Jad Smith’s 2012 monograph John Brunner is the first volume in a series put out by the University of Illinois Press, the Modern Masters of Science Fiction non-fiction series. John Brunner(the monograph) is short but incisive.
The monograph is 184 pages long, of which only 127 pages belong to the monograph proper. Into these 127 pages Smith fits a discussion of Brunner’s career, which spanned forty-four years of Brunner’s sixty-year life, as well as such details of Brunner’s childhood as are relevant to his work. Brunner was enormously prolific in professional and fannish circles. His fiction, while primarily science fiction, fantasy, and horror, ranged into other genres as well. The pace is therefore brisk, and the perspective high-altitude.
Nevertheless, readers will come away from John Brunner knowing more about John Brunner than they knew before opening the volume. Smith uses the limited space available to him with considerable skill, cramming into this short volume information and commentary other authors might have needed more pages to express. Nevertheless, readers may be left wanting even more: a longer, more leisurely text from Smith on this subject would be a fine thing.
Like many people I tended to see Brunner as a significant figure whose career sadly failed to reach its full promise. Almost a quarter century after his death, and having read this volume, I suspect this view isn’t accurate or at least overlooks important factors: a lot of the blame falls to readers who failed recognize Brunner’s worth, rivals who delighted in undermining him, and a publishing industry that undervalued him. Brunner’s career arc might not have been as illustrious as one might have hoped, but it has a shape not uncommon amongst his contemporaries. Nay, better than many.
Not at all coincidentally, I will be instituting a Brunner review project in the near future1. This is entirely because Joachim Boaz tweeted about Smith’s John Brunner, which is also the reason I borrowed this text from a handy academic library2. Having read this volume, I am even more determined to begin the project. I am also determined to purchase a copy of John Brunner because it is too useful a reference to not have on hand.
John Brunner (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Barnes & Noble). John Brunner (Modern Masters of Science Fiction)is unavailable in a number of formats at Book Depository and Chapters-Indigo. Alternatively, one can go right to the source.
I suspect most readers will opt for the affordably priced softcover but if buying from Amazon, do consider the hardcover because my tiny kickback from Amazon will be proportionally larger.
Introduction: Parallel Worlds
A brief discussion of the text’s subject and how Smith intends to tackle his assignment.
Chapter 1: Raising the Noise Level, 1951 – 66
Brunner’s early career is usually seen as a not uncommon combination of prolificity and lack of polish (see also authors like Silverberg, and Anderson). While this view has elements of truth, it’s not entirely justified, as Smith details.
Chapter 2: Fierce Speculation, 1967 – 75
This covers the period in which Brunner produced his most famous works. In what was a recurring theme in Brunner’s career, ambition and sweat brought critical accolades but were not rewarded financially. As well, Brunner found himself the target of negative reviews and unpleasant behavior from jealous peers of considerable reputation, as well as Charles Platt.
Chapter 3: At the Wrong End of Time, 1976 – 1995
An overview of Brunner’s later career, often seen as less interesting and less successful than his middle period, but not without its interesting moments. Brunner struggled with career issues, medical issues, and the death of his wife Marjory, before dying at Intersection in 1995.
Brunner’s Legacy: Foreign Constellations
A discussion of Brunner’s legacy, which is greater than the ambitious failure some might deem it.
Thrust interview (1975)
What it says on the tin.
A John Brunner Bibliography
A nineteen-page, fine-print listing of Brunner’s voluminous output.
What it says on the tin.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
What it says on the tin.
What it says on the tin. The advantage of having the finished product in hand rather than an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) is that the index is the actual thing, not a placeholder, so I can attest that not only is there an index, it’s reasonably useful.
1: Perhaps one review a month. Maybe two.
2: Dana Porter Arts Library, which is not, as legend has it, sinking into quicksand. There is quicksand on campus but not near the library. Or at least there was in the 1960s quicksand on campus; none of the undergrads curious enough about the quicksand to obtain directions from me have returned to report finding it, which may well mean it’s not there anymore.