Astounding | Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)steemCreated with Sketch.

in #review5 years ago (edited)

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

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This remarkable book which clocks in at 408 pages, excluding the acknowledgements, notes, and index (which fill over a hundred further pages) and was, to my mind, one of the most important books of popular culture scholarship last year, possibly even the most important. (I'm not very familiar with popular culture scholarship, unfortunately.)

This book is a quadrilateral biography of John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard which also tells the story, from the 30s to the 50s, of how these four - one editor, three writers - shaped science fiction and changed it forever. In this way Astounding is quintilateral, which probably isn't a word, but is now.

And Astounding is an impressive and worthy read, researched deeply. Indeed, in the course of researching for this, Nevala-Lee discovered a previously unknown draft of Campbell's novella "Who Goes There?" which, of course, later became The Thing.

Through the course of the book, then, we get biographies of each of the major players and the evolution of their writing. Nevala-Lee brings the reader's attention to some other topics that are particularly relevant to today's climes: the racism of Campbell and the sexism of Asimov, and both the racial and gender disparities in science fiction.

He gives space also to the wives of Campbell and Heinlein - Dona Stuart and Leslyn Heinlein (Campbell's and Heinlein's first wives, respectively) - figures whose impact upon their husbands', and their husbands' writing, has heretofore been unacknowledged.

Though Astounding is quintilateral, as I said earlier, its focus is definitely and distinctly John W. Campbell, who has not - until this book - been subject to a biography. After reading Astounding, I find myself wanting a full-length biography dedicated solely to him.

Astounding tells also the incredible story of L. Ron Hubbard's most famous creations: Dianetics and Scientology. And it tells also of Campbell's influence upon both, an influence which to my knowledge has never before been fully revealed, an influence sufficiently extensive that Asimov remarked "I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs."

The story ends first with Campbell's final years, as he grew apart from the field he had played so great a part in shaping and from the three writers he'd collaborated with so fruitfully, and then with the final years of Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard.

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Every subject here is enough to open up space to a full-length book of its own - be it Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, Hubbard, Scientology, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, or the writing careers of any of the four. And - again, I repeat, this is barely above 400 pages - it manages to touch on all of those subjects without leading the reader dissatisfied.

Astounding is marvelously readable and informative and truth be told my sole complaint would be that - at only just barely above 400 pages - it's not nearly long enough. But with as much information here - a good amount of which is new - it's a small complaint. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in science fiction!

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