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

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4.31  ·  Rating details ·  211 ratings  ·  65 reviews

An Economist Best Book of the Year

"Enthralling…A clarion call to enlarge American literary history.” — Washington Post

“Engrossing, well-researched… This sure-footed history addresses important issues, such as the lack of racial diversity and gender parity for much of the genre’s history.” — Wall Street Journal

“A gift to science fiction fans everywhere.” — Sylvia Nasar, N

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Kindle Edition, 544 pages
Published October 23rd 2018 by Dey Street Books
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Ed Erwin
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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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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.
Mike
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
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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Olav
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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Ann-Marie
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.
Paul
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Johnny
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
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  ·  review of another edition
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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Eddie
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, history-read
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.
Daniel
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mark
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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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Michael Burnam-Fink
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
Will
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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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Joan
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: scifi fans, Asimov, Heinlein, fans in particular
It confirmed some of my beliefs, that Asimov was the most interesting and likable of the bunch. All of the group had at least two wives (not at the same time though one might have been bigamous for a few weeks!) The book did rather confirm the classic stereotype of nerds being socially inept. Asimov did have a bad habit of pinching women, and nothing seemed to get through to him that that had become more and more unacceptable as he aged. On the other hand, Heinlein wrote some pretty creepy books ...more
Martin
A weaving of the biographies of four giants of science fiction, this is an excellent read. It helps that I've read most of the stories and novels mentioned. The author doesn't sugarcoat much about his subjects' weaknesses and eccentricities, which is appreciated. There's plenty of hero worshiping views of the topic available.

While I knew something of the subject matter from other histories of SF, I was unaware that Campbell was a part of launching Dianetics. Campbell didn't learn a damn thing fr
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Rafael Ontivero
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
#Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction - Alec Nevala Lee
Un título casi tan largo como el libro, pero realmente es de lo que trata. Del nacimiento de la revista Astounding, y de las vidas de los tres autores citados junto a la de Campbell, que fue el padre de la _Era dorada de la ciencia ficción_.
Pese a tratarse de un muy ambicioso intento de cubrir muchos autores y una época bastante compleja de la ciencia ficción,
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Chris Bauer
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a fan of science fiction, this book is a MUST READ. Nevala-Lee goes to extraordinary lengths to highlight the giants of the Golden Age of Science Fiction and their common vehicle - Astounding Magazine.

I'm simply in awe at the details and exquisite research which is present in this work. Just jaw-dropping. The work, hefty as it is, chronicles each of the giant's trajectory through the common nexus of John W. Campbell and his sphere of influence.

The author does an incredible job of presenting f
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Scott
Nov 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I guess this book is fairly well-researched... But I don’t think it’s well-thought-out or well-written, which makes it less than pleasant to read. And the men the book purports to focus on are - how can I say this with compassion? - eminently... human. [cough] Heinlein, Asimov, Hubbard and Campbell were giants in the Golden Age of science fiction... but - at least in this book - I have trouble understanding why I should be interested in them...
Campbell
Poor. Informative, yet ultimately flat and lifeless. It did itself untold damage with its unwarranted (and seemingly arbitrary) inclusion of Hubbard the liar, charlatan and fantasist. His presence within was unworthy of such company. I can't help but feel there were many more contemporaneous figures who would have been a better choice.
Jim
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.
Jeffrey
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Good book, well researched. Maintains a relatively sympathetic voice regarding the people it covers, other than Hubbard, who is lambasted. I enjoyed Asimov and Heinlein as a youth - devoured their books. This put their writing in perspective, and especially with Heinlein, allowed me to understand why certain themes were present, or changed. Campbell comes across as very self-important, but he seems to have influenced sci fi to an extraordinary degree. A few cases of more description of some of t ...more
Horia Ursu
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very thorough exploration of the Golden Age of science fiction and its aftermath. This is Hugo and Nebula material.
Christopher Hellstrom
Audio version. A great history of the era.
H. P.
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Astounding is, broadly speaking, a biography of four seminal figures in science fiction history: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard (although Hubbard’s influence is mostly outside of science fiction), and one seminal science fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction But it is really a biography of John W. Campbell, who was the highly influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction (now known as Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from 1937 to 1971 and who sha ...more
Michael
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No need to reiterate the gist of Alec Nevala-Lee's ASTOUNDING. Other reviewers have established the premise. That said, I found this to be addictive reading, simultaneously dark and illuminating and, toward the end, deeply moving. It's not just the amount of research that went into this that impresses, but the structure and style the author employs to convey this research. It's a highly accessible read that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. I rank ASTOUNDING alongside tw ...more
Joe Karpierz
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was a teenager in the 1970s, but I started reading science fiction in the late 1960s. I would guess that the first sf book I ever read was Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. In any case, even at that early age, I'd begun to hear about the influential editor John W. Campbell. I really didn't know what editors did, or why he was influential, but his name kept popping up. I'd also heard about the science fiction magazine Astounding (which was later renamed Analog, which is still being
publ
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Michael
Man, I just sucked this one down. I got it on Wednesday and finished it last night (Friday). I love, love, love vintage science fiction, and this book--a history of Astounding Magazine and its most famous authors--could not have been more interesting to me. So much I didn't know. For example, Isaac Asimov was a notorious sexual harasser, John W. Campbell was a noxious racist, and Robert Heinlein was a bit of a right-wing fascist (actually...I did know that last one). L. Ron Hubbard, of course, w ...more
William Korn
My love affair with science fiction began at about the same time my love affair with science began, which is to say about the age of eight (which is to say the mid-1950's). Although I was too young to experience the "Golden Age of Science Fiction" as it happened, the bulk of the science fiction I read in my youth was written by the people who were participants. Like many of the authors and fans mentioned in this book, science fiction helped to develop my interest in science. I can attribute my i ...more
Farah Mendlesohn
I am not a disinterested reader. My book on Heinlein comes out in March. I happen to know that Nevala-Lee has reviewed my book, although I don't know his verdict.
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I have been putting this off because I was terrified that I'd find something I'd got wrong. There are one or two places where maybe you could describe me as over-reliant on Patterson, but I can live with that.

So what do I think?

First, if you have both, read Astounding first. It gives you the big picture. RAH comes over as a bit of a
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The Sword and Laser: SciFi NonFi 12 65 Oct 24, 2018 11:47AM  
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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