52. This Fortress World


This was the second book and first solo work of James E. Gunn (1923-2020). His first book was also published by Gnome [see Star Bridge]. The middle initial stands for Edwin and his earliest stories were published under the pseudonym of Edwin James. The use of the initial on his works is erratic, with no pattern that I can see. There should be no confusion within the field, however: there is no other James Gunn. Outside the field, several figures named James Gunn appear, especially an astronomer by name of James E. Gunn, with the E. standing for Edward.

Gunn has become such a revered name in the field that it’s startling to look back and see how few books he has written over 70 years. He first broke through under his real name with a story in Galaxy in 1952, while working as an editor for Dell paperbacks. Instead of developing a science-fiction line for them, he got the itch to write sf for himself and freelanced industriously for a couple of years, building a reputation with the two Gnome novels and a number of short stories. “The Immortal,” a 1958 story in the original anthology Star Science Fiction #4, became the basis for the tv series The Immortal.

Cover art by Richard Powers

Gunn from the beginning specialized in the study of science fiction. He received a master’s from Northwestern in 1951; his thesis was serialized in Dynamic Science Fiction, probably a first for the field. The University of Kansas, his alma mater, brought him back first to manage alumni publications and then as a professor of English and journalism despite his lack of a Ph.D. In 1982, he became the Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. This led to the creation of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction of the year, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Although he continued to occasionally write fiction, he is more famed for nonfiction studies that include such standards as Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and the teacher’s manual for his multi-volume anthology series The Road to Science Fiction. His work won him the Pilgrim Award, the Thomas D. Clareson Award, and the J. Lloyd Eaton Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. He coined the term “the consensus future” for the technological world in which most classic sf and mid-20th century futurism is set and which I use as the lynchpin for all my research into future history.

Gnome Notes

Gnome gifted Gunn with one of the nicest of his mid-1950s packages, boards with a subtle pattern and a cloth spine backing. The later variant is another of Gnome’s tan boards, blandness personified. No date is known, but 1957 is likely. The title falls off back panels in late 1958 and never is mentioned again.


Villers Gerson, Amazing Stories, February 1956
Set in the far future, James Gunn’s latest book displays the talents of an author who can plot skillfully, envision his characters fully, and write with undeniable power. The book’s one fault (if such it be) is that it is too crammed – with action, with plot twists, with ideas. Yet how much better to get a plumcake of a book, filled with the thickly-packed fruits of an able writer’s mind, that the starve on the air-filled confections of less adept authors!

Damon Knight, Science Fiction Quarterly, August 1956
[I]t is full of good – or at least acceptable – fictional ideas, slowly and ineptly developed.

Lester del Rey, Vanguard Science Fiction, June 1956
It’s hokum – but pleasant hokum.

Contents and original publication

• “Prologue” (original to this volume).
• Chapters 1-21 (original to this volume).
• “Epilogue” (original to this volume).

Bibliographic information

This Fortress World, by James E. Gunn, 1955, copyright registration date 25Oct55, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-12188, title #52, back panel #30, 216 pages, $3.00. 4000 copies printed. Hardback. Jacket design by Murray Tinkelman. “First Edition” on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by H. Wolff, New York. Back panel: 43 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., N.Y. 3.

Variants, in order of priority

1) (CURREY A) Blue-gray boards speckled with red with light blue cloth shelf back, spine lettered in black.

2) (CURREY B) Tan boards, spine lettered in black.


This Fortress World, jacket front, all variants
This Fortress World, jacket flaps, all variants
This Fortress World, blue-gray boards with light blue cloth spine, black lettering
This Fortress World, tan boards, black lettering