Jack Williamson might have been a legendary name in the field for a quarter century, but by the 1950s a case of writer’s block ate seriously into his production. Other writers came to his aid by stretching fragments and ideas of his out to novel length. Frederik Pohl did so with the Undersea trilogy and new face James Gunn took over this work. [See This Fortress World for a biography of Gunn.] The smallness of the f&sf world in those days is vividly revealed by the way Gunn met Williamson: they were standing next to each other in the registration line for the 1952 Worldcon. It was also the first time Gunn met their mutual agent, Frederik Pohl.
In 1953, they met again and Williamson mentioned that he had a novel started that he couldn’t finish. Gunn got about 50 pages of manuscript, which he rewrote, and some 150 pages of notes of background and characterization. He set to work the way a professional genre writer needed to, dogged yet fast. He later wrote:
I spent eight hours a day in my basement office, turning out ten pages a day and rewriting it once. That meant I could write a short story in a week, a novelette in two weeks, a short novel in four weeks, and a novel in three months. I wrote This Fortress World and Star Bridge that way, and both got published by Gnome Press in 1955, but I got a total of $500 ($450 when my agent took his percentage) for This Fortress World and half that (Jack got half) for Star Bridge.
The front flap describes the novel:
It is [Alan Horn, a soldier of fortune] who singlehandedly takes on the gigantic task of smashing an interstellar dynasty. His opponent is only a single “business” concern, but it is the ruthless master of civilization and invincible in its system of rule. As a trading company it holds the secret of the Tubes – the strange, endless cylinders of energy which somehow foreshorten space.
Only a couple of words need be changed to make that the plot of Clifford Simak’s 1951 novel Empire, in which two scientists take on the energy company which controls “accumulators” and therefore all the solar system. Not an accusation of plagiarism, but another entry on the long list of 50s novels which used big predatory businesses as the enemy.
Both Williamson and Gunn were awarded the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction scholarship. L. Sprague de Camp was another recipient.
CHALKER doesn’t mention a second binding, although CURREY lists one as “gray cloth, spine lettered in red.” My copy has gray boards, though I’m going to assume we’re talking about the same variant. The variant is hard to find and it’s likely that Currey didn’t have them both at once. Line them up together and the difference pops out: the variant is a full 0.25” shorter. Additionally, the variant has different paper trimmed differently that has browned more. Weird as it seems, there can be no doubt that the variant is a true second printing, with different boards and different paper.
Hans Stefan Santesson, Fantastic Universe, October 1955
[A] suspense-filled, fast-moving and still subtly disappointing novel of the distant future.
Villiers Gerson, New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1955
The pace and shock value of this fast-moving blood-and-thunder novel should find many enthusiasts among science fiction fans.
Contents and Original Publications
• “Prologue” (original to this volume).
• Chapters 1-21 (original to this volume).
• “Epilogue” (original to this volume).
Star Bridge, by Jack Williamson & James Gunn, 1955, copyright registration 25Mar55, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-5463, title #48, back panel #29, 221 pages, $3.00. 5000 hardback copies printed 1955, unknown number of copies printed?, 900 remaindered. Jacket design by Mel Hunter. “First edition” on copyright page. Type set by: Slugs Composition Company. Printing and binding by: H. Wolfe. Manufactured in the U.S.A. Back panel: 39 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11St., New York 3.
Variants, in order of priority
1) (CURREY A) Gray striped boards with red cloth shelf back, spine lettered in black, 9.25 x 6.4”.
2) (CURREY B) Gray boards [CURREY says cloth], spine lettered in red, 9 x 6.4”. Unstated second printing.