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Sci-fi fans to gather for lecture

Space, the final frontier: An everyday cliche for Star Trek fans, a creative compartment in the mind of Jack Williamson.

Space exploration will be in the minds of those participating in the Jack Williamson Lectureship luncheon, titled “Space Opera — Then and Now,” which will take place on Thursday in the ballroom of the Campus Union Building at Eastern New Mexico University.

Williamson is world-renown for his work in the science fiction writing field and teaches a science-fiction class at ENMU during the spring, according to Patrice Caldwell, executive director of planning and analysis for ENMU. Caldwell also helps in the instruction of the class.

“A lot of people have no idea how big this is,” Caldwell said. “People from Colorado and New York come down just for the lecture. They’ve (science-fiction writers) been all over the genre. We had humanity scholars as well but the science-fiction theme was more interesting for the science fans. The authors were coming down to listen to Mr. Williamson and it was a more natural fit.”

Some of the people in the science fiction field who will attend are editors Charles N. Brown of Locus magazine and Scott Eldelman of SciFi Weekly.

Williamson said “Space Opera” is derived from “Horse Opera,” which was used in motion pictures and westerns to depict the conquest of the country and exploring frontiers.

“To me ‘Space Opera’ is the dream of expansion of earth and other planets,” Williamson said. “The exploration and discovery of space. I try to teach students about the future and prepare them for future shock.”

There will be three grand masters in science-fiction writing in the panel discussion during the luncheon. Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America must make a consensus vote for a grand master. The designation is made to those who have made a substantial contribution and have literally changed the field of science fiction.

“I didn’t used to read sci-fi, but reading his (Williamson) books I realized there are more to his stories,” Vicky Medley, a graduate student at ENMU writing a thesis Williamson, said. “There is a lot of emotion in his stories. His brilliance, imagination and creativity come out in his books.”

ENMU named its liberal arts building after Williamson, who has received lifetime citations from The World Fantasy Convention and The Horror Writers of America. He recently received the Nebula and Hugo awards to add to his collection.

“I write about what concerns me at the time,” Williamson said. “Exploring space and the possibilities of the future. When I was first writing, television and computer were yet to come. I was the first person to write about anti-matter before it was being used in Star Trek to propel people from one place to another. I wrote about genetic engineering before it was studied in the laboratory.”

The Oxford English Dictionary credited Williamson with inventing the word “genetic engineering,” which is the manipulation of an organism’s genetic material to modify the proteins it produces, and “terraforming,” which is the process of modifying a planet, moon or other body to a more habitable atmosphere, temperature or ecology.

Williamson earned grand master status the second year it was voted on in 1975. Robert Silverberg and Frederik Pohl are the other two grand masters participating in the panel discussion.

Silverberg has written more than 60 non-fiction books and edited more than 60 anthologies while Pohl has written more than 50 novels.

Williamson’s latest novel, The Stonehenge Gate, is due for release in 2005.

The luncheon will start at 11:45 a.m. and there is a $7 cost per person. A tour of the university special collection and Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library in the Golden Library will happen immediately after the luncheon.