William Tenn (Philip Klass) RIP (1920-2010)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tenn http://www.torvex.com/jmcdaid/node/1258

William Tenn (the pen name of Philip Klass), died today. Tenn started writing in 1946, and wrote some of the most widely known short stories in the field “Child’s Play” about the fellow who gets a “Bild-a-Man” kit from the future, “The Brooklyn Project,” “The Liberation of Earth” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Liberation_of_Earth, and many others. A generation is almost past (Fred Pohl is still alive and blogging - http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/)

Sorry to hear about that. I’ve enjoyed his work, and his novel “Of Men and Monsters” is one of the great minor classics of the field.

I meant to mention that NESFA press has a complete collection of Tenn’s fiction in print (in two volumes “Immodest Proposals” “Here Comes Civilization” - one of them has “Of Men and Monsters” in it)

That’s sad to hear, although he’s been obviously frail for many years.

A true character. If you think I have a sharp tongue it’s nothing compared to his. He gave one of the greatest and funniest speeches at a Nebula banquet ever. They were honoring him as Author Emeritus and he had at least an hour’s worth of shots to hand out for a ten-minute slot. They had to cut him short but nobody wanted it to end.

He was a funny short-story writer in a time when people wanted epic space novels so his was more of a cult audience than a huge one. I doubt that most of the sf fans here even know his name. I’m still glad he was part of the field.

Actually, it is a three books collection. I bought them this summer.

I saw and listened to him at NorEasCon a couple of years ago – I had no idea he was still around, and still fascinating. I’d read Dancing Naked his short story collections years before, but the NESFA collection of his essays was new to me, and I picked it up. (He heard the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, and sears that, where he heard it, they didn’t have the intro saying it was a drama, and cut right into the fake broadcast. That would explain a lot of the panic).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tenn
Not that it’s likely needed anymore, but he shouldn’t be confused with the AvWeek writer and UFO debunker of the same name, who died five years ago http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_J._Klass

Oops - you’re right; I bought it at Milphil when it was only two books - I’ll have to get the third one sometime.

I know his name. I have at least one of the NESFA collections (I have to rotate my books in and out of the storage shed to re-read them), and at least one other paperback collection of his stories. I enjoyed his stories, and I’m sorry he’s gone.

I think I have to go destabilize my id for a bit now.

???
I know you’re both an SF writer and a fan, so this line puzzles me.

Most of Tenn’s stuff appeared in the 1950s, the very Age of the Short SF/Fantasy Story with a Twist – alongside Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Theodore Cogswell, [Yul Brynner] et cetera, et cetera, et cetera [/Yul Brynner]

Not to put him down, but when most of his short works appeared they were not conspicuous by being different from the length and style of others in the field.

And aren’t all of those people largely forgotten today because they didn’t write big novels?

The only person who was primarily a short-story writer from that era to have truly big name recognition is Ray Bradbury and he cheated with “novels” like The Martian Chronicles, which is a collection of short stories. Even in the 50s novels sold much better than short stories.

And Tenn was not a big name in the 50s. Most of his stories appeared in the second rate mags like *Planet *and Fantastic Adventures. You might think of him as the perfect F&SF writer but he published exactly two stories there in the 50s. He did a handful of stories for *Astounding *in the 1940s and then I don’t believe he ever appeared there again. He did do a bunch for *Galaxy *but nobody thinks of him up there with prime *Galaxy *names like Pohl and Kornbluth.

I wish more people remembered and recognized him. But he himself assumed that he had been entirely forgotten. He was truly touched when a flock of notice came his way over the last decade or so.

So yeah, a cult writer. With six people in this thread. Sad but true.

But Beaumont and Matheson wrote for television, one of Brown’s stories became a Star Trek episode, and Sheckley wrote over a dozen novels. Brown wrote for bigger markets than Tenn (Playboy, etc.) and wrote several novels to Tenn’s one. And sadly, as Exapno wrote, Brown, Beaumont haven’t gotten the reputation that they deserve either. According to Tenn’s biographical notes in the omnibus, the political undertones in some of his stories (“The Brooklyn Project” satirizes “Red Scare” security practices) meant that they went to smaller markets than they might otherwise have done.

Exapno, your statement implies that Tenn wasn’t then writing the “epic space novwels that people wanted”. Hence my confusion – My statement is that Tenn’s stuff was par for the course when it was written. I wasn’t asking why he isn’t well known now – don’t take me for a dunce.
You too, Andy L. All of those writers wrote quite a bit more than you list. Beaumont wrote several film scripts, as did Matheson. Huge numbers of people have seen their stuff and are familiar with it. But, sadly, few people note or remember the names of TV writers and screenwriters, unless they’re controversial or known from other work.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Tenn collection, but I remember him as one of the best sf short story craftsmen. His prose was excellent for the genre, and his tales were cynical but good humored.

Of Men and Monsters remains a favourite of mine, even if it is maybe 20 years since I last read it! And it’s cheerier than Disch’s similarly themed 1st novel, The Genocides!

I’m still not getting your point. Tenn was not a big name in the 50s. He was known as a good short story writer, but there were dozens of people known as good short story writers. The sf world was smaller then and the magazines were more important, so short story writers could better compete in recognition with novelists. Even so, the novelists were the big names and the best known. Tenn was not nominated for a single award until 1965, when he had a late and brief revival.

Check the standard histories of the field.

He’s not mentioned in Edward James’ Science Fiction in the 20th Century.

Lester del Rey mentions one story by name in The World of Science Fiction 1926-1976, “Child’s Play,” from the March 1947 Astounding. It’s mentioned because he’s going through Astounding year by year. There are three other references to his name, but those are in connection to his fan groups or teaching career.

Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree has a nice mention, but look at the context:

That sums up Tenn’s place well. He’s a name mentioned along with a dozen others. In a 1973 book quoting an article written in 1966. And Merrill gets the context wrong, because she like everybody else thought of Tenn as an F&SF-style writer when he hardly ever appeared there.

Tenn never wrote the big novel that would make him stand out. Even one would have lifted him. Of Merrill’s list we remember Miller only for A Canticle for Leibowitz, Moore for Bring the Jubilee, Pangborn for Davy. Of Men and Monsters isn’t in that class.

Why the hell you think anyone is calling you a dunce is beyond me. You questioned a statement I made, I explained myself. Period. This thread is an elegy, not an argument. Or wasn’t until you made it one.

My apologies for missing your point - I thought you were suggesting that Sheckley and the rest are currently better known than Tenn, even though they wrote the same kind of stuff, so I was suggesting reasons why this might be so (Brown’s work on Star Trek, Matheson’s for “The Twilight Zone” and Sheckley’s many novels).

To change the subject, what’s your favorite Tenn story? I’m fond of “Will you walk a little faster?” and “My Mother was a Witch”