Jack Williamson on what the future meant in the era of scientifiction

Here's science fiction grand master Jack Williamson ruminating on what the future once meant, when he started working in the field, including a reading of an early essay on the future he wrote in the 1920s or 1930s:

Spectacular graphics open a show about how the future was created. SF Grandmaster Jack Williamson tells the space-age dreams of a boy in Portales, New Mexico in the 1930's.

This is also the first part of a larger tribute to Science Fiction's Grand Masters presented at the 2000 SFWA Nebula banquet at the installation of Brian Aldiss. Languishing on my shelves for almost ten years, this video has been patiently waiting to give you pleasure. There are fully 20 Grand Masters, 1 author Emeritus and five future Grand Masters (?) featured in the second part of this program.

The Possible Future (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. My SF scholarship is thin, but Jack Williamson’s “The Humanoids” is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read, and one of a handful of books that I’ve read a second time. It’s one of those books that you wish there were a filmmaker with the brilliance to bring it to the screen.

    Also, I love Jack’s accent and voice in that video. He sounds more like a Civil War vet than a science fiction visionary.

  2. I love the accent too, especially the shape and length of some of the vowels. Surprised he’s from New Mexico. I sometimes hear that from older people in small towns in East Texas, or inner city Houston. 

    I’ll ave to check out “The Humanoids”. Any old dude dude that makes so trippy a video has to be cool. I may have already read some of his stuff, but I don’t recall doing so.

  3. I watched both parts and had great fun trying to guess who each of the speakers (and in some bits, those of whom were spoken) were before their names were revealed. I didn’t do very well, but it was still fun.

  4. When I chaired the 2003 World Fantasy Convention in DC one of the writers I wanted as Guest of Honor was Jack Williamson.   While he had hoped to make it, his health didn’t allow such; so an interview was recorded and shown at the con.  He was 95 and sharp.  Two years later he had another novel published.

    And the reason I wanted Jack as a GoH was that October 2003 would mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of his first story.  75 years … something to marvel.

  5. Jack Williamson’s family moved to New Mexico in a covered wagon in 1915, when he was seven. In 1928 he sold his first story to Amazing Stories. He coined the word terraforming. His last novel was published in 2005… a 77-year writing career. Awesome.

  6. Consider the changes that Williamson lived through …. he was born in 1908 in Bisbee, Arizona Territory.  In 1915 the family moved to New Mexico in a covered wagon.

    1. Not specifically about Jack Williamson, but this has been a thought I’ve had awhile – people perfectly positioned by their time on earth to see the greatest head slapping change.

      This one intrigues me. I believe there were maybe a couple of dozen veterans of the US Civil War, Confederate & Union. who served underage, say born ~1850, and lasted to nearly 100 years old. Perhaps a couple also saw battle. So what they initially saw was fighting little advanced from 500 years earlier, only to eventually see, assuming mental clarity in old age, the atomic bomb dropped on Japan, a device so terrible, even at Hiroshima/Nagasaki size, it has never been used again and likely never will by a rational stockpile holder.

      I doubt someone sought out an individual like this and recorded their post WWII observations which would be the first thing I would do if a time machine could be invented.

      1.  The Civil War was much more similar to World War I than to any fighting from the 1300s.  Cavalry played a minor role, lances, bows, crossbows, and swords almost none.  Artillery was becoming dominant and the rate of fire almost overwhelming.  So, I don’t agree that waging war underwent the greatest changes in that timespan.

        I’d actually argue for those who were born around 1830 or so, especially in the North American countryside.  They would have known a life in the 1840s that was still almost medieval.  If they lived to 100, on the other hand, they ended their days in the age of trains, electricity, streetcars, automobiles, zeppelins, passenger planes, radio, television, even videophones (yes, circa 1930, look it up), etc.  Outside of nuclear power, computers, and limited space travel, it could be argued that we haven’t added that much to the world of 1930.  No flying cars, no space colonies, no intelligent robots.  Our planes have become bigger and our other technologies have become much more comfortable and convenient, but the changes haven’t been as significant.  That is partly why science fiction exerted such a pull in the 1930s and 1940s.  Everything seemed possible because of what had already happened.

  7. I lived in Portales in the early ’80s and managed the Radio Shack Computer department in Clovis, NM.

    I occasionally visited Jack to help with word processing questions on his Radio Shack Model I computer. He talked Isaac Asimov into becoming a spokesman for Radio Shack computers. He would always discuss my opinion on plot developments for whatever novel he was working on. He also expressed his joy at how well his work was accepted in Japan, but his disappointment that he received no royalties from his sales there.

    Thanks for bringing back some good memories.

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