as interesting as fiction. Well enough done, I found, it could compete with the fiction in a science fiction magazine and grab the attention. I always turned to Campbell's article first in those issues in which the series appeared.

The time was to come, over a dozen years later, when Astounding would print non-fiction articles by me, and, still later, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would begin a regular series of non-fiction articles by me that would run far longer than any other such series in the history of the field. (As I write this, I am working on my 181st monthly article in that series)

And all the articles I write for science fiction magazines, indeed all the non-fiction I write, I trace back to my pleasure at reading Campbell's articles on astronomy.

In Arthur C. Clarke's memoir, Astounding Days, he writes that these essays "were both accurate and exciting, full of striking insights . . . . The whole series would have made an excellent textbook: even now, I am surprised to see how little it has dated."

After tracking them down I enjoyed them enough to make them available here.

Campbell started this series when he was 26 years old and had recently graduated from Duke (after leaving MIT) with a degree in physics. A few months after finishing it, he took over Astounding's editorial reigns from 38-year-old F. Orlin Tremaine, revitalizing that magazine and SF with the help of Heinlein, Asimov and Sturgeon.

The Series

  1. Accuracy an overview of our solar system
  2. Two Scales comparing the inner and outer planets
  3. Mercury and the transition from Newton to Einstein
  4. The Veiled Planet Venus and a discussion of what is necessary for life
  5. The Double World Earth-Moon system and gravity
  6. Red Death Mars and its death by iron
  7. The Single Clue orbits and gravity
  8. Cosmic Gossip using the spectroscope for astronomy
  9. Other Eyes Watching Jupiter
  10. The Cosmic Cactus the moons of Jupiter and space travel
  11. Beyond the Life Line Saturn, beyond the Sun's life line
  12. Weather Report Uranus and its moons
  13. Cosmic Discovery the search for Neptune
  14. Interplanetary Dividends making space travel pay
  15. Smallpox of Space asteroids
  16. Bluff comets
  17. Sleet Storm meteorites
  18. Atomic Generator the Sun

Afterward and Corrections

home | atlanta | pkd | fusion | recipes | email