by mjollnir on December 29, 2007To begin with, there's no such person as 'Cyril Judd'. That nom de plume composite was actually the team of C. M. Konbluth and Judith Merril. They briefly combined to write two novels - this one and OUTPOST MARS - and then went their separate ways.
GUNNER CADE is science fiction very much of its era. It was first published in 1952, when optimistic writers (like Isaac Asimov or Robert A. Heinlein on one of his less grumbly days) believed that by the 21st century we'd be busy exploring the Solar System, maybe getting set for that first interstellar jump...and sardonic pessimists (like Kornbluth) believed that civilzation-as-we-know-it was doomed utterly, headed straight for hell in a handbasket.
The novel begins in an indeterminate future, after a WWIII that's left the world a neo-feudalistic caesaropapism where Church and State are most definitely not separated, where 'Gunners', like Cade, are quasi-religious warriors for a precariously maintained tyranny. With the opening paragraphs, we are plunged into battle and plot complications. Mayhem (and much wit) continue throughout as Cade, rather like Voltaire's Candide, finds that his world isn't at all the way his teachers told him it was spozed to be. In a little more than 200 pages (50's s-f is nice and short), all ends happily. Why a cheery conclusion in a dystopia? Had to have one, in the hack world of the pulp science-fiction of those days, particularly in the novels, because that's where you made your money and readers like those upbeat endings.
For, make no mistake about it, Cyril M. Kornbluth was both a man of his time (the bombs dropped in the book's WWIII came from a 'Beetu-Nine', a B-29 bomber), and a hack writer.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Because Kornbluth was - in my opinion - the greatest hack writer of the 20th century.
Judy Merril was different. She had visions of literary sugarplums dancing in her head; she later went on to be the pivotal mother-figure of the s-f 'New Wave' of the early 1960's, when 'science-fiction' and 'avant-garde writing' were actually sometimes used in the same sentence. Their differences may have been why the team split up, I don't know.
In GUNNER CADE, though, it produced a small, nasty, masterpiece, with an engrossing plot line and evilly on-target skewerings of Big Government, Big Religion... and Judy Merrill's soon to be - if he wasn't already - ex-husband. For fans of the genre: the character named 'Fledwick'? That's Frederick Pohl.
Kornbluth's been dead since 1958 and many waves have washed up on the beach since s-f's 'New' one went wherever waves go when they're over. GUNNER CADE has been little noted nor long remembered; an awful lot of its original readers are - like its writers -deceased.
But - as we used to say in our high school yearbooks back then - GUNNER CADE is 2 cute 2 be 4gotten. It's a really good little novel. It deserves to be revived, read and remembered.
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