When golden-age science fiction and Scientology parted ways

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/10/29/when-golden-age-science-fictio.html


Extra Credits has a great series on the golden age of sci-fi.


Campbell’s per-word rates for his pulp writers might have also played a part. Quoting myself from an earlier topic about nutty religious woo:

The letter to his agent where the grifter mentions providing an alternative to Catholicism (one that grants the power to rape women) is right in line with this in terms of timing and scumbag thought process.

Hubbard’s religiose sci-fi is always the shiny thing about it, but presenting the occult in uncanny technical and bureacratic language – “auditing”, “dianetics”, “clear” – was apparently Campbell’s contribution and always seemed to me the deeper current of its appeal.

As I recall, Campbell encouraged his authors to use what later became Star-Trek-style technobabble to give a scientific sheen to concepts like psychic powers or magic that would have been more at home in fantasy stories than they were in SF ones. I’m sure that Jack Parsons and Heinlein also made their own unknowing contributions to what became a monstrous cult.


Hubbard played up the whole war thing, even claiming to have been wounded, paralyzed and blinded. (He never saw action, and had an ulcer.)

He may have fooled Campbell, but I think L. Sprague de Camp saw right through him.

The more complete story of Hubbard is that he is now in Fla. living on his yacht with a man-eating tigress named Betty-alias-Sarah, another of the same kind … He will probably soon thereafter arrive in these parts with Betty-Sarah, broke, working the poor-wounded-veteran racket for all its worth, and looking for another easy mark. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Bob [Robert Heinlein] thinks Ron went to pieces morally as a result of the war. I think that’s fertilizer, that he always was that way, but when he wanted to conciliate or get something from somebody he could put on a good charm act. What the war did was to wear him down to where he no longer bothers with the act.

(L. Sprague de Camp, letter to Isaac Asimov, 27 August 1946.)


Now I love L. Sprague de Camp even more.




L. Sprague de Camp

[Printed in the “Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers” series in Fantastic , August 1975]

I’ve seen hints that Scientology went after him for that, and he had to cool it.

The letter was from Strange Angel, The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons, p.271, Chapter 11, Rock Bottom


…a yacht which he paid for by scamming Jack Parsons.


That’s the word I was looking for!



Oh boy, do I remember these zombies talking my ear off at the various corners of walk and don’t walk.


Is that when the rotting of teeth started?


The horror!

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cmon, it was the sixties:

(besides, its mostly this extremly weird physiognomy of his face and mouth…)


Right, let’s not mention the big cyst on his forehead.


Say what you will, but that’s a nice set of choppers!

“Don’t know why I suddenly got the nerve to go into this again and let it loose. It’s probably either a great love or an enormous hatred of humanity.”

I’m voting for the latter…


When I think of “classic science fiction,” it’s either older than the John Campbell period (Wells, Burroughs, Lovecraft) or newer (Ballard, LeGuin, PKD). Has the “golden age” stuff, especially from Astounding, really aged that well?


I took the test. They promised me a ride home.
I came back to finish it the next day (I test rather poorly).
I told the guy that their results could be about anybody and I had to ride the bus home.


Well, most of Asimov and Clarke (both of whom published much of their early work in Astounding) have aged pretty well. And John Campbell himself, for his many faults, at least wrote one solid classic: “Who Goes There?”, which was the basis for the various “The Thing” movies about Antarctic mayhem.


Well yeah. Heinlein last defended them in his novel Friday in the early 1980s. I don’t know if he was aware of the abuses we now know about. In the book he was contrasting them with an extremest christian group, and basically asking well who is the worse of these two?


The stuff that plays best today is the stuff with the least discussion of racial and gender relationships - which makes a lot of Heinlein’s and Asimov’s later stuff, once publishers were encouraging “more sex” in stories, really problematic. Heinlein’s Corporal Punishment kink, kept largely under wraps in his earlier work, comes out in full flower in I Will Fear No Evil, while Friday includes a Female MC who marries her rapist(!), and The Number of the Beast features Lazarus Long’s wife Libby - who is formerly Lazarus’s pal Andrew Libby who undergoes an involuntary sex change!

While less blatant, Asimov’s own later work approaches the Sexual Revolution from the viewpoint of Nerdy Dude Seeing This as His Chance to Get Laid a Lot! It rarely shows up in his SF work, though he wrote several “naughty” books like The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (written under the obvious pseudonym “Doctor A”), as well as the Lecherous Limericks , Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor and Asimov Laughs Again books. All contained a great deal of dirty jokes, complete with the kind of sexual attitudes that got Sen. Al Franken in trouble a while back, and would have resulted in Harlan Ellison having his own #MeToo Moment if he hadn’t died near the start of it.

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