ASTOUNDING: John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee look sat the lives of the people who shaped what SF would look like for the next thirty or forty years (regrettably I couldn’t find a convenient cover from the magazine).
Having fallen into editorship of Astounding by luck, Campbell proceeded to transform it by pushing writers to de-emphasize gadgets in favor of compelling stories and stronger characters — though he preferred competent, capable men to the ordinary people and losers of so many Twilight Zone tales.He did the same for fantasy with Unknown, but it didn’t last long.
Campbell vastly improved the quality of specfic though it might have happened anyway: Isaac Asimov speculates at one point that if author Stanley Weinbaum had lived longer, his amazing stories would have redefined the genre even without Campbell. Campbell was also racist and while I doubt any other editor would have been more open to diversity in the 1930s, his view of women and POC certainly hindered the field in later decades.
Beyond the impact on the field, Nevala-Lee does a good job capturing the brittle egos, unstable marriages and lechery of her subjects, among other flaws. While Hubbard comes off worst — a womanizer and a serial liar — in other ways Astounding improves my view of the man. In his prime, he was way more successful as an author than I realized and despite his statements about the bottom-line benefits of starting your own religion, Nevala-Lee concludes he started out as a sincere believer in Dianetics (AKA Scientology) and only gradually turned cult leader.
On a personal note, I had one of my many “I wish I’d read that sooner” moments when I learned that Campbell identified the shapeshifter of Who Goes There? with his manipulative, deceitful (or so he saw her) mother. It would have been good to know when I was writing about gender issues in The Thing for The Aliens Are Here.
COMING UP ROSES: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s by Ethan Mordden looks at an era when hit Broadway tunes routinely played on mainstream radio and Broadway success created stars in movies (Julie Andrews) or TV (Carol Burnett). Rodgers and Hammerstein, having established the musical play as a genre with Oklahoma — something Mordden discusses in his Beautiful Mornin’ — they were still breaking fresh ground and inspiring others to follow in their tracks.
Mordden argues that while My Fair Lady was the decade’s big hit — he credits this to the script using enough of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to give it a unique feel — Candide was the wave of the future. (“It didn’t directly influence anything but it proved the musical could do anything.”). He also writes about star vehicles, the occasional operetta or musical review, brilliant failures and “floppo” shows such as Ankles Aweigh, produced by a man who thought Oklahoma and My Fair Lady were draining the fun out of Broadway. An excellent book if you’re into the topic.
THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL by Sujata Massey is a historical mystery set in 1920s Bombay, where female solicitor Perveen (inspired by a real female lawyer of the era) takes point for her father’s law firm in investigating whether the eponymous widows are being cheated out of their inheritance: as they’re strict Muslims unwilling to talk with a man, Perveen stands the best chance of getting the answers. A mixed bag, good in the historical mystery but not as interesting when it’s just a straight historical novel. Overall worth the reading, though.
KING SOLOMON’S TABLE: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking From Around the World by Joan Nathan says that due to their wandering over the past couple of millennia, Jewish food history is a mix of the many foods, spices and cooking styles they’ve picked up from one place or another and adapted (and often spread to gentiles elsewhere) as well as the many trade deals they’ve been engaged in, such as Jewish merchants importing chocolate, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World. Interesting, and some appetizing recipes though I wasn’t in the mood to try them out just now.
#SFWApro. Top cover by Frank R. Paul; all rights to images remain with current holders.