Review: Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn, 2017.
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”→
Review: Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar, Michael R. Page, 2017.
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.
That was my first reaction to finishing up Gunn’s Transcendental trilogy.
The second volume, Transgalactic, had a plot, according to Gunn, structured on The Odyssey, this one is structured along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts’ tale. Our questers are the two main characters of the trilogy, Asha and Riley, and Tordor who didn’t, in fact, die at the end of Transcendental. Joining them is Adithya, son of Latha, leader of the covert rebellion against Earth’s pedia in Transgalactic.
They want to know what menace, revealed in the preceding book, is making the sentient races of the Galactic Federation go silent on the fringes of the galaxy.
A subplot also has Jer, cloned descendant of mad scientist Jak whom we met in Transgalactic, attempting to convince the staid Federation Council that the modified Transcendental Machine (named, what else?, the Jak Machine) poses no danger and works. These sections are sometimes humorous. She also suggests that, to fight the destroyer of the “silent worlds” (whose nature she doesn’t know), the Galactics will need to be Transcended.
”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”→
This is something of an oddity and not the type of book I’ve reviewed before.
It’s mostly a how-to book for would-be science fiction writers but also includes some interesting perspectives on the art by its contributors. Of course, a lot of the professional advice is outdated since the book is 41 years old now.
With Jerry Pournelle’s passing, I’m posting it now since he was a contributor, and I’ll be interrupting the Lovecraft series to post some more Pournelle material from the archives.
As usual, I’m still working on getting new reviews out.
Raw Feed (1987): The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy, ed. Reginald Bretnor, 1976.
“Foreword”, Reginald Bretnor — It is billed as advice from experienced writing veterans.
“SF: The Challenge to the Writer”, Reginald Bretnor — Nuts and bolts on some basics needed to practice sf craft including some knowledge of science, more intimate knowledge of sf and mainstream literature. Bretnor urges mastering basic story elements like characterization and dialogue. He recommends books to read and compiling own reference library as well as knowing how to use well a public reference library (and to know its staff). He advises how to avoid errors by avoiding explicit details when possible and thoroughly check facts.
“Star-flights and Fantasies: Sagas Still to Come”, Poul Anderson — Like most essays in this book seem to be (at cursory glance), this is interesting as criticism as well as how-to advice. Anderson’s definition of a saga is larger than life story of a non-introspective character who wants to do something. In addition, a saga must have the right feel as far as language goes. Anderson names some of his candidates for sf epics (L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout, Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think and The Humanoids, A. E. van Vogt’s Slan and The Weapon Makers and World of A; Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s Fury) and why he classifies things as he does is revealing. Anderson also (and I agree) says the saga is only one of many legitimate fictional modes. He also makes the valid point that sf (and maybe fantasy) is the last refuge of the outward turning hero. Other hallmarks of epic sf are (according to Anderson) bold language, a hero bending fate (or refusing to be bent). Anderson also gives interesting details on how study of Olaf Stapledon helped him in writing Tau Zero. Continue reading “The Craft of Science Fiction”→
New stuff is being written, but it’s going to be awhile before it gets posted, so I’m going to continue the Jack Williamson with one more item.
Raw Feed (2013): “The Wand of Doom”, Jack Williamson, 1932.
I was kind of surprised when this story was proposed for the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing. I don’t, with the possible exception of Darker Than You Think, think of Williamson as a weird writer. But Williamson wrote a lot of stuff in the earlier part of his career, and this is an sf story with weird fiction imagery.
Essentially this is another “monster from the Id” story, though, of course, it predates Forbidden Planet. Or, more precisely, it’s a monster from the unconscious, here a childhood, yet also atavistic, terror of spiders which a super science instrumentality manifests. this idea of mental terrors physically manifested is an old horror idea, just the rationalizing instrumentality varies.
Here a scientist finds a way to manifest his thoughts, freezing the energy (as matter is frozen energy) into physical forms but maintained by the fields put out by a dynamo and generator. He not only recreates a version of his lost love — she died before they could marry – but the somnabulent Paul accidentally brings his old nightmare spiders to life. Continue reading ““The Wand of Doom””→
Continuing to retrieve Jack Williamson material from the archives.
This one was his last novel.
Raw Feed (2005): The Stonehenge Gate, Jack Williamson, 2005.
This is the latest work from sf legend Jack Williamson, a man whose career spans 76 years. This serial started in the January/February issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the magazine founded 75 years ago this year as Astounding Stories so Williamson’s whole career is longer than this venerable magazine. The whole careers of the Big Three (as they were once known — who knows how younger sf readers would nominate for that position) of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke are bookended by Williamson’s works — and, of course, many another sf writer.
This story starts out promising — four college professors, including the narrator (an English professor at a New Mexico college –autobiographical for Williamson), who call themselves the Four Horseman decide, investigate some possible ruins in the Sahara. Continue reading “The Stonehenge Gate”→