Ray Nelson (1931-2022)

Ray Nelson self-portrait

SF writer and Rotsler Award winning fan artist Ray Nelson died in his sleep overnight November 29/30 his son, Walter, announced today on Facebook. He was 91 years old.

As an author Ray Nelson was best known for his short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” which became the basis of John Carpenter’s film They Live. He also had a short story, “Time Travel for Pedestrians,” in Harlan Ellison’s Again Dangerous Visions (1972). Nelson collaborated with Philip K. Dick on The Ganymede Takeover. His 1975 book Blake’s Progress, in which the poet William Blake and his wife are travelers in space and time, has been called his best work by critic John Clute.

As an artist, in the 1940s Nelson appropriated the propeller beanie as a symbol of science fiction fandom. His fannish cartoons were recognized with the Rotsler Award in 2003. He was inducted to the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2019.

The Ray Nelson website, which Walter set up, has more bibliographical information, and samples of his artwork. There you can also read a humorous article about Ray’s collaborator, “The Last Days of Philip K. Dick”.

Nelson was born in Schenectady, NY in 1931. He became an active science fiction fan while attending high school in Michigan. After graduation, he went to the University of Chicago (studying theology). In the Fifties he lived for four years in Paris, and met Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs among others of the Beat Generation, as well as existentialists Jean Paul Sartre, Boris Vian and Simone de Beauvoir. He subsequently co-edited Miscellaneous Man, the first “Beatnik” little literary review. In Paris, he worked with Michael Moorcock smuggling Henry Miller books out of France.

Honors Nelson received as a writer included a special citation from the Philip K. Dick Award in 1983 for The Prometheus Man. As a fan, in addition to the awards already mentioned, he was a Best Fan Artist Retro Hugo finalist in 2001 (commemorating work done in 1950) and received the 2014 FAAn Lifetime Achievement Award.

6 thoughts on “Ray Nelson (1931-2022)

  1. Sorry to hear this. I’ll add that Blake’s Progress — surely by far the best of the Laser Books, my fondness for Dean Koontz’ Invasion (as by Aaron Wolfe) aside — was completely overhauled into TimeQuest in 1985, as I recall (it’s been some 37 years …) shifting the focus onto Catherine Blake. I haven’t read either novel since they were new, but if memory serves they’re comparable in (high) quality.

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  3. Ray Nelson was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He had very wide ranging interests and deep knowledge, combined with a very friendly and easy-going attitude. I remember a great conversation about 19th century Northern California poets and artists and all the hijinks they got away with. Ray was also fascinated by Japanese culture, both ancient and modern, from Basho to the latest pop idols. I much enjoyed his novel Virtual Zen, which is both erudite and fannish and has a real heart. I also remember being thoroughly amazed by Blake’s Progress as an intellectual tour de force that is also a fabulous pulp adventure. In addition to his recognition as a fan artist, Ray was also an excellent fan writer. I hope he is remembered and his work is appreciated for a long time.

  4. I had not seen Ray for a long time, but knew that he was teaching writing with a live class. He got me into teaching writing for Famous Writer’s School, at which I sucked really badly. He also got me to write the only really good outline I ever did for a series that collapsed before the contract came through; which is probably all right because I would be hugely embarrassed by that book today if I had ever written it.

    I loved his story “Turn Off the Sky,” which I read long before I ever met him.

    He was affable, considerate, helpful, and an all round good person to know. I have often missed his presence in my life, and now I will just have to continue missing him.

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