A Life Lived in Science Fiction


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About the Book

Hugo Award winning writer James Gunn (1923–2020) has been called “the last Golden Age author” of science fiction. In a career of almost 70 years, he wrote or edited 45 books and more than 100 short stories and participated in the production of films, radio and television programs and comic books.

About the Author(s)

The late James Gunn was emeritus professor of English at the University of Kansas and the author or editor of 45 books and 100+ short stories. A former president of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Science Fiction Research Association, he received their lifetime awards and induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas.

Bibliographic Details

James Gunn

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: 42 photos, appendices, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7026-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2966-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Title from H.G. Wells and a Brush with Greatness 1

One: An Unlikely Life, an Unusual Family and a Quest for Education 3
Two: Called to Service and Romance—and More Education 35
Three: Back to College, Stage Magic, a Wedding and the Miracle of Writing—and Acceptance 54
Four: Return to Lawrence, Grad School, Reading, Writing and a Baby 70
Five: Junior Editor in Racine, My First WorldCon and Its Revelation 77
Six: Freelancing for a Living, Creating a Career and “Another Boy” 85
Seven: Lawrence Once More (for Good) and a Life in Academia 100
Eight: To the Front of the Classroom, Editing for Alumni and Writing for a Chancellor 105
Nine: University Relations, a University’s Centennial and Rebellious Students 111
Ten: Becoming a Professor Who Teaches Fiction Writing and Science Fiction—and Writes It 125
Eleven: Teaching, Research and Service, and How Science Fiction Serves Them All 144
Twelve: Retirement: Old Writers Never Die—They Just Go Out of Print; and Sometimes Receive Awards and Suffer Losses 155
Thirteen: Family and the End—But Maybe Not Just Yet 171

Appendix A: Speech Given at the Donation of the Theodore Sturgeon
Papers at Kansas University 191
Appendix B: Publications 207
Index 211

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Long overdue autobiography, filled with colorful stories…the humble self-portrait that emerges here showcases Gunn’s admirable, scandal-free stability as a teacher, writer, and family man…a wealth of fascinating tidbits”—Booklist
  • “An enticing look into the life of a man, despite being a big fish in a little pool, was a major player in shaping the American cultural landscape”— Against the Grain
  • “Impressively informative…exceptionally well written, organized and presented…inherently fascinating…unreservedly recommended”—Midwest Book Review
  • Star-Begotten is important as a historical document because it provides not only a wealth of information on James Gunn but also a firsthand account of the evolution of the world of sf from the pulps to what it is today.”—Science Fiction Studies
  • “As I read Star-Begotten, I couldn’t help noticing how many times and in how many ways my life in SF was affected by Gunn’s work as writer, editor and academic activist. Gunn’s long and varied career, his autobiography–particularly one with such a detailed account of his professional activities–should be a significant source for scholars”—Locus
  • “Reading Star-Begotten feels like stepping into an old friend’s living room and settling in to reminisce. [Gunn’s] prose feels almost like a stream of consciousness, winding this way and that and hitting upon some remarkable anecdotes along the way…a fascinating window into a different, rapidly evolving world.”—SFRA Review
  • Star-Begotten is a heartfelt, revealing, and surprising memoir, but it is more than that. It is a book that tells the story of modern science fiction from the Golden Age to the 21st century, and of its transformation from ‘pulp’ literature into the preeminent creative genre of popular culture…as seen through the eyes of an author who has not only been a witness to that transformation, but who has been one of its driving forces. As a writer, teacher, and scholar of science fiction whose work has spanned seven decades, James Gunn’s influence in the field is unparalleled. His own transformation from ordinary child of the Midwest to Grand Master of Science Fiction is both remarkable and inspiring, and Star-Begotten reveals the love of family, the societal turmoil, the devotion to teaching and writing, and the personal determination and persistence that made it happen. Thousands of Professor Gunn’s readers and students have reaped the benefits, and I am beyond fortunate to count myself among them. And everyone who reads the amazing story of Star-Begotten will feel the same way.”—Bradley Denton, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede (winner, John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel)
  • “It is a privilege to read Star-Begotten, a book that is so many different things at once. It’s a memoir but it’s also an eyewitness account of how America progressed through the 20th century, always toward an uncertain future. For that alone, it’s invaluable. It’s also an eyewitness account of how science fiction found itself and came of age, by one of its most important writers and educators, and that makes it even more invaluable. The history of science fiction is the history of the human imagination, in which we can discern our hopes, our ambitions, our goals, and, yes, our fears, too. As science fiction came of age, it was unfairly derided as trivial, an element of popular culture that is especially disposable, unfit for the same kind of consideration as ‘real’ literature. James Gunn was one of the few university professors who defied this literary snobbery not only by teaching a course in science fiction but by instituting the first university program for the teaching of science fiction.”—Patricia Cadigan, Synners and Fools (winners, Arthur C. Clarke Award)
  • “James Gunn’s writing has bridged much of the history of modern science fiction, and his scholarship has helped to define it, but this memoir offers much more than a history of his career. It is full of insights and delights, nine decades’ worth: a grounded life spent exploring humanity’s future in the stars.”—Kij Johnson, The University of Kansas
  • ‘“Let’s save the world through science fiction,’ James Gunn suggests to us, and Star-Begotten is the story of his life. Gunn, the only person ever to serve as president of both the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Science Fiction Research Association, has lived science fiction as a reader, a writer, an editor, a scholar, a teacher, a spokesperson, an organizer, a role model, and a visionary. Star-Begotten is full of profiles of people who made 20th century science fiction, but more than that, I am struck by the journey it takes from the early 1920s in Kansas City through a century of change. Gunn brings us the reality of a life lived, day by day, in a time in which human history has been transformed by technological change, ideological conflict, scientific and political and cultural revolutions—the very stuff of science fiction. His story made me think, and made me feel, and I am glad he has taken the time to tell us these things.”—John Kessel, NC State University.