John Stewart Williamson (April 29, 1908 – November 10, 2006), who wrote as Jack Williamson, was an American science fiction writer, often called the "Dean of Science Fiction" after the death of Robert Heinlein in 1988. Early in his career he sometimes used the pseudonyms Will Stewart and Nils O. Sonderlund.
|Born||John Stewart Williamson|
April 29, 1908
Bisbee, Arizona Territory, US
|Died||November 10, 2006 (aged 98)|
Portales, New Mexico, US
|Pen name||Will Stewart|
Nils O. Sonderlund
|Occupation||Writer, Professor of English|
Williamson was born April 29, 1908 in Bisbee, Arizona Territory, and spent his early childhood in western Texas. In search of better pastures, his family migrated to rural New Mexico in a horse-drawn covered wagon in 1915. The farming was difficult there and the family turned to ranching, which they continue to this day. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II as a weather forecaster.
As a child Williamson enjoyed storytelling to his brother and two sisters. As a young man, he discovered the magazine Amazing Stories, established in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback, after answering an ad for one free issue. He strove to write his own fiction and sold his first story to Gernsback at age 20: "The Metal Man" was published in the December 1928 issue of Amazing. During the next year Gernsback published three more of his stories in the new pulp magazines Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories, and separately published "The Girl from Mars" by Miles J. Breuer and Williamson as Science Fiction Series #1. His work during this early period was heavily influenced by A. Merritt, author of The Metal Monster (1920) and other fantasy serials. Noting the Merritt influence, Algis Budrys described "The Metal Man" as "a story full of memorable images".
Early on, Williamson became impressed by the works of Miles J. Breuer and struck up a correspondence with him. A doctor who wrote science fiction in his spare time, Breuer had a strong talent and turned Williamson away from dreamlike fantasies towards more rigorous plotting and stronger narrative. Under Breuer's tutelage, Williamson would send outlines and drafts for review. Their first work together was the novel Birth of a New Republic in which Moon colonies were undergoing something like the American Revolution—a theme later taken up by many other SF writers, particularly in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
Wracked by emotional storms and believing many of his physical ailments to be psychosomatic, Williamson underwent psychiatric evaluation in 1933 at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, in which he began to learn to resolve the conflict between his reason and his emotion. From this period, his stories take on a grittier, more realistic tone.
By the 1930s he was an established genre author, and the teenaged Isaac Asimov was thrilled to receive a postcard from Williamson, whom he had idolized, which congratulated him on his first published story and offered "welcome to the ranks". Williamson remained a regular contributor to the pulp magazines but did not achieve financial success as a writer until many years later.
An unfavorable review of one of his books, which compared his writing to that of a comic strip, brought Williamson to the attention of The New York Sunday News, which needed a science fiction writer for a new comic strip. Williamson wrote the strip Beyond Mars (1952–55), loosely based on his novel Seetee Ship, until the paper dropped all comics.
Beginning 1954 and continuing into the 1990s, Williamson and Frederick Pohl wrote more than a dozen science fiction novels together, including the series Jim Eden, Starchild, and Cuckoo. Williamson continued to write as a nonagenarian and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards during the last decade of his life, by far the oldest writer to win those awards.
In his later years, he would also criticize attempts to write "serious" science fiction:
Maybe because of my own background of writing commercial SF for so many years, I have a great deal of respect for good craftsmanship of the sort that commercial writers must develop. The labels you hear so much of—"commercial," "serious writer," "mainstream," "hack," "New Wave," "experimental"—are usually very misleading.
In my own field, Ed Hamilton and Hank Kuttner and more recently Bob Silverberg are all writers who formed a fine command of the SF genre early in their careers and who later on used this to do work that is more consciously "literary" and hence more admired by critics. But certainly the writing they did earlier was deservedly popular among SF fandom, who evidently found these works "serious" enough to merit reading.
I am opposed, however, to literary tricks that tend towards obscurity or artificial difficulty, though I can see arguments for that kind of approach. My own experience as a teacher of writing confirms my sense that new authors with artistic ambitions may find themselves scorning too many of the old forms and patterns simply because they blindly associate them with hack work. The point is that these patterns and structures form the basic vocabulary through which all SF writers must speak. That's one reason I'm not completely sympathetic with contemporary writers like Silverberg and Chip Delany and Tom Disch, who are clearly aiming to get themselves recognized as "serious" or mainstream authors.
Williamson received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in English in the 1950s from Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Portales (near the Texas panhandle), joining the faculty of that university in 1960. He remained affiliated with the school for the rest of his life. In the late 1990s, he established a permanent trust to fund the publication of El Portal, ENMU's journal of literature and art. In the 1980s, he made a sizable donation of books and original manuscripts to ENMU's library, which resulted in the formation of a Special Collections department; the library now is home to the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library, which ENMU's website describes as "one of the top science fiction collections in the world". In addition, Williamson hosted the Jack Williamson Lectureship Series, an annual lectureship where Guests of Honor and other noted authors give lectures, read from their works, and participate in lively panel discussions on a variety of topics. The lectureship is still celebrated at ENMU each year. The Jack Williamson Liberal Arts building houses the Languages & Literature, Mathematical Sciences, History, Religion & Social Sciences, and Psychology & Political Science Departments of the university, as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Office.
Williamson completed his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Colorado in Boulder, focused on H.G. Wells' earlier works, demonstrating that Wells was not the naive optimist that many believed him to be. In the field of science, Jack Williamson coined the word terraforming in a science-fiction story published in 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction.
After retiring from teaching full-time in 1977, Williamson spent some time concentrating on his writing, but after being named Professor Emeritus by ENMU, he was coaxed back to co-teach two evening classes, "Creative Writing" and "Fantasy and Science Fiction" (he pioneered the latter at ENMU during his full-time professorship days). Williamson continued to co-teach these two classes into the 21st century. After he made a large donation of original manuscripts and rare books from his personal collection to the ENMU library, a special collections area was created to house these and it was named the "Jack Williamson Special Collection".
In November 2006, Williamson died at his home in Portales, New Mexico at age 98. Despite his age, he had made an appearance at the Spring 2006 Jack Williamson Lectureship and published a 320-page novel, The Stonehenge Gate, in 2005.
While attending a Great Books course, Williamson learned that Henryk Sienkiewicz had created one of his works by taking The Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas and pairing them with John Falstaff of William Shakespeare. Williamson took this idea into science fiction with The Legion of Space.
Desperate for money, he searched for a quick source of income. While most pulps of the time were slow to pay, the recently restarted Astounding was an exception. However, they did not accept novels, so Williamson submitted three short stories and a novelette. Learning that they were also accepting novels for serialization, he sent in The Legion of Space, which was published in six parts. It quickly became a genre favorite, and was quickly collected into a hardcover.
The story takes place in an era when humans have colonized the Solar System but dare not go farther, as the first extra-solar expedition to Barnard's Star failed and the survivors came back as babbling, grotesque, diseased madmen. They spoke of a gigantic planet, populated by ferocious animals and the single city left of the evil "Medusae". The Medusae bear a vague resemblance to jellyfish, but are actually elephant-sized, four-eyed, flying beings with hundreds of tentacles. The Medusae cannot speak and communicate with one another via a microwave code.
The Falstaff character is named Giles Habibula. He was once a criminal, and can open any lock ever made. In his youth he was called Giles The Ghost. Jay Kalam (Commander of The Legion) and Hal Samdu are the names of the other two warriors. In this story, these warriors of the 30th Century battle the Medusae, the alien race from the lone planet of Barnard's Star. The Legion itself is the military and police force of the Solar System after the overthrow of an empire called the Purple Hall that once ruled all humans.
In this novel, renegade Purple pretenders ally themselves with the Medusae as a means to regain their empire. But the Medusae, who are totally unlike humans in all ways, turn on the Purples, seeking to destroy all humans and move to the Solar System, as their own world, far older than Earth, is finally spiraling back into Barnard's Star. One of the Purples, John Ulnar, supports the Legion from the start, and he is the fourth great warrior. His enemy is the Purple pretender Eric Ulnar, who sought the Medusae out in the first place, seeking to become the next Emperor of The Sun.
The Medusae conquered the Moon, set up their bases there, and went on to attempt conquest of the Solar System. The Medusae had for eons used a reddish, artificial greenhouse gas to keep their dying world from freezing. The Medusae learned from the first human expedition to their world that the gas rots human flesh, and the Medusae use it as a potent chemical weapon, attempting ecological destruction by means of projectiles fired from the Moon. Their vast spaceships also have very effective plasma weapons, very similar to those the Romulans had in a Star Trek episode called Balance of Terror.
The Legion works also featured a force field called AKKA which can erase from the Universe any matter, of any size, anywhere, even a star or a planet. AKKA was a weapon of mass destruction and the secret of it was entrusted to a series of women. AKKA was used in the past to overthrow the Purple tyranny. It was also used to wipe out most of the Medusae, though they had tried to steal the secret. When they were wiped out, the Moon where they had established their base was erased out of existence. At the end of the story, John Ulnar falls in love with the keeper of AKKA, Aladoree Anthar, and marries her. Aladoree Anthar is described as a young woman with lustrous brown hair and gray eyes, beautiful as a goddess.
Williamson next wrote The Cometeers which takes place twenty years after The Legion of Space in which the same characters battle another alien race, this one of different origin.
In this second tale, they fight The Cometeers who are an alien race of energy beings controlling a "comet" which is really a giant force field containing a swarm of planets populated by their slaves. The slave races are of flesh and blood, but none are remotely similar to humans. The Cometeers cannot be destroyed by AKKA, as they are incorporeal from the Universe's point of view and exist for the most part in an alternate reality. The ruling Cometeers feed on their slaves and literally absorb their souls, leaving disgusting, dying hulks in their wake. It is said that they do so, as they were once fleshly entities themselves of various species. Hence, the ruling Cometeers keep other intelligent beings as slaves and "cattle". They fear AKKA, though, as it can erase all their possessions.
They are defeated by the skills of Giles Habibula. Giles broke into a secret chamber guarded by complex locks and force fields that the incorporeal Cometeers could not penetrate. In it the ruler of the Cometeers had kept its own weapon of mass destruction, one that would cause the Cometeers to disintegrate. The ruling Cometeer kept this weapon to enforce its rule over the others of its kind. Once the Cometeers were destroyed, their slaves were ordered by the Legion to take the comet and leave the Solar System, and never return.
Another novel, One Against the Legion, tells of a Purple pretender who sets up a robotic base on a world over seventy light years from Earth, and tries to conquer the Solar System via matter transporter technology he has stolen. In this story robots are outlawed, as they are in Dune. The story also features Jay Kalam, lobbying to allow the New Cometeers to leave the Solar System in peace, as many people were demanding that AKKA be used to obliterate the departing swarm of planets once and for all.
In 1983, Williamson published a final Legion novel, The Queen of the Legion. Giles Habibula reappears in this final novel, which is set after the disbanding of the Legion.
|Title||Year||First published in||Reprinted in|
|Afterlife||2002||F&SF||Year's Best SF 8|
In 1985, Mr. Williamson received a Hugo Award for his memoir, 'Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction' (Bluejay Books, 1984). His 2001 novella 'The Ultimate Earth' won a Hugo, given by the World Science Fiction Society, and a Nebula Award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
The 2nd World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as Chicon I, was held September 1–2, 1940, at the Hotel Chicagoan in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The event had 128 participants.The guest of honor at the second Worldcon was E. E. "Doc" Smith. Also attending were Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Williamson, and Forrest J Ackerman. The event was chaired by Mark Reinsberg with Erle Korshak (secretary) and Bob Tucker (treasurer) as equal partners. It was organized by fans Russ Hodgkins, T. Bruce Yerke, and Walt Daugherty. This was the first Worldcon to include a masquerade.35th World Science Fiction Convention
The 35th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as SunCon, was held September 2–5, 1977, at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, United States.The chairman was Don Lundry. The guests of honor were Jack Williamson (pro) and Robert A. Madle (fan). The toastmaster was Robert Silverberg. Total attendance was approximately 3,240.Beyond Mars
Beyond Mars was a science fiction comic strip written by Jack Williamson and drawn by Lee Elias. The Sunday strip ran in New York's Daily News from February 17, 1952, to May 13, 1955, initially as a full tabloid page and, near the end, as a half tab. It is set in the same universe as the Williamson novels Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock.The creation of Beyond Mars happened in an unusual way—because of a bad review. The New York Times reviewed a Williamson novel, stating that his writing "ranks only slightly above that of comic strip adventures." The review was read by Daily News editor Ana Barker who immediately contacted Williamson, hired him to script a similar comic strip and teamed him with illustrator Elias.Darker Than You Think
Darker Than You Think is a science fantasy novel by American writer Jack Williamson. Originally a novelette, it was expanded into novel length and published by Fantasy Press in 1948. The short version was published in Unknown in 1940. It was reprinted by UK-based Orion Books in 2003 as volume 38 of their Fantasy Masterworks series.Eastern New Mexico University
Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU or Eastern) is a state university in Portales, Roosevelt County, New Mexico, United States. ENMU is an accredited university offering both graduate and undergraduate degrees. It is New Mexico's largest regional comprehensive university and is the most recently founded state university in New Mexico (legislated in 1927, opened in 1934). It is a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution and a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. The university consists of 5 colleges on three campuses.
ENMU's main campus is located in Portales and there are also two degree-granting branches at Ruidoso and Roswell. The university also includes several museums.Edward E. Smith Memorial Award
The Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction, or "Skylark", annually recognizes someone for lifetime contributions to science fiction, "both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late "Doc" Smith well-loved by those who knew him." It is presented by the New England Science Fiction Association at its annual convention, Boskone, to someone chosen by a vote of NESFA members. The trophy is a large lens mounted on a simple plinth.The award was inaugurated in 1966, the year after Smith's death. Fifty-one people have been honored in 49 years to 2015 (Hal Clement received the award twice, in 1969 and 1997).
Skylark recipientsJack Williamson (footballer)
Albert John 'Jack' Williamson (20 May 1907 – 14 August 1965) was a former Australian rules footballer who played with Carlton and Essendon in the Victorian Football League (VFL).He was voted "Best First-Year Player" at Essendon in 1929.James Frenkel
James Raymond Frenkel (born 1948) is an American editor and agent of science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, and other books, formerly for Tom Doherty Associates (Tor Books and Forge Books). He has edited numerous prominent authors such as Vernor Vinge, Joan D. Vinge, Frederik Pohl, Andre Norton, Loren D. Estleman, Dan Simmons, Jack Williamson, Timothy Zahn, Marie Jakober and Greg Bear. His agency clients include John C. Wright and L. Jagi Lamplighter. He and his wife, author Joan D. Vinge lived in Madison, Wisconsin for many years, but have moved to Green Valley, Arizona.
In 1968, Frenkel founded The Science Fiction Forum at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a student-run organization which continues to operate a large lending library of science fiction, fantasy, and horror books. He was the publisher of Bluejay Books, an independent trade publisher of the mid-1980s. Bluejay Books published Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction for three years. He also was the packager of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (for sixteen years) and then Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant (for five years).
In July 2013, Frenkel left Tor after two complaints about harassment at WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention where he had been a regular attendee and presenter. Frenkel was subsequently permanently banned from attending the convention. However, in 2017, he was on the convention committee of Odyssey Con, a different science fiction convention also held in Madison, and scheduled as a presenter, prompting several authors (one of whom claimed to have had unpleasant experiences with Frenkel in the past), to withdraw from the convention.Legion of Space Series
For the fictional military force which is part of the Interplanetary Alliance, see Space LegionThe Legion of Space is a space opera science fiction series by American writer Jack Williamson. The story takes place in an era when humans have colonized the Solar System but dare not go farther, as the first extra-solar expedition to Barnard's Star failed and the survivors came back as babbling, grotesque, diseased madmen. They spoke of a gigantic planet, populated by ferocious animals and the single city left of the evil "Medusae". The Medusae bear a vague resemblance to jellyfish, but are actually elephant-sized, four-eyed, flying beings with hundreds of tentacles. The Medusae cannot speak, and communicate with one another via a microwave code.Miles J. Breuer
Miles John Breuer (January 3, 1889 – October 14, 1945) was an American physician and science fiction writer. He was part of the first generation of writers to appear regularly in the pulp science fiction magazines, publishing his first story, "The Man with the Strange Head", in the January 1927 issue of Amazing Stories. His best known works are "The Gostak and the Doshes" (1930) and two stories written jointly with Jack Williamson, "The Girl from Mars" (1929) and The Birth of a New Republic (1931).Phantasia Press
Phantasia Press Inc. was an American small publisher formed by Sidney Altus and Alex Berman publishing short-run, hardcover limited editions of science fiction and fantasy books. It was active from 1978 to 1989. The company was based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The publisher specialized in limited quality first hardcover editions of authors prominent in the field, particularly Philip José Farmer, C. J. Cherryh, L. Sprague de Camp and Alan Dean Foster. Some of its offerings were true first editions; others, the first hardcover editions of works previously published in paperback. In a few instances there had been previous hardcover editions.
The press started publication with a reprint of Wall of Serpents (L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt) and then The Reign of Wizardry (Jack Williamson).
Authors published by Phantasia were Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov (2 books), Steven Barnes, David Brin (2 books), Fredric Brown, Orson Scott Card, C. J. Cherryh (7 books), Arthur C. Clarke, Catherine Crook de Camp (2 books), L. Sprague de Camp (5 books), Harlan Ellison (2 books), Philip José Farmer (9 books), Alan Dean Foster (5 books), William Gibson, Stephen King, Larry Niven (3 books), Jerry Pournelle, Fletcher Pratt, Mike Resnick (2 books), Spider Robinson, William Shatner, Robert Silverberg, Jack Williamson (2 books), and Roger Zelazny.
Artists contributing cover art to Phantasia editions included Randall Asplund, Wayne D. Barlowe, George Barr (3 covers), Doug Beekman, David A. Cherry (7 covers), Alex Ebel (3 covers), Stephen Fabian, Frank Kelly Freas (2 covers), Kevin Eugene Johnson (6 covers), Eric Ladd, Paul Lehr (4 covers), Carl Lundgren, Jane Mackenzie, Chris Miller, Rowena Morrill (2 covers), Phil Parks, John Pound, Victoria Poyser (3 covers), Kirk Reinert, Romas, Alex Schomburg, Barclay Shaw (2 covers), Darrell K. Sweet, Vaclav Vaca, Ed Valigursky, and Michael Whelan.Saga of Cuckoo
The Saga of Cuckoo is a series of science fiction novels by American writers Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson. It consists of two novels, Farthest Star and Wall Around a Star.
The books feature an interstellar teleporter that leaves the original being behind and sends only a duplicate. When a person is duplicated, the original can just pass out of the machine without a second thought. The copies can be also be "edited" at destination.Star Bridge
Star Bridge is a science fiction novel by American authors Jack Williamson and James E. Gunn. It was published in 1955 by Gnome Press in an edition of 5,000 copies. However, 900 copies were never bound. It was also issued in paperback by Ace (D-169, 1955, 35¢, and F-241, 40¢) and reissued by Berkley Books in 1977 and by Ballantine Books in 1982 (with minor typographic errors).
Williamson initially wrote about 50 pages in manuscript for the first draft, and worked up about 150 pages of notes for the novel's completion. Finding himself "blocked" on the project, he turned his materials over to Gunn, who completed the book. It was sold to Gnome for a $500 advance.It is an adventure story in the classic Williamson tradition, woven with a reflection about the relative importance of impersonal forces and individuals in the events of history.Starchild Trilogy
The Starchild Trilogy is a series of three books written by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson. In the future depicted in this series, mankind is ruled by a brutal totalitarian government known as the Plan of Man, enforced by a computerized surveillance state.
The books in the series were:
The Reefs of Space (1964)
Rogue Star (1969)An omnibus edition titled The Starchild Trilogy was first published in 1980.Strange Tales (pulp magazine)
Strange Tales (cover-titled Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror) was a U.S. pulp magazine first published from 1931 to 1933 by Clayton Publications. It specialized in fantasy and weird fiction, and was a significant competitor to Weird Tales, the leading magazine in the field. Its published stories include "Wolves of Darkness" by Jack Williamson, as well as work by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. The magazine ceased publication when Clayton entered bankruptcy. It was temporarily revived by Wildside Press, which published three issues edited by Robert M. Price from 2003 to 2007.The Legion of Space
The Legion of Space is a science fiction novel by the American writer Jack Williamson. It was originally serialized in Astounding Stories in 1934, then published in book form (with some revisions) by Fantasy Press in 1947 in an edition of 2,970 copies. A magazine-sized reprint was issued by Galaxy in 1950, with a standard paperback following from Pyramid Books in 1967. The first British edition was published by Sphere Books in 1977. The Legion of Space has been translated into German, French and Italian. It has also appeared in the omnibus Three from the Legion, which compiles the novel and all but one of its sequels.Undersea Trilogy
The Undersea Trilogy is a series of three science fiction novels by American writers Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson. The novels were first published by Gnome Press beginning in 1954. The novels were collected in a single omnibus volume published by Baen Books in 1992. The story takes place in and around the underwater dome city called Marinia. The hero of the stories is cadet Jim Eden of the Sub-Sea Academy.Wall Around a Star
Wall Around a Star is a science fiction novel by American writers Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, the second book of the Saga of Cuckoo series, following Farthest Star. The book was published by Del Rey Books on January 12, 1983, with cover art by David Mattingly.In this novel linguist Jen Babylon is called on to translate alien records which may explain the nature of "Cuckoo", a sphere built around a star, and thus save the galaxy.With Folded Hands
"With Folded Hands ..." is a 1947 science fiction novelette by American writer Jack Williamson. Willamson's influence for this story was the aftermath of World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and his concern that "some of the technological creations we had developed with the best intentions might have disastrous consequences in the long run."The novelette, which first appeared in the July 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two (1973) after being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965. It was the first of several Astounding stories adapted for NBC's radio series Dimension X.
The story was followed by a novel-length rewrite, with a different setting and inventor. This was serialized, also in Astounding (March, April and May 1948), as ...And Searching Mind, and finally published as The Humanoids (1948). Williamson followed with a sequel, The Humanoid Touch, published in 1980.