When we think about our most famous residents, we remember music producer Norman Petty, pro football’s Hank Baskett or maybe cartoonist William Hanna, who was born in Melrose.
When the world’s intellectual geeks think about our part of the universe, only one name comes to mind: Jack Williamson.
If the science fiction writer were alive today, he’d likely have a recurring role on the “Big Bang Theory.”
The fantasy literature website blackgate.com reports Williamson is the only writer to publish stories in professional sci-fi magazines eight straight decades.
His first published story — “The Metal Man” — came out in 1928. His first novel — “The Green Girl” — came out in 1930. (The paperback cover will knock your eyes out. Don’t let your children Google it.)
Blackgate.com counted 26 Williamson stories published in the 21st century.
He seemed to grow stronger with age, at least as a prolific writer.
He wrote more than 50 books, plus hundreds of short stories and was often referenced as the “dean of science fiction” following the death of Robert Heinlen in 1988.
Eastern New Mexico University began honoring him with the annual Williamson Lectureship in 1977. The 38th gathering of the nation’s sci-fi community wrapped up last week with more than 100 guests that included Arthur M. Dula, Heinlein’s literary executor, and paranormal mystery writer Darynda Jones, one of Williamson’s students.
Williamson, who died in 2006 at age 98, had more success in his life than most of us have had attempts to be successful.
He is credited with making up a word — terraform, which means to alter the environment of a celestial body in order to make it capable of supporting terrestrial life forms, according to dictionary.com.
He won prestigious awards for literature well into his 90s and in 1976 the Science Fiction Writers of America named him its second grand master of science fiction, after only Heinlein.
The man’s failures turned out to be achievements.
Someone at the New York Sunday News reportedly read a critical review of Williamson’s book “Seetee Ship,” and convinced him to create the comic strip “Beyond Mars,” which published for four years in the 1950s.
Those who never met Williamson might be surprised to know he was nothing like the stereotypical boys and young men who helped make him one of the more revered fantasy writers of all time.
He was more cowboy than spaceship captain. He almost became a High Plains cattle rancher.
“One dry spring, they all died from grazing on shinnery brush except one dogied yearling steer,” Williamson wrote in a 1975 essay for “Roosevelt County History and Heritage.”
“He unwisely stood by a barbed-wire fence when a thunderstorm broke the drought and died of lightning.
“It was such misfortune that kindled my desperate ambition to leave the land and become a science fiction writer.”
We’re sorry for the descendants of Williamson’s spotted heifer he called “Easter.”
But the world’s intellectual geeks — and the rest of us — have probably benefited more from “The Green Girl” and her siblings.
David Stevens is the editor for Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at: