Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Most Senior Science Fiction Writer

This column sprung from a comment Milt Stevens made in a recent mailing of FAPA. Milt said, “Jack Williamson has retained the position of most senior practicing science fiction writer for an incredibly-long time.” Considering Jack’s age, and the fact that he was first published in 1928, that is certainly a true statement. But it raised two questions in my mind:

> Who was the most senior living writer until his/her death passed the title to Williamson?
> Who is the 2nd most senior living sf writer currently (and the person most likely to take the “title” when Jack Williamson passes away?)

For reference, I used my book Who Shaped Science Fiction? which has a chronology for each person discussed which includes the date each writer was first published. Not all science fiction writers were discussed in the book, however, only the “most important” 100 writers/editors (in my opinion, of course). But that’s no problem either since only major science fiction writers should qualify as “most senior” practicing writer. Herb Nobody who published a story in a low-circulation prozine in 1930 and is still alive in a nursing home somewhere should not qualify as “most senior” writer. Only biggies may apply!

So who was the most senior living writer until his/her death passed the title to Williamson? To answer that question, I looked up all the major writers who were first published prior to Williamson’s publication in 1928 but lived into this century. The list was as follows:

Name / First Published / Death
Jules Verne / 1851 / 1905
Arthur Conan Doyle / 1879 / 1930
H.G. Wells / 1888 / 1946
Garrett P. Serviss / 1897 / 1929
George Allan England / 1905 / 1936
Edgar Rice Burroughs / 1912 / 1950
A. Merritt / 1917 / 1943
Murray Leinster / 1919 / 1975
H.P. Lovecraft / 1922 / 1937

Unless my math is wrong (and wouldn’t that be embarrassing for a high school math teacher?), the title of “most senior living sf writer” took the following progression:

Name / Senior Most Living SF Writer until...
Jules Verne / 1905
Arthur Conan Doyle / 1930
H.G. Wells / 1946
Edgar Rice Burroughs / 1950
Murray Leinster / 1975
Jack Williamson / present

Arthur Conan Doyle and Murray Leinster had the longest reigns in this century, 25 years, until Jack Williamson set the new standard of 30 years (which is still growing).

Assuming Jack Williamson does die eventually, who is the 2nd most senior living sf writer likely to take the title at that time? Here is the list of living authors who have been active the longest:

Name / First Published / Date of Birth
Frederik Pohl / 1940* / 1919
Ray Bradbury / 1941 / 1920
Jack Vance / 1945 / 1916
Arthur C. Clarke / 1946 / 1917
James Gunn / 1949 / 1923

Frederik Pohl’s earliest publications were pseudonymous fiction published to fill the pages of semi-professional magazines such as Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories which he was editing himself. While this might be unfair for consideration as most senior living sf writer, I will leave that judgment up to you. His first published fiction under his own name was in 1953 in Galaxy Magazine in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth.

Good luck to all writers on the list! Hopefully you will all survive long enough to be “most senior practicing” sf writer someday.

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