Alfred Bester (1913 – 1987) was a well respected and influential writer of classic science fiction. Like L Ron Hubbard, he wrote for Astounding Science Fiction under the editorship of John W Campbell.
Many of his stories (for example “The Stars My Destination” – “Tiger, Tiger” in the UK) revolved around characters who were ‘bad telepaths’ – a characteristic which was paid tribute to in the television series “Babylon 5” in the form of the thoroughly evil ‘PsiCop’ who was named… Alfred Bester.
In 1977 Bester was interviewed by the SF magazine “Tangent”. In this interview he relates how, when he met the famous Campbell to discuss the publication one of his stories in “Astounding”, the editor had just received the manuscript of a ‘non-fiction’ book that he was about to serialise in “Astounding” – L Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics”.
Campbell was, at this time, wildly enthusiastic about “Dianetics” and seemed to believe that Hubbard’s work deserved a Nobel Peace Prize – at least. Bester read the proofs of “Dianetics” – and his previous admiration for Campbell’s intellect and judgement rapidly evaporated as he innocently read the incoherent text of “Book One”.
Click “Continue Reading” to read the extract where Bester discusses this encounter, and the links at the top of the page to view/download the interview of which it is a part (although the whole thing is probably only for fans of classic SF).
BESTER: (Just chatting off the top of his head.) My only problem if I ever would go to the Playboy mansion would be keeping a straight face–like my one session with Campbell. Oh, my God!
TANGENT: Would you tell us about that?
BESTER: Well, what happened was–this is my second collection called Star Light, Star Bright. I wrote a story called “Oddy and Id” and back then I was deeply into using psychiatry in my stories–Freud and Jung–as motivations for characters, and stuff like that. And this story had a Freudian background.
I mailed it to Campbell and about two weeks later he called and said he liked the story, wanted to buy it, but would I make some changes in it. Would I also come out to Astounding, which was located somewhere out in the boondocks of New Jersey. I was delighted, never having met the man before. I idolized Campbell. I had this tremendous mental picture of him. But I said that sure I’d come. So I hopped on the train and went wherever the hell and gone out there in New Jersey, and I come to this building which was this really sleazy looking printing plant. So I go up to the offices of Astounding Science Fiction, right? Well, John’s office was about the size of this little alcove right here, and there was enough room for Campbell’s desk and chair, and a chair for one visitor, and that’s all the room there was.
And I came in and shook hands with him, and I’m fairly big but he was enormous; he towered over me. He was about the size of a defensive tackle. Anyway, we sit down (and I’ve got a great sense of humor, and that’s why I could never get along with him). I had the same trouble with Arthur Clarke. I said something once about never being able to get along with Arthur Clarke because he didn’t have a sense of humor. And Arthur wrote me this bitter, wounding letter, and the gist of it said, “I have so got a sense of humor.” But he had included clippings from his reviews that he said proved he had a sense of humor.
Anyway, Campbell said to me out of the clear blue sky, “Of course you don’t know it, you have no way of knowing it yet, but psychiatry–psychiatry as we know it–is dead.”
And I said, “Oh, Mr. Campbell, surely you’re joking.”
And he said, “Psychiatry as we know it is finished.”
And I said, “If you mean the various Freudian schools and the quarreling that’s going on between them…”
He looked at me and said, “No, what I mean is that psychiatry is finished. L. Ron Hubbard has ended psychiatry.”
I said, “Really?”
“Ron is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”
And I said, “Wait a minute. I’m sorry, Mr. Campbell, but you’ve lost me. You have to understand that I’m out of Madison Avenue. Outside of the normal networks I don’t know what the hell’s going on.” And I thought, Or in this tacky little office, in this tacky little room, and this guy is full of it.
He said to me, “Would anybody who ended war with the Peace Prize?”
I said, “Sure.”
“L. Ron Hubbard has ended war.”
“Wait a minute, you’ve lost me. How?”
“Honestly, Mr. Campbell, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
And he said, “Here. Read this.”
“Here and now?”
“Couldn’t I take a set of galleys home with me?”
“No, no, it’s the only set I’ve got.”
So he’s going about his business, talking to his secretary and whatnot, and I read the first galley and said to myself, “I can’t make any sense out of this mishmash,” so I turn to the second galley and I start to skip over a little, then a little more, but I figure this Campbell looks like a pretty shrewd guy, so I allow enough time for each galley, then I go on to the next one — and hell, there must have been 12 to 15 of these galleys, it was an enormous stack — and so I finished, put them on his desk, and he looks at me and says, “Well? Are we going to win the Nobel Peace Prize?”
And I said, “Well, I can’t tell…but it was very interesting, very interesting concepts behind it…I don’t know. If I could read more of it, I…”
“No, no. The galleys are being rushed in right now.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
And he said, “Look, you’re rejecting it.”
“No, Mr. Campbell, I…”
“That’s alright. People always reject new ideas.”
“Not me, Mr. Campbell. I’m like a monkey; I’m always curious about these things.”
And he said, “No, no, no.” He wouldn’t listen to me.
So we went to this tacky little lunchroom. It had no windows, four walls, and people were screaming their orders in, and we finally got our orders in and Campbell all of a sudden turns to me and says, “You know, we can remember…we can remember all the way back to the fetus.”
“Back to the fetus?”
“Ah, yes. The fetus remembers.” And he stands up over me and says, “You can clear yourself. Put your mind back…think, think…remember, remember…when your mother tried to abort you with a button hook and you’ve never stopped hating her!”
And I was really shaken. I said to myself, Oh dear God, don’t let me laugh in his face. And the only way out of it was to agree, so I said, “You’re absolutely right, Mr. Campbell, I can’t go through with it, the emotional scars are too strong.” He sat down and we went on chatting.
But all he wanted was all the Freudian things taken out of the story so it wouldn’t get in the way of the new Dianetics. Of course, when “Oddy and Id” was reprinted I went back to the original. But that was the one session I had with Campbell and it was the last. That guy was a maniac!