Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Scientology’s astounding pre-history in a new book you really need to read

In June, we were very fortunate to have author Alec Nevala-Lee with us in Chicago for our annual small gathering, HowdyCon. He was there so we could get to know him ahead of the publication of his exciting new book, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

For science fiction aficionados, this book is a real treat, narrating with deep research a crucible of the genre’s development: Astounding magazine editor John W. Campbell and his work with three of his most famous writers.

In each chapter, Nevala-Lee takes us through the alternating personal histories of these four men: How Campbell became the arbiter of a successful new art form at its most formative time, and how each of the writers came into his orbit. Campbell himself was a massively fascinating figure, and was given to crackpot ideas that he seemed to fall for, one after the other. But his taste in literature was supreme, and writers of the time dreamed of winning his approval and showing up in his publications.

Although the chapters on Asimov and Heinlein are terrific, our attention was mainly drawn to Nevala-Lee’s description of the relationship between Campbell and Hubbard, and Campbell’s involvement in helping to promote Dianetics. While acknowledging the work done by previous authors in this area, Astounding takes it to a new level, and we learned a lot about this amazing period in the development of what would eventually become Hubbard’s most famous creation, Scientology.


Nevala-Lee, for example, reminds us how much the Second World War and the development of the atom bomb impacted these writers at the time. It was a scary new world, and these were writers who specialized in imagining scary new worlds. Although it might seem presumptuous today, Campbell and his authors believed that if anyone was going to solve the problem of humankind attaining world-destroying weapons, it was going to be science fiction authors.

Namely, they were entranced by the idea that these weapons were beyond the capability of human beings to understand and control, and so human brains needed to evolve to a higher state to keep up with the pace of technology. The idea of a new “evolved” man became a science fiction sub-genre of its own at the time which Campbell feverishly encouraged. And so, in the late 1940s, when Hubbard approached him claiming that he had solved the problem and had found a way on his own to evolve the human mind to a higher state, Campbell was hooked.

We really enjoyed a recent review in the prestigious journal Nature, which nails this part of Nevala-Lee’s book…

Campbell had always been obsessed by the possibility of a truly scientific psychology, which he believed would have predictive power along the lines of the fictional science of psychohistory in Asimov’s Foundation series. So when Hubbard, in the late 1940s, shared ideas that later became his ‘self-help system’ Dianetics, Campbell took the bait. Hubbard’s vision of superpowers purportedly lurking in everyone — once they had gone through an ‘auditing’ process and emerged as ‘clears’ — gripped Campbell, and he helped Hubbard to market his 1950 book Dianetics. Nevala-Lee argues that a lingering messianism at the heart of science fiction — its “persistent dream of an exclusive society of geniuses” — helped to propel Hubbard’s movement, which became Scientology. Numerous sci-fi authors embraced Dianetics, submitting to auditing or even becoming trained auditors; A. E. van Vogt briefly abandoned his writing career to run a chapter in Los Angeles, California.

Hubbard’s gift for the hard sell was pivotal, and Nevala-Lee’s portrait of him as a paranoid narcissist and skilled manipulator is scathing. However, Campbell is also sharply scrutinized for his role in midwifing and unleashing Dianetics. Heinlein and Asimov were repelled by what they saw as an uncritical embrace of quackery, and took refuge in newer, often more lucrative markets. The book’s final chapters detail the steady decline of the magazine into a second-rank publication, and Campbell (who died in 1971) into a reactionary crackpot with racist views.

As Nevala-Lee has explained (and will in an exclusive we have with him for you this week, featuring a historic document which has never been put online before), Hubbard hoped that the medical or psychiatric establishments would recognize the genius in Dianetics and would help him promote it. But they considered it evidence-free garbage, so Hubbard had to turn to Campbell, who then used the power of Astounding magazine to give Dianetics a huge push at its publication in May 1950.

Would Dianetics have gone on to be the bestseller that it became, eventually spawning Scientology, if Campbell hadn’t lent the power of his publication to promote Hubbard’s ideas to the masses? That’s one of those great “what-ifs” that really make you wonder.

For now, however, pick up a copy of Nevala-Lee’s book when it goes on sale Tuesday, and make sure to check back here for the exclusive that Alec is giving only the Underground Bunker on that day.


Bonus items from our tipsters



Scientology’s celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs’ — now with comments!

[Bijou Phillips and the Inglewood Ideal Org]

We’re building landing pages about David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, including celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs.’ We’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about them, in order to build a record and maintain a watch as Scientology continues its inexorable decline — and yes, we finally have comments working on these new pages! Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments.

Previously, we posted pages for celebrities Anne Archer, Beck Hansen, Catherine Bell, Chick Corea, Elisabeth Moss, Erika Christensen, Ethan Suplee, Giovanni Ribisi, Greta Van Susteren, Jenna Elfman, John Travolta, Juliette Lewis, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Laura Prepon, Marisol Nichols, Michael Peña, Nancy Cartwright, Tom Cruise, Danny Masterson, Stanley Clarke, Edgar Winter, Alanna Masterson, Billy Sheehan, Judy Norton-Taylor, Terry Jastrow, Eddie Deezen, Sofia Milos, Bodhi Elfman, Rebecca Minkoff, Doug E. Fresh, Christopher Masterson, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Michael D. Roberts, Michelle Stafford, Jim Meskimen, and Lynsey Bartilson. And for the Ideal Orgs of Portland, Oregon; Sydney, Australia; San Diego, California; Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; Perth, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; Sacramento, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Silicon Valley, California; Rome, Italy; Orlando, Florida; Moscow, Russia; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Seattle, Washington; Dallas, Texas; Melbourne, Australia; San Fernando Valley, California; Pasadena, California; Bogotá, Colombia; Budapest, Hungary; Phoenix, Arizona; London, England; Orange County, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Auckland, New Zealand; Miami, Florida; Basel, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany; Birmingham, England; Brussels, Belgium; Buffalo, New York; Cambridge, Ontario; Copenhagen, Denmark; Dublin, Ireland; Greater Cincinnati (Florence, Kentucky); Hamburg, Germany; and Harlem, New York.

Today it’s Bijou Phillips and Inglewood, California!


Coming November 1

Paulette tells us we can reveal the publication date she has set. We’ll let you know when pre-ordering begins.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,243 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,876 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 419 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 307 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,482 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,256 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,030 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,376 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,942 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,610 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,870 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,910 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,622 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,148 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,237 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,377 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,697 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 7,553 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,672 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,028 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,330 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,436 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,839 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,710 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,293 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,798 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,042 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,151 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on October 20, 2018 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates

Join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email