By Jack Williamson & James Gunn
First published 1955
Every now and then a publisher will send us a new edition of a classic book. Such was the case when Tor sent us a new softcover edition of “Star Bridge” by Jack Williamson and James Gunn. Although we’d never read it before, we had heard of it over the years and were delighted to have the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.
Williamson, a well known author in the field, wrote the first fifty pages of the manuscript before hitting the dreaded writer’s block and putting it aside. Years later, he met and became friends with the younger Gunn and ultimately gave him the material, which also included extensive notes, to complete the book. Gunn did so in a masterful way and it was published in 1955. Then it simply drifted off into oblivion. In fact most critics of that time thought it nothing but an old fashion space opera filled “fast-moving blood-and-thunder…” quoting Villiers Gerson for the New York Times.
But like all hidden gems in the rough, the book simply wouldn’t go away and continued to be reprinted by various publishers. Eventually new generations of sci-fi fans found it such as authors Samuel R. Delaney and Edward Bryant, who both have said it was the book that “turned (them) on” to science fiction.
The book revolves around mankind’s expansion into far flung space via special tubes which allow travel beyond the restraints of FTL. Since their invention, on the distant planet of Eron, the tubes systematically created a vast galactic empire which is controlled by the golden people of Eron. As the book opens, the Eron’s governing body has become totally corrupt and is mercilessly crushing any and all who stand in its way. Thus a mercenary named Horn is hired to assassinate the General Director, the all powerful ruler of Eron. In accomplishing his mission, Horn quickly comes to realize he has set into motion a new power struggle which will destroy the empire and along with it civilization unless he can learn the real secret of what powers the tubes.
What we have here is at its core an old fashion space opera, easily derived from Williamson’s own outline. It was the style of writing he excelled at. But at the same time, Gunn, a more introspective writer, layers his chapters with the philosophies behind human nature in both describing its noble strengths as opposed to its obsessive quest for power. Thus while spinning an action packed adventure we are given a treatise on the relative importance of impersonal forces and individuals in the event of history. One modern day fan of the book likened it to collaboration between Heinlein and Asimov and we would agree with that description.
“Star Bridge” is a great book worthy of being a science fiction classic. We’re glad we finally had a chance to enjoy it. If you haven’t yet, we urge you to do so soon. You won’t be disappointed.