“My father, Ray Nelson, science fiction writer, died last night in his sleep. He is best known for writing the story for the ‘80s film They Live,” wrote his son Walter Nelson in social media today. Nelson was 91.

Ray Nelson became a notable SF professional through Fandom, a fine tradition in the genre. He drew cartoons and then wrote stories for fanzines as early as his high school days. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Liberal Arts, and earned certificates for wiring IBM machines, and later worked for the University of California as a Machine Accountant Assistant, but still kept writing prose and poetry, translating French, traveling, cartooning, painting, playing guitar and banjo, to name only a few job skills.

His short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning [Fantasy & Science Fiction Nov 1963] was exceptionally creepy and yet hopeful that one man can save the world, and only John Carpenter could do it justice. He wrote with Philip K. Dick, a 1967 novel titled The Ganymede Takeover, and Ray and Walter’s mother were said to have been the inspiration for Roy and Priss in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner.

His short story for Harlan Ellison’s landmark 1972 anthology “Again, Dangerous Visions”, Time Travel For Pedestrians, takes the first person protagonist on an inner journey through sex and death in various lives, and is not for the meek despite the innocuous title. His most recent book was Virtual Zen [Avon Books, 1996], a taut coming-of-age journey set in a future where the new nation of Pacifica stretches from California to Japan.

Ray Nelson has professed that his greatest claim to fame is to be the creator of the iconic propeller beanie as emblematic of Science Fiction Fandom when he was still in high school. He also claims to have invented the “Beany” character in a 1948 contest for what would become “Time For Beany” while visiting relatives in California.

There are varying versions of the story, but the gist is that, in 1947, at a small science fiction convention in Cadillac, Michigan, Nelson and some friends were cartooning, parodying science-fiction icons of the day, and Nelson found some scraps of plastic and attached them to a hat. Soon they became a proudly worn feature of the science fiction crowd.

Ray Nelson is survived by his wife, poet and professor Dr. Helene Knox, and his son, Walter Nelson, who maintains his web page, http://raynelson.com.


Susan L. Fox
Susan L. Fox