William Tenn Dies

By Mike Glyer: William Tenn (Phil Klass) died February 7 at the age of 89 from congestive heart failure, closing a celebrated life. Tenn was one of Noreascon 4’s Guests of Honor in 2004 (for the occasion producing a collection of nonfiction and personal essays, Dancing Naked). He also was a SFWA Author Emeritus (1999).

His first story, “Alexander the Bait,” was published in Astounding (May 1946). Fans saw through the “William Tenn” pen name, but convinced themselves this was not the work of a newcomer. At the Philadelphia Worldcon (1947) Phil Klass gave a monolog based on alleged mail from fans who thought “Tenn” was one of Henry Kuttner’s innumerable pen names.

He is survived by his wife, Fruma Klass, and their daughter Adina. Fruma married Phil in March 1957, a year after they met. She wrote about their courtship:

When Phil told me, with some trepidation, that he wrote science fiction, I was delighted. I read science fiction. I read everything, including the backs of cereal boxes, though most of the time I couldn’t remember writers’ names. But I did know the name “William Tenn.” I had loved the only story I could remember under that byline, and I told him so. “I loved your story ‘In Hiding,'” I told him.

There was a silence. Then he said morosely, “I didn’t write that. That was Wilmar H. Shiras.” “Oh,” I said. There was another silence. It wasn’t a really good way to start off on a relationship.

I found that a striking coincidence for the very embarrassing reason that I encountered her admission while checking the title of the same story, which I read 40 years ago in Terry Carr’s collection Science Fiction for People Who Hate Science Fiction. Evidently it’s not my favorite William Tenn story after all.

Plan B: My favorite Tenn story is “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi,” from Jack Dann’s collection Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction (1974).

William Tenn wrote science fiction while Phil Klass taught English and comparative literature at Penn State University for 24 years. And the man with two names made a lasting mark in both his professions.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Update 2/8/2010: Posts on File 770 without a byline are written by Mike Glyer, and hopefully the misattribution on the official Tenn webpage will be corrected in due course. (Besides, Andy Porter probably knew it was Wilmar Shiras’s story all along.)  

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2 thoughts on “William Tenn Dies

  1. Shiras’ story is, among many other places it’s been anthologized, in _The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume IIb _.

    She wrote two sequels, which were combined with further material to make the fix-up “novel,” _Children of the Atom).


    I don’t recognize any resemblance in Tenn’s style and Shiras’, but obviously some people have seen one.

  2. Oddly enough, Phil often cited the Shiras story when trying to explain fandom to the ungodly…..

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