Gunn launched his career writing short stories for pulp magazines in 1949 and went on to author dozens of books, starting with 1955’s Star Bridge. He saw his 1962 short story “The Immortals,” about a group who discovers the secret to immortality, made into an ABC movie of the week in 1969 and become a 1970-71 hourlong series.
In addition to fiction, Gunn was known as an editor of anthologies and an author of academic works. He earned a Hugo for 1983’s Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction, an exploration of famed author Isaac Asimov’s contributions to the science fiction genre.
James E. Gunn was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri. As a youth, he caught a 1937 talk given by H.G. Wells in his hometown. Decades later, Gunn would honor the writer by titling his 2017 memoir, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, after one of Wells’ novels.
Gunn served in the Navy for three years during World War II and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in English from the University of Kansas, where he taught his first class in 1955.
In 1969, he taught one of the first classes at a major university on science fiction, becoming a pioneer for treating the genre as a serious academic subject. He created a $1.5 million endowment for the James E. and Jane F. Gunn Professorship in Science Fiction, named for himself and his late wife, in 2014.
Gunn continued to write into his final years, publishing the novel Transformation in 2017 and submitting his final short story for publication this month.
Though he had a prolific output, Gunn considered writing to be a challenge.
“I have often made the point that writing is really hard work,” Gunn said in 2017. “Lots of times I’ve sat in front of my typewriter or computer and felt really I’d rather be out mowing the lawn, doing manual labor, than trying to wrench ideas out of my head. But there is also the feeling that sitting there and turning concepts into language that is suitable is what I was cut out to do. I’ve told people that I feel I earn my place here on Earth each day when I am able to create something that wasn’t there before, and, in turn, some of these things enter stories that influence people.”
Gunn is survived by a son, Kevin Gunn.