Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book Review: Joy Makers

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.

No more.

"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


SQT said...

Isn't it funny how you can re-discover books that have sat for a long time?

I had a book by Mercedes Lackey that sat on my shelf for years before I finally read it. And then it turned out I loved it, which prompted me to go and read all over her other books. (probably at least 20 of them at the time)Just think, all the time I missed with one of my favorite authors by letting that book sit for so long.

I should go look at my shelf now.

Stewart Sternberg said...

It is astonishing how we try and read something when we are twenty, return to it ten or fifteen years later, and remarkably, with our life experience the book now speaks to us.

Last year I read "The Sea Wolf" by Jack London in practically one sitting. Last month I was swallowed whole by "Grapes of Wrath". Both of these novels had languished for the longest time in my library.

SQT said...

I do find that I connect with completely different books now than I did 10 years ago. I think that's why I rarely get rid of any books. It always seems like I get around to them sooner or later.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Was he around the time of Alfred Bester?

I love his books.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Bester and Gunn were indeed contemporaries. Bester won an Hugo Award for his Demolished Man in 1953. Here's a bit of trivia for you...Bester was called upon to help with the screenplay for Superman in 1978. He wanted to do something different (surprise), and focus on Clark Kent, showing the human side of that character and how Clark had to deal emotionally with the stress of his alterego and the guilt he sometimes felt over not being able to be everywhere at the same time.

In otherwords, Bester was going to "Marvelize" D.C.'s biggest property.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Wow..I did not know the Superman connection...interesting.

I love the Demolished Man and The Deceivers.

I like all the 'old school' sci fi...actually.