ASTOUNDING: the biography of a dream


Alec Nevala-Lee, science fiction writer and critic, is the author of the very interesting study in contextual history and group biography: ASTOUNDING John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

The book ASTOUNDING is much more than a historical account of the lives of the major figures that presided over the Golden Age of Science Fiction. It allows us to perceive more clearly and to participate in the “dream” of science fiction, and to share the point of view of its originators and shapers.

There is a craziness about these people, an inspired madness of speculation and  of creativity, combined with a paranoid taste for plots and conspiracies, cover-ups and propaganda, secrets and espionage.

They had a sense of using science fiction not just as escapism, but also as education and therapy to produce a new type of citizen, of making both public and covert contributions to a battle for a new civilisation.They were not content to simply dream, they wanted to embody and to implement the dream.

Alec Nevala-Lee shows us also the shadow side of these figures and as well as the shadow of the dream: the ambitions, the manipulations, the militarism, the sexism, the delusions of a new “science” of the mind (psionics, dianetics). We can see how the educational and therapeutic project was inseparable from its pathologies.

This book permits us to ask ourselves: what is the nature of the dream they were caught up in? and what has this dream become for us today? The book is both a pleasure to read and a moving experience.

In short, ASTOUNDING is not just an exercise in scholarship or nostalgia (although it does that quite well). It speaks to us now as participating in the science fiction sensibility and in the dream. It addresses us in our present existence, inciting us to dream the dream on.

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