Jack Williamson

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Jack Williamson

John Stewart Williamson (April 29, 1908 – November 10, 2006), who wrote as Jack Williamson, was an American science fiction writer.



Short fiction and essays


Will Academe Kill SF? (1978)

Published in the March-April 1978 issue of Asimov's
  • The criticism of SF has tapped rich new vines for researchers, and I can think of writers who seem to be trying harder to impress the critics than to please their readers. I’m afraid the critical tail has begun to wag the creative dog.
    • p. 62
  • SF still appeals to the young, as always, because so much of it is set in the futures in which they will be living.
    • p. 64
  • Accelerating change has become almost the first fact of life.
    • p. 64
  • Science fiction, as I like to define it, is fiction based on the imagined exploration of scientific possibility. The distinction from fantasy—or from other sorts of fantasy—lies in the word possibility.
    • p. 66
  • Considering the uses of science fiction, I think it must first of all offer entertainment, before the the futurology or the social comment can matter. For most readers, entertainment means escape. Though a few young writers are scornful of the, creating good escape fiction is a high and admirable art. Even when the writer aims at something more, entertainment is basic. The bored reader is lost.
    • p. 68
  • Getting back at last to our initial question: Will academe kill SF? I don’t think so…
    I do suspect that the critics are luring a few promising writers into the formless indulgence and the willful obscurity that has destroyed the popularity of modern poetry.
    • p. 69; ellipsis represents the elision of a brief example.

The Humanoid Universe (1980)

  • Human belief is seldom related to truth.
  • Human knowledge is never entirely consistent or complete, because the human brain is only a crude and transient mass of watery cells, error-prone and glacier-slow.
    • p. 51
Numerous editions. All page numbers here are from the mass market edition published by Dell ISBN 0-440-11746-1, July 1979, 1st printing
  • “I wonder—?” whispered April Bell, her long eyes narrowed and dark. “I wonder what they really found?”
    “Whatever it is,” breathed Barbee, “the find doesn’t seem to have made them very happy. A fundamentalist might think they had stumbled into hell.”
    “No,” the girl said, “men aren’t that much afraid of hell.”
    • Chapter 2, “The Kitten Killing” (p. 39)
  • Quietly she said: “I know I’m not insane.”
    So, Barbee understood, did all lunatics.
    • Chapter 5, “The Thing Behind the Veil” (p. 86)
  • And introvert is one of the harmless scientific terms he used to use when he was really writing about witches.
    • Chapter 5, “The Thing Behind the Veil” (p. 90)
  • “I’m not a religious man, Mr. Barbee—I reject the supernatural, and my own rational philosophy is founded on proven science. But I still believe in hell.”
    The dark man smiled.
    “For every man manufactures his own private hell and peoples it with demons of his own creation, to torment him for his own secret sins, imagined or real. It’s my business to explore those personal hells and expose their demons for what they are. Usually they turn out to be much less terrifying than they seem.”
    • Chapter 13, “Private Hell” (p. 206)
  • “The only real scientific support of extrasensory and psychokinetic phenomena has come from such studies as those at Duke University,” he added. “Some of the published results purporting to show the reality of ESP and the mental manipulation of probability are pretty convincing—but I’m afraid the wish to demonstrate the survival of the soul has blinded the researchers to some grave flaw in their experimental or statistical methods.”
    He shook his head, with a sober emphasis.
    “This universe, to me, is strictly mechanistic. Every phenomena that takes place in it—from the birth of suns to the tendency of men to live in fear of gods and devils—was implicit in the primal superatom from whose explosive cosmic energy it was formed. The efforts that some distinguished scientists make to find room for operation of a free human will and the creative function of supernatural divinity in such apparent defects of mechanistic determination as Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty—those futile efforts are as pathetic to me as the crudest attempt of a witch doctor to make it rain by sprinkling water on the ground. All the so-called supernatural, Mr. Barbee, is pure delusion, based on misdirected emotion and inaccurate observation and illogical thinking.”
    His calm brown face smiled hopefully.
    “Does that make you feel any better?”
    “It does, doctor.”
    • Chapter 13, “Private Hell” (p. 207)
  • He certainly didn’t feel insane, he reflected—but then did any lunatic, ever?
    • Chapter 14, “As a Serpent Strikes—” (p. 210)
  • The vampire legend, he might conclude, has served conveniently for many thousand years as a conventional folk expression of unconscious feelings of aggression and guilt.
    • Chapter 21, “Into the Shadows” (p. 319)
Co-written with James E. Gunn
Page numbers from the trade paperback reprint published by Tor, ISBN 978-0-7653-3502-9, November 2014, 1st printing
Ellipses as in the book
  • The difficulties were great, the odds were greater, but Horn would conquer them. And, having conquered them, be left unsatisfied.
    Life holds no kindness for such a man. Any defeat short of death is only a spur; success is empty.
    With cold self-analysis, Horn recognized this fact, accepted it, and went on unchanged.
    • Chapter 1, “Forbidden Ground” (p. 17)
  • Civilization.…
    Like everything else, it has a price. The down payment is freedom. For the privilege of living together, men surrender the right to do as they please; they make laws and restrict themselves within them.
    When civilization is conferred from outside, the price is even steeper: someone else makes the laws.
    • “The History,” prelude to Chapter 3, “The Narrow Bridge” (p. 37)
  • Conquerors live by conquest; the first failure is a signal for the conquered to rise against them.
    • Chapter 6, “Flight” (p. 78)
  • Yet there was a pattern, and the fact that Horn could find it was a commentary upon empire. Mass government is government by rule and regulation. Obedience and conformity are overriding virtues; initiative is punished more often than rewarded. There are prescribed procedures for conducting a search, and no man can be punished for choosing rules over reality.
    • Chapter 6, “Flight” (pp. 82-83)
  • Horn cut the thought off. That was a metaphysical blind alley. He had to assume the reality of things outside himself; this existence was self-centered enough, and he had no desire to return to the universe-creator illusion.
    • Chapter 8, “Out of Chaos…” (p. 108)
  • Horn sat in the near darkness staring at eight floating choices and reflected how inevitability had channeled his actions since he had left the Cluster. Since he had accepted the money from the voice in the darkness, there had been only one step to take, and he had taken it; one path to follow, and he had followed it. Beyond, it had seemed, there would be choice; never now.
    So it had let him on, step by step, comforted by the self-nurtured illusion of free will, guided subtly, unyieldingly, by the iron tube of determinism. Once it started, he never had a chance to turn back.
    • Chapter 9, “Spiderweb” (pp. 125-126)
  • “I go where I wish,” Horn had said, there at the base of the cliff.
    And the ancient Mr. Wu had replied, “So we think, so we think. In the middle of things we see no pattern. But as we look back and view the picture whole, we realize how men are moved about by forces they do not suspect. The pieces fall into place. The pattern is clear.”
    In other words, when somebody moves, something has pushed.
    Choice. Where had there been choice?
    • Chapter 9, “Spiderweb” (p. 126)
  • You have a right to be curious. And I have a right to refuse to satisfy it. You may credit it to your own charm or an old man’s whim, if you like. You are interesting, you know. Hired killers always are. Not admirable, but interesting.
    • Chapter 11, “The Turning Tide” (p. 150)
  • “What’s wrong with him, Matal?” Wendre said dazedly. “He wants to kill us all.”
    “Power,” Wu said somberly, stepping back from the car, “is a vision that drives men mad.”
    • Chapter 14, “The Master Switch” (p. 185)
  • He was a strong man in wise enough to realize that beyond power itself is the power of using it wisely.
    • Chapter 14, “The Master Switch” (p. 188)
  • Creation.…
    It is its own nemesis. Success is temporary, and idolization will not make the ephemeral permanent. Decay is implicit in the birth of any organism.
    An empire is an organism.
    • “The History,” prelude to Chapter 18, “War” (p. 237)
  • Power is habit-forming. We grew addicted to it. Few things survive the centuries’ slow decay: senses grow dull; passions grow weak; and ideals die. Only the taste for power lives on as an excuse for survival.
    • Chapter 20, “Prime Mover” (p. 275)
  • “Whatever a woman is,” Wendre said, “she’s that second and a woman first.”
    • Chapter 21, “Challenge” (p. 285)
  • “There are the troops and their commanders, the technicians, the laborers, and many other classes. All of them have different desires and different ideas about how to gain them. Multiply this by the number of worlds in the Empire and you have a conflict of interests which can never be reconciled.”
    “But isn’t that inefficient?” Wendre asked.
    “It is indeed. But inefficiency is one of the penalties of freedom. You can’t be efficient unless you can force people into channels and make them go where they don’t want to go.”
    • Chapter 21, “Challenge” (p. 286)
  • “That’s a cynical viewpoint,” Horn said slowly.
    “I’m an old man. I can afford no longer the luxury of ideals. If I am to achieve results recognizable within my few remaining years, I must be practical.”
    • Chapter 21, “Challenge” (p. 287)
  • “Sure, when something moves, somebody has pushed, but that isn’t good or bad in itself. It depends on the situation and the pusher.”
    “You’re learning wisdom,” Sair said. “Only the circumstances determine good and evil. And only the future can say what the circumstances actually were.”
    “Then there is no firm basis for acting at all,” Wendre objected. “What you do for the best of motives may be the worst thing to do.”
    “Exactly,” Sair said dryly. “It is a commonplace that more harm is done by well-intentioned fools then by the most unscrupulous villains. A wise man learns not to judge. He may set himself certain standards, but he recognizes that they are only a personal pattern to guy his own conduct and that other standards have the same validity.”
    • Chapter 21, “Challenge” (p. 288)
  • “I don’t see the necessity of this mummery—”
    “Necessity?” Wu said. “Free will is a necessity. And the illusion is more important than the reality.”
    • Epilogue (p. 293)

The Stonehenge Gate (2005)

All page numbers are from the hardcover first edition published by Tor ISBN 0-765-30897-5
  • “Don’t you get it? The grand enigma of our universe. The joy of science, the power of math, the elation of discovery.” He looked out again, speaking half to himself, yet eager to share what he felt. “That’s the mystery of the natural creation. Galaxies and planets, life and mind grown from the fire and dust of the big bang. That’s the enchantment of science. New vistas of wonder exploding out of every advance.”
    • Chapter 3 (p. 32)
  • The mystery of it gets me. The builders of the trilithons and the road were high-tech wizards, but their skills didn’t save them. I’ve been wondering how they died. Maybe they got too good at the science of war.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 60)
  • “Magic.” He shot photos and shook his head. “Pure magic, till we learn enough to understand it.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 67)