The Amazing, the Astounding and the Unknown by Paul Malmont

What would have happened if our government thought that the Germans were close to developing a super weapon during World War II?  Author Paul Malmont supposes that the Navy would have recruited a special think tank of pulp magazine Sci-Fi writers to turn the ideas of Science Fiction – such as death rays, weather control, and invisibility – into science fact. Malmont takes this premise and runs with it, bringing the reader along for one heck of a joy ride with such authors as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov (don’t call him “Ike”), L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard and others. At first I was worried about the book’s length (432 pages) and not being able to finish it before I had to finish my next book club book, but it was such a fun, fast read that by the time I finished, I was wishing that the book didn’t have to end.

I got just a bit confused at first because there is a story within a story, but once I picked up on that, I got so engrossed in Malmont’s plot and the semi-fictionalized versions of these writers from Science Fiction’s Golden Age, that I just kept turning pages as quickly as my eyes would let me. If you’re a fan of the classic Sci-Fi authors of the first half of the last century, as well as the men who inspired them, such as Jack Campbell, Walter Gibson & Lester Dent, you’ll want to see what would have happened if they had all worked together to help beat the Nazis. Fans of World War II era Historical Fiction will also enjoy the author’s blend of fact and fiction as this adventurous novel is based on a true story. Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard were both in the Navy and Heinlein did work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, while Hubbard was in the South Pacific during WWII. Other historical figures are involved as one of the answers to Germany’s “Wunderwaffe” may lie in a secret project that Nikola Tesla had worked on years before, and was revisiting before he died mysteriously. Of course, Asimov, de Camp and others had an education in actual science, which helps them track down what Tesla was working on after he lost the electrical wars with Edison and Marconi stole credit for inventing the radio.

The book reminded me a bit of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, mostly due to the similar time period (1940’s) and subject matter (comic books versus pulp science fiction). Both books are based on historical events and facts, but fictionalized just enough to be entertaining and tell a great story. The other thing that Malmont’s book did was make me want to learn more about the real lives of these early Sci-Fi writers.  For example, was Heinlein’s first wife really mentally unbalanced?  Did Asimov and his wife really have intimacy issues? And, was Hubbard, well, were many of the rumors about him true? Oh, and the title?  It comes from three of the famous science fiction pulp magazines of the day.

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