During the 1940s and 1950s, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION magazine dominated the Science Fiction market. The best writers, the best stories, the best cover artwork found its way to the pages of the magazine edited by the legendary John W. Campbell. Alec Nevala-Lee’s well-written history, Astounding, shows how the key figures–Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard–made that magazine the key factor in shaping the SF genre durning those decades.

I grew up reading Astounding as a kid. The Kelly Freas covers with the names of great Science Fiction writers inside were irresistible. I still treasure my July 1958 issue of Astounding Science Fiction featuring Jack Vance’s classic “The Miracle-Workers” on the cover. John W. Campbell was a “hands on” editor, frequently pitching ideas for stories to his stable of writers. Isaac Asimov gives credit to Campbell for assisting in the development of “The Three Laws of Robotics” and the “psychohistory” of the Foundation series.

Later, Campbell’s fascination with extrasensory perception and Dianetics caused Asimov and Heinlein to seek other markets. But for about 20 years, Astounding set the standard for the best Science Fiction could offer its loyal readers. If you want to know more about the history of SF, Astounding will enlighten and delight you! For another perspective on Astounding, James Wallace Harris offers an excellent review here. And Micheal Dirda’s fine review can be found here. GRADE: A
PART I: WHO GOES THERE? (1907-1937) 15
1. The Boy from Another World (1910-1931) 17
2. Three Against the Gods (1907-1935) 35
3. Two Lost Souls (1931-1937) 53
PART II: GOLDEN AGE (1937-1941) 71
4. Brass Tacks (1937-1939) 73
5. The Analytical Laboratory (1938-1940) 99
6. In Times to Come (1939-1941) 127
PART III: THE INVADERS (1941-1945) 149
7. A Cold Fury (1941-1944) 151
8. The War of Inventions (1942-1944) 175
9. From “Deadline” to Hiroshima (1944-1945) 191
PART IV.: THE DOUBLE MINDS (1945-1951) 215
10. Black Magic and the Bomb (1945-1949) 217
11. The Modern Science of Mental Health (1945-1950) 241
12. The Dianetics Epidemic (1950-1951) 267
PART V: THE LAST EVOLUTION (1951-1971) 297
13. A Fundamental attack on the Problem (1951-1960) 299
14. Strangers in a Strange Land (1951-1969) 327
15. Twilight (1960-1971) 353
Acknowledgements 409
Notes 413
Bibliography 499
Index 509


  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    I have a copy of this but it’s still in my never ending tbr pile. I didn’t start reading the SF magazines until about 1961 or 62 and Astounding had changed it’s name to Analog by then. Their many writers by then seemed to be James Schmitz and Christopher Anvil. I remember they published Dune during than time. And had a lot of good covers by John Schoenherr during the 60’s.
    I think you meant dianetics not diabetics.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I’m astonished by all the buzz ASTOUNDING is receiving. The Wall Street Journal ran a great review. Now the Washington Post has Michael Dirda’s review. You wouldn’t think that a SF history book would garner this much attention!

  2. Todd Mason

    Michael Dirda is a fantastic-fiction fan (in the hanging out with the writers and editors sense as well as reading) of long standing, so that explains the POST…the WSJ reviewer likewise is at least as much a fan. People do love this book, as the best to address its subject so far…I’m looking forward to reading it…

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I’m glad ASTOUNDING brought out the best in the fantastic-fiction fan reviewers. Sometimes the stars align and a good book gets the attention it deserves!

  3. Michael Padgett

    I have this on hold and awaiting pickup, so I’ll probably get it this weekend. I wasn’t around for the glory days of ASTOUNDING, and by the time I started reading it in the early sixties Campbell was already in his weird and wacky stage, but I have read the writers who made ASTOUNDING the great magazine it was. The reviews of this have really been…..nah, I won’t say it.

  4. Todd Mason

    OK, George, I have to take issue–ASTOUNDING was the most respected sf magazine in the field in the 1940s…in part because Campbell was doing good work, and because other editors in the field were less-experienced kids (Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Robert Lowndes) working with often pitiful budgets at either discount or third-string publishers…or. like Sam Merwin at THRILLING WONDER STORIES and STARTLING STORIES, they didn’t have the passion and zeal that Campbell did, and simply wanted to put out the best magazine they could while still appealing to the younger audience…while Ray Palmer at AMAZING and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES was aiming at an even younger audience of all ages (and Wilbur Peacock and his peers at PLANET STORIES were lucky that Leigh Brackett enjoyed writing for them). By the 1950s, Campbell had started to drive away a Lot of his best writers with his various hobbyhorses, and Dianetics was certainly one of them (and the most pernicious, but not the only one) , and the well-financed GALAXY and the steady MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and upgraded packages at the other “legacy” magazines and a flood of new magazines meant that ASTOUNDING wasn’t the top of the heap any longer…though a lot of fannish JWC idolators wanted to fantasize That He Must Be. It didn’t hurt his status that his magazine was published by Street & Smith, then Conde Nast, far wealthier publishers than any other other magazines by the end of the ’50s, and that GALAXY’s H. L. Gold, who had been so open to Campbell writers wanting to try something new, had his own hobbyhorses and was even grumpier about them. By the ’60s, ANALOG was a handsome but only fitfully good shadow of what it had been…hell, Algis Budrys referred to the late ’50s, the worst issues JWC would put together, as the Tin Age of ASF.

    And if you remember reading E. B. Cole stories, dire attempts to ape Jack Vance and other actually talented writers, you’d realize it was.

      1. Todd Mason

        In the late ’50s, a Whole Lot of terrible E.B. Cole stories (and other writers who mostly were published because they responded to JWC’s whims), and just-passable filler by Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg working together and separately and under pseudonyms. Mixed with some good stories, to be sure.

      2. george Post author

        Todd, I stopped reading ANALOG in the 1960s when the quality fell off. I was more of a GALAXY, IF, and WORLDS OF TOMORROW guy.

      3. wolf

        Have to agree with George here – but there still were some good stories in Analog!
        Just think abot Dune …
        I’ve written abot this before – I was so happy when I found Astounding/Analog in a German magazine/bookstore …

    1. Todd Mason

      I should note that Mary Gnaedinger and Dorothy McIlwraith were buying a Little new sf, but not much, for their more-fantasy (and in MG’s case mostly reprint) magazines in the ’40s…but were more peripheral to sf…

    2. george Post author

      Todd, you’re right about the Rise and Fall of ASTOUNDING. It was the best SF magazine for a couple of decades. But Campbell’s wackiness and ASTOUNDING’s competitors changed the trajectory of the magazine in the 1960s.

      1. Todd Mason

        I’d say, more like the best sf magazine for the two decades beginning in 1930…as even Bates’s magazine was livelier than the Sloane AMAZING or the Gersback WONDER STORIES…though it’s a close call there. Then Farnsworth Wright laid a Lot of groundwork for Campbell, and Campbell built wonderfully on that. But even by the end of the ’40s, Sam Merwin was starting to get some of the best work in THRILLING WONDER STORES and STARTLING STORIES, and Jerome Bixby was busily upgrading PLANET, and in 1950, Howard Browne had some very impressive fiction in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES particularly.

        So…for about a decade plus, rather than two, JWC’s ASTOUNDING was the best sf magazine. GALAXY really was better from 1950-1955, at least…and F&SF was essentially the creme of the field in latter ’50s, with good work appearing in VENTURE, VANGUARD, FUTURE FICTION and SCEINCE FICTION, and INFINITY among others…Damon Knight and Larry Shaw did some good things at IF, as well, before it was sold to Galaxy Publishing and Frederik Pohl took it over.

      2. Todd Mason

        Campbell had already chased away Sturgeon, Heinlein, Asimov and others by about 1950. van Vogt and Katherine MacLean, worse yet, got deeply involved with Dianetics and stopped writing fiction for a while.

      3. george Post author

        Rick, THE DOOR INTO SUMMER was serialized in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October, November, December 1956.

      4. Todd Mason

        Heinlein did allow CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY to also be serialized in ASF…but he was essentially gone from the magazine, as opposed to his multiple contributions to GALAXY and F&SF…he was in IMAGINATION more often than he was in ASTOUNDING in the ’50s.

        Also alienated by Campbell by the early ’50s: Alfred Bester, Clifford Simak (even though he placed “The Big Front Yard” there, it was one of only three stories in ASF in the decade, as opposed to over a dozen in GALAXY), and Campbell refused to buy anything more from Fritz Leiber when Leiber dared to sell a Change War story to GALAXY after one (1) Change War story had appeared in ASF.

      5. george Post author

        Todd, I remember THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION featured Fritz Leiber’s portrait on the cover of one of its issues. And, I seem to remember an issue of AMAZING or FANTASTIC that devoted a whole issue to Leiber’s work.

  5. Todd Mason

    Hah! I’m under the weather. I mean, of course, F. Orlin Tramaine rather than Farnsworth Wright, the editor at WEIRD TALES who gathered many of their early most influential writers.

  6. Rick Robinson

    I fully expected Todd to say GALAXY and F&SF were superior, he’s been saying that as long as I can remember. I started reading ASTOUNDING in 1953, and went back and bought all the issues beginning Jan 1950, and continued subscribing through 1970, when my interest wained. I usually didn’t read Campbell’s editorials, I was interested in the fiction and P. Schyler Miller’s book reviews, and the artwork. I wish I still had all those issues today, but they were stolen in 1979. * sigh *

    I’m looking forward to this if it EVER comes from the library, where it just went from “on order” to “in processing”. I’m number 5 of 5, so, soon I hope. George, would you consider this a reference book?

    1. Todd Mason

      Well…they certainly had less filler in the ’50s, though GALAXY was in decline in the latter ’50s. Pohl taking full charge of it by about 1960 helped it and IF become as impressive as they would be in the ’60s.

    2. george Post author

      Rick, I hesitate to call ASTOUNDING a reference book because then it will be relegated to the stacks. As Jim and Dirda point out, ASTOUNDING is both history and biography. Making sense of what Science Fiction developed into from 1940 to 1960 comes into focus with this book.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, Word Press has been driving me bonkers lately with its aggressive spell checker. The damn thing changes names and words and when I change them back, it flags them as mis-spellings! In Rick Robinson’s word: BAH!

  7. Steve Oerkfitz

    I read Analog thru the 60’s but preferred F & SF and Galaxy. Amazing and Fantastic also published a lot of good stuff in the 60s while edited by Cele Goldsmith.

    1. wolf

      Yes, F & SF and Galaxy. Amazing and Fantastic were fantastic (pun intended)!
      And I was so happy that beginning in 1971 I could afford regular trips (about 800 km each way by car – less when I started from Cologne e g where I had projects …) to London. Always took the overnight ferry – didn’ t need a hotel for that night …
      And I looked all around London for back issues too.
      Btw many mags had British editions too in those glorious days!

      1. george Post author

        Wolf, the Brit SF magazines rarely showed up in my area. But once in a while an old pulp magazine appears in a thrift store or a used bookstore.

  8. Robert Napier

    Campbell embraced, published, and pushed Dianetics (gateway drug for Scientology) and for that he has my undying emnity!

  9. Rick Robinson

    George, now I’ve read it. My thoughts:
    ASTOUNDING John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee read 11-08-2018.

    The subtitle might indicate the author’s intentions, but with the word Astounding at the head, I think the title is misleading. This is a book mostly about how haywire Campbell became under the influence of total nutcase Hubbard, and the author seemingly loves to roll in the defecation of Hubbard’s and then Campbell’s off-center thinking about mind power, parapsychology, which became first Dianetics then Scientology.

    I wanted a book about the magazine and it’s editor’s influence on the SF of the decades40s-50s-60s. Instead I got a pean to the stink of nuttiness of these few people, with barely a nod to the other writers who made the Golden Age “golden”. I rate this, for it’s complete failure to provide what the title suggests, a C- (perhaps a D).

    1. george Post author

      Rick, I can see your point. I wasn’t expecting a history of the magazine (although the subtitle hints at the direction of the book). Maybe you should think about writing a history of ASTOUNDING. I’d buy it!


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