Jack Williamson

1908 - 2006

American writer

Jack Williamson was a science fiction writer of substance for over 60 years. Raised on an isolated New Mexico homestead, Williamson discovered science fiction via the pulp magazines. Inspired by their contents to try to his hand at writing, his first published story, "The Metal Man," was featured in Amazing Stories in 1928. He was from the first an adaptable writer, responsive to the changing nature of his markets and equally comfortable with both story and novel forms. .

The best of Williamson's pre-World War II work was probably the Legion of Space series — The Legion of Space (1934), The Cometeers (1936) and One Against the Legion (1939) — depicting the far-flung, universe-shaking, space opera adventures of four buccaneering soldiers. More or less unaided, they save the human worlds from threats both internal and external in conjunction with the woman whose hereditary role it is to guard against a doomsday device called AKKA.

By the end of the forties, Williamson had published what will probably remain his most significant work, the Seetee series. Its success led to the comic strip, Beyond Mars, which ran for three years in the New York Daily News. Also in the 1940s came Humanoids, his most famous series.

In the 1950s, Williamson embarked on a second career in academia. He taught the modern novel and literary criticism until his retirement in 1977, while also being deeply involved in promoting science fiction as an academic subject. He had taken a PhD with the University of Colorado in 1964 on H.G. Wells' early science fiction, and expanded his thesis into a work ultimately titled H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress (1973). In 1973 he received a Pilgrim Award for his academic work.

In the 1980s, Williamson began to produce work of an astonishing youthfulness. Manseed (1982) uses the space-opera format to investigate, with renewed freshness, the imaginative potential of genetic engineering. Lifeburst (1984) is an exercise in interstellar realpolitik, grim and engrossing in its depiction of the parceling out of Earth, and sophisticated in its presentation of sexual material. Its sequel, Mazeway (1990), has a juvenile air in its vivid presentation of the eponymous galactic test that the young protagonists must pass to render humanity eligible for higher things.

In 1976 Williamson was given the second Grand Master Nebula Award (his sole predecessor was Robert A. Heinlein).

Selected Bibliography:
Legion of Space (1934)
The Early Williamson (1975)
Three from the Legion (1979)
Seetee Ship/Seetee Shock (1979)
Darker Than You Think (1940)
The Green Girl (1930)
Golden Blood (1933)
The Legion of Time (1952)
The Humanoid Touch (1980)
Manseed (1982)
Lifeburst (1984)
Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction (1984)
Mazeway (1990)