New Mexico’s departed science fiction greats
By Scott Denning
In a field known for pioneering spirit, it is hard to find a better embodiment of that spirit than Jack Williamson (1908-2006), who arrived in New Mexico in 1915 aboard a covered wagon. This son of homesteaders first published in 1928 (in between hoboing trips around the U.S.) and his last work appeared in 2005, a career spanning eight decades. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan all cite him as a major influence, but fame was no prerequisite to be welcome in the Portales home he helped design and build—Williamson was always ready to host visitors from around the world, many of them coming for the Williamson Lectureship Series, an annual event dedicated to scholarly discussions of science fiction. Among Williamson’s many awards was being named a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1975. Williamson is also credited with coining the terms “terraforming” and “genetic engineering,” as well as instigating some of the first discussions in fiction of antimatter. His short story “With Folded Hands,” later expanded into The Humanoids, introduced the idea of oppressively helpful robots with the directive “To serve and obey, and guard men from harm.” The Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library, at Eastern New Mexico University, where he taught for many years, is considered one of the finest collections on the subject in the world. A lifelong traveler, Williamson nonetheless chose Portales for his home, and the small shack he built to write in as a young man still stands today on the family ranch. The next Williamson Lectureship is planned for April 2008 to coincide with Williamson’s 100th birthday, details at enmu.edu.
Santa Fean Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) is considered a major voice in the New Wave of writers who challenged science fiction in the ’60s. Favoring humanism over technology and strongly influenced by mythology, Zelazny’s stories caught the attention of a new generation of readers looking for an alternative to the “nuts and bolts prose” (Zelazny's words) of most previous science fiction. Lord of Light, a novel borrowing from Hindu mythology and Buddhist beliefs, is considered by many to be an influential classic. Zelazny’s popular “Amber” fantasy series builds a universe of parallel worlds where Order and Chaos are in conflict, and magic and swords are logical tools. A prolific poet, Zelazny’s works are often noted for evocative language and a strong sense of mood and place. Among his honors are six Hugos and three Nebulas, the most prestigious awards in the field. His 1963 short story “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is still taught in schools.
Albuquerque’s Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007) introduced several enduring themes into science fiction and fantasy, archetypes now so common that many young readers assume they always existed. Elements of his Berserkers®, an ancient machine horde dedicated to destroying humankind, may be seen in everything from Transformers to the Borg. The Dracula Tape in 1975 established the subgenre of “the vampire in his own words” one year before Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire; nine more vampire-sympathetic books followed. (In 1997, Saberhagen was made a Transylvanian Knight of the Brasov Citadel by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula.) The “Books of the Gods” series examines Greek and Norse mythology from a fresh perspective, and the popular “Swords” and “Lost Swords” series blend science fiction, fantasy and mythological deities. Saberhagen is also remembered for the annual party in honor of Edgar Allan Poe that he hosted with his wife, author Joan Spicci Saberhagen. (Fred and Zelazny co-authored The Black Throne in 1990, a fantasy featuring Poe as the main character.) Fred Saberhagen passed away in June 2007; a public memorial celebration will be held in Albuquerque on Sept. 14. Go to berserker.com for details.
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