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Astounding

John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlen, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction
Narrated by: Sean Runnette
Length: 13 hrs and 12 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (63 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Astounding is the landmark account of the extraordinary partnership between four controversial writers - John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard - who set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world. 

This remarkable cultural narrative centers on the figure of John W. Campbell, Jr., whom Asimov called “[T]he most powerful force in science fiction ever.” Campbell, who has never been the subject of a biography until now, was both a visionary author - he wrote the story that was later filmed as The Thing - and the editor of the groundbreaking magazine best known as Astounding Science Fiction, in which he discovered countless legendary writers and published classic works ranging from the I, Robot series to Dune. Over a period of more than 30 years, from the rise of the pulps to the debut of Star Trek, he dominated the genre, and his three closest collaborators reached unimaginable heights. Asimov became the most prolific author in American history; Heinlein emerged as the leading science-fiction writer of his generation with the novels Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land; and Hubbard achieved lasting fame - and infamy - as the founder of the Church of Scientology. 

Drawing on unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews, Alec Nevala-Lee offers a riveting portrait of this circle of authors, their work, and their tumultuous private lives. With unprecedented scope, drama, and detail, Astounding describes how fan culture was born in the depths of the Great Depression; follows these four friends and rivals through World War II and the dawn of the atomic era; and honors such exceptional women as Doña Campbell and Leslyn Heinlein, whose pivotal roles in the history of the genre have gone largely unacknowledged. For the first time, it reveals the startling extent of Campbell’s influence on the ideas that evolved into Scientology, which prompted Asimov to observe: “I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs.” It looks unsparingly at the tragic final act that estranged the others from Campbell, bringing the golden age of science fiction to a close, and it illuminates how their complicated legacy continues to shape the imaginations of millions and our vision of the future itself.

©2018 Alec Nevala-Lee (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

“A big biography of John Campbell, the genius magazine editor who created a mass market for science fiction, couldn’t be timelier. Alec Nevala-Lee’s granular portrait of Campbell and the quirky superstars whose careers he launched in the 1940s and 1950s is a gift to science fiction fans everywhere.” (Sylvia Nasar, New York Times best-selling author of A Beautiful Mind

“[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” (Publishers Weekly

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  • Overall
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    5 out of 5 stars

Well researched and engaging bio of Campbell

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, and Hubbard, all of whom have the subject of previous biographies, Nevala-Lee expands their stories by showing their faults along with their virtues. One of my favorite aspects of Astounding is the amount of attention paid to the women. Many of these women wielded vast influence on the four men and on science fiction itself. With the exception of Virginia Heinlein, previous works have, at best, relegated these women to the sidelines, or worse, cast them into the role of villain and hung all of the man’s faults and missteps on them.

Astounding tells the story of these figures instead of just chronologically listing facts about them, resulting in a book that even a casual fan will appreciate.

Rennette previously narrated Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, which is an homage to the Golden Age, making him an excellent match for this book. His reading added an extra element to the story.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A Great Read

I really had no idea that the lives of so many classic sci-fi authors intertwined the way that they did. There's so much great background and history here. The other thing that was eye opening to me was how genuinely unhappy several of these men seemed to be. Between the multiple marriages and affairs, or in Azimov's case hiding in his office to escape his family life, I found it eye opening how these men seemed to be always searching for something better and not really finding it. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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The greatest Authors in sci-fi

I loved learning more about The greatest Authors in sci-fi, though the writing was rushed at times.

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Fantastic history of an interesting time.

An in depth look at the very direct effect Campbell had on the greats of the Golden age of science fiction.

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amazingly well researched and interesting stories

I particularly enjoyed hearing about the contributions of the women in these influential authors lives.