Happy birthday James Gunn!

James Gunn in 2005
James Gunn in 2005

James Edwin Gunn (photo ©James Gunn) was born on July 12, 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri.

During World War II James Gunn served in the U.S. Navy. After the war he attended the University of Kansas, where he earned a bachelor of science in journalism in 1947 and a master of arts in English in 1951. He subsequently became a member of the university faculty, where he served as director of public relations and professor of English teaching creative writing and science fiction.

James Gunn started publishing science fiction stories in 1948, often using the pen name Edwin James, a variation of his real name. His first novels were published in 1955: “Star Bridge” with Jack Williamson and “This Fortress World”.

Given his background, it was almost inevitable that James Gunn got involved in social science fiction. However, labeling him simply as part of this sub-genre is rather restrictive because over the years he has written stories about a variety of themes. Of course, his is a humanistic science fiction told with a refined style in which human beings are at the center of the story even when it includes technological elements.

In 1964, James Gunn published the novel “The Immortals”, later adapted into a “Movie of the Week” and a television series. The novel was republished in 2004 in a new revised and expanded edition.

In 1966, James Gunn published “The Joy Machine”, an adaptation of a Star Trek story originally due to be brought to the screen as an episode of the classic series. The script was written by Theodore Sturgeon but eventually it wasn’t produced.

Over the years, James Gunn has published other stories but he’s never been a particularly prolific author and his novels are often fix-ups of various stories, sometimes with some adjustments to achieve greater homogeneity. Thus in 1972 he published “The Listeners” and “The Burning”.

James Gunn has also written many articles and a few essays about science fiction. In 1975 he published the essay “Alternate worlds: the illustrated history of science fiction”, which won the Locus Award and a special award at the 1976 Worldcon. In 1982 he published the essay “Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction”, which won the Hugo Award in the nonfiction category.

James Gunn was also active in organizations connected to science fiction in various ways as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1971-72 and of the Science Fiction Research Association, a nonprofit organization committed to the study of science fiction and fantasy, between 1980 and 1982.

In 2007, James Gunn received the honor of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Now he’s professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, where he’s the director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction which awards the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for short fiction.

James Gunn is no longer a young boy but also continues his work as a writer: in August 2013 his novel “Transcendental” will be published so we can still expect a few surprises by a man who is important from various points of view for science fiction in the world.

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