Me and Jack Williamson in Portales, New Mexico December 1998

Jack Williamson has written over 50 novels and has won many awards, including the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement award in 1988 and the Campbell And Sturgeon Science Fiction “Hall of Fame” Award in 1996. Jack was the second winner of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA)’s Grand Master Nebula Award in 1975; the first winner was Robert A. Heinlein in 1975. Other Grand Masters include Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Urula K. LeGuin. He was often referred to as the “Dean of Science Fiction” following the death in 1988 of Robert A. Heinlein. Williamson is also noted for coining the term teraforming, first used in “Collision Orbit” published during 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction. This book also was the first science fiction book to feature antimatter and was written in the Jack Williamson homestead, basically a wooden shack approximately 30 miles south of Portales.

Listen to NPR’s broadcast tribute to Jack Williamson when he died in 2006 at age 98. The interview includes a segment from Patrice Caldwell (a friend of my parents) in which she talked about Jack’s last book, “The Stonehenge Portal saying “When I feel depressed by news of spreading terror here on Earth and the dread of a dark tide to overwhelm civilization, it cheers me to recall that we are the new Omegans with that magnificent legacy waiting for us. We have survived the death of our first son. Bad times may come, but surely we’ll prevail.”

I note that in Jack Williamson’s last book Stonehenge Portal the two protagonists are a husband and wife team; one is a physics professor at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Portales, New Mexico and the other an anthropology/archeology professor at ENMU. Other than getting the gender roles reversed, maybe to fit better with current sterotypes, surely these characters must be modeled after my parents: Mercedes Agogino was a physics professor at ENMU (now retired) and my father George Agogino (now deceased) was an anthropology/archeology professor at ENMU. My father came to ENMU to start the anthropology department there and to take the lead in the archeological excavation of the Blackwater Draw site. Here is a quote from the book, p. 12: “Lupe had come to Portales to search for bones of the first Americans at the Blackwater site, where the first Clovis points were found.” Ironically, early Clovis humans seemed to have left many artifacts and remnants of their existence around 12,000 years ago, but there are no bones. Here is a picture of me and my family visiting Agogino Cave, named after my father in central New Mexico. Thepicture here is outside the gate of the cave. The Plains Anthropologist dedicated a whole issue to my father; here is his reflections that includes Agogino Cave: “Reflections on a Half-Century of Dust and Dirt”.

The picture above was taken when my family had dinner with Jack in December 1998 during a visit to Portales to see my family during Christmas. He was putting the final touches on his book Silicon Dagger. My husband Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, and Jack talked about civil liberties and marijuana. This conversation shows up in the book.

Last night (Jan. 20, 2012) after moving my AI and sustainability BEST lab to a design loft in Hesse Hall at UC Berkeley, a group of us went to hear a reading by William Gibson from his new book Distrust That Particular Flavor at the local Diesel Booksore. I talked to Gibson afterwards about Jack and he recalled going to Portales a couple of times to visit Jack and to participate in the Williamson Lectureship at ENMU. At the dinner before with my daughter Arianne and students joining us (Euiyong Kim, Celeste Roschuni, and Vivek Rao), I reminisced about getting expelled from high school in Portales due to my writings (they had not heard of the 1st ammendment there) and also being kicked out of the “Future Teachers of America” by the English teacher Ms. Gilbert for being a bad influence on the other young girls. Even though a world renown science fiction writer lived in this very small town of Portales, Ms. Gilbert had outlawed the reading of science fiction in her class as she said it wasn’t real literature. So Jack never visited the high school, at least not while I was there.

Selected quotes about Jack Williamson:

  • “Jack Williamson was one of the great science fiction writers. He did a series of novels which affected me as a young writer with dreams. I met him at 19, and he became my best friend and teacher.” – Ray Bradbury, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
  • “I have no hesitation in placing Jack Williamson on a plane with two other American giants, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.” – Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • “My first college literature class was on science fiction and taught by Jack Williamson. My class paper was written on the syllogisms in Alice in Wonderland, a book I read over 20 times as a child, perhaps because I identified with my namesake “Alice”. At the time I was an anthropology major, but changed to mechanical engineering. I suppose my interest in artifical intelligence may have had its roots in the symbolic logic in Alice in Wonderland and realized to me through this class project. I still have a copy of the paper with the “A” and laudatory comments marked by Jack Williamson’s hand.” – Alice M. Agogino, yours truly.

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