From Inside Science-Fiction
by James Gunn

Cover imageIn 1970 my personal situation changed. I had spent a great deal of my life in educational establishments of one kind or another. I had been writing a great many different things, including plays, verse, articles, and news stories for a variety of media, and had turned to writing science fiction in 1948. Ultimately, I spent nearly four years writing science fiction full-time (and part-time after that) before I was led into other activities at the University of Kansas, including teaching, editing alumni publications, and for twelve years, directing public relations.

I left that position in 1970 and became a full-time English professor because I wanted to spend more time teaching and writing. One of the comments the chairman of the department passed along from the full-time faculty was some of the younger faculty hoped I would be willing to teach a course in science fiction.

As I record more fully in the articles that start this volume, the study of science fiction was just getting started, and its teaching was not much older. Every teacher had to create his or her own approach, reading list, and study plan, and there were very few books to consult. My response was to write a history of science fiction that was published in 1975 as Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, and I later put together the six-volume historical anthology that I called The Road to Science Fiction, as well as the study of Isaac Asimov's work that was published as Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction.

But others were responding to the same needs. Editors were putting together books about science fiction and soliciting chapters, science fiction magazines were accepting and even encouraging articles about science fiction, and even general interest magazines and newspapers were becoming interested in the genre. So I had a number of invitations to write chapters for books and articles for magazines and newspapers, many of which I accepted. Eventually, I had enough of these contributions to fill a couple of volumes. The book you have in your hands is one of those volumes. The other is The Science of Science-Fiction Writing (Scarecrow Press, 2000).

I call it Inside Science Fiction because it is a series of perspectives about science fiction from someone who grew up with science fiction and has spent a good portion of his life reading it, writing it, editing it, writing about it, teaching it, and associating with a great many people who are involved with it in almost every capacity imaginable. As the only person who has been president of both the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), I have had the opportunity not only to know both sides of the road, but the people who live and work there. Sometimes, as the chapter on "Teaching Science Fiction Revisited" illustrates, I have even tried to mediate misunderstandings between them.

Within Inside Science Fiction you will find thoughts about a variety of aspects of this odd genre, as it has been called by others before me. Not as tightly organized as a book setting out to treat a single aspect of a subject, this collection of perspectives has the virtue of ranging broadly and exploring not only well-traveled roads but strange by-ways as well. Another advantage of this approach to a subject is that it can be diverted into a serious consideration of an aspect of science fiction that would seem inappropriate for a work organized around a single purpose.

This volume is both broader (all over) and deeper (in places) than my other books on the subject. You will find, for instance, autobiographical details; considerations of the academic situation of science fiction and how science fiction became separated from the mainstream to become a genre; a look at how the magazines created the genre and how the editors shaped it; accounts of how science fiction people resisted academic interest, and how academics looked at the field, and the disagreements between critics and writers; an analysis of how science fiction (including my own stories) got mangled by film and television and were treated well by radio, (with a few exceptions); and some speculations about how science fiction has influenced everyday life (and, in turn, been influenced by it).

The first edition of this book was published in 1992. This edition contains new chapters describing perspectives brought by the intervening dozen or so years, and revision of the older chapters to bring them up to date. Science fiction is the literature of change, and the analysis of change must change as well. Whenever either reaches its goal, it no longer will be science fiction.

James E. Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas


    Below is the table of contents for James Gunn's new book, Inside Science Fiction:

I. GETTING INSIDE SCIENCE FICTION

1. The Education of a Science Fiction Teacher 99
2. From the Pulps to the Classroom: The Strange Journey of
Science Fiction 16
3. Science Fiction and the Mainstream 30
4. The Gatekeepers 52
5. Fifty Amazing, Astounding, Wonderful Years 60
6. The Worldview of Science Fiction

II. SCIENCE FICTION AND THE TEACHER

7. Teaching Science Fiction
8. Teaching Science Fiction Revisited 67
9. The Academic Viewpoint 73
10. Science Fiction as Literature 79
11. The City and the Critics 92
12. Libraries in Science Fiction
13. The Protocols of Science Fiction

III. SCIENCE FICTION ON FILM AND TELEVISION

14. The Tinsel Screen 101
15. Television and "The Immortal" 113
16. The Great Science Fiction Radio Show 118
17. Looking Backward at 2001 121

IV. SCIENCE FICTION AND THE REAL WORLD

18. The Uses of Space 127
19. A Short History of the Space Program; or, A Funny Thing Happened on
the Way to the Moon 134
20. Shapechangers and Fearmongers 146
21. Science Fiction and the Future 150
22. Science Fiction in the Nineties 154
23. Science Fiction in the Second Millennium


updated 5/24/2006

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