by wjw on November 12, 2006

Jack Williamson died the other day, 80 years after publishing his first science fiction story. He was 98. He had no less than three books out in 2005, pretty impressive for a nonagenarian.

Jack was one of the first writers I actually got to talk to. I was a college student, and attended a science fiction convention in Denver where he was guest of honor, and we found ourselves standing next to each other in line for the restaurant, and he invited me to join him and then picked up the check.

I don’t remember what we talked about. I have a horrid feeling that I probably talked about myself a good deal. Jack was a good listener, and a good storyteller, and had a lot more interesting things to say than I would have, but he wasn’t the sort to put himself forward— and alas, I am.

But there you go. Jack was kind, polite, generous, and a natural teacher.

Years later, I ran into Jack in the Atlanta airport. We had shared a flight into Atlanta but hadn’t seen each other till that moment. He was standing by the baggage carrousel waiting for his bags, and I thought about how the journey he had made to this place was a lot longer than the miles between Portales and Atlanta might imply.

In order to fly to Atlanta you spend several hours in a fast-moving, pressurized steel tube flying in excess of 30,000 feet. After which a tube extrudes from the airport terminal, mates with your steel tube, and you pass along the tube to the terminal, where you take moving walkways to the escalators, where you descend to the subway stop. You wait at the subway stop until your automated train arrives. The automated train speaks to you in a soft mechanical voice, warning you of closing doors and oncoming acceleration, and then you accelerate down a tunnel to the main terminal, where there are more escalators and moving walkways to the baggage carrousel, where you baggage— delivered on a conveyor belt— pops out, and there you are in Atlanta with your bags.

This, I thought, was the world that Jack was writing about in 1928. It had come true in time for him to live in it.

It was a very long journey for the boy who had come to New Mexico in a covered wagon in 1915, a refugee from the Mexican Revolution.

From the Mexican Revolution to the Digital Revolution, Jack was there. I’m going to really miss him.

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