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Williams, Walter Jon

Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1953-    ) US author whose first works were nautical tales as by Jon Williams, beginning with The Privateer (1981), non of them fantastic. He began to publish sf with Ambassador of Progress (1984), an unexceptional novel (but see Women in SF) in which a female agent whose mission is to revive civilization makes contact with an abandoned, semi-feudal colony planet. Knight Moves (1985) describes the attempts of an immensely powerful Immortal and his old friends and enemies to discover a technique of Matter Transmission (in fact Teleportation) in order to repopulate an almost abandoned Earth with fantastic creatures – centaurs developed via Genetic Engineering in imitation of Mythology – all in a style reminiscent of the early Roger Zelazny. But it was with the appearance of Cyberpunk that Williams seemed to have found his true voice as a writer. In the Hardwired sequence – Hardwired (1986), "Video Star" (July 1986 Asimov's) and other tales, Voice of the Whirlwind (1987) and Solip:System (1989 chap) – he displayed a fascination with intensely detailed surfaces, biologically invasive gadgetry, and the effects of powerful corporations and rapidly changing technology on (romanticized) social outsiders. The first tale, in which underdogs of a repressed Earth rebel against dominant orbital corporations (see Space Habitats) – proved sufficiently popular to spawn a Role Playing Game based on it, despite the unlikelihood of much of its plot; the game is presented in Hardwired: The Sourcebook (1989 chap). In the rather better second tale the Clone of an alienated one-time corporate soldier, brought to life on the original's death, hunts for clues to that first demise in a narrative richly informed by Zen and speculations on the nature of Identity.

The Drake Maijstral sequence – The Crown Jewels (1987) and House of Shards (1988) – comprises two "divertimenti" featuring the adventures of a Raffles-like burglar in a cod-Oriental future human culture heavily influenced by Aliens to whom style is sacred. Later series include the Metropolitan sequence comprising Metropolitan (1996) and City on Fire (1997), complicatedly depicts the domino effects on a worldwide Dystopian City of a Power Source whose effects, described in Science Fantasy terms involving Magic, may be severe; the tale is set, perhaps on Earth, in the Far Future. The Dread Empire's Fall main sequence – whose opening volumes are The Praxis: Dread Empire's Fall 1 (2002), The Sundering: Dread Empire's Fall 2 (2003) and Conventions of War: Book Three of Dread Empire's Fall (first appeared November 2004 Aeon; 2005) – describes the fall of an Alien Galactic Empire in at times melodramatic terms, much of the action being realized through Hero figures; Impersonations (2016) carries one of these, Captain Caroline Sula, back to Earth. The Dagmar Shaw sequence of Near Future noir thrillers beginning with This Is Not a Game (2009) follows the rocky career of a Games designer and others through a Media Landscape very similar to that obtaining in the real world.

Over the same period, Williams continued to produce effective singletons, including the Cyberpunk-inflected Angel Station (1989), in which family groups of interstellar traders both fight to survive as major corporations squeeze down their markets, and also betray each other for the chance to deal with a newly discovered Alien race. In the tautly told Days of Atonement (1991) Williams moved to a Near-Future America where a macho small-town sheriff struggles with the physics needed to understand an apparent outbreak of bodily resurrections at the nearby Advanced Technological Laboratories. Aristoi (1992) goes in the other direction, into a Far-Future venue once again evocative of Zelazny and dominated by the titular Posthumans. The Rift (1999) is a Near Future Disaster tale set along the Mississippi River; the young protagonist survives a great earthquake, escapes downriver with a Black friend – there are clear analogies to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1884) throughout – and encounters a series of exemplary societies, as does Huck: but none of them truly viable in the changed world we have inherited. Implied Spaces (2008) traverses a variety of Pocket Universes created by Posthumans in the deep future as its Secret Master protagonist grapples flourishingly with ornate crises; Quillifer (2017) carries its not dissimilar action protagonist through some adroitly dislocated venues for the fantasy of history.

Facets (coll 1990) assembles most of his early short fiction; later work appears in Frankensteins and Foreign Devils (coll 1998) and The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories (coll 2010). Wall, Stone, Craft (1993 chap), a novella, ingeniously posits an Alternate History in which Lord Byron, unhampered by a club foot, becomes one of the heroes of Waterloo, and subsequently interacts with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, here powerfully imagined, so that Frankenstein (1818), and all of sf to come, is inevitably created. The Alternate History story "Foreign Devils" (January 1996 Asimov's), in which nineteenth-century China is attacked by H G Wells's Martians, won a short-form Sidewise Award; The Green Leopard Plague (October/November 2003 Asimov's; 2004 ebook), which received a Nebula award as best novella, describes the Utopian long-term effects of a Genetic Engineering virus which allows humans to photosynthesize their food. The Boolean Gate (2012), a novella based on the historical friendship between Mark Twain and Nicholas Tesla in New York, assumes the possible truth of the latter's claim to have communicated with Aliens.

Ingenious and energetic and knowing, Williams seems very much at home with the mature Genre SF of the 1980s and the following decades, though his versatility may have hampered his sales in an increasingly brand-conscious market. He clearly wishes to please his varied audiences; he is, at the same, time, a strong author of challenging fictions. [NT/JC]

see also: Alternate Reality Game; Antimatter; Cyberpunk [game]; Cyborgs; Dimensions; Ex Machina; Spore; Wild Cards.

Walter Jon Williams

born Duluth, Minnesota: 2 October 1953




Drake Maijstral


  • Metropolitan (New York: HarperPrism, 1995) [Metropolitan: hb/Phil Heffernan]
  • City on Fire (New York: HarperPrism, 1997) [Metropolitan: hb/Phil Heffernan and Tim White]

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order

  • Destiny's Way (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2002) [tie to Star Wars: Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: hb/Cliff Nielsen]
  • Ylesia (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2002) [novella: ebook: tie to Star Wars: Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: na/Cliff Nielsen]

Dread Empire's Fall

  • The Praxis (London: Earthlight, 2002) [Dread Empire's Fall: hb/Glen Saville]
  • The Sundering (London: Earthlight, 2002) [Dread Empire's Fall: hb/Bob Warner]
  • Conventions of War (London: Simon and Schuster, 2005) [first appeared November 2004 Aeon: Dread Empire's Fall: pb/Bob Warner]
  • Impersonations (New York:, 2016) [Dread Empire's Fall: pb/Jaime Jones]
  • The Accidental War (New York: HarperVoyager, 2018) [Dread Empire's Fall: pb/]
  • Fleet Elements (New York: HarperVoyager, 2020) [Dread Empire's Fall: pb/]
  • Imperium Restored (New York: HarperVoyager, 2022) [Dread Empire's Fall: pb/]

Dagmar Shaw

  • This Is Not a Game (New York: Orbit, 2009) [Dagmar Shaw: hb/Chris Mellor]
  • Deep State (New York: Orbit, 2011) [Dagmar Shaw: hb/www.the-parish-com]
  • The Fourth Wall (New York: Orbit, 2012) [Dagmar Shaw: hb/www.the-parish-com]


  • Quillifer (New York: Simon and Schuster/Saga, 2017) [Quillifer: hb/Gregory Manchess]
  • Quillifer the Knight (New York: Simon and Schuster/Saga, 2019) [Quillifer: hb/Alejandro Colucci]
  • Lord Quillifer (New York: Simon and Schuster/Saga, 2022) [Quillifer: pb/]

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