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My Memory of Jack Williamson (1908-2006)

As many of us did, I learned over the weekend of the Friday death of Jack Williamson. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Jack was a science fiction writer and the second one to be named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (preceded only by Robert A. Heinlein). Jack had a remarkable life; he was born in Arizona before it was a state and in 1915 traveled with his family via a covered wagon. His first story, "The Metal Man," was published in Amazing Stories in 1928, and over the course of his long life he wrote many more stories and novels.

Needless to say, Jack was honored many times by the science fiction and fantasy community at large. One particular incident stands in my mind, which I would like to share, because of my own involvement. I would like to say that I had a larger role in the events I'm about to describe, but in all honesty, I was just a conduit. But because of it, I got to meet Jack Williamson, for which I will always be grateful.

In 1998, shortly after I was elected Secretary of SFWA and Vice-President of NESFA, I was approached by Tony Lewis. Tony is a writer and has been very active in fandom all his life. He has served as an officer of NESFA many times and also as a Worldcon chair.

Anyway, Tony approached me with the flat-out statement that 1998 was the 70th anniversary of Jack Williamson's first published story, and that SFWA had to do something to honor Jack at Worldcon that year (Bucconeer, held in Baltimore). In my capacity as SFWA Secretary, I passed along that request to Brenda Clough, who was running the SFWA Suite at Bucconeer. She in turn mentioned this anniversary to Dell Magazines, the publishers of Analog and Asimov's, who were sponsoring the SFWA Suite on certain nights of the convention.

And so it was, that one afternoon at Worldcon, a party was held in honor of Jack Williamson's seventy years in science fiction. Nomi and I were there, and got to see a room full of people applaud Jack for everything he had done. Dell Magazines had provided refreshments plus a beautiful cake, and Brenda Clough and her staff had set up the room admirably. Jack was always modest about his accomplishments, but I could tell how delighted he was by the party.

I still can't believe that was eight years ago. Rest in peace, Jack. You will not be forgotten.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


Oh man. I'm so sorry to hear that. He will be missed.

It's been a hard year for science fiction writers.
You weren't "just a conduit," fella. Without your link in the chain, the event might not have happened. What a lovely remembrance.
Oh wow--and just days after Nelson Bond, too, who was the same age. I think they were the last two surviving Golden Age (and pre-Golden Age!) SF writers. :(
Damn. I was really hoping Jack would see his 100th. May he rest peacefully.

I really hope that SFWA takes his passing as an inspiration to start really collecting the stories of real veterans like Jack. Organizational history is one of the areas that could really use the perspective to be provided by getting our elder statesmen on the record about how the field and SFWA have changed over the years.

Collecting veterans' stories

This is the biggest reason I collect old SF magazines: not for their value or collectibility, but very often the original pulps are the only places you can read the stories.

Re: Collecting veterans' stories

Although the fictional stories would interest me, my intent with SFWA is to collect the historical information about our field and the organization from these elder statesmen. First hand reports on how the field has changed (for better or worse). First hand reports on how SFWA has (or hasn't) evolved over the years. While their fiction may continue to be recorded in old pulps and reprint anthologies, their life experiences are vanishing. That's a legacy we could use these days.
It would be nice if they did. In the meantime, Haffner Press has been collecting all of Jack Williamson's stories for several years now. They are into the fifth (large) volume. I have the first four and they cover the first decade of Williamson's career (1928-38).
See my reply to madwriter. It's the historical legacy of people like Jack that I'd like to see archived.
My bad. I misinterpreted what you meant by "stories".
I was saddened when I saw the news on Saturday. There aren't too many old-timers left. Each loss hurts more and more. It makes me wish that those Golden Age writers still around (Fred Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury) would write for the magazines more often than they do.

December 2016

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