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

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Nevala-Lee, Alec. Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.

Biographies of the authors named in the title, their relationships, and cultural context for a crucial slice of the history of science fiction writing in the United States (with larger effects). Specific references handled in the Wiki with specific stories. Note however:

On L. Ron Hubbard and (significantly) John W. Campbell and dianetics,[1] introduced to the world by Hubbard "not in Astounding but in the Winter/Spring 1950 issue of The Explorers Journal, the official periodical of the Explorer's Club. [...] Hubbard wanted to attract explorers and men of the world. Instead, he ended up with science fiction fans" (pp. 258-59). Nevala-Lee calls attention to a key sentence in the article.

"While dianetics does not consider the brain as an electronic computing machine except for purposes of analogy, it is nevertheless a member of that class of sciences to which belong General Semantics[2] and cybernetics and [...] forms a bridge between the two." In reality, neither field had played any significant role in Hubbard's work [... earlier], and their inclusion here betrayed how deeply his ideas had been shaped by [Joseph] Winter [Jr.] and, above all, by Campbell. (p. 259)

Hubbard in 1949 or so usually "didn't mention any relationship between the brain and a computer"; Campbell came over to that view.

[...] "Basically, the brain is a relay-computer of the type that the ENIAC[3] is." In a subsequent letter he repeated this point — "The human mind is a calculating machine, a binary digital computer, of immense complexity, and absolutely unrealized capability [...]. (pp. 260-61).

As early as 1938, Campbell had published a letter in Astounding with some lines Nevala-Lee uses in the headnote to ch. 13 (covering 1951-1960) and beginning, italics removed, "Man molded the machine, but the machine is going to mold man" (p. [299] cf. A. C. Clarke on tools in 2001, ch. 6 "Ascent of Man"). The definition of "machine" was getting complex, and Campbell's materialism got taken to a kind of limit, "materialized" and given objective correlatives in a "psionics" that would yield "objective data on the brain" from which it would be only "a short step to 'the basic mechanisms of the mind'" — a research project enabled by sometimes strange but quite material "psionic machines" (our emphasis). These included the unsuccessful "Parker Machine" (p. 316), but also "the Hieronymus Machine," from which Campbell developed "a Campbell Machine" using "no electronic parts whatsoever, aside from a meaningless switch and a pilot light [...]. In place of the remaining components, Campbell drew a circuit diagram with ink, made a 'touchplate' out of a piece of paper, and linked all the pieces together with nylon thread [...]. And it still worked" (pp. 318-19). At what might be hard to say, but it indicates that the editor of a major SF outlet, long a source — and sometimes a pusher — of SF ideas to and on authors and the public was linking together material, mechanical, and mental in unusual ways (chs. 11-13 [1945-60]).

RDE, finishing, 4-20Sep19