Ran across something two weeks ago that sent my mind wandering and wondering; C J Cherryh has won the 2016 Damon Knight Grand Master of Science Fiction award. Good for her; she deserves it. Back when I first read Downbelow Station – a volume that has a permanent place on my bookshelf – I’ve loved reading her books. Cyteen takes its place right next to it.
Where my mind started wandering and wondering was here: who were the other Grand Masters, and had I read all of them? So, I went to the SFWA website and scrolled through the list.
#1 Heinlein 1975: Check, re-check, triple check, and the checks will keep going. Great!
#2 Jack Williamson 1976. . .uh-oh. Couldn’t think of a single thing I’d read that was his. Didn’t get very far down the list, now did I!?
So, off to ye olde publick library to see what there was to see. Yep, a few by him. Turns out he sold his first story in 1928, and continued to publish lo almost 80 years until his death in 2006. Picked The Humanoids off the shelf. Hmm…robots, published in Analog as a series from 1947-1948, collected into a novel and published in 1949. Hadn’t Asimov (GM 1987) covered all there was to say about robots? Oh, Vonne, quit dithering and give it a shot.
The first couple of hundred pages are post-war hysteria fueled by the Cold War, as these (quaintly called “Mechanical Men) androids go about their unemotional (Russia) business ostensibly protecting mankind (everyone else in the world) from, well, mostly from himself. The main character is rebelling against their intrusion into his life, determined to blow them all to kingdom come by blasting their central mind complex in another star system.
And then the last twenty pages went deliriously sideways! The conclusions drawn by Williamson are startling and subversive! Just my kind of guy!
Back to the library, for something newer this time. Terraforming Earth published in 2001, for which he Co-won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2002. I am not going to give any details of this plot. No. What I am going to do is tell you that if you loved Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (both published in 2015), then you will learn that the over 1100 pages of those two novels were cribbed from Williamson’s slick 2001 original, in only 350 pages! Don’t get me wrong. I loved those two books, but can clearly see now where they were inspired. Williamson was there first.
He is credited for inventing two terms that have come into common use: “terraforming” (back in 1942!) and “genetic engineering” (far away in 1951. Let’s put that last term into context: Crick and Watson did not publish their article on the structure of the DNA molecule until two years LATER !) Williamson taught Science Fiction writing in New Mexico since the 1950s. In 2001, he swept the Hugo and Nebula for the novella The Ultimate Earth. And he even has my world view that SF needn’t be so serious! I love this man!
Just finished my third one: The Black Sun (1997). One nit here: he probably mentions what they ate on every single page, usually some synthetic food product made from soya, tofu, or algae. The story itself is excellent! Even references his own previous works. What a hoot!
I am an idiot because somehow I completely skipped one of the absolute greats in Science Fiction! What an IDIOT! Hopefully, I can atone for my errors, and catch all of his genius that is in print as soon as possible. Jack Williamson, I salute you and pray you rest in peace, my man!
(By the way: I had read something from almost everyone else on the list. Michael Moorcock is the other standout, mainly because he mostly writes Fantasy, which is not my cup o’tea.)
VA 28 February 2016