I read this book years ago, and then I read it again, and again, and just recently… you guessed it, again! Sam Gunn Unlimited is the culminated tales of a 21st Century scoundrel, pioneer, visionary, conman, lothario, hero and villain, the man who single handedly (with a lot of help from a lot of people.. umm…) dragged mankind kicking and screaming from Earth and out into the Solar System, and maybe beyond?
Sam Gunn is the focus oh the book, but he’s not the protagonist, the story really follows a news reporter born and raised on the moon as she learns about the mysterious loved and loathed figure of a man, a former astronaut, operator of the first space hotel, the man who took commercial passengers into orbit for the first time, a cruise liner captain sailing the outer belt for asteroids, this larger than life figure, who was really short, a man who chased and was chased by women in amazing adventures.
See, what I just did there is what most of the characters in the book do, allow Sam Gunn to overshadow everything. In fact, Jade is a fascinating character in her own route, an outsider in a nation of outsiders, the first space orphan, she can never go to Earth due to a genetic condition, but through force of will, she jumps careers from manual labour on the moon’s surface to that of a reporter, giving her the resources, (with some corporate wranglings), to really dig into Sam Gunn and get people to tell her their stories of the greatest reprobate in the Solar system.
Jade’s story sets up the framing device Sam Gunn’s story, she interviews people and then the story switches to those people’s narratives, as unreliable a narrator as you could possibly want, making each story seem personal, but sometimes inconsistent. Perspective is everything, and it’s fascinating.
I mentioned that Sam Gunn even in absence, tends to overshadow everyone, but as with Jade that doesn’t mean the characters, the story tellers, Jade’s supporters and antagonists, they’re nearly all rich, you learn their histories, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and their shames.
Sam Gunn’s life itself, is a story of an entrepeneur trying to make it rich on the new frontier, every step of the way he’s trying to push that frontier a bit further out so that he can net the profits while everyone else plays it safe and follows in his work. As is a common theme in Ben Bova’s stories, the corporations are the main antagonist in the story, they’re constantly trying to trick, cheat, or outright threaten our eponymous hero, but don’t worry Sam isn’t really a hero, as he’s more than happy to try and trick, cheat, and threaten them.
I love the scope of this book, it covers the preternaturally long life of Sam Gunn from his early days in NASA, until it catches up to the stories’ being told about him by Jade. There’s some fascinating discussions on the legal, ethical, and logistics of future space travel and colonisation. It has a fantastic finish, which leaves you wanting more from the cast of characters that come together at the end.
Literally the only thing I would change about this magical collection of stories is to embed more into the Grand Tour series, however as history is in places significantly different, and I think (off the top of my head), only one characters crosses over into Sam Gunn’s universe, I can see why it’s an independent story.
And one last note to add, and I’ll preface by saying this isn’t paid advertising, my most recent go through with Sam Gunn I did via Audible, where they had a tremendous multi-cast recording, so as you broke off into each of the different narrators it was a different voice, which really embedded the feel of the novel in a way single-voice recordings ever could. Really made you consider the biases, and the untrustworthy elements of the narrator. So I’d highly recommend if you want to experience Sam Gunn yourself, and you don’t have the time to sit down and read the whole thing, check out the Audible version. (Also it’s the Omnibus version, I previously only had the Sam Gunn Unlimited, which didn’t have the last few stories.. so that was a pleasant surprise to find out there was more to the story).