“Astounding Science Fiction” February 1951 Download as .pdf
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Over a year after its editor, John W Campbell, began promoting dianetics (in the December 1949 issue) L Ron Hubbard’s free ride in “Astounding” had drawn to a close.
Readers had been complaining that the coverage of dianetics had replaced too many of the stories which they bought the magazine for. Also, popular contributors (e.g. L Ron Hubbard and A E Van Vogt) had abandoned fiction writing to head the new ‘Dianetics Institutes’.
To maintain his circulation, Campbell had to start publishing more quality stories and recruit the new authors who could be relied upon to write them.
In the November and December 1950 issues Campbell, had explicitly promising more SF. He also (symbolically) changed the subscriptions advertisement from one (which had boasted about being the magazine which first introduced dianetics to the world) to a more conventional version (which boasted of the quality and variety of its science fiction instead).
The new ‘Dianetics Institutes’ now had to pay their way by advertising, like everyone else. There would be no more articles about dianetics.
Campbell was likely also beginning to have doubts about Hubbard’s claims for Dianetics, and beginning to distance himself from the fad that he played a major part in creating. This theory is supported by the terse rely he gave to a reader’s letter inquiring after L Ron Hubbard (and additional evidence will be presented in the next post in this series).
Despite Hubbard’s relative absence, the February 1951 issue (presented here) still contains interesting insights into Hubbard’s curious personality and the phenomenon of dianetics.
Ole Doc Methuselah – A Fictional Power Fantasy
On page 80 of the February 1951 issue, a letter-writer asks,
What in the name of the Galaxy has happened to ‘Ole Doc Methuselah? That used to be one of my favourites, but many a month has passed since the last one. I do hope you will publish another in the very near future.
‘Ole Doc Methuselah was a near-immortal space-travelling doctor – a character in a long series of lightweight short stories by L Ron Hubbard which were popular with readers of “Astounding”.
In 1970 (almost 20 years after the last story appeared) these stories were collected and published in book form by a company called “Theta”. Since this is a Scientology term, this volume was likely a vanity publication distributed by a Scientology entity. Later editions appeared under the imprint of “Bridge Publications” (which is wholly owned by the Church of Scientology).
As well as being a doctor, the central character is a ‘Soldier of Light’ – an official who is entitled by law to assume absolute power over any situation, whenever and wherever he sees fit. He always solves the problems he encounters.
Doc travels with an alien who has taken the name “Hippocrates” in tribute to the Human father of medicine. This companion is a willing slave – he is said to prefer service to Doc over his own freedom (and incidentally possesses a useful talent for total recall).
These stories are examined (with a satirical twist) on the website Mission: Spork.
‘Ole Doc Hubbard – A Power Fantasy Realised
It’s tempting to see the Doc stories as a power fantasy which expressed L Ron Hubbard’s aspirations. While healthy readers stopped identifying with Doc after they finished the story, Hubbard devoted his life to creating a real-life situation which had uncanny parallels to Doc’s fictional career.
Hubbard didn’t travel the galaxy exercising absolute power. However, as ‘Commodore’ of the Sea Or he did sail the high seas as the master of a vessel. This was crewed by people who surrendered their freedom to him even more thoroughly than poor Hippocrates did to Doc. Hubbard even promised his acolytes total recall, through the practice of dianetics and Scientology.
Hubbard’s medical knowledge, however, was even less convincing than Docs. He taught that his writing were the infallible source of techniques which could cure all mental illnesses and 70% of physical ones – a claim for which no evidence has ever been presented.
On the other hand, Hubbard was never wrong – although he had to resort to stacking the deck to achieve this feat – he:
- Asserted that dianetics and Scientology always worked. It the seemed to fail, they must have been applied incorrectly.
- Made himself the only legitimate source of new ‘research’ and the final court of appeal.
Like Doc, Hubbard could never fail to save the day – when the problem was a matter of Scientology technique. That was enough for him, as he surrounded himself with people who accepted his ‘authority’ without question.
Finally, the name ‘Ole Doc’ suggests that this ‘Solider of Light’ took a very informal approach to the people he met in the course of his vocation. Hubbard even mirrored this characteristic, in his self-presentation as a ‘universal genius with the common touch’.
John W Campbell Distances Himself From L Ron Hubbard
in is capacity as editor of “Astounding”, Campbell replied to the letter-writer’s question as follows,
I’m afraid there will be no more Doc Methuselah; ‘Rene Lafayette’ is L Ron Hubbard – who is now too busy with a larger work to write science-fiction
It’s significant that Campbell does not mention that this ‘larger work’ is, in fact dianetics (the dianetics institutes are now approaching their peak). Not long ago, he would have used this opportunity to promote Hubbard’s creation to the hilt. Now he uses it to establish that Hubbard’s fiction has gone and isn’t coming back, without further explanation.
After all the all of the support and promotion that Campbell had provided for dianetics in the past, he’s now giving its creator the cold shoulder.
The final page of this issue is devoted to an paid advertisement for the ‘official’ dianetics organisation.
Advertisements on pages 77 and 79 offer a few books by Hubbard for sale, sometimes as part of a special offer for other services.
Hubbard was no longer a celebrity figure in “Astounding Science Fiction”. In the next post in this series we will find out why.
Note: this issue was scanned two pages at a time – the page numbers given are for the pdf software (so that you can find references easily). They don’t correspond to the original page numbers.