Star-Begotten

Review: Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn, 2017.51CAqNyrFQL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_

Even James Gunn didn’t live all his life in science fiction, and the parts of his autobiography about his life outside that world are as entertaining and lengthy as the rest.

Of course, Gunn is a noted science fiction writer who first published in 1949 and has had new work published in 2018. He was the first to treat science fiction as an academic subject. He taught the craft of writing it for many years. He also was the man behind the Science Fiction Lecture Film series which filmed presentations of noted science fiction writers. You can find clips on YouTube and purchase the series from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction including one of Gunn interviewing Rod Serling.

But this autobiography gives you a sense of the man and something of his times.

It was a life, he acknowledges, governed by chance. One was meeting the woman he was married to for 65 years, Jane Anderson. It might not have happened if he hadn’t left college after his junior year in 1943 when we was finally called up for the Navy Air Force which he volunteered for shortly after World War Two started. Another chance event altered the trajectory of that Navy career when an unusually calm day, a condition in which Cadet Gunn was unused to, caused him fail to slow a plane while landing it solo for the first time. He became a washed-out aviator trainee. Continue reading “Star-Begotten”

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Saving the World Through Science Fiction

Review: Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar, Michael R. Page, 2017.51jIRlPDtwL

Before I move on to the inevitable quibbles, let me say that anyone who is a James Gunn fan should buy this book. People who are curious about Gunn and his work should buy this.

Actually, since it’s the first and only book about Gunn, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter anyway.

I’ve long thought, even before starting this blog, that Gunn was an author unjustly neglected and that I should write a series on him. However, while I’ve done some posts on Gunn and read all his novels and most of his shorter works, I didn’t make notes on a lot of them. I’d have to do a lot of rereading and make careful notes.

Page has largely saved me the trouble. He says many of the things I noticed about Gunn. He also says many things I didn’t notice. Continue reading “Saving the World Through Science Fiction”

Kampus; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Essay: Kampus, James Gunn, 1977.

Kampus
Cover by Bob Larkin.

“It’s easy to loosen the reins of authority but difficult to tighten them again. That would have involved the kinds of effort we no longer were capable of making and would have revolutionized our society almost as much as you threatened. So we gave you the campuses. We walled you in. The serious scholars departed, and we left you here to play your games and survive, if you could, and maybe some of you would survive, if you could, and maybe some of you would graduate. …

“You may think it’s ridiculous to have a mechanical Chancellor. But it is no more ridiculous than having mechanical students. And that is what you are, mechanically responding to stimuli like so many robots.”

The speaker is the Chancellor of the University of Kansas. It’s about 1998, and the students have gotten what they wanted after the Free Speech movement of the 1960s – a place to play their own power games and hierarchy struggles while complaining about social injustice.

In 1968, James Gunn, 45 years old and dealing with student unrest in his role as public relations director at the University of Kampus, started this novel. It wasn’t even conceived as science fiction though it uses the chemical memory theories of James McConnell. It was a to be a satire on the world, according to Gunn’s autobiography, Star-Begotten (to be covered in a future post),

the student rebels might have made if they had been successful and imagined a near future when the college campuses had been turned over to the students, and real science and scholarship had gone elsewhere.

The recipient of the Chancellor’s words is Gavin, our unlikeable, Candide-like hero. He will discover that world the students have made is definitely not the best possible one. Continue reading “Kampus; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Transgalactic

Essay: Transgalactic, James Gunn, 2016.

Transgalactic
Cover by Thom Tenery

”That sounds like some ancient space romance. … Full of incredible adventures and near-death escapes.”

So says mad scientist Jak, making an on-stage appearance here after being mentioned in the first novel, Transcendental, of the Transcendental trilogy.

Whereas that novel was full of interrogative statements and a density of question marks unparalleled in my reading (except, maybe, in my dim memories of Plato’s The Republic), its follow up is full of confident declarations, declarations that echo other works of Gunn and of Gunn’s friends Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl.

And it is full of adventure, romance, and near-death escapes.

Gunn has, to my knowledge, the longest career of any living English language science fiction author – 69 years though that is still less than Williamson’s 83 year-long career. Continue reading “Transgalactic”

The Roads Between the Worlds

The Michael Moorcock series continues not with sword-and-sorcery but science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): The Roads Between the Worlds, Michael Moorcock, 1964, 1971.Roads Between the World

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock not only talks about the three novels in this omnibus but his relation to sf. Moorcock cites Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man as an influence which made me eager to read the novels in this omnibus. Moorcock has said he doesn’t have a lot of interest in “modern sf” but liked the works of Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and the Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth collaborations. This explains his dislike of Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. He doesn’t like conservative sf with its preeminence of rationalizing with hard science its fantasy elements. For him, sf (he’s hardly alone in this nor is it an illegitimate stance) is a way to understand our world. The fantasy element in his sf is both a symbol as well as a device to move the story. He says these three novels trace the evolution of the “rationalist apparatus” of sf from “stage machinery” to symbolic writings. Moorcock also, as I didn’t know, worked as a writer for the British Liberal Party for awhile. These novels were written in one draft and very slightly revised for this edition. Evidently, they were written in a hurry to provide more traditional far for the experimental magazines Science Fiction Adventures and New Worlds.

The Wrecks of Time — I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would. Its plot of Earths being built and destroyed and altered (and the inhabitants amnesiac about the alteration of their planet’s geography) reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s themes of what is reality and simulating it. The scheming groups of D-Squads and aliens obsessed with recreating the society that birthed them reminded me of A. E. van Vogt (also an influence on Dick). Continue reading “The Roads Between the Worlds”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued,

Looking back in my posts after posting a review of volume six in this series, I see I hadn’t posted anything on volume one. I suspect that’s because, for whatever reason, I didn’t make notes on the last story in the book.

That makes this a …

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2006.Robert Silverberg 1

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to this, the first volume in what Silverberg says is the third attempt to collect his stories. Silverberg continues to amaze me with his prolificness while not working weekends and while in college. Here he casually mentions all the stories, as a professional writer (not working weekends but while in college), he sold in the years 1953-58. He says that he will let his mediocre sports and mystery stories languish. Silverberg is unapologetic about being a hack to fund sf projects he did care about. It was only years later that he discovered that the writers he admired, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon weren’t supporting themselves by in the same way. Leiber had an editorial job. Bradbury sold to the high paying slicks. Sturgeon simply lived near starvation — which Silverberg decidedly didn’t. However, he is happy to reprint his early pulp stories which he thinks show compentency and that he has affection for.

Gorgon Planet” — Silverberg justly points out that this, his first professional sale, is nothing special. But it is pretty good for an eighteen year old, and he’s right in showing that he had an early command of effectively linking exposition and dialogue. The plot itself is a lackluster retelling of the Perseus-Medusa myth in a sf context. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued,”

Solar Lottery

The PKD series continues with a look at his first published novel.

Raw Feed (1989): Solar Lottery, Philip K. Dick, 1955.Solar Lottery

Given all of Dick’s own statements and complaints about the supposed bad quality of this novel, I was expecting a bad read.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Dick creates an intriguing  society ruled by lottery, social Darwinism, and the economics of conspicuous consumption. (Frederick Pohl also addressed the absurdity of conspicuous consumption in The Midas Plague.) Dick postulates economic depression eroding people’s faith in natural law and a political system based entirely on chance emerging. People also become absurdly superstitious. The omens at the novel’s beginning are very Roman like as is the social feature of patronage mentioned in passing.

The application of von Neumann’s game theory to society was interesting. I know little about his mathematical theories, but I have seen other references to them in sf stories of the early fifties. I’d like to know about their application in the Korean War. [Specifically, Ralph Williams’ “Pax Galactica” involves game theory and alludes to its use in the Korean War.]

Dick’s political order is randomness and survival of the fittest incarnate. Continue reading “Solar Lottery”