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

Cover of the book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction
by Alec Nevala-Lee
HarperCollins/Dey Street, 2018

This review was first published by Booklist on September 15, 2018.

Nevala-Lee (Eternal Empire, 2013) presents a necessary addition to the history of science fiction: a critical look at the life and work of John W. Campbell, legendary editor of Astounding magazine and the central architect of science fiction’s golden age. This period, and the men most central to it, defined the path that still dominates the genre today. Part biography, part history, Astounding covers Campbell’s relationships with his most important writers (Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard); their tumultuous personal lives; the role their wives played in their careers; and the effect WWII and the atomic bomb had on the genre. Campbell and others truly believed science fiction could save the world. Nevala-Lee delves into the development of dianetics and Campbell’s split with Hubbard over Scientology. He also addresses the many biases, prejudices, and personal failings of these eminent men. At times, it feels like Nevala-Lee attempts to accomplish too much, and the mix of history with biography isn’t always comfortable, but it’s all necessary to understand how science fiction became what it is today.