Road to Science Fiction: Volume 3: From Heinlein to Here by James Gunn
Scarecrow Press Trade: ISBN 0810842459 PubDate: 05/01/02
Review by Edward Carmien
567 pgs. List price $ 32
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In this updated version of Gunnís classic work on science fiction (first published in the late 1970ís) the focus is upon the classic magazine eraó1938 to 1975óduring which giants like Campbell and Gernsback helped shape the genre both directly and by providing the foundation for a new wave of authors to take the genre in new directions by the end of this period.
Gunn collects 36 stories in this volume, leading off with Heinleinís classic ďAll You Zombies.Ē He frames them with an excellent introduction and with short but extremely insightful mini-essays that both introduce each individual author and place the author and the story (or excerpt from a longer work) in the critical context Gunn has created.
I am aware of no other collection that serves the purpose of defining and explicating the genre of science fiction so completely and with such excellence. James Gunn, himself a published sf author, has devoted much of a lengthy academic career to expressing his understanding of science fiction. It is no wonder, then, that he has succeeded so well.
Anyone charged with teaching science fiction should consider Gunnís The Road To Science Fiction series as required reading. Having taught such courses in the past without benefit of his wisdom, and being in the midst of planning another such course. I am uniquely qualified to make this claim. Writers who wish to understand where science fiction has been and perhaps make a guess about where it might be going should also consider this series required reading. Readers who are serious about their sf, such as fans who spend weekends attending conventions (and engaging in literary conversations with fellow fans), will find the later volumes more useful than the early volumes (but all are worth a look).
As I mentioned in my review of volume 1 of this series, Gunnís basic premise is that science fiction is literature, a literature with a strong and deep historical foundation. It is literature worth writing, worth publishing, and worth reading with more than a casual eye or from a hunger for mere frothy entertainment. Gunnís analysis of the evolution of thought in sf is sound, easily accessible, and worthwhile for all but the most casual readers of science fiction.