ALTERNATE WORLDS by James Gunn

ALTERNATE WORLDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Literary criticism of sf is just getting underway, but it sure is making up for lost time. Here we have cliche, pious boredom, and portentous banality followed through the galactic ages. In a singularly uninspired format, Gunn grinds through the catalogue from Plato to J. G. Ballard with long interspersed lists of Events (""The steam turbine was invented in 1884. The first electric street railway was opened in Baltimore in 1885; that year Louis Pasteur. . .""). The literary treatment begins with such 19th century sf progenitors as Poe and Hawthorne. Gunn is better on publishing history than on evaluating writing as such: he gives decent outlines of the pulps and the editorial careers of Gernsback and Campbell (the ground has already been covered by Sam Moskowitz in Explorers of the Infinite, 1963) but is decidedly lackluster on Verne, Wells, and Burroughs. The discussion of Wells in particular is marked by a lot of dull plot rehash. As for more recent sf writers, Gunn (himself a veteran) tries to include too many names and winds up saying very little about any of them. His generalizations are no better than his specifics: describing the overall Menschanschauung of modern sf, he purples the air with a vision of man as both environmental product and ""an animal whose passions, aspirations, and understanding have given him a tragic nobility; he may not be divine but in his hubris and his understanding he partakes of divinity; he has eaten of the tree of life and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; he is a creature who can dream of greatness and understand that it is only a dream."" It'd look great in calligraphy. In any case, Brian Ash's Faces of the Future (p. 145) doesn't have the lush crop of illustrations that this does, but it says twice as much in half the space and costs twenty-one bucks less.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1975
Publisher: Prentice-Hall