Editor's Note: this obituary is reprinted from Æon Speculative Fiction, issue #9.
The last few years have been hard on the SF genre. We've lost some of our best writers, and in November, we lost not only one of our best writers, but one of the best people I've ever known: Jack Williamson.
Jack died in Portales, New Mexico, at the age of 98. He arrived in New Mexico ninety years ago in a covered wagon. He lived to see the space program. Heck, he lived to be invited to the launches of various spaceships.
Jack wrote eight novels after he turned 90. He published his first short story in 1928, for Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories. Jack wasn't just a pioneer in the Old West, he was a pioneer in science fiction—and he wrote some of the classics of the genre. (My favorite is his non-SF novel, Darker than you Think.)
Jack was the kindest man I've ever met. Even in a critique session, he refused to say something negative. He made certain he said something kind and true about the work before him. I've been in critique sessions with Jack where the nicest thing he could say about a writer's manuscript was "beautiful typing." But he would say that, at least, and the writer would leave happy.
But I don't want to write sorrowfully about Jack. Jack told friends a few days before he died that he was ready to face the next adventure. He was looking forward—which Jack always did.
In March of 2001, my husband Dean Wesley Smith and I were invited to be speakers at the Williamson Lectureship. Eastern New Mexico University in Portales put on the lectureship every year (including this past year) since Jack retired his teaching post there. The year we came, we were joined by SciFi.com's Scott Edelman and the marvelous SF writer, Connie Willis.
The lecture hall at ENMU was full of young students and a few recognizable faces (SF writers, well-known scientists, SF scholars and some old friends). The discussion, on the future of science, was lively—one of the most interesting I've ever been involved in.
And what struck me then—and still amazes me now—is that the most informed person in that room about the future of science was none other than Jack himself.
Too often, I've been around elderly folk who talk about the old days or refuse to pay attention to new things because they're happy with their rut. My own beloved grandmother refused to use a new television the family had bought for her because she preferred her old tube television (although she did think Mr. Coffee was the best invention ever).
When I met Jack more than twenty years ago, he was already elderly by anyone's definition. He still stood taller than me in those days, but his body had bent into a question mark. Over the years, the question mark remained, but by the end, I could look down on his wispy white hair. Jack's body grew older, but his mind never did.
The questions in 2001 were all about the future—and many of them came from Jack. He studied, not just as a science fiction writer trying to keep up with an element of his craft, but with the enthusiasm of a man who loved life in all its incarnations—who had seen many of those incarnations—and knew that there were wonderful things to come.
Even at the age of 93, he was still enthusiastic about what was ahead.
When I read his most recent novel, Stonehenge Gate, in its Analog serialization, I realized that Jack saw life as a broad continuum. People left, but the continuum remained. Life, for him, was a stream, constantly changing, but always moving, always interesting.
Jack was, and is, perhaps our purest SF writer. Stonehenge Gate is adventure fiction with a touch of the pulps where Jack got his start, but it is also a meditation on individual lives and love and the influence a person can have, not just on his own culture, but on one he couldn't even imagine when he was a child.
And that's Jack. As a human being, he had a tremendous impact on me. As a teacher, he gently molded generations of young minds. But as a writer, he influenced people the world over—for nearly eighty years.
What a legacy.
We would be remiss, in discussing the life of this very important man, if we do not discuss the future. For the future was the source of his inspiration and the place he boldly walked toward.
Even as he faced his last great adventure.
So look toward the future. Help preserve it for those who'll come after us.
Do it to honor one of the great pioneers of the future: Jack Williamson.
Whom I will miss more than I can say.