Jack L. Chalker, 60, science-fiction writer

February 13, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Jack L. Chalker, who wrote more than 60 science-fiction and fantasy novels and was one of Maryland's most prolific authors, died of kidney failure Friday at Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore. The Uniontown resident was 60.

Mr. Chalker won numerous awards during a career that began in his early teens with a literary magazine, Mirage, that he produced on an electric mimeograph machine and assembled with friends on the dining room table of his Liberty Heights Avenue home. "He would write famous authors and see if they wanted to write free nonfiction pieces for his magazine, and a surprising number did," said his wife, Eva C. Whitley.

The magazine earned Mr. Chalker, then 14, a nomination for the Hugo Award, the genre's highest honor, presented by the World Science Fiction Society. Mr. Chalker would be nominated for three more Hugos in his career.

"He was one of the greats in our field," said Catherine Asaro, of Columbia, president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Inc. "He always had something provocative to say, his creativity in imagining different universes."

Mr. Chalker's 1977 novel Midnight at the Well of Souls, about a walking, talking plant with brains in its feet, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, his wife said.

Ms. Whitley prefers 1979's And the Devil Will Drag You Under. "His most memorable scene had two giant King Kongs on the Empire State Building, battling for control of the universe," said Ms. Whitley, who married Mr. Chalker in 1978 aboard a ferryboat on the Susquehanna River.

Growing up in the Howard Park neighborhood of Baltimore, Mr. Chalker was 13 when he took a bus to Washington for his first science-fiction meeting, and he was hooked. Several years later, he and a high-school friend founded the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, holding regular meetings in friends' homes.

Mr. Chalker, who graduated from City College in 1962, later organized the society's first Balticon, an annual conference now in its 39th year that has grown from a few dozen attendees to as many as 2,000.

"It's a relatively small field, and because science fiction has so many conventions, it's very hard not to meet 90 percent of the writers," said author Mike Resnick. His book with Mr. Chalker, The Science Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, was a Hugo finalist in 1992.

Mr. Chalker traveled as far as Australia for conventions, and on his Web site he proclaimed plans to attend this year's World Science Fiction Society convention in Scotland.

He received hundreds of letters and e-mails every year, and he used to respond to all of them, his wife said.

"He just never forgot that he was once a little teenage boy running around science-fiction conventions, and he always tried to make it a good experience for others," she said.

Mr. Chalker graduated from what is now Towson University and earned a master's of liberal arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University. He served in the Maryland Air National Guard as an information officer in the 1960s. He taught social studies at Baltimore high schools for a dozen years before retiring in 1978 to spend more time writing.

In addition to science fiction, one of his favorite subjects was the writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose weird fiction was the topic of several books by Mr. Chalker. He also owned a publishing company, Mirage Press.

A funeral service is planned at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Marzullo Funeral Chapel, 6009 Harford Road, Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, David Whitley Chalker and Steven Lloyd Chalker, both of Uniontown.

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