Astounding
“[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” — Publishers Weekly"Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era. . . . A remarkable work of literary history." — Robert Silverberg"Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century. . . . Here it is. This is the most important historical and critical work my field has ever seen. Alec Nevala-Lee’s superb scholarship and insight have made the seemingly impossible a radiant and irreplaceable gift."—Barry N. Malzberg, author of Beyond ApolloAstounding is the landmark account of the extraordinary partnership between four controversial writers—John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard—who set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world. This remarkable cultural narrative centers on the figure of John W. Campbell, Jr., whom Asimov called “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” Campbell, who has never been the subject of a biography until now, was both a visionary author—he wrote the story that was later filmed as The Thing—and the editor of the groundbreaking magazine best known as Astounding Science Fiction, in which he discovered countless legendary writers and published classic works ranging from the I, Robot series to Dune. Over a period of more than thirty years, from the rise of the pulps to the debut of Star Trek, he dominated the genre, and his three closest collaborators reached unimaginable heights. Asimov became the most prolific author in American history; Heinlein emerged as the leading science fiction writer of his generation with the novels Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land; and Hubbard achieved lasting fame—and infamy—as the founder of the Church of Scientology. Drawing on unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews, Alec Nevala-Lee offers a riveting portrait of this circle of authors, their work, and their tumultuous private lives. With unprecedented scope, drama, and detail, Astounding describes how fan culture was born in the depths of the Great Depression; follows these four friends and rivals through World War II and the dawn of the atomic era; and honors such exceptional women as Doña Campbell and Leslyn Heinlein, whose pivotal roles in the history of the genre have gone largely unacknowledged. For the first time, it reveals the startling extent of Campbell’s influence on the ideas that evolved into Scientology, which prompted Asimov to observe: “I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs.” It looks unsparingly at the tragic final act that estranged the others from Campbell, bringing the golden age of science fiction to a close, and it illuminates how their complicated legacy continues to shape the imaginations of millions and our vision of the future itself.

Astounding Details

TitleAstounding
Author
ReleaseAug 21st, 2018
PublisherDey Street Books
ISBN-139780062571960
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Science Fiction Fantasy

Astounding Review

  • Olav
    January 1, 1970
    Received an ARC at ALA. Well-written book that weaves together the stories of four key players in the Golden Age of SF, and in doing so provides some interesting insights. Having just finished William H. Patterson Jr.'s "Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century," I'm a bit struck by the slight differences in framing about some of the same events -- Nevala-Lee is somewhat more forgiving of his subject's foibles. But overall, the parallels between the four (particularly between Heinlein and Hubbard) Received an ARC at ALA. Well-written book that weaves together the stories of four key players in the Golden Age of SF, and in doing so provides some interesting insights. Having just finished William H. Patterson Jr.'s "Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century," I'm a bit struck by the slight differences in framing about some of the same events -- Nevala-Lee is somewhat more forgiving of his subject's foibles. But overall, the parallels between the four (particularly between Heinlein and Hubbard) make for interesting reading. A must-read for all classicist fans of science fiction. Worth preordering.
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  • Eddie
    January 1, 1970
    Of course I heard of John Campbell but never did I Know about him. Great book. Loving history, it was fun to watch these lives during WW2. Best part of the book was the research. The book has all the incredible things they did and all the warts that is life. Well done. Hubbard, while likable, is ajerk.
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  • Ann-Marie
    January 1, 1970
    Received as ARC from Dry Street Books. Enjoying it so far. All kinds of stuff I never knew about John W. Campbell, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard and all the great science fiction writers involved with the magazine which really took SF out of the realm of fringe, fare into quality, well written literature.
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  • Marlene
    January 1, 1970
    Originally published at Reading RealityThey were the men who sold the moon – as well as the rest of the universe. Together they were the Golden Age of science fiction – in some ways both the quip that says that the golden age of SF is 12 and in the historical sense.John W. Campbell, Jr. was the editor of what became the premiere outlet for science fiction writing during its and his heyday, from 1937 through 1946. Back in the days before SF became mainstream, the pulps were all there were, and Ca Originally published at Reading RealityThey were the men who sold the moon – as well as the rest of the universe. Together they were the Golden Age of science fiction – in some ways both the quip that says that the golden age of SF is 12 and in the historical sense.John W. Campbell, Jr. was the editor of what became the premiere outlet for science fiction writing during its and his heyday, from 1937 through 1946. Back in the days before SF became mainstream, the pulps were all there were, and Campbell’s Astounding was the top of the pulps as far as SF was concerned.That golden age was when he found, mentored, developed or at least published two writers who became synonymous with SF, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, and the one who nearly broke it, L. Ron Hubbard.While Astounding and Campbell both went on after 1946 – Astounding exists today as Analog – and all three writers’ careers flourished in their very different trajectories after that period, SF as we know it today was significantly influenced by them and/or their writing, and they, in turn, were significantly influenced by Campbell’s editorial direction. And in one significant case, vice-versa.Together, they made the genre as we now know it. And the children who grew up reading science fiction, their particular brand of science fiction, changed the world.Reality Rating A: First things first, this is surprisingly readable. There’s a lot of information packed in here, and it flows fairly smoothly from one page into the next. I was surprised at how completely I was drawn in and held over a very long flight. I expected to bounce in and out, and I just didn’t.(That the book is only about ⅔ as long as it appears to be is probably a help. The final ⅓ consists of extensive notes. It is blissfully not necessary to flip back and forth between the text and the notes in order to get the story or the context. The author certainly did his homework, but it’s not required that one read it for the book to make sense.)Campbell in 1965While Heinlein, Asimov and Hubbard have all been written about before, and in depth, Campbell really hasn’t. And certainly should have been. For the period when Astounding was at the top of the pulps, and for some time beyond, Campbell wasn’t just the editor of a magazine – he WAS science fiction in a way that just isn’t possible now that SF has gone mainstream. His role hasn’t been recognized, possibly because there is no real equivalent today.This multi-biography attempts to set all four men in their time as well as their relationships to each other. And while on the one hand it feels both loving and respectful, on the other it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the darker side of all four – even though much of what we now consider that dark side generally passed social muster at the time it happened.The book does a good job of giving context for why much of what we would consider bad behavior occurred, without ever minimizing it or apologizing for it. I’m thinking particularly of Asimov’s well-known propensity for pinching women’s bottoms and other places without their consent or even seeming to acknowledge that he needed their consent. That all the women in his various editors’ and publishers’ offices literally cleared the building whenever he had an appointment seems to be a message he just never got – and certainly should have.All of them except Asimov seemed to have drunk to considerable excess. Towards the end of their lives both Campbell and Heinlein crossed the line from conservative to reactionary. None of them gave the credit to any of their wives that was certainly due.Campbell’s racism undoubtedly affected his gatekeeping of the genre throughout his tenure at Astounding, and is in at least some part responsible for the whiteness of SF through his era and beyond. When some 21st century fans cry out for a “Campbellian Revolution” this is part and parcel of what they are looking back to and wanting to recreate.And everyone was way more involved in the beginning of Scientology than seems to be widely known. Only Asimov steered clear, and even he got stuck arguing with Campbell about it on multiple occasions.But we certainly see the hand of Campbell in the underpinnings of Hubbard’s Scientology – and we see a number of promising careers get sidetracked by it. Hubbard’s most of all.These men were the giants upon whose shoulders the genre now stands, whether their influence was mostly positive, or in Hubbard’s case mostly negative. The author does a deft job of giving them their rightful place in SF history while showing that they all had feet of clay up to the knees. If not higher.In the end, this is a fascinating study of a group of men who made this most popular genre what it became. And it’s a great read from beginning to end.
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  • Michael Burnam-Fink
    January 1, 1970
    If science-fiction has a name, it's John W. Campbell. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction during the crucial Golden Age of Science Fiction from 1937 until the end of the Second World War, he defined the form and tropes of the genre. He was responsible for nurturing it as a serious endeavor, as real literature, and as a form distinct from fantasy, horror, adventure, and other speculative fiction. Even as the genre grew beyond the control of any one man, and Campbell slipped towards crankdom, If science-fiction has a name, it's John W. Campbell. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction during the crucial Golden Age of Science Fiction from 1937 until the end of the Second World War, he defined the form and tropes of the genre. He was responsible for nurturing it as a serious endeavor, as real literature, and as a form distinct from fantasy, horror, adventure, and other speculative fiction. Even as the genre grew beyond the control of any one man, and Campbell slipped towards crankdom, he was still the Institution, the editor who authors measured their ambition against. Nevala-Lee links Campbell to the three most important men in his life: Asimov, Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard, and provides a fascinating story of the immense work of these visionaries, and their equally immense flaws. Campbell had an unhappy childhood, caught between an authoritarian father and a manipulative mother. At worst, the cruelty of his mother and her identical twin sister provided the inspiration for his story "Who Goes There?", adapted in film as The Thing. At best, they provided him with drive and editorial skills. Certainly, Campbell's recollections of his childhood display a deep ambivalence and surety that his parents wounded him psychologically. Large, intense, almost friendless, with the ambition to be an engineer but without the talent, Campbell was hired as editor of Astounding Stories almost as a fluke. It was the job he was born to have. As editor of Astounding, quickly renamed to Astounding Science Fiction, Campbell created a new form of literature for modernity, centered around advances in science and technology, rational extrapolation of those advances, and the figure of the 'competent man', the engineer-hero who analyzes problems and arrives at solutions through mastery of rational thinking. Campbell cultivated a stable of talented writers. Robert Heinlein was probably the greatest literary talent, with an eye for character, detail, the sweep of history, and perfect pacing. L. Ron Hubbard had raw charisma and an engaging style, even if his biography of adventure was a mutable facade over constant reversals and defeats. Isaac Asimov was an awkward youth, unable to fit in and desperate to please; his actual genius would see him advance the furthest of the group. As editor, Campbell shot ideas off the proper writers, a continual shower of sparks and a demand for higher standards right when the genre needed it most.World War 2 provided a critical test for the group, and one which by many measures was a failure. Campbell thought his readership could serve as a super-lab for the US military, but failed to gain traction with the bureaucracy. Asimov and Heinlein worked together at the Pennsylvania Naval Shipyard, in important but mundane tasks, but they were too different personalities to be good friends. Hubbard was an abysmal failure as a naval officer. Campbell baited the censors with a story in 1944 that "predicted" the atomic bomb. The gamble, which could have closed Astounding, paid off, and became an element of Campbell's personal mythology.The post-war years were marked by Campbell's fall into crankdom. Obsessed with the atomic bomb, and with the need for men to master themselves before they ended the world, Campbell became the leading proponent of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics. The readership of Astounding served as the testbed for the process of auditing and generating "clears", humans free of negative memories with supposed superpowers. Campbell is apparently responsible for much of what is borrowed from cybernetics in Dianetics, but he and Hubbard soon parted ways over financial matters. Hubbard went on to turn Dianetics into the Church of Scientology, though there is no evidence that he founded the religion as part of a bet from either Asimov or Heinlein. The most parsimonious story is that he did it as a tax dodge, and to avoid lawsuits from medical licensing boards.So what of those flaws? Campbell became increasingly domineering, a "universal expert" who lacked actual knowledge, lectured people at length, and became fascinating with psychic powers and supernatural phenomenon. As the civil rights movement advanced, he became harshly reactionary in his views on race. Heinlein's politics also turned rightwards (he had campaigned as a socialist in the 1930s), and the last truly great book he wrote was The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, as he believed he was too good to need editing. Isaac Asimov has perhaps the dirtiest feet, for all his talent. As he became a prolific science writer and institution in fandom, authoring over 400 books, his initial social awkwardness became a love of seeing his name in lights. His behavior was defined by constant sexual harassment, from pinching butts to public passes. Hubbard, of course, founded an authoritarian brainwashing cult and wrote Battlefield Earth, but expectations were low. In an interesting bit of parallelism, all the men had deeply important first marriages that defined how they grew, and once they achieved success, they discarded their wives and remarried. The circumstances varied. Doña Campbell grew frustrated with John's obsession with dianetics and left him for another man. Leslyn Heinlein experienced a nervous collapse. Gertrude Asimov grew tired of Isaac's philandering. Hubbard tried to murder his wife Sara, have her committed, and deny her custody of their children. And while early scifi was very much a man's world, Astounding's assistant editor Catherine Tarrant was by Campbell's side the whole time, and so important that when she fell ill, it took five men to replace her.But for their flaws, these were still great men. They wrote stories which will resonate for centuries. Campbell turned a tiny literary niche into a cultural juggernaut, and cast a mode of heroic futurism that is still at the heart of science-fictions. Nevala-Lee's book is deeply sourced, comes from an authentic love of the genre, and tells us who these men were, and why their ideas matter today. Campbell saw his mission as creating a literary 'Sword of Achilles', stories so appealing that boys who would grow into the men who would build the future would embrace it on sight. In that, he had absolute success.This is a great book! If it doesn't win best associated work at the next Hugos, I will eat my hat.
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  • Jim
    January 1, 1970
    The Golden Age of Science Fiction was brought about by a strange collection of characters. You have got to love the scheming and soap opera quality to their stories. And, the strangest of all was L. Ron Hubbard, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think at first.
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  • Will
    January 1, 1970
    Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Golden Age of science fiction knows of the four men named on the cover, but the amount of details available about each of them varies. Little has been published about John W. Campbell, but this book remedies that, using Campbell as a central figure and telling his story, both alone and through his interactions with the other three. The product is a great biography that is both readily readable and wonderfully satisfying.In the case of the Asimov, Heinlein, Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Golden Age of science fiction knows of the four men named on the cover, but the amount of details available about each of them varies. Little has been published about John W. Campbell, but this book remedies that, using Campbell as a central figure and telling his story, both alone and through his interactions with the other three. The product is a great biography that is both readily readable and wonderfully satisfying.In the case of the Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard, all of whom have the subject of previous biographies, Nevala-Lee expands their stories by showing their faults along with their virtues. One of my favorite aspects of Astounding is the amount of attention paid to the women. Many of these women wielded vast influence on the four men and on science fiction itself. With the exception of Virginia Heinlein, previous works have, at best, relegated these women to the sidelines, or worse, cast them into the role of villain and hung all of the man’s faults and missteps on them.Astounding tells the story of these figures instead of just chronologically listing facts about them, resulting in a book that even a casual fan will appreciate.
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  • Al Onia
    January 1, 1970
    John Campbell dragged Science Fiction (and Fantasy through the pages of Unknown) up by its bootstraps. He gave up his writing career upon taking over as Astounding's editor in 1937. He had few regrets, he was able to co-create a hundred stories in the time it would take to write a few solely of his own by offering ideas to his stable of writers, including the eager rookie, Isaac Asimov. This much I knew beforehand through various histories, biographies and autobiographies. What hadn't been docum John Campbell dragged Science Fiction (and Fantasy through the pages of Unknown) up by its bootstraps. He gave up his writing career upon taking over as Astounding's editor in 1937. He had few regrets, he was able to co-create a hundred stories in the time it would take to write a few solely of his own by offering ideas to his stable of writers, including the eager rookie, Isaac Asimov. This much I knew beforehand through various histories, biographies and autobiographies. What hadn't been documented was his significant contributions to Heinlein's and Hubbard's creations, both of their memories perhaps tainted by their later, often difficult, relationships with Campbell.Neval-Lee's extensive archival research presents all sides of these complex personalities in a riveting account of the birth, climax and decline of Science Fiction's Golden Age. Our literary heroes have feet of clay. This does not diminish their talent nor their contribution in and out of the genre.
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  • Neil Shurley
    January 1, 1970
    I can't remember a time before Isaac Asimov. I've got hundreds of his books on my shelves along with two postcards that he wrote in reply to letters I sent him when I was still a kid. He was a personal hero. Astounding takes a deep dive into one of Asimov's primary influences, the legendary editor John W. Campbell, while also telling the story of Asimov and two of his contemporaries. Author Alec Nevala-Lee does a fantastic job bringing these literary giants to life and bringing to light their tr I can't remember a time before Isaac Asimov. I've got hundreds of his books on my shelves along with two postcards that he wrote in reply to letters I sent him when I was still a kid. He was a personal hero. Astounding takes a deep dive into one of Asimov's primary influences, the legendary editor John W. Campbell, while also telling the story of Asimov and two of his contemporaries. Author Alec Nevala-Lee does a fantastic job bringing these literary giants to life and bringing to light their troubling legacies.In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that I asked the author to do a Q&A, which you can read here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwbook...
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  • David Steele
    January 1, 1970
    A very interesting read about the early days of science fiction. Back in the day I used to read a lot of science fiction. Asimov and Herbert are some of my all time favorite authors. But I knew next to nothing about Campbell and Heinlein. And now I do, more about all of them.Those people were making it up as they went along. Mostly good and some bad (Hubbard). But pioneers they were, and still are.
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  • Trey McIntyre
    January 1, 1970
    I didn't realize all these authors knew one another. I also didn't realize that the pulp fiction industry operated in the way described here. So, that part was interesting.The long digression into L. Ron Hubbard's creation of scientology was interesting, but I felt like it was taking up too much space in the book. I wanted to hear more about Asimov and Heinlein.Also, holy racism and sexual assault, Batman!
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  • Anthony
    January 1, 1970
    I won this as a Goodreads giveaway. It was a great read, well researched and very interesting. I wish I could give it 4.5 stars, because this is very close to a great book. The only flaw is the timelines could be clearer. I was never sure what was happening concurrently or what happened sequentially, so it could be a bit confusing and there were times where the next event was earlier in time. However, for any sci fi fan, this is a must read. It is always good to remember where you come from.
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  • Daniel Finlay
    January 1, 1970
    An incredibly rich journey through the founding of modern science fiction. It's amazing Campbell's life hasn't been explored in its own book before, it's a fascinating exploration of how one man managed to sculpt much of what the genre went on to be for decades - spots and all!If you like Science Fiction, but more importantly, the way of using fiction to imagine the futures we may create that we enjoy today, this book explores that molding in great detail, a true treasure.
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  • Bargle
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway. Very interesting. A warts and all look at the major figures in Science Fiction at the start of the Golden Age. L. Ron Hubbard apparently really believed Scientology and Dianetics would actually be helpful, useful things, not just a way suck money out of people, and so did John Campbell. Astounding.
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  • Peter Sidell
    January 1, 1970
    Having been a science fiction fan since before I was a teenager I found this to be a delightful book. It deals with the golden age of science fiction and some of the pillars of the science fiction author community. Revealing information about John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard and many others. At times it did seem to drag. I was particularly struck by parallels between the fears of nuclear holocoust in the late forties and early fifties, and our current anxiety about a Having been a science fiction fan since before I was a teenager I found this to be a delightful book. It deals with the golden age of science fiction and some of the pillars of the science fiction author community. Revealing information about John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard and many others. At times it did seem to drag. I was particularly struck by parallels between the fears of nuclear holocoust in the late forties and early fifties, and our current anxiety about artificial intelligence. Perhaps we have learned to live with nuclear weapons - yet the doomsday clock periodically is moved a bit closer to the zero hour for a nuclear war.
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  • Joe Karpierz
    January 1, 1970
    Review to follow.
  • Thomas Escritt
    January 1, 1970
    Utterly disorientating to realise how close the ties were between HP Lovecraft and even Aleister Crowley and the sci-fi Golden Age quartet - you think of them as belonging to quite different eras
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