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

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

Pairs well with Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. This is the first proper biography of John W. Campbell, a publisher, editor, and sometimes writer during science fiction’s golden age. He was the glue that held together the various major personalities as they transitioned from fanboys to young pulp writers to major authors. Campbell mostly stayed in the background, which is why name is not well known, but he was an important figure in the genre. Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard also get the biographical treatment.

None of them come off well in their treatment of women, even by the standards of the time. Campbell was too hard-living for his own good, and his marriage and his life both ended before they should have. The young Asimov was shy and virginal, though by the time he reached middle age his grabby hands were so bad that even dedicated chauvinists had to give him multiple talking-tos about his behavior toward the few female fans sci-fi had at the time. Heinlein was the best of the lot, though even he had multiple marriages, including a distant and dysfunctional first marriage. He would improve his behavior and his matchmaking skills later in life. Hubbard was an all-around horrible human being, even leaving aside Scientology. He was sexually and physically abusive, and once kicked a pregnant girlfriend in the stomach with the worst of possible intentions. He was also an inveterate liar, making up both white lies and personal exaggerations even when he didn’t have to.

Science fiction didn’t have a dominant publisher or promoter the way comics did with Marvel and DC; its business model was much more individualistic, mirroring the ethos many of those authors promoted in their stories. Where Howe’s Marvel book is a story of ongoing evolution, Nevala-Lee’s story arc is more like an individual life, with youthful idealism and early success leading to excess, consequences, and a quieter final act.

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