Sam Gunn – What a Character

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Fantasy and Science Fiction cover, October 1983
Fantasy and Science Fiction cover, October 1983

Ever since the Ben Bova story Sam Gunn was first published in the October 1983 (34th Anniversary) issue no. 81 of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, the world (and space) has never been the same. This short story is reviewed here as it appears in the 2007 anthology by Tor publication of Sam Gunn Omnibus, under the title The Supervisor’s Tale.

Ben Bova is one of the most established writers in science fiction and space exploration, often examining the political challenges and influences facing an advanced future. As a master of expressing the true nature of human existence through realistic characters who strive to succeed for the betterment of man in a world often ruled by power hungry individuals, Bova remains true to form with Sam Gunn.

If you are not familiar with the character, your science fiction fandom cred should be questioned if not temporarily revoked until you read up. The iconic fictional figure created by the equally iconic Bova is the ultimate everyman hero. The quintessential spaceman Gunn is everything we want to be like and flawed by everything we are ashamed of. He is an average guy with a lively and carefree personality. As one of NASA’s best and most storied astronauts, Sam Gunn is also a business savvy, conniving, womanizing, and trouble making SOB. Yes, we thank Bova for developing this fantastic character. But oddly, it seems like Gunn played a large role in his own character development as well.

Lunar Map showing Mare Nubium
Lunar Map showing Mare Nubium

For Gunn and the other seven crew members marooned at the moon base Artemis IV, time was slowly running out in The Supervisor’s Tale. The fuel cells in their return module had been drained. Back on Earth, the government seemed busier scrambling to point the finger and find blame than focus on bringing the men home. What feeble plans that did arise were faced with political restraints and technical limitations of the time.

Capcom in Houston is a long way from the moon base at Mare Nubium. With food and water provisions thinner than the estimated time of rescue, the crew was advised to ration out their limited supply of medical tranquilizers. The experts claimed the pills would relieve their “anxieties” and prevent them from exerting themselves as the stale air grew thinner. This is when Gunn steps up his game. With the familiar smile on his face, Gunn schemes to help get them through the dire times. Let’s just say that some of it has to do with a liquid called “rocket juice” and some macabre wagering amongst crewmembers.The Sam Gunn Omnibus coverThe Sam Gunn Omnibus is a colossal size book and includes 50 (if I counted correctly) short stories within about 700 pages. The Supervisor’s Tale is not the first entry in the book, but it does represent the first publication of a Sam Gun tale, as can only be told by Ben Bova. The interesting ending also puts a unique twist on the knowledge that so many other stories about Sam Gunn will follow. See, now you really want to read it! Please do, I recommend it. You’ll either love or hate the character. No in-between. And in the literary world, that’s what it’s all about.

This is but a small sampling of the memorable Sam Gunn character – one I hope to examine more here at Amazing Stories in the future. With so many tales to choose from (same as the atomic number of tin – hmmm) we have a lot more to talk about.

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