Jack Williamson
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature, Radium Age SF, Sci-Fi

Science-fiction’s so-called Golden Age (1934-63) was spearheaded by writers who remain well-known (e.g., Heinlein, Asimov, Van Vogt), writers who’ve fallen into obscurity (Fredric Brown, C.L. Moore, Eando Binder), and by betwixt-and-between figures like JACK WILLIAMSON (1908-2006), who was important enough to be named the Dean of Science Fiction — but only after Heinlein died. Williamson, whose first story (“The Metal Man”) appeared in a 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, helped introduce to the Golden Age canon certain memes first developed during sf’s Radium Age (1904-33). These include everything from terraforming (1942’s “Collision Orbit”) to antimatter (1949’s Seetee Shock), to genetic engineering (1951’s Dragon’s Island). Williamson also introduced readers, via Darker Than You Think (1940), to the persuasive notion that werewolves invented rational skepticism in order to make humankind stop believing in werewolves; if this meme never caught on, blame the werewolves’ ongoing cultural hegemony. Williamson’s most important contribution may be to science fiction’s space opera subgenre: His Legion of Space series, which stars warriors Jay Kala and Hal Samdu, the Purple Hall Empire renegade John Ulnar, and super-lockpicker Giles “The Ghost” Habibula, is a key link in the chain connecting the space opera of, for example, E.E. “Doc” Smith to that of, say, Iain M. Banks.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Maya Deren.

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).

MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | Radium Age: Context series | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Hugo Gernsback | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin



Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based semiotic culture and brand analyst. He is editor/publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age science fiction imprint HILOBOOKS. In addition, Josh is co-author of several books, including (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) the family activities guides UNBORED, UNBORED GAMES, and the forthcoming UNBORED ADVENTURE. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT.