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Watkins, William John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1942-    ) US poet, author and academic, associate professor then full professor of English at Brookdale Community College, New Jersey (now retired). For early work up to 1980 his working name was William Jon Watkins [see Checklist below for byline distinctions]. He was initially active as a poet, his first book being Five Poems (coll 1968 chap). His first sf novel, with Gene Snyder, was Ecodeath (1972), a Pollution story in which the leading characters are called Snyder and Watkins and the plot is fast and furious; The Litany of Sh'reev (1976), in which a healer with Precognitive powers becomes involved in a revolution, was also written with Snyder. Watkins's solo books are similarly – and at times haphazardly – venturesome. Clickwhistle (1973) deals in a relatively sober vein with human/dolphin Communication, though the intervention of an Alien ruffles the telling; The God Machine (1973), in which political dissidents shrink themselves with a "micronizer" (see Miniaturization) to escape a mechanized, corporation-dominated Dystopia, is perhaps too baroquely told fully to convey its grim understanding of Politics. What Rough Beast (1980) pairs an altruistic Alien with a world-class Computer net to save erring humanity.

The LeGrange League sequence – The Centrifugal Rickshaw Dancer (1985) and Going to See the End of the Sky (1986) – is adventure sf whose Space Habitat settings, and quality of writing, are negatively affected by helterskelter plotting, though Watkins's sense of the precariousness of Homo sapiens's attempts to create civilization comes through vividly. The Last Deathship off Antares (1989) is a tale of real intrinsic interest; despite the failings characteristic of all his work, the philosophical arguments underpinning a revolt of imprisoned humans aboard a Prison ship are sharply couched, and Watkins never allows the grimness of the conflict to slide into routine. There was a sense that Watkins was a figure whose thoughts were more interesting than their embodiments in fictional texts fully bring to light. He remained, however, an author whose tales continued to surprise. His departure from the field of sf prose is a matter of regret; his work in genre Poetry goes on. In 2002 he won a Rhysling Award for "We Die as Angels" (May 2001 Asimov's). [JC/PN]

see also: Ecology.

William John Watkins

born Coaldale, Pennsylvania: 19 July 1942



LeGrange League

individual titles

  • Five Poems (Chula Vista, California: Word Press, 1968) as William Jon Watkins [poetry: coll: chap: pb/]
  • Ecodeath (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972) as William Jon Watkins, with Gene Snyder [hb/Anita Seigel]
  • Clickwhistle (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1973) as William Jon Watkins [hb/Emanuel Schongut]
  • The God Machine (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1973) as William Jon Watkins [hb/One Plus One]
  • The Litany of Sh'reev (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1976) as William Jon Watkins, with Gene Snyder [hb/Neil Stuart]
  • What Rough Beast (Chicago, Illinois: Playboy Press, 1980) as William Jon Watkins [pb/Dean Ellis]
  • The Last Deathship off Antares (New York: Popular Library, 1989) [pb/Blas Callego]
  • Cosmic Thunder (New York: AvoNova Books, 1996) [pb/Matt Stawicki]


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