I read in Locus Magazine that the venerable Jack Williamson just passed, at the respectable age of 98. I met Jack Williamson when he won the Lifetime Acheivement award from the Ron Hubbard people, the same time I was winning the Writers of the Future Award. He was 90, a little old man hunched and bent over.
For those who don't know, Jack Williamson is one of the grandfathers of Science Fiction. He stands among Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and others who did not approach the end of the millenium. When he started writing, the term "Science Fiction" hadn't been invented yet, and he and his colleagues spoke of their work as "scientifiction." He published his first story in 1928 at the age of 20. At the age of 75, long past most would have retired, he began a second peak of his career, writing his best work since the 1950s. He published his last story in 2005, at the age of 97.
I confess, with some embarrassment, that I haven't actually read any of his work. I brought one of his novels with me to California, with the intention of being familiar with his work before I met him, but their were several such writers and I didn't get to his. Perhaps for this reason, I spoke only seven words to him. "It's an honor to meet you, sir." I don't remember his exact reply. He tried to say something like "the honor is all mine," except he didn't know who I was so it was hard to say.
He stands in my mind as an icon. He was born in 1908, in the territory of Arizona. Yes, there weren't even 48 states, then. At the age of 10, he and his family moved to New Mexico in a covered wagon. He wrote science fiction before it had been invented, and he wrote it after the usual complainers said that its hey-day was passed. He wrote it after maybe all of his peers were dead and buried, and he died with his pen in his hand.
A lot of history has passed away with him. I didn't know him. But I took comfort knowing he was still there.