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Saturday 1 April 2006

Williamson's "Wonder's Child" A Tissue of Lies?

Dallas, April 1, 2006—BenBella Books, the publishers of the 2005 edition of author Jack Williamson's autobiography, Wonder's Child, spent much of this week fending off charges from the muckraking Smoking Gun website that Williamson's autobiography was riddled with fabrications and misrepresentations. Smoking Gun claimed to possess numerous documents that contradicted Williamson's life story in many details.

Here are some of the accusations being leveled at the life story of the science fiction pioneer.

* Williamson was not born in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1908, but in fact was born in Queens, New York, several years later, and was christened Hymie Merkowitz.

* He did not spend the first years of his infant life in Mexico, but rather in an apartment above a Mexican restaurant.

* He did not encounter his first copy of Amazing Stories while living in the West, through a childhood friend, Edlie Walker. Instead, he was walking down Astoria Boulevard in his native borough when a delivery truck driver tossed a bundle of magazines at a newsstand and the bundle hit young Merkowitz in the head. The blow damaged his mind and launched the boy on his life of deception. Awaking with a copy of Amazing flush against his face, he conceived in a flash of the "Jack Williamson" persona.

* Williamson did not sail down the Mississippi with fellow SF author Edmond Hamilton in 1931, meeting with E. Hoffmann Price and others. The basis for this fabrication was merely a drunken night spent onboard the Staten Island Ferry.

* Williamson did not undergo psychiatric analysis at the Menninger Clinic beginning in 1936. A sympathetic bartender at Menninger's Café in the Bronx, who would listen to Williamson's griping about Hugo Gernsback, was as close as he ever got to the couch.

The rest of Wonder's Child is similarly deconstructed at the Smoking Gun website.

BenBella Publisher Glenn Yeffeth, however, stands firmly behind his author.

"Jack Williamson—or Hymie Merkowitz, if you must—may have invented several of the less-important details of his personal life. That's just the inborn nature of fiction writers. They like to embroider on reality. But regardless of whether he ever really held a professorship or not—and the jury is still out on that charge—he nonetheless wrote all the marvelous classic stories we've all loved for so long. Unless he didn't. We're looking into that."

Williamson himself spoke briefly in his own defense. "If you've read my novel The Legion of Time, you'll know how easily historical reality can be manipulated. I blame Sorainya, the evil flower of Gyronchi, for this whole kerfluffle."

© 2006 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.