There are Two James Gunns, but Nobody’s Confused

James Gunn had two great stories in Asimov’s last month, finishing a string of works he’s published there over the last year, all affiliated with his recent Transcendental series for Tor Books.

Asimov's GUnn

But the author is not the same guy that I wrote about last month who makes movies and is a longtime Replacements fan.

Oddly enough, there are two James Gunns in the world of science fiction.

The one in Asimov’s is a nonagenarian and SFWA Grand Master, a true literary legend. He’s written scores of novels and short stories since the 1950s, and is still writing today. His dystopia about futuristic medicine was turned into a TV series (ABC’s short-lived The Immortal). Oh, and he pretty much invented college-level science fiction instruction as a professor at the University of Kansas.

The other James Gunn is a fortysomething who writes pictures in Hollywood and who directed the best, swellest sci-fi movie you saw in 2014 and its equally fun sequel. He started working at Troma, the place that brought you Toxic Avenger and the like. Clearly, the guy revels in the “so bad it’s good” school of art. (And, as the huge popularity of his Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack proves, he has an omnivorous taste for great pop music, whether sappy, cheezy, or just plain sweet.)

The two Gunns aren’t related, but they have a lot in common.

Both bring a wickedly dark sense of humor to speculative material. Gunn’s novel Kampus (1977) is a twisted take on hippie academia, with a lot of the same over-the-top violence and cringe-worthy sex found in director-Gunn’s awesome movie Super from 2010.

They’re also both Missouri boys, although author-Gunn is from Kansas City and director-Gunn grew up in St. Louis.

The big question: does this confuse anyone? The answer seems to be “no.” I’ve checked the Internet (never known for its lack of complaining) and found no one nonplussed about two James Gunns.

Maybe it’s just the bifurcation of science-fiction fandom. Conventional wisdom says that most of the Comic-con types don’t the read monthly fiction magazines, and the fandom that does follow print media and novel series may not embrace the same material as its popcorn-eating, media-frenzied brethren.

I don’t know if I agree with that summation, but I hear it a lot in SF circles. Make of it what you will.

I enjoy both men’s work though. I count KU’s James Gunn as a mentor and friend. And I enjoyed the hell out of Slither.

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