Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is an exhaustive biography of John W. Campbell, the editor of the premier science fiction magazine for decades, Astounding. It also weaves in the lives of L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein, serving as mini-biographies of those writers as well as an in-depth examination of how all four men's lives and careers intersected.
It's pretty frank about their many faults. None of the four come off very well regarding their personal lives. Asimov was a persistent groper and harasser; Asimov, Heinlein and Campbell cheated on and abandoned their first wives; and Hubbard was the worst, an abusive, paranoid crackpot who founded the nonsense of Dianetics and the cult of Scientology. (With Campbell's help, I might add.) Campbell's racism is also frankly dealt with, and while one wishes such regressive views had been stomped into the dustbin of history, unfortunately they're chillingly familiar in the age of Trumpistan.
This book shows a valuable slice of American and science fiction history, and while I'm not as gaga over it as some, I recognize this is an important work. The prose is smooth and straightforward, and some of the scenes--in particular, Asimov's last, which closes the book--are quite touching. This particular synthesis of writers and ideas will never come again, and while in many ways it's for the best that the field has moved on, it's still valuable to look back and see how it all began.
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