Writers, fans flock to Portales for annual lectureship

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Science-fiction experts traveled Thursday to Eastern New Mexico University to praise living legend Jack Williamson for his nearly eight decades of writing.

Because of his health — Williamson turns 98 in April — his attendance at the lectureship named in his honor was in doubt. When he arrived around noon, he was greeted by a standing ovation as he entered the Campus Union Ballroom.

Williamson told the crowd he was happy to be there. As the 30th annual Jack Williamson Lectureship ended, the audience gave the Portales native another standing ovation.

“I think it was great,” said Williamson’s niece, Betty Williamson. “I was so delighted he was able to participate. We weren’t sure until this morning if he would be able to attend because of his health. It was great to see all of his friends like Fred Pohl. Portales has been really great to Jack.”

Frederik Pohl, a science-fiction writer and editor, has been friends with Williamson for more than 60 years.

Williamson family members attended the lectureship, and some helped host a visit by the science-fiction writers to the Williamson ranch and the original shack where he used to live.

Connie Willis, a science-fiction author who was master of ceremonies, has attended previous lectureships.

“It is one of my favorite things to do of all of the things I do every year,” Willis said. “Science-fiction writers are always making predictions. I predicted tourists would be visiting Portales by the truckloads. They came because Jack invented the future he predicted.”

Guest speaker Kim Stanley Robinson, who has specialized in writing about Mars and environmental issues, spoke at the panel discussion about the “Ecological Apocalypse” at the Buchanan Hall of the Music Building.

“We need to take care of the world like you would take care of your body,” he said.

Robinson complimented Williamson on his writing and for coining the term “terraforming.”

Terraforming is the process of modifying a planet, moon or other body to a more habitable atmosphere, temperature or ecology. In science-fiction circles, Mars is said to have the possibility of terraforming.

Among the people who flocked to Portales for the Williamson event were Nina and Ron Else of Denver.

“His writing dates back to the ’20s,” Ron Else said. “He just finished publishing ‘Stonehenge’ last year, and his mind is still in great shape. He has set the benchmark in science-fiction writing. He is an icon, a place to judge what is great.”