Road to Science Fiction: Volume 2: From Wells
to Heinlein by James Gunn
Scarecrow Press Trade: ISBN 0810844397 PubDate: 05/01/02
Review by Edward Carmien
509 pgs. List price $32
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At last the prodigal book has arrived. Having already reviewed volumes 1, 3, and 4 of Gunnís updated series, I now turn to Volume 2, From Wells To Heinlein. (If you, gentle reader, are consuming these reviews in order, this will seem out of order, as it is the last of four reviews Iíve written on this series.)
What a privilege it has been to review this series, which first appeared in the 70ís and early 80ís. Gunnís thorough approach is informed by his excellent perspective and knowledge of the field. Where volume 1 examined the precursors to (and earliest versions of) science fiction, volume 2 becomes a more approachable anthology that carefully examines the early years of the science fiction magazine publishing era. Gunn carefully shows the evolution of thought in the field, as embodied by individual writers, editors, and stories.
Beginning with Wells (who appeared at the end of volume 1) and ending with Heinlein (who, logically, kicks off volume 3), Gunn presents 20 authors. His introduction is detailed and informed, as are the short critical pieces that place each author and story in their proper places on Gunnís map of The Road to Science Fiction. As in volume 3, even readers familiar with the genre will probably be exposed to something new. Necessary giants such as Wells and Heinlein play a role. Stories by John W. Campbell and Lester del Rey, men who played leading roles in the development of science fiction as editors, are shown to have been writers. Forster, Burroughs, Merritt, Lovecraft, Weinbaum, some guy named Asimovóthese are the authors who populated the world of science fiction during the magazine era. Their ideas moved the field forward, and echoes of ideas from the stories here in volume 2 can still be heard in the magazines of today.
Readers of science fiction who wish to know more than the surface facts about the history of science fiction should consider volumes 2 and 3 of The Road to Science Fiction required reading. (Teachers of science fiction will find a very complete text component for sf literature courses in these volumes as well.) Gunn goes beyond the usual suspects of science fiction history and discusses the world of publishing, of editing, and of writing. He traces many lines of cause and effect through the early decades of the magazine era. Gunnís prose is easy on the eyes, yet his assertions are well supported.
As I have said in the other three reviews of the books in this series, ďread Ďem.Ē No serious reader of science fiction will feel the effort to be anything less than worthwhile.