Jack Williamson was born 110 years ago

Portrait of Jack Williamson in Air Wonder Stories in 1929
Portrait of Jack Williamson in Air Wonder Stories in 1929

John Stewart Williamson was born on April 29, 1908 in Brisbee, in what was then called the Arizona territory, in the USA. Raised in a ranch where there was little beyond the grazing grounds and animals, fantasy was the only form of escape for him and he spent years making up stories to tell his brother and sisters.

When a friend gave him a copy of the magazine “Amazing Stories” he decided to try to write science fiction too and in 1928 his short story “The Metal Man” was published as Jack Williamson, the name he later used normally even if sometimes he used pseudonyms such as Will Stewart and Nils O. Sonderlund.

At the beginning of his career, Jack Williamson was influenced mainly by Abraham Merritt but was also impressed by the works of Miles J. Breuer and decided to contact him. The two of them ended up collaborating and published together works such as “The Girl from Mars” in 1929 and “Birth of a New Republic” in 1931.

The first big success for Jack Williamson came with the beginning of the Legion of Space series, initially formed by three novels serialized in the magazine “Astounding” during the 1930s: “The Legion of Space”), “The Cometeers” and “One Against the Legion”. After several years these novels were published as books and the author wrote the novella “Nowhere Near” and 1983 novel “The Queen of the Legion”.

Jack Williamson quickly became an important author of space opera but in 1940 he published the novelette “Darker Than You Think”, of fantasy / horror genre, which a few years later expanded into a novel of the same title, considered among author’s masterpieces.

In 1942 Jack Williamson published under the pseudonym Will Stewart the short story “Collision Orbit” in which the term terraforming is used for the first time. The idea of antimatter included in the story was used again in what became another series, the Seetee Series, formed also by the novels “Seetee Shock” (1949) and “Seetee Ship” (1951).

In 1947 Jack Williamson published the novelette “With Folded Hands”. The concepts were expanded and developed somewhat differently in the novel “The Humanoids” (1949). The author wrote another sequel many years later, “The Humanoid Touch” (1980).

In the 1950s, Jack Williamson began a collaboration with his fellow writer Frederik Pohl. The two of them published several novels, in particular the Starchild trilogy: “The Reefs of Space” (1964), “Starchild” (1965) and “Rogue Star” (1969).

Despite his intense activity as a writer, in the 1950s Jack Williamson also managed to earn a degree in English from Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) and in 1960 he became a teacher at the university even though he received his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He continued his teaching activity regularly until 1977.

Jack Williamson continued to work as a writer as well and his style evolved over the years. He kept on writing space opera such as “The Moon Children” (1972) but these novels are far more sophisticated than the ones he wrote decades ago.

In 2001 Jack Williamson published the novella “The Ultimate Earth”, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards. He’s the oldest writer to win those awards in any category. His last novel, “The Stonehenge Gate”, was published in 2005.

Jack Williamson died on November 10, 2006. In almost 80 years of activity he went through many phases of the evolution of science fiction, adapting to new things and managing to maintain a freshness in his works. He was a truly prolific and long-lived author who marked decades of science fiction.


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