WILLIAMSON, Jack
   Working name of US writer John Stewart Williamson (1908-) from the beginning of his career in 1928, though his Seetee stories were originally signed Will Stewart. JW was born in Arizona and raised (after stints in Mexico and Texas) on an isolated New Mexico homestead; he described hisearly upbringing and his encounter with 1920s sf in the introduction and notes to The Early Williamson (coll 1975), which assembles some of the rough but vigorous stories he published 1928-33; and amplified this material in Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction (1984), which won a 1986 HUGO. These reminiscences reconfirm the explosively liberating effectearly PULP-MAGAZINE sf had on its first young audiences, especially those who like JW grew up in small towns or farms across a USA hurtling out of its rural past.After discovering AMAZING STORIES, and specifically being influenced by its 1927 serialization of A. MERRITT's The Moon Pool (1919), JW immediately decided to try to write stories for that magazine. Hisfirst published fiction, "The Metal Man" in 1928 for AMZ, was deeply influenced by Merritt's lush visual style, but like most of his early work conveyed an exhilarating sense of liberation. JW was from the first an adaptable writer, responsive to the changing nature of his markets, and his collaborations over the years seemed to be genuine attempts to learn more about his craft as well as to produce saleable fiction. His first great teacher after Merritt was Miles J. BREUER, whom he came across through his early association with fan organizations like the International Science Correspondence Club and the American InterplanetarySociety, and to whom he deliberately apprenticed himself. Breuer, he reported in The Early Williamson, "taught me to curb my tendencies toward wild melodrama and purple adjectives"; what JW gave Breuer in return was an inspiring fount of energy, and both of their book collaborations - The Girl from Mars (1929 chap) and The Birth of a New Republic (1931 AMZQuarterly; 1981 chap [but large pages]) - were written primarily by the younger man, following Breuer's ideas.JW's development was swift. From the very first he was equally comfortable with both story and novel forms; indeed, by 1940 he had published over 12 novels in the magazines, including The Alien Intelligence (1929 Science Wonder Stories; with 2 shorter stories as coll 1980 chap [but large pages]) and the unreprinted "The Stone from the Green Star" (1931), "Xandulu" (1934), "Islands of theSun" (1935), "The Blue Spot" (1937) and "Fortress of Utopia" (1939); and in his later career he concentrated even more heavily on longer forms. The best of his pre-WWII work was probably the Legion of Space series, which initially comprised The Legion of Space (1934 ASF; rev 1947) and The Cometeers (coll 1950) - itself containing 2 items, The Cometeers (1936ASF; rev for 1950 coll; 1967) and One Against the Legion (1939 ASF; with the new "Nowhere Near" added, as coll 1967) - all this material being subsequently assembled as Three from the Legion (omni 1979). The Queen of the Legion (1983) was a very late and significantly less energetic addendum. The series depicts the far-flung, Universe-shaking, SPACE-OPERA adventures of 4 buccaneering soldiers. (Giles Habibula, the most original of the lot - though his conception clearly owed much to RABELAIS and to Shakespeare's Falstaff - became a frequently used model for later sflife-loving grotesques, including Poul ANDERSON's Nicholas van Rijn.) 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 from evil a doomsday device called AKKA. The influence of E.E. "Doc" SMITH's Lensmen saga can be felt throughout; and JW's relative incapacityto impart a sense of scale was perhaps balanced by a very much greater gift for characterization. Other early novels, like The Green Girl (1930 AMZ; 1950) and Golden Blood (1933 Weird Tales; rev 1964), share a crudenarrative brio, adaptability to various markets, vivid characters, and some lack of ambition. The exception, perhaps, was the Legion of Time sequence (not connected to the Legion of Space sequence), assembled as THE LEGION OF TIME (coll 1952; vt Two Complete Novels: After World's End; TheLegion of Time 1963), containing THE LEGION OF TIME (1938 ASF; cut 1961 UK) and After World's End (1939 Marvel Science Stories; 1961 UK). One of the earliest and most ingenious stories of ALTERNATE WORLDS and TIME PARADOXES - with conflicting potential future worlds battling throughtime, each trying to ensure its own existence and deny its opponent's - the sequence inspired one of the most penetrating studies yet written about a pulp-sf novel, Brian W. ALDISS's "Judgement at Jonbar" (1964), published in SF Horizons.By the 1940s, however, John W. CAMPBELL Jr's GOLDEN AGE OF SF had begun, and JW was suddenly an old-timer. Though JWdid not much participate in its inception, he did adapt to the new world with commendable speed, and by the end of the decade had published what will probably remain his most significant work. A transitional series - the Seetee ANTIMATTER tales - came first: Seetee Ship (1942-3 ASF; fixup 1951) and Seetee Shock (1949 ASF; 1950), both published as by Will Stewartbut reissued in 1968 as by JW, assembled as Seetee Ship/Seetee Shock (omni 1971; vt Seetee 1979), and designed to be read in the original magazineorder. These confront the world with the engineering challenge of coping with the antimatter that is found to make up part of the ASTEROID belt; more smoothly told than its predecessors, the series still unchallengingly presents its asteroid miners and their crises in the old fashion, with a great deal of action but little insight. Its success led to JW's creation of a COMIC strip, Beyond Mars, which ran for 3 years in the New York Daily News. Far more significant was DARKER THAN YOU THINK (1940 Unknown; exp1948), a remarkable speculative novel about lycanthropy which early presented the thesis that werewolves are genetic throwbacks to a species cognate with Homo sapiens (SUPERNATURAL CREATURES). Also in the 1940s came JW's most famous sequence, the Humanoids series: "With Folded Hands" (1947), The Humanoids (1948 ASF as ". . . And Searching Mind"; rev 1949) -both assembled as The Humanoids (coll of linked stories 1980) - "Jamboree" (1969) and The Humanoid Touch (1980). Once again at an early point in thegenre's history, these confronted the near impossibility of assessing the plusses and minuses of a humanoid (i.e.,artificial- INTELLIGENCE-driven) hegemony over the world, however benevolent. In The Humanoids itself it is suggested that humanity's new masters are contriving to force people to transcend their condition; in The Humanoid Touch this ambiguity is lost for, at the end of the Galaxy, long hence, the euphoria induced by humanity's keepers is both impossible to perceive and mandatory.In the early 1950s JW began to suffer from a writer's block which he did not fully escape for more than two decades, though he continued to produce novels of interest like Dragon's Island (1951; vt The Not-Men 1968), whose presentation of GENETIC ENGINEERING once again conceals a prescient numeracy under a bluff, slightly archaic narrative style. Much of his new work from this point was collaborative, and the continued modernizing of his techniques and concerns can be seen as an ongoing demonstration of his remarkable willingness to learn from the world and from others. Star Bridge (1955) with James E. GUNN was just a competent space opera, butJW's ongoing partnership with Frederik POHL was of more interest, though their first sequence, the Eden series of juveniles - Undersea Quest (1954), Undersea Fleet (1956) and Undersea City (1958) - was routine; all3 were eventually assembled as The Undersea Trilogy (omni 1992). The second, the Starchild tales - The Reefs of Space (1964), Starchild (1965) and Rogue Star (1969), assembled as The Starchild Trilogy (omni 1977) - also fails to combine space opera and METAPHYSICS convincingly as it traces the problematic epic of humanity's EVOLUTION into a mature planet-spanning species (LIVING WORLDS). The Cuckoo series - The Farthest Star (fixup 1975) and Wall Around a Star (1983), both assembled as TheSaga of Cuckoo (omni 1983) - does not quite succeed in bringing to life its cosmogonic premises or its LINGUISTIC concerns. On the other hand, Land's End (1988), with Pohl, is an enjoyable singleton; in it a cometdestroys the ozone layer and humanity seeks refuge UNDER THE SEA. The Singers of Time (1991), with Pohl, is also strong.In the 1950s JW embarkedon a second career at Eastern New Mexico University, where he took a BA in English and an MA with an unpublished 1957 thesis, "A Study of the Senseof Prophecy in Modern Science Fiction". He taught the modern novel and literary criticism until his retirement in 1977, while being deeply involved in promoting sf as an academic subject (SF IN THE CLASSROOM). He had taken a PhD with the University of Colorado in 1964 on H.G. WELLS's early sf, and expanded his thesis into H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress (1973), a book which, despite some methodological clumsiness, valuablyexamines Wells's complex development of ideas as they relate to the idea of progress. In 1973 JW received a PILGRIM AWARD for his academic work relating to sf.In the meanwhile he began slowly to enter the Indian summer of his writing career, though novels like The Moon Children (1972) and The Power of Blackness (fixup 1976) are surprisingly insecure and the seriescontinuations (see above) lack the force of their models. It seemed that his old age would demonstrate his slow - even though technically productive - decline. But The Best of Jack Williamson (coll 1978) again demonstrated his early strengths, and although Brother to Demons, Brother to Gods (1979) was weak, in the 1980s JW 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 parcelling out of Earth, sophisticated in its presentation of sexual material; its sequel, Mazeway (1990), has the air of a juvenile in its vivid presentation of theeponymous galactic test that the young protagonists must pass to render humanity eligible for higher things. Firechild (1986) generates a rhetoric of transcendence - very much in the fashion of the 1980s - out of BIOLOGY. Into the Eighth Decade (coll 1990) serves as a brief resume of JW'spost-WWII career. Beachhead (1992) describes an expedition to a MARS according to contemporary knowledge, although the plot itself is redolent of a much earlier era. Despite its title, Demon Moon (1994) is also - highly coloured - sf. In 1976 he was given the second Grand Master NEBULA award (his sole predecessor was Robert A. HEINLEIN). He has been an sf writer of substance for over 60 years. In his work and in his life he has encompassed the field.
   JC
   Other works: Lady in Danger (1934 Weird Tales as "Wizard's Isle"; 1945 chap UK), a novelette with a short story by E. Hoffmann PRICE added; Dome Around America (1941 Startling Stories as"Gateway to Paradise"; rev 1955 dos); The Trial of Terra (fixup 1962 dos); The Reign of Wizardry (1940 Unknown; rev 1964; again rev 1979); Bright New Universe (1967); Trapped in Space (1968), a juvenile; The Pandora Effect (coll 1969); People Machines (coll 1971); Passage to Saturn (1939 TWS; 1973 chap UK); Dreadful Sleep (1938 Weird Tales; 1977 chap).As Editor: Teaching Science Fiction for Tomorrow (anth 1980).Nonfiction: Science Fiction Comes to College (1971 chap; exp 1971 chap); Science Fiction in College (1971 chap; exp 1972 chap); Teaching SF (1972 chap; exp 1973 chap; again exp 1973 chap; exp 1974 chap).
   About the author: Jack (John Stewart) Williamson, Child and Father of Wonder (1985 chap) by Gordon BENSON Jr.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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