Around 11 a.m. on December 23, 2020, James Edwin Gunn died. He’s survived by his son, Kevin, and his cat, Annie—and by the many for whom he was ‘‘Science Fiction’s Dad.’’
Deepest condolences to all who cared about Jim, whose lives he touched and careers he influenced. This amounts to almost everyone in our field today, whether or not they’re aware of his intellectual parentage.
Career highlights: In 2007, SFWA named Jim Grand Master. In 2015, he was inducted into the SF Hall of Fame. He was festooned with countless honors over decades at the heart of the field. He authored some 35 books and edited 20 more, countless non-fiction pieces, radio and TV shows, and 100-plus short stories—including one he finished during his last week and sold the day he died.
Of course he wrote until his final moments. Just as he kept coming up with new ideas for Kij Johnson and me to explore via the Center for the Study of SF he founded, new writing projects to collaborate on, and more. Though not a workaholic, he constantly worked toward creating a better future by spreading the science fiction mindset.
Over seven decades of mentoring, James Gunn devoted himself to SF and those it inspires. Beyond his millions of readers and other audiences, he taught so many creators, scholars, and educators—who in turn taught others, and so on—that his reach is immeasurable, making him one of SF’s most influential figures.
Not demonstrative, Jim was a good friend to many, always warm, welcoming, and ready to share his incredible memory and deep understanding of SF. Generous with his time, energy, intelligence, wisdom, and money. A gentleman, polite, thoughtful, and endlessly courteous to even the most difficult.
While teaching—and for decades after retirement—Jim went to his office every weekday to write, door open to welcome passers-by. I once asked if I had what it takes to become a writer, because it’s a difficult and painful calling. He asked why I keep doing it if I felt that way. I said if I don’t write, I get grumpy and unhappy, and then went on to excitedly discuss my newest story. He smiled, nodded, and said, ‘‘Anyone who can be discouraged from becoming a writer should be. The rewards are small and delayed, few will care about your work, and there are no guarantees. Only those who cannot be discouraged find success. You have what it takes.’’ Then he went on to dissect my story.
Jim’s rationality and intellectualism grew from deep investment in bettering civilization, and his life-long devotion to ‘‘Saving the world through science fiction’’ inspired the SF community to reach higher, grow deeper, and become ever-more humane. This tireless dedication to what SF does was the essence of his magic, and why so many think of him as Dad.
SF’s long living history feels hollowed-out: Jim was, perhaps, the last of Those Who Were There at the start of SF. Our world is also much richer because of him.
Kij and I (and sometimes others) would breakfast with Jim every Saturday, hours-long ideas sessions I miss more than any pandemic-ended gathering. To say I’m grieving is a shadow of my feelings.
Ad Astra, James Gunn, dear friend and mind-father of science fiction. Your family will do our best to help shape a better future.