Campbellian Science Fiction stories—alternately “men with screwdrivers” or Blue SF—are provably inferior to the Fantasy & Science Fiction stories of the Pulps. Campbell is the Silver Age, the Pulps the Golden Age.
This is not because the writers and editors of the Silver Age sucked. They had talent, skill, and imagination in abundance. Unfortunately, what they ALSO had was a rigid and idiotic definition of what “good Science Fiction” was.
The Silver Age saw Fantasy and Science Fiction sundered. The two halves of one genre were cleft one from another and a wall erected between them. They were never to meet, never to touch, never to share equal space in the same story (as had so often been the case during the Golden Age), save in the trashiest of fiction.
The best Science Fiction was, of course, Hard SF, whose merits rested (it was claimed) on rigorously scientific principles and technical accuracy. Lesser writers churned out Soft SF, and the worst writers, the Pleistocene throwbacks to the Dark Age of the Pulps, churned out—UGH!—Science Fantasy.
It was the age of realism. And, in the name of realism, the stories of the Silver Age largely rid themselves of the heroics, heroism, and adventure, plus the manly and masculine heroes, of the Pulps. Heroes were bookish, not brawny. Iron thews were out, sliderules in.
These three concepts, rigorously enforced by a tiny clique of editors and writers, hobbled and hampered the fiction of the Silver Age. As a result, Silver Age stories are and were (judged as a body of work, individual tales excepted) inferior to the Pulps. The Pulps (as a body of work) were more imaginative, more visceral, more entertaining.
Three names: Tarzan, Conan, Batman*. Can anyone name SF characters from the Silver Age or later with the same cultural weight, with the same inspirational reach, with the same impact on the entirety of culture, and not just F&SF, as these three? Where are the crossover rockstars of the post-Pulp era?
More, when did Science Fiction gain a reputation for callowness about human beings? When did it become a ghetto genre, thought fit only for young boys and geeky adults? When did it begin to lose its popular appeal, when did the audience begin to shrink? All these started during the Silver Age, and dog SF until today.
I do not say that the Silver Age is garbage (nor do I wish to see Blue SF erased from existence). I grew up reading the Silver Age, and indeed re-read two Heinlein juveniles this very year. (Which, given my notoriously full reading schedule, is the ultimate compliment.)
I say rather that the Pulps are better. I invite anyone interested in testing this assertion to begin reading the Pulps.
Don’t take my word for it—read the stories. See if they’re as good as I assert.
Let the stories stand witness for themselves.
*Yes, Batman (and even Superman) are both Pulp characters given a makeover. See the latest episode of Geek Gab, with John C Wright, Jeffro Johnson, and Razörfist, for more details.