Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

About Astounding

“Authoritative…fascinating…A major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A gift to science fiction fans everywhere.”—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

“Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era…A remarkable work of literary history.”—Robert Silverberg, Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

“The most important historical and critical work my field has ever seen.”—Barry N. Malzberg, author of Beyond Apollo

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 “the 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 thirty 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Drawing on unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews, Astounding offers a riveting portrait of this circle of authors, their work, and their tumultuous private lives. With unprecedented scope, drama, and detail, it 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 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.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction will be released by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on October 23, 2018. Preorder it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Critical Praise

“The golden age of science fiction, spanning the years 1939 to 1950, gets an authoritative examination in this fascinating appraisal of its key players…This book is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Excellent…Ingenious…The story that Nevala-Lee pieces together here has never quite been assembled in such a detailed, balanced, and clearly written way…A coherent narrative arc that moves forward with the grace of a good tragicomic historical novel…As literary and cultural history, Astounding may well stand as the definitive account of this important era in the growth of modern SF.”


“A laser-sharp study of science fiction’s golden age…First-rate…A welcome contribution to the study of popular literature.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Brings a contemporary sensibility to the golden age of [science fiction]…Nevala-Lee is also meticulous about crediting the contributions of the women in the authors’ lives and recognizing female pioneers…Highly recommended.”

Library Journal

“A thoroughgoing scholarly effort…Yet it doesn’t read like a dry academic book; instead, it’s like a chatty, slightly gossipy popular biography…If you’re curious about the history of this magazine, or science fiction, or of the modern world—you don’t want to miss this one.”

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

“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…It’s all necessary to understand how science fiction became what it is today.”


“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, author of A Beautiful Mind

“Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era eighty years ago when a handful of dedicated writers and one extraordinary editor gave American science fiction its modern shape. It is a remarkable work of literary history.”

—Robert Silverberg, Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

“Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century…Here it is. This is the most important historical and critical work my field has ever seen. Alec Nevala-Lee’s superb scholarship and insight have made the seemingly impossible a radiant and irreplaceable gift.”

—Barry N. Malzberg, author of Beyond Apollo

“A riveting read—a journey to another dimension, one that tells us a lot about creativity, human resilience, and even American exceptionalism. The book is a must read for lovers of science fiction, to be sure, but really for anyone interested in culture, and how it jumps, bounces, and changes.”

—Cass R. Sunstein, New York Times bestselling author of The World According to Star Wars, and Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School

Astounding is a sharp and detailed history of some of the major players in one of the most significant periods in modern science fiction. Highly recommended!”

—Greg Bear, author of Blood Music

Astounding has taught me things I didn’t know; put in context things I did know; and corrected things I thought I knew. This is a wonderful, well-written book; a delight to read.”

—David Drake, author of Hammer’s Slammers

“This is a fascinating, well-written, and deeply researched account of the golden age of science fiction. The lives of the writers are every bit as compelling as their best stories and Nevala-Lee brings them alive.”

—Jon Atack, author of Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky: Hubbard, Dianetics and Scientology

Written by nevalalee

May 11, 2018 at 9:33 pm

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