Jack Williamson's life career began in the age of wonder* - when the potentialities of technology were only just being fully explored** - and ended during the age of plunder - when people began to realize that regardless of technology, people still need to get their hearts, minds and social systems in order. Truly a 20th century story.
When I first began to write s-f, and I began to pick up some books on eBay, one of the first I stumbled across was a perfectly pristine edition of "Rocket to the Morgue", written by Anthony Boucher in 1951 - a thinly disguised Williamson was one of the characters in the book. That was written more than half a century ago.
In his Wikipedia entry, it mentions that Isaac Asimov was thrilled to get a postcard from Williamson after he published his first story. That not only highlights how long Williamson was around, but also the fact that he was such a considerate person.
I've never seen or heard anyone say anything about Williamson except that he was gracious and polite.
I never met the man, but just this past year, I sent him a birthday card. My application to join the SFWA was approved in April, and shortly afterwards I saw from a calendar that his birthday was coming up on April 29th. Since I got the SFWA directory, I dropped him a birthday card in the mail.
I attended the Campbell conference in 2004. He wasn't there, but there was a documentary about s-f writers. Each time a writer was introduced, they started the segment with a voiceover and then brought the picture up, so you heard the author before you saw them. At one point, voice started up with a distinct drawl, and I sat up, thinking "Hey, that guy sounds like me!" Then the image faded into view. It was Williamson.
When I used to work at newspapers closer to the Dallas area, I would get news releases from Eastern New Mexico University about his library and conferences. It actually was a good way to keep on top of the news.
Williamson's own observation that he was drawn to the magazines he found in the news rack because the tales seemed so much more imaginative and interesting than his real life resonates with so many s-f authors - including myself. Perhaps that's one of the reasons s-f has lot a bit of its zip in recent years - the world is getting so weird that fiction pales by comparison.
As for his longevity, it just goes to show you that good genes and a good attitude go a long way. By way of my own personal comparison, I recall he was one year younger than my grandfather, who passed away 22 years ago.
You know the old saying, "you can't take it with you." We don't get to take anything material into the next life. We do get to take a good name and reputation, and measured by that, Williamson departs as one of the richest men in the world.
It's sad to hear he passed, but really, is anyone truly "dead" who is still loved by so many others?
* Hardly surprising that his autobiography was titled "Wonder's Child".
** His first story was published three years before Thomas Edison passed away.
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