At age eightynine it was to be expected, but hearing about the death of William Tenn aka Philip Klass was still not a nice way of starting the day. Especially coming so soon after the news of Kage Baker’s death a week ago. I can’t say I knew either of them, but they were both writers whose books I read and enjoyed and would’ve liked to read more of. Kage Baker especially, because whereas Klass had long since retired, she was still busy writing, becoming better with each novel she wrote. You’d wish her a long and happy career but sadly the cancer intervened.
But if I’m honest, William Tenn’s death hit me more. He wasn’t the first science fiction writer I read, but he was one of the first authors I noticed whose stories were noticably better written than average. Whereas most sf stories I read back then had little appeal beyond the neat idea(s) they contained, Tenn’s stories went beyond that. Stories like “The Liberation of Earth” or “The Brooklyn Project” only look like typical sf stories, with the central idea easily told in a few sentences, but the language use and the sharp, satirical insights are unique to Tenn. As Theodore Sturgeon put it, slightly over the top:
It would be too wide a generalization to say that every SF satire, every SF comedy and every attempt at witty and biting criticism found in the field is a poor and usually cheap imitation of what this man has been doing since the 1940s. His incredibly involved and complex mind can at times produce constructive comment so pointed and astute that the fortunate recipient is permanently improved by it. Admittedly, the price may be to create two whole categories for our species: humanity and William Tenn. For each of which you must create your ethos and your laws. I’ve done that. And to me it’s worth it.