The James Gunn series continues.
Review: “The Big One”, James Gunn, 1996.
This was Gunn’s 45th story. Like “Jackpot for Julie” and “The Man with One Talent”, it was an attempt to break into the “slick”, higher paying magazines. It seems to have been written in 1953 or 1954.
It is not at all science fictional.
It’s a boxing story.
It’s the classic setup: our narrator Champ – and that’s all he’s ever called, but, at 34, he’s an over-the-hill champ vs. Johnny, a 23-year old up and coming fighter with a contract and the chance to make a reputation.
The difference: Johnny and Champ are brothers, and Champ’s going to beat some sense into Johnny.
Champ’s been putting aside money for Johnny to go to college to become an engineer. But, from the outside, Champ’s life (and we never get his actual name) looks pretty good, and Johnny hates being lectured about choosing a different path.
So, Johnny takes up boxing in secret. But Champ tells us that, while Johnny may look good, he doesn’t look as good Champ did at that age. And he doesn’t have the experience and training.
Manny, Johnny’s manager, the man with his contract, proposes the “greatest match since Cain fought Abel”. We get the sense Manny’s crooked, so to keep Johnny out of his clutches, Champ agrees to the match. The wager is money for Manny and Johnny’s contract for Champ.
The Champ is going to bring Johnny’s foolish career path to an end.
Short paragraphs of flashbacks about sibling rivalry alternate with details of the Champ’s pummeling.
But things change by the end. The Champ proves experience and motivation overcome youth. Johnny goes down. But the Champ also realizes he’s been overbearing in trying to dictate Johnny’s life.
The story ends with Champ getting Johnny’s contract and offering to coach him.
It’s an effectively done story, another “slick” story that shows Gunn’s versatility. Its style differs from the more morose and stately prose of his science fiction novels, The Joy Makers and The Immortals. However, for me, that twist ending seems a bit too sentimental. I presume happy endings were the norm for Gunn’s intended market.