L Ron Hubbard’s Swansong for “Astounding”: Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (Pt 15)

astounding jan 1951Download Issue as .pdf

In the last part of this series, I suggested that readers of “Astounding Science Fiction” were beginning to tire of L Ron Hubbard’s lengthy articles about dianetics, and wanted more science fiction stories instead. Also, I wondered if  Campbell’s stable of writers, whom he had carefully nurtured, were beginning to look elsewhere to sell their fiction.

Whatever the reason, after a long period during which he had heavily promoted dianetics in his magazine, at the end of 1950 Campbell returned “Astounding”  to its core business and left the new ‘Hubbard Dianetics Institutes’ to stand on their own feet.

This issue contains the very last article by L Ron Hubbard to be published in “Astounding”. This little-know piece was entitled “Dianometry”.

It marks the end of  editorial comment and articles about dianetics in “Astounding”. The only substantial mention of the subject from now on will be in paid advertisements and the very occasional reader’s letter. The connection between dianetics and “Astounding” has finally been broken.

However, in the absence of modern communication and information technology, 50’s pulp magazines were slow to react. Two or three months could elapse between writing an editorial and delivering it into the customer’s hands. Stories and articles required an even greater lead time. Consequently, if there was a change in policy it could take some considerable time to put it completely into effect. Campbell seems to have been forced to publish “Dianometry” because it was already at the printers before he changed his mind.

In this post, we will examine the evidence in this issue that Campbell has decisively turned away from dianetics. In the next post, we will take a close look at Hubbard’s swansong – “Dianometry”- his very last article for “Astounding Science Fiction”.

A New Subscriptions Advertisementdianetics ad pg2.pdf

If you have been following this series, you will have become familiar with the advertisement on the right (click in it to see a larger version in a new tab).

It promotes subscriptions for “Astounding” on the grounds that the magazine is ahead of its time – specifically, that it was the first publication to announce the ‘new science’ of dianetics.

The sale of subscriptions were a life and death matter for pulp magazines. By offering readers the opportunity to buy a years worth of issues in advance at a substantial discount they acquired the capital they needed to pay their printers. Many pulps collapsed because of terminal cash-flow problems  – they had an issue prepared and a market that would buy it, but didn’t have the money to hand to pay for printing and distribution.

The fact that Campbell sold subscriptions to “Astounding” on the basis of its coverage of dianetics shows just how much importance he placed in Hubbard’s creation – he was willing to stake the future of his magazine on its validity.

New ASF subs adHowever, in this issue the ‘dianetics’ ad is replaced with one on page 2 which promotes “Astounding” on the basis of the the quality and variety of its science fiction stories (left).

The dianetics ad never appears again. I believe this demonstrates that readers (and writers) were tiring of dianetics and Campbell had finally been forced to acknowledge this, and move on.

Perhaps it also shows that Campbell himself was becoming disillusioned. Dianetics, which was supposed to revolutionise almost every aspect of human society, was not living up to its promise.

By this time, it should  have brought many  about miracle cures, and emptied hospitals. It should have creating a new breed of supermen and women – ‘Dianetic Clears’  – who could demonstrate astounding abilities (e.g. enhanced IQ, perfect memories, freedom from physical and mental ill &c.).

None of this had happened. Apart from incredulous articles in the mainstream press, society at large had hardly noticed Hubbard’s ‘revolution’ and nobody had demonstrated extraordinary powers.

Campbell’s Editorial – “Tools”

outside the boxCampbell’s editorials were dedicated to ‘thinking outside the box’. Every month he would take a sideways look at his chosen subject. In this issue, his point seems to have been that, as our technology becomes more complex and powerful, the importance of having people who understand how it all works increases.

It’s a small thing, but in this editorial (pg 4) he bemoans the behaviour of people “[…] in this particular aberrated world”. The word “abberated” is, of course a coinage of L Ron Hubbard which has a particular meaning in dianetics – it describes people whose thinking and behaviour is distorted and dysfunctional due to their accumulated ‘engrams’.

Ex-Scientologists note that it is often difficult to stop using Scientology’s specialised vocabulary and modified grammar after they leave.  It could be that Campbell was still a believer, hoping against hope that the dianetics revolution would soon break out, and he had been forced to drop the subject for commercial reasons. Its also possible that he was already losing the faith but still using ‘dianetics-speak’.

The Analytical Laboratory

an lab 1951This regular article used feedback from readers to numerically rate the stories in previous issues (click on the image to view a larger version in a new tab).

It also confirms how long it took “Astounding” to put changes of policy into effect. Stories published in the October 1950 issue are only now being rated in January 1951.

This supports the proposition that Hubbard’s article about ‘Dianometry” would not have made this issue at all, if the magazine was not already too far along the publishing process to strike it.

As Campbell says himself,  in this article,

There is normally a lapse of a good many months between the time we purchase a story, the time it gets fitted into the schedule, set in type, made up into the layout and finally printed and distributed.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark

In a Sherlock Holmes story (“Silver Blaze”) the great detective notes that, sometimes things that unexpectedly don’t happen are of the greatest interest. His observation that a dog which should have barked, didn’t, solves the case.

Despite the fact that “Astounding” has published a substantial article by L Ron Hubbard about dianetics here is no mention of it in Campbell’s (pg 4) editorial.  Previously,  he had used to promote Hubbard’s dianetics articles. Also,  there is no mention of a follow-up in the regular article  “In Times to Come” (pg 27).

On page 153 Hubbard has the same three titles in a ‘5 for the price of 3’ deal in the “Fantasy Fiction Field Book Club”. Despite the massive publicity he has received of late, there is no increase in  interest in his fiction, either.

L Ron Hubbard Pays for an Advertisement

The advertisement below appears on the very last page of this issue. On the face of it, it’s only designed to sell Hubbard’s book and promote the ‘Hubbard Dianetics Institutes’. However, there is clearly a little more going on, if you read between the lines. 0001Hubbard is using exactly the same pitch that in this advertisement that Campbell did in his advertisement for subscriptions to “Astounding” – the one that he discontinues in this issue (see above).

Hubbard writes that “ASF readers, out of the entire public, were the first to learn about this modern science of mental health.”The implication is that readers of “Astounding” are unusually discerning when it comes to scientific matter – the same line Campbell used for months in order to sell subscriptions.

Hubbard seems to be trying to suggest that Campbell’s support for dianetics is ongoing. It will soon become clear that it is not.

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