Tsylana — James E. Gunn

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“Tsylana” first appeared in the March 1956 issue of Galaxy magazine, and was aired by X Minus One on September 19, 1957. Almost a year ago (July 19, 2009) we presented X Minus One‘s dramatization of James Gunn’s classic story “The Cave of Night” (Galaxy, February 1955), which you can listen to here.

James Gunn (1923–    ) was duly honored as SFWA Grand Master in 2007, his career as writer, academician, and SF historian spanning over sixty years. His writing career began in 1948 and he has since published 26 novels and over 100 short stories. An ABC made-for-tv movie (The Immortal, 1969) was based on his novel The Immortals. His critically acclaimed multi-volume series The Road to Science Fiction is taught in science fiction classes across the country, and his mammoth landmark 1975 work Alternate Worlds, The Illustrated History of Science Fiction was honored with the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1976. He has lectured in China, Japan, Poland, Romania, the (former) Soviet Union, and many other countries for the U. S. Information Agency. In 1983 he was awarded science fiction’s prestigious Hugo award for his non-fiction book Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. Following the death of acclaimed SF author Theodore Sturgeon in 1985, Gunn instituted (in collaboration with Sturgeon’s widow, Jayne) the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Science Fiction of the Year in 1987, which has become one of the SF field’s major awards.

“Tsylana” examines a government regulated “perfect society” where, after almost three decades, a crime has been committed–someone has stolen a candy bar from a baby. The protagonist of the story has been chosen to catch the perpetrator of this outrage on society — and what better way to catch a thief than by becoming one. The catch being that the protagonist must alter his psychological makeup, which for him is a difficult task. Altering how one thinks–from a mindset of conformity to that of the criminal, the deviant–presents major problems, and unexpected consequences. Conformity vs. Rebellion is the name of the game in this deceptively understated cautionary tale. However, “Tsylana,” beneath the surface, probes issues just as relevant today than when the story first saw print more than half a century ago, with dire implications drawing on the nature of politics, governmental control of society’s behavior, and what might be taken as primal human nature.

Play Time: 20:14