RIP: William Tenn

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RIP: William Tenn

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Feb 7, 2010, 4:54 pm

Phillip Klass, who wrote as William Tenn, has passed away, according to the William Tenn web site.

Back in the early 70's, Mr. Klass gave a summer course on science fiction at Stanford University that I attended. A great set of lectures with a great set of guest speakers, like Ted Sturgeon and Harry Harrison. But it was the many hours I spent in his office talking about science fiction that I remember. A really smart and nice man, and author of some great satirical SF.

Feb 7, 2010, 5:33 pm

I'm sad to hear that, though I see he was 89 and appeared (from the photographs and info at the site) to be active at least as recently as 2004, so I hope he had a good life. Many of us could do far, far worse.

Okay, so I have a William Tenn story. When I was a wee one, Of Men and Monsters was a big hit among my rural southern but sci-fi book loving family. Somehow a copy made its way into our hands and was read my my father, both brothers and some other members of the family. Alas, I was a bit too young to appreciate it and never got to read it. It's rumored to have last been in the hands of a cousin when it got mislaid.

They still talked about it decades later. But living in a small town, they didn't really have access to many big libraries. To my knowledge, it wasn't reprinted very widely and I was never aware of anything other than a paperback copy. When I told them I managed to check out a copy to read from my university's library, they only half jokingly shouted "Why didn't you steal it!" Such was their desire to see this book again. I enjoyed it quite a bit, with it being very much in the style of the 60s conan-ish scifi, but with some great commentary on the proper ecological niche of humans.

So then a few years ago I got the bright idea of tracking down copies via Abe and other online booksellers. I had never seen a copy in my frequent trips to used bookstores, so I had to go a bit out of my way. That Christmas, I presented both brothers their very own copies in quite nice shape with the original artwork we remembered. They were overjoyed. One brother immediately started reading it and could not be pried away for the rest of the night.

So even though I never read a lot of his fiction, Mr. Tenn/Klass played a significant role in my families mythology. I think I'll shift the unread copy of The Square Root of Man to the top of my reading pile in honor of him.

Edited: Feb 7, 2010, 7:17 pm

brightcopy, what a lovely story. A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing him read his "On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi" at Boskone. His reading style was a great match to the wit of the story.

Feb 7, 2010, 9:24 pm

When we saw him at the Worldcon in Boston (2004?), he was very frail, and very forgetful.

Feb 8, 2010, 2:55 pm

My copy of Of Men and Monsters saw the light of day just last week when I finally got around to cataloguing it.

Feb 8, 2010, 3:17 pm

I actually have two copies of OMAM - one with the cover I remember from my youth and one with a different cover that I found before getting the other one.

Sadly, my library has no copies of OMAM at any of its branches. I would donate it, but first off it's a paperback and that doesn't bode well for it at a library. But the other reason it'd never make it to the shelf is something I found out from the librarian yesterday. They won't take a book unless they have multiple copies of it. Otherwise, they say it's too labor intensive to enter into the system as well as to lend to other libraries in the system (i.e. if they only have one, people will keep requesting it to be moved to their local one so they can check it out.)

Trying to decide between sticking it on the shelf at Potbelly or at Dunn Bros (local coffee shop) or giving it away on craigslist along with some other books my library has no copies of.

Feb 21, 2010, 10:01 pm

Wasn't it William Tenn who wrote that wonderful short story, "The Liberation of Earth"? It's still so relevant to any nation fighting a war to "liberate" others.

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