Tuesday, August 10, 2010


By Jack Williamson

Jack Williamson is a pioneer in science fiction, he was around before it was science fiction, they called it “scientifiction” back then. But like other pioneers he was not content with tilling the same fields, he had to pick up his musket and wander over where he couldn’t see the smoke from his neighbor’s cabin. His wanderings took him around to sword and sorcery, adventure tales, and horror. His most notable foray into the field of horror fiction was Darker than You Think, now a classic in the genre.

The story’s protagonist is Will Barbee, a hack journalist with a drinking problem and a sense of bitter longing in a New Mexico city (Williamson is nearly as dotty about his home state as Robert E. Howard was about Texas). When he meets a strange red-haired woman at a press conference held by his former professor, Barbee is launched into a nightmare world of murder and madness that rips apart everything he knows about himself and the human race itself!

This is some of Williamson’s best work, more polished than the often crude “scientifiction” he wrote in the ‘30s, but still with a naïve romance that gives the tale great power. Interestingly, Darker than You Think was a favorite of Jack Parsons, the rocket-scientist/occultist who helped found America’s missile program. Parsons’ may have been a grade-A nutjob, but he had very good taste in fiction if we may judge from this.

-Dave Hardy


Paul R. McNamee said...

I need to get my hands on this. I know Karl E. Wagner mentioned it as a "biggie" (in his intro to another Williamson tale in one of the 'Echoes of Valor' anthologies.)

Dave Hardy said...

I really like Williamson. His work is such classic SF, even when it's guilty pleasure like the Legion of Space. Evidently Darker greatly fascinated Jack Parsons. I can see that, Williamson has an ability to convey the feeling of his time while writing about the future, fantasy, or whatever. That may sound like a backhanded compliment-"he's a product of his times"-but I really like Williamson, his work makes me think about what drove the ideas he explored, American life in the 20th c.

I think SF often failed in John Campbell's concept that it will tell us about the future. But a guy like Williamson illuminates contemporary times.