Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Sometimes a book sits on a shelf for years and something finally makes you pick it up to give it a read. That's how it was with "The Joy Makers" by James Gunn. This paperback has moved with me from one house to another and has called to me for the last thirty years. And for the last thirty years, I've neglected it.
"The Joy Makers" is an uneven book, basically a reprint of three novellas written by Mr. Gunn in the early to mid-fifties. The narrative thread begins with the arrival of a new business to a typical American town. The entity known as Hedonistic Inc. insinuates itself into the community, guaranteeing happiness for all. A businessman fights the concept until he realizes too late that the guarantee is real, and by then it is denied him. Not a brilliant story, but then the subsequent two novellas open up the story by moving ahead many years to show a society where Hedonism is the law of the land. Dedicating itself then to how people would grapple with true fulfillment and what it would mean to civilization and human destiny, the novel ends with a philosophical twist that might be considered a precursor to "The Matrix".
Several people who are only at the fringe of science fiction may not recognize the author's name. Let me correct that. James Gunn, who will be honored this coming Spring as the Grand Master of Science Fiction at the Nebula Awards Banquet, has been a major force in the field as writer, teacher and editor. Among his more recognizable titles are : "The Joy Makers", "The Immortal" (turned into a rather lame television show), "The Joy Machine" (a novelization of an unproduced Star Trek episode written by Theodore Sturgeon),"The Listeners", and a six volume history of science fiction: "The Road To Science Fiction".
I'm not sure if any of Mr. Gunn's books are available at Barnes and Nobel (the place where books go to die after six weeks), but you can find most of his titles either on Amazon, or available at other places around the net