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Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction

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4.21  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  184 reviews
“[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 histo
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ebook, 544 pages
Published August 21st 2018 by Dey Street Books
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Average rating 4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  720 ratings  ·  184 reviews


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Start your review of Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction
Manuel Antão
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

"In 1963, Asimov argued that science fiction appealed to an existing type of curious reader, but today, it seems more likely to subtly alter the way in which we all think and feel."


In "Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction" by Alec Nevala-Lee

"'How long has this racket been going on? And why didn't anybody tell me about it sooner'"

Heinlein to Campbell after
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Gerhard
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First of all, I cannot believe that I devoured this 500+ page book in a single weekend. Once I started, I found myself glued to the page. It is testament to Alec Nevala-Lee’s skill as a writer that it reads like a runaway thriller. I suspect, however, I am an ideal reader, having grown up with Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein et al (the first ‘SF’ book I ever read was The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany, which is probably why genre boundaries have always appeared mutable to me.)

If the name ‘Astou
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Charlie Anders
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much about the Golden Age of science fiction from reading this book, including all the weird dramas and politics and feuds and fads and obsessions. It's really eye-opening to see how much of the toxicity and asshole behavior in fandom and writer communities was part of science fiction from the very beginning—and it's also bracing to see all the optimism and the belief that science fiction could change the world for the better. This book is also a corking good read though, a great st ...more
Ed Erwin
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Just like it says on the spine: it was "Astounding".

At first I wondered why he didn't just do a bio on Campbell, but gradually I came to see that these four lives, and their work, were deeply connected. Still, it was a bit confusing to me in spots when I had to shift my point of view from one of them to the others.

This is "warts and all" biography, with an emphasis on the warts. All of these guys were flawed. Hubbard was the worst, of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if Nevala-Lee gets sued o
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Silvana
Update (2/8/20): If you watched the Hugo Award ceremony or paid attention to SFF Twitter, you might know that glorifying the name of Campbell should be taken seriously. The brave Jeannette Ng again delivered a beautiful speech and specifically mentioned Alec Nevala Lee since she was not the first one making a stand (though she did lit the fire) on Campbell. Go read this book, you'll get a comprehensive picture.

Original review (2019):
I ended up liking this book more than expected. This is a very
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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
The publisher sent me the hardback of this non-fiction book about eight months ago. I never got around to it. Now the paperback has landed on my doorstep today. It's a sign! Okay, maybe just a sign of extra publicist attention, but I'm still going to do this thing! It actually does look interesting. :)
Gina
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and would like to thank Dey Street Books and Kell Wilson, Marketing Manager, for the opportunity to give a nonbiased review. The book I received was an uncorrected proof.

As a reader of a large variety of genres, of which Sci-Fi is one, I was anticipating a great read with this book, which revolves around writer John Campbell and his relationship/partnership with Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. These are, of course, well known authors
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John
I was born during the tail end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period between the late 1930s through the 1950s. It was doing this period that science fiction became respectable. Prior to this period, the majority of science fiction was distributed as "pulp fiction." As an young boy, I cut my teeth on science fiction from the Golden Age with such authors as Asimov, Heinlein, and Simak. The one man that did the most to foster in this age was John Campbell, the editor of such magazines as A ...more
Amy Sturgis
This is a well researched and compulsively readable history of how some of the major figures of the so-called Campbellian Revolution -- which took place during the Astounding/Analog editorship of John W. Campbell and heralded the Golden Age of science fiction -- came together, drew apart, and changed the genre in the process.

A longer review is available in my "Looking Back at Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast here.
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Ann-Marie
Oh, what these men got up to. If my mother had known what the early leaders of Science Fiction were really like she would not have been simply annoyed that I read so much of it, she would have been horrified.

Alec Nevala-Lee has revealed the truth of the John W. Campbell era of "Astounding Science Fiction Magazine" in a hard-to-put-down, tell all.
Mike
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like its subjects (famous science-fiction editor John W. Campbell and his sometime proteges Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), this book is riven with contradictions and exhibits both strengths and flaws.

It's carefully researched - almost half the book consists of bibliography and notes, drawing extensively on both private and public writings and interviews with living people who remember the subjects. At the same time, it unapologetically editorializes about the men's many f
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James
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction, sf
This confirms one of my personal beliefs is that for the most part you are better off not knowing about an author's life. In this case it makes for a somewhat depressing read. The unsavory aspects of Campbell, Heinlein and Asimov are counterbalanced by the insight into the molding'Golden' Age of SF. It's a much smaller and more intimate world than I even imagined.

Let's start with Campbell, my sole exposure is his writings, if you've read his editorials in ASF/Analog you know he comes across as a
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Paul
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the joys of reading on a Kindle (or, in my case, a Kindle app) is the ease of bookmarking. As one indication of how important I found Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, I bookmarked it more than ten times as much as any other book I've read in the past few years. (The runners-up are The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction by Grant Wythoff and Dream ...more
Simona B
The last section does feel slightly rushed, but I absolutely agree with Martin when he describes this book as "compulsively readable." And yes, all right—the last few pages had me crying a bit. They are about Asimov's death, so what did you expect me to do?
Olav
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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)
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Tim Schneider
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let's just start off that I've needed this book in my life for a long long time. Alec Nevala-Lee gives us a biography of John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding magazine and the midwife of what is generally called The Golden Age of Science Fiction. Along the way he also gives us bios of Campbell's two most important writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard...who was a fairly huge writer at the time and went on to greater heights of infamy while his fiction has generally been f ...more
Mark
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s a well-known adage that you should never meet your heroes/heroines, presumably because you will be disappointed. I’m pleased to say, based on my own experiences, that generally in the Fantasy/SF/Horror genres (with some notable exceptions) it isn’t true.

However, after reading this book I might want to reconsider that view again. Indeed, if you see the early founders of the ‘golden age’ of SF of the 20th century as any sort of hero, this book may make you wonder why anyone would’ve wanted to
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Johnny
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
It is hard for me to imagine Robert Silverberg tapping John W. Campbell’s shoulder at a movie (Heinlein’s Destination Moon or Campbell referring to a shy, uncertain Isaac Asimov as “..the fan who’s been trying to be a writer…” but Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is the kind of pop cultural history that I’ve always wanted to read. Not only have I read some of the work of every author mentioned in the book, but ...more
Marlene
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Originally published at Reading Reality

They 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
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Lis Carey
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Astounding was a vital part of science fiction's Golden Age, and its editor, John W. Campbell, a major, or perhaps rather, the major, driving force. He developed many new, young writers who became part of that Golden Age, but most notably three creative, often eccentric, often difficult men with whom he was both in partnership and in conflict.

This book is a serious look at their lives, their partnership, and their conflicts. Based on letters, memoirs, interviews, we learn a great deal about Camp
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Michael J.
What can I say about this that isn't already thoroughly covered in that Goodreads summary? I can think of a couple of things:
1) Alec Nevala-Lee is a meticulous researcher who seems to have left no fact uncovered. His accounting of the rise of contemporary American science fiction from it's pulp magazine roots to cementing it's foundation in the '40's and '50's and building on that in the '60's and '70's until paving the way for Star Wars, etc and the plethora of choices available today is detail
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Roger
Thoroughly enjoyable.

Asimov and Heinlein were my bread and butter in my teen years. By that time, Hubbard was the nutball Scientology guy, the one who pulled a fast one over all those suckers who thought Dianetics and, later, Scientology was actual science and not just a steaming pile of bullshit the rest of us knew it to be. I remember Battlefield Earth coming out around that time. I avoided it because Hubbard, but I took a Science Fiction class in college and a fellow student convinced me to
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Eddie
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-read, 2018
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 a
jerk.
Doctor Science
An excellent first pass at a collective biography. Nevala-Lee is careful not to say, in so many words, "L. Ron Hubbard was a horrible human being and what we call a Piece of Work" but he connects all the dots but one and lets you do the rest. Yuck.

The weakest part of the book, IMHO, is Asimov. There's clearly room (need?) for a bio of Asimov that starts where this leaves off (for reason of space, among other things). Like, how much of Campbell's current rep is based on Asimov's many anecdotes,
...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, sci-fi, biography
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, ...more
Tony
I love non-fiction about sci-fi and fantasy and this is easily one of the best of such works that I’ve read yet. Primarily a biography of John W. Campbell, this work also showcases his relationships with Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard. Nevala-Lee takes a warts-and-all approach, so while the many positive contributions of Campbell and others are not ignored, neither are their negative aspects and actions. An amazing work of research, and written well enough to really keep things moving, I found it ...more
Daniel
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an important and highly readable book about an important figure in science fiction and three writers whose lives intersected with his, professionally and personally. If you're at all interested in the history of written SF, this is a must-read.
Craig
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This account of the most formative years of the modern science fiction field is very well-told and most impressively researched. It's primarily the story of what is commonly accepted as the golden age of sf as personified by a decade of Astounding Stories starting in the late 1930's; Campbell was the editor and Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard were the most popular authors. I've read quite a few accounts of the early days of the field as well as autobiographies and biographies of some of the major ...more
Will
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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I was born in Castro Valley, California and graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in classics. My book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction was released by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, in October 2018. I'm also the author of the novels The Icon Thief, City of Exiles, and Eternal Emp ...more

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“It was a small world—by one estimate, there were fewer than fifty active fans—that magnified certain personality traits. The most devoted members were usually young, obsessive, and confrontational. Disputes between clubs were driven by personal grudges, and a lone player like Wollheim could exert a disproportionate influence. The dynamics were much like those of modern online communities, except considerably slower, and a pattern was established in which a club would be founded, persist for a while, and then implode, either because of internal tensions or because Wollheim came in and dissolved it.” 2 likes
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