The mini-James Gunn series continues.
As with the other installments, Joachim Boaz provides the parallel optics on this one.
Raw Feed (1991): The Burning, James E. Gunn, 1972.
This was an interesting book both philosophically and structurally.
This novel is a fix-up of three stories.
As usual Gunn is interested in exploring philosophical points and his characters are symbolic, but Gunn manages to flesh them out somewhat, usually through interior monologues, particularly Susannah of the last of three stories. This novel, at least the first story — “Witches Must Burn” — is partially a product of the fifties with its in passing talk of security issues involving scientists and its use of the slang term “eggheads”. But it is, in its own way, relevant to now. The novel’s burning of the universities as a reaction to the stresses of modern, technological civilization seems to be mirrored in the current environmental movement with its talk of slower development, “limits to growth”, the arrogance of science, the “fallacies” of traditional western thought. And, one could argue, that the universities are even more isolated from reality (present and historical) than ever now, and it is the isolation which Gunn sees as harmful.
The novel takes an interesting tack. At first, we sympathize with protagonist John Wilson. He is a figure ready for an sf audience to sympathize with: a scientist who flees a mob burning his university, destroying his research, faced with betrayal, murderous irrationality, and cowardice on every side. (There is a parallel to A.E. van Vogt’s Slan here — not only in the hunting of an intelligent man by a less intelligent mob — but also because Wilson has a machine that reads brain waves and can, like a slan’s telepathic sense, warn him of danger.) But that’s only for the first 40 pages. Continue reading “The Burning; or Adventures in Reader Reactions”