Although many Torontonians may not know it, they
possess the world's major public science fiction and fantasy library, the
Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. This
library, with over 53,000 items in its holdings, is one of the world's
largest collections of the genre. But what exactly is it? And how can the
public use it? As a new Friend of the Collection, I wanted to know.
The library began in 1970, I learned, when author and
anthologist Judith Merril donated her personal collection of some 5,000
items to the Toronto Public Library. In an "extremely far-sighted
move," says Collection Head Lorna Toolis, the Library established the
Spaced Out Library for research.
Approximately ten years ago, the collection expanded
to provide circulating paperback novels and anthologies, now totalling
about 8,600 books. On January 1, 1991, the name of the collection
changed to "the Merril Collection..." to avoid confusion about
exactly what "spaced-out" meant! Although the donor felt somewhat
nonplussed by the honour, she does continue to take an active interest in
the collection and maintains an office in the building.
At present, the library is humbly housed in downtown Toronto on the second floor of 40 St. George Street. It shares the space with two
of the Toronto Library's other special collections: Boys and Girls House
and the Osborne Collection. During its operating hours, the library is
filled with students, university professors, writers, media researchers and
members of the public who come in to conduct research or just read.
Sometimes public school classes come by to learn about speculative fiction, and often groups of writers or fans meet in the
building. The library staff bustles from one request to another in a
whirlwind of activity. Somehow, they always seem to have time to answer one
more question or find that last obscure reference.
For those of us who love science fiction and fantasy,
the Collection itself is a treasure. As part of its mandate, the library
collects at least one reference (non-circulating) copy of all genre science
fiction and fantasy published each year. This is usually, but not always, a
hard cover copy, and a paperback copy is added to the circulating
Acquiring some of these books can present a challenge
for the staff as much speculative fiction gets published by small or little-known
specialty presses. The librarians study catalogues from
publishers and collectors and refer to fanzines and critical
magazines so as not to miss obscure publications in the field.
In addition to mainstream science fiction and fantasy,
the library also collects writing classified as "magic realism."
Initially and most commonly used to describe a fort of literature
associated with twentieth century Latin America, magic realism is about
events of the normal world with a slightly more-than-real essence. Where
fantasy tells about alternate worlds, magic realism is about magical events
in this world. Various works by Michael Moorcock fit into this category,
such as The English Assassin, Mother London and The Condition of Muzak. Another writer in this field
is William Kotzwinkle, whose books Herr
Nightingale and the Satin Woman and The
Great World Circus are examples. Much magic realism appears in
Of course, no decent collection of speculative fiction
would omit periodicals. The Merril Collection has a comprehensive selection
of both fiction and non-fiction periodicals which can be read in the
library. Canada's own On Spec is available, as well as Analog, Asimov's Science
Fiction Magazine, Aboriginal and Aurealis,
carrying Australian speculative fiction, and many more. Non-fiction
magazines, most reviewing the genre but also supporting the future and
speculative sciences, include Locus,
Skeptical Inquirer, Omni, Spaceflight
and Science Fiction Chronicle. Not
only does the library maintain current issues, it collects back issues when
they are available to complete broken runs. Particularly noteworthy are the
library's sets of pulp magazines, such as Amazing Stories, Astounding (which later became Analog), Galaxy, Space Adventures,
Stirring Science Stories, Unknown and Avon Fantasy Reader.
recently inserted into mylar sleeves to protect them from deterioration;
pulp magazines were not designed to last!
The library also collects another form of periodical
that abounds in speculative fiction: fanzines. Written by devotees of the
genre, fanzines contain reviews, news about authors and publishers, advance
publicity on novels, retrospective analyses and sometimes fiction. Fanzines
tend to start and stop at irregular intervals, but the library attempts to
collect as widely and as thoroughly as possible. The fanzines in the
library's file boxes bear whimsical titles such as "Interplanetary
Corn Chips," "Mothalode Morning Mishap," "Lavender
Dragon," "Seldon's Plan," "Skyhook," and, of
course, "Captain George's Penny Dreadful." The library recently
received several boxes of Star Trek fiction fanzines, but these are in
storage at present due to lack of space.
Recently, the library has begun to include graphic
novels, also known as comics, in its holdings. On the special shelf devoted
to these soft cover books, fans will find The Illustrated Harlan Ellison, for example, which includes one
of my all-time favourite stories, "Repent Harlequin! Said the Tick TockMan." Also on the shelf are Elfquest, Batman, Watchmen and Sandman. Neuromancer and The Vampire Lestat are adaptations
of print books, by William Gibson and Anne Rice, respectively. The staff felt
that these graphic works represented a significant and growing branch of
the genre. And to support this part of the collection, they also offer The Comics Journal in the
In keeping with its mandate as a research library, the
Merril Collection has also assembled a comprehensive selection of non-fiction
about the genre: biographical works, criticism, bibliographies and
histories. One of the newest and most outstanding additions in this area is
the revised Encyclopedia of Science
Fiction, by John Clute and Peter Nichols (1992). This work, which also
documents fantasy, is a good place to start whether the subject is history,
biography or literature. For users expecting to find material related to
speculative fiction, the library maintains a 001 section, with books on
subjects ranging from astrology to spaceflight to UFO's.
An appropriately modern development in the collection
is the inclusion of various audio-visual materials, including movies,
plays, television, role-playing books, comics, radio and software, because,
according to the Collection Head, "in the last decade, science fiction
and fantasy has mutated in scope." Although presently small, the
number of AV items is growing. The library limits the number of formats it
collects to those expected to endure and to be supported by future
technology. Unfortunately, the collection does not yet have the equipment
or space for some of these to be studied.
The library also collects original science fiction and
fantasy art and prints. Students of art history can also find books in the
collection describing this kind of art.
The staff maintains a vertical file with some two
hundred subjects related to speculative fiction. Short clippings and
articles contributed by users and Friends of the library fill this file.
Not surprisingly, the Merril Collection has the
world's best collection of Canadian speculative fiction. Although most of
the library's holdings are in English, it also collects French material,
especially that written in Canada. It does have some material written in
other languages from around the world, wherever there is a
"significant SF community", according to the collection policy—Russia
and Japan, for example. Much of this is received as donations because the
library is a depository for World SF, "an international organization
of people professionally involved with speculative fiction." Because
of its international reputation, the Merril Collection also receives
original correspondence and manuscripts.
Accessing all this wonderful material requires the use
of an old-fashioned card—yes, paper—catalogue. Both
fiction and non-fiction is listed by author and title and there is a
subject catalogue for non-fiction monographs as well. All circulating
paperbacks can be found on the Toronto Public Library's Dynix on-line
catalogue, which users can consult at any branch.
One of the unique tools the library offers is a short
story catalogue listing all the stories, by author and title, in all the
anthologies in the collection. The staff anticipates putting the reference
author/title catalogue on the computer next. Users can also check a series
list, if they want to know all the titles in a particular author's series.
The periodical rolodex lists which issues of which periodicals the library
Updating and maintaining the collection is the
responsibility of three dedicated librarians. Lorna Toolis, as Collection head,
handles reference, makes acquisitions and administers, sometimes all at
once—one day she timed her interruptions as coming every ninety
seconds! She has also co-edited an anthology, Tesseracts4, which won an Aurora Award for best
anthology, and is helping to select and assemble the Mars Project CD of
literature that influenced the space explorers. As planned by the Planetary
Society, the disc will travel to Mars aboard Mars 94 as a gift to future
Martian settlers. In her daily tasks, Lorna is ably assisted by Mary
Cannings, who manages the circulating collection and carries some of the
cataloguing duties, and Annette Mocek, responsible for reference,
cataloguing and AV materials. Their work and the collection are supported
by Nancy Krygsman, the Assistant Chief Librarian.
The library also enjoys the assistance of the Friends
of the Merril Collection, people who have an interest in science fiction
and fantasy. The Friends offer memberships which fund the Reading Programs
bringing in authors to read from recent works or works-in-progress.
(Membership information can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.)
The Friends also produce Sol Rising and help at receptions. This organization relies on the
support of some special people, whose names have appeared frequently in
these pages. Larry Hancock, the present Chairman and editor of the newsletter,
has been involved with the Friends since its inception. When he's not
working or helping the Friends, he writes The Silent Invasion comic series, which can be found on the
graphic novel shelf. John Millard, a member of First Fandom, is co-chairman
of the building committee and past Chairman of the Friends. And Doris
Bercarich, who is the secretary/treasurer, also provides the catering for
functions offered by the Friends.
Both staff and Friends are excited by the prospect of
a new building for the Merril Collection, Boys and Girls House and the
Osborne Collection. Now in the planning stage, the new facilities will
occupy the southwest corner of College and Huron Streets. When the building
is completed, the Merril Collection will occupy the third floor.
The new space will provide "miles" of
compact shelves in environmentally-controlled conditions that will help
preserve the older and more fragile material. A sound-proof room will
contain the hardware for enjoying the AV materials, and quiet study space
will be available in the reference section.
The Friends will be able to hold the Reading Programs
in a 250-person meeting room in the same building. And staff will be able
to prepare thematic exhibits of material, including hanging relevant art on
Until that time, the staff will continue to acquire
books and assist researchers and to maintain what the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls "one of the world's
more important SF research libraries." And as its size and reputation
grow, more and more Torontonians will, like me, discover what a fantastic
jewel they hold in their mundane hands.
Out of the blue I received a phone call from the
promotion person at a large publishing house. He introduced himself as
Salman A. Nensi and went on to identify himself as the publicist for Random
House of Canada.
Everyone has heard of Random House, founded by the
late Bennett Cerf, publisher of the Modern Library, etc. I am never certain
how many books Random publishes in Canada, but I am familiar with its
excellent and extensive list of American publications which it distributes
in this country.
Sal came right to the point. He was preparing a
"press kit" to draw media attention to Canadian science fiction.
In Canada, Random House distributes the
Ballantine/Del Rey paperback line. Current/ forthcoming titles by Canadian
authors include Dave Duncan's Upland
Outlaws, Michelle Sagara's Sundered
Trilogy, and Crawford Kilian's Red
Sal mentioned the appearance of Fossil Hunter, the latest novel by Robert J. Sawyer
("award-winning" "Toronto's own", etc.) and said
or suggested that these novels "have legs". He wanted to give
them proper send-offs. Specifically, he wanted them reviewed like
mainstream novels rather that like science-fiction novels.
"There's one way to do that," I said.
"What's that?" he asked. No doubt he had the
vision of a big-concept, no-cost, fast fix.
"The way to ensure that science-fiction novels
are treated like mainstream novels is to arrange for their first release in
hard-back, not paper-back," I explained.
No doubt Sal was disappointed with my response. After
all, he was operating out of the Toronto office, not the New York headquarters. As well, what I
was proposing was the province of another department, editorial and
marketing, not sales and promotion. What he had at hand to promote were
paperbacks, not hard-backs.
Yet to his credit he pushed ahead. He explained that
he had contacted a number of writers—not really "movers and
shakers," but journalists and authors known to be readers ofscience fiction—and they had
agreed to contribute promotional copy free of charge to the press kit.
The long and the short of it is that I agreed to
contribute to the press kit. Two enthusiasms did the trick: Sal's
enthusiasm for a worthy-enough project, my
enthusiasm for encouraging a national science fiction. I agreed to
contribute a list of my "favourite" Canadian fantastic fiction.
(I hasten to add that I did so out of interest and enthusiasm—and
also with the promise of some complimentary copies of current books from
Random House's catalogue. I don't believe in writing anything for nothing—Sol Rising being the exception that
proves the rule—and I advise other writers, full and part-time, to
What's your favourite colour? What's your favourite
name? Who's your favourite author? These are questions for children, yet
the notion of compiling a list is the concept of making a selection, with
one eye focused on past reading and another eye focused on future readers
of these works.
Anyway, here is the list I presented to Sal for use in
the press kit. It would be worthwhile to hear from readers of Sol Rising about some oftheir own favourite works.
Colombo's 13 Favourite Books of Canadian Fantastic Literature
I began Canadiana, I was reading and enjoying fantastic literature.
What I mean by fantastic
fiction, fantasy fiction, and supernatural (including weird/horror) fiction.
Here are two rule of thumb genre distinctions:
SF is set in the future; fantasy is set in the past or
the never-never; supernatural fiction is set in the present.
SF is technically impossible; fantasy is materially
impossible; supernatural is unlikely (we hope!).
In general, fantastic literature places human beings
in contexts undreamt ofby
"mainstream" writers of"psychological
Anyway, here I have listed 13 books of fantastic literature
written by Canadians which I have read with pleasure and insight and which
I plan to reread with additional pleasure and insight.
A Strange Manuscript
Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888) by James De Mille. A classic novel of
adventure that takes the reader into the centre of the earthwhere a "lost race"
poses satiric and philosophic questions.
Sick Heart River(1941) by John Buchan. A remarkable and moving
novel about a man-of-the-world's attainment of ultimate values, set in the valley of the mighty Nahanni River, Northwest Territories, by the novelist John
Buchan, Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir.
Slan (1946) by A.E. van Vogt.
A classic and exciting novel about human beings who develop psychic
powers, written while the author, one of the great names of the Golden
Age of SF, was still living in Toronto.
Consider Her Ways (1947) by Frederick
Philip Grove. An amazing imaginative satire, written by the Prairie
novelist more noted for his realistic novels, about a colony of ants
that treks across North America only to find its own values superior
to human values.
Sunburst (1964)by Phyllis Gotlieb. A novel of
great insight and compassion which examines the effects of genetic
damage from a runaway nuclear reactor on a young girl.
The Armies of the Moon (1972)by Gwendolyn MacEwen. Highly
evocative and imaginative poetry with a fantastic and science-fiction
edge inspired by the sight of the Moon.
The Best of Judith Merril
(1976)by Judith Merril. Two poems
and nine stories set in other times and places written with a
"sense of gender" as well as a "sense of wonder"
by the respected writer and veteran anthologist.
Stardance (1979)by Spider Robinson and Jeanne
Robinson. An impressive novel about—guess what?—the desire
of a dancer to perform an original work in the weightlessness of outer
Burning Chrome (1980)by William Gibson. Ten short
way out stories including the title story which imaginatively introduced
the concept of "virtual reality" and the term "cyberpunk."
The Woman Who is the Wind (1987)by
Terence M. Green. Ten thoughtful, emotional, and gracefully written
stories of fantasy and science-fiction.
Distant Signals and Other
byAndrew Weiner. Twelve
stories which deal impressively with problems (surprisingly like those
of the present) that infect the future.
Chips & Gravey (1991)by William Gough. Fantasy?
Magic Realism? Channelling? A riotously funny novella of life in an
outport, complete with salty Newfoundland characters.
Golden Fleece (1990) by Robert J. Sawyer. A novel
that combines adventure, mystery, and madness aboard a spaceship that
is as self-contained as the planet Earth.
Colombo, knows as the Master Gatherer for his many compilations of
Canadiana, including fantastic literature, contributed the article on
English-Canadian Science Fiction in the new 1993 edition of the Science-Fiction Encyclopedia edited by John Chute and Peter Nicholas.
Harry Clement Stubbs
was born in Somerville, MA, on May 30, 1922. He studied at Harvard and
received his B.S. in Astronomy and, after serving with the United States Air Force in World War 11, his M.Ed from BostonUniversity in 1947. He taught high-school science and
mathematics in Massachusetts from 1947 to the present, apart from another stint in
the Air Force during the Korean War. He received his MS. from SimmonsCollege in 1963.
Recently Sol Rising found
out that Harry Stubbs spent many summers of his youth in Canada and asked Dr. Allan Weiss to investigate further.
Here is the result of that interview.
One of the perpetual complaints of science-fiction
editors over the past few decades has been the dearth of true
"hard" SF: science fiction strictly based on the pure and applied
sciences. Since the 1950s, the name most frequently cited in discussions of
hard SF is that of Hal Clement (pseudonym of Harry Stubbs); Clement's
stories and novels reveal an in-depth knowledge of the physical sciences
(Clement received his B.S. in Astronomy at Harvard), and his wish to build
his worlds and situations rigorously on accepted scientific principles. He
was in Toronto as one of the guests at Ad
Allan Weiss: I'd like to ask you about your
early days in Canada—about your visits to Prince Edward Island.
Hal Clement: Well, they were generally made
in the summer; my mother, and myself and after the first year or two my
younger sister—actually my sister was born during one of these visits
in Canada—we used to go up to Prince Edward Island and stay there for
three months or so while my father stayed in a job at home. I had several
cousins there; one of my mother's sisters had three sons and a daughter and
that was one of the farms we stayed at. One of the cousins was about ten
months younger than I was (Jack Bell) and we were very good friends and
were very unhappy whenever a summer was missed without our going there. He
shared my astronomy enthusiasm; he, like me, started trying to write
science fiction in our teens. I still look back on those days with quite a
bit of nostalgia, although my uncle, Jack's father, was a farmer from the
old school and didn't believe that boys should be left in bed after five in
the morning—should be kept busy for their own good—so this is
one of the reasons I feel qualified to hold an opinion on the subject of
whether going back to nature is a good idea; I've hoed all the turnips I
want to; I favour the hi-tech society.
AW: Your father was an
accountant and I wonder what his attitude would have been to your ambitions—your reading and so on.
HC: He was quite tolerant about
the whole thing. I suspect—he never stated it firmly—that he
would have liked me to be a minister. But my interest in science from the
word go was very, very obvious and he was willing to encourage it. And both
he and my mother were pretty well converted my junior year in college; they
allowed me to major in astronomy as I wanted, and in my junior year I sold
two stories to John Campbell and the $245 that those brought in made a very
large dent in Harvard's $400-a-year tuition. So they were pretty well
converted after that.
AW: Your mother was a teacher, right?
HC: She taught for a while. She
was a college graduate; at least, I guess it was a full-scale college; it
was then called Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, P.E.I.—I
think its name has changed since, and very possibly its scope and all the
rest of it; I haven't been back for a long time and don't know. But, yes,
she graduated from college; she taught for a while in the one-room
schoolhouse at York Point where she was born, and then I don't know all of
the history. She was working in Halifax during World War I and got
mildly injured by flying glass in the Halifax explosion. I don't know when
or where she met my father, but they were married in the States in 1921 and
I was born roughly a year later in 1922. My father eventually became a
naturalized citizen; I don't know what all his reasons were, what their
reasons were for moving to the States.
AW: Did the fact that she was a
teacher have any influence on whether you read as a child? Did she
encourage you to be more of a literary sort?
HC: Yes, they both encouraged
our reading very strongly. Dad was an enthusiast of Shakespeare and able to
quote quite a bit of Shakespeare. They both had very high standards in use
of English; I'm afraid both my sister and I deteriorated in that aspect
after we started public school. We were both able to read and write and do
simple arithmetic before we started school.
AW: Now, you yourself became a
teacher, and you've often said that your teaching is your vocation and your
writing is your hobby. But I'm sure that the interrelationships. between them were pretty strong all the way through your
career. Can you give me some sense of how one might have influenced the
other, affected the other?
HC: Well, a main reason for my
winding up as a teacher, aside from the fact that I've always liked kids
and done things like Boy Scout work, was that it became painfully evident
towards the close of my undergraduate days that I was not a good enough
mathematician to become an astronomer. I didn't have to make the decision
immediately; I graduated in February of 1943, with the Army waiting, and
spent time flying with the 8th Air Force and sundry things, and then had
the G.I. Bill to handle the next step, which was to go back to graduate
school and get an education degree and a teaching certificate. Teaching was
certainly going to be the next best thing to astronomy. And I stayed with
it for forty years.
AW: Were there things that you
discovered in your research for your teaching, or things you discovered in
discussions with your students that inspired some of your works?
HC: I would say yes although I
can't come up with specific examples. There was a swapping of information
in both directions, actually. Things that I thought of setting up for my
stories also offered analogies and suggested situations that I could use in
class to start discussions going.
AW: So it was an exchange of
ideas. It's pretty evident that the environment is a major theme in your
work: placing your characters in strange environments and seeing what
HC: Yes, that's the fun of it:
cooking up what sort of environments there might be, and what sort of life,
if any, could exist in those situations, and how the beings adapted to those
situations would respond—what their motivation would be, what they
would want to do and what they would have to do.
AW: And then you establish a
problem for them that they have to come up with a solution for
HC: Well, from my point of view,
the words "problem" and "plot" are essentially
synonymous. If your characters don't have a problem you don't have a story.
AW: Did your interest in the
environment have anything to do with certain environments that you
encountered either as a child or an adult?
HC: Not that I can remember. My
environments were various towns in greater Boston during the school year and Prince Edward Island during the summer. And the
difference was essentially the mechanical surroundings. In the summer I was
on a horse-powered farm, hoeing turnips, working hay, and generally quite
aware of what had to be done to provide food for humanity. In the cities,
milk came, in those days, in one-quart glass bottles.
AW: Even in your reading today
(at Ad Astra) I noticed that your environments are unpredictable and
sometimes downright annoying. They can mess up your plans quite quickly and
quite easily. Is this an image of nature that you have?
HC: Yes, I think this is the way
life is. If you don't understand the general environmental situation you
are very likely to run into trouble, including on your own planet.
AW: Right. But even then it
seems like nature will do things that you don't expect even when you are
adapted to it.
HC: Well, the more you know the
more likely you are to expect correctly, but none of us knows everything.
And I very much like to deal with the results of failing to predict a
particular happening, event, or what have you.
AW: Mystery is a major source of
science fiction—the ratiocination process for the plot and soon—and
you've written some mysteries like Needle.
Can you tell me just a little bit about the mystery reading you did and
how it might have influenced your work.
HC: I've liked mystery stories
from childhood—my father got me into that. The ones I read early on
were Leslie Charteris' Saint stories, H. C. Bailey, whose detective was Dr.
Reginald Fortune, Philip Macdonald (Anthony Guesrin was the detective),
very few people nowadays remember any of these people, but Lord Peter
Whimsey is still with us, and Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss
Marple. So I read many of those—most of them, probably.
AW: Just one other thing. If you
could comment on the fact that your novels often place alien characters
together and then see what happens not simply with their contacts with the
environment but also their contacts with each other and attempts to
communicate with each other.
HC: That last is an attempt to
master the art of character portrayal, which I've never felt very confident
about. In StillRiver, Ideliberately set up my five characters so they split several
ways into "Us" and "Them"
groups. Two were male and three were female; two were oxygen-breathers, two
didn't breathe at all, and one breathed nitrous of chloride. All but one
had body temperatures in the liquid ammonia rather than the liquid water
range. And so on. I don't know whether I did an effective and believable
job of suggesting what their interactions would be and what each would take
for granted that the others didn't. I didn't want to overdo it. I may have
underdone it, too, I don't know.
AW: Well, I'd like to thank you
very much for your time, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the convention
and your stay in Toronto.
The twentieth French National Convention was held in
Orléans/la Source, on August 27-29, 1993. Its theme was "Woman in
SF" and its guests included France's Joëlle Wintrebert and Canada's Elisabeth Vonarburg.
The finalists in the novel category for the 1993 Prix
Rosny Aîné, which are the closest francophone equivalent to the Hugos, were
Ayerdhal for Le chant du drille (The
Drille's Song), Jacques Barbéri for La
Mémoire du crime (Recalling the Crime), Serge Brussolo for Le syndrôme du scaphandrier (The
Dreamdiver Syndrome), Alain Le Bussy for Deltas, Daniel Sernine for Chronoreg,
and Élisabeth Vonarburg for Chroniques
du Pays des Méres. Ayerdhal, Barbéri, and Brussolo are French, Le Bussy
is Belgian, and Sernine and Vonarburg are from Canada, thus making for one of the
most diverse group of finalists in recent years. Vonarburg's novel has been
translated and published in English—as The Maerlande Chronicles inCanada and as In the Mothers' Land in the United States. The final vote was held on-site
at the French National convention in Orléans.
Québec's two SF magazines are alive and kicking. After
a transition year during which several issues were delayed, Solaris has managed to catch up
thanks to an accelerated publication schedule. Covers have been generally
gorgeous. Solaris 105, the late
spring and early summer issue, featured stories by Yves Meynard, "Le
sang et l'oisesu" ("Blood and Bird"), and Jean-Louis Trudel,
"Un papillon á Mashak" ("A Butterfly in Mashak"), and
an interview of Daniel Semine, as well as non-fiction and the usual
assortment of book and zine reviews ranging over two continents, four
countries and two languages. Meynard's text was a dense and poetic
combination of three rêveries on
the twin themes of the title, with only a few subtle echoes linking the
intertwined plots, which moved in the borderland between science fiction
and fantasy. Trudel's text was a rather more staid science fiction tale mixing
chaos theory, history, and the fraternization attempts of a human soldier
on a world of conquered aliens.
Solaris 106 isbeing promoted as a special theme issue on utopias and counter-utopias,
featuring scholarly articles and an interview of Élisabeth Vonarburg. Solaris 107 isannounced as a special theme issue on time, with stories by
Alain Bergeron, Yves Meynard, and Jean-Louis Trudel.
Over at imagine...,
covers have been no less handsome. imagine... 63, the spring issue, was a special issue entirely devoted
to science-fiction in Switzerland, with stories by Chantal
Delessert, Nicolas G. Doegun, Georges Panchard, Wildy Petoud, and Francois
Rouiller. The stories by Panchard and Petoud were the more memorable ones
of the lot. H. R. Giger and John Howe contributed short art portfolios.
Jean-François Thomas sketched a historical survey of SF in Switzerland, while Roger Gaillard
presented the Maison d 'Ailleurs, or
House of Elsewhere, Europe's first SF museum, of which he is director. imagine... 64 was a regular issue. Guy
Bouchard's story, "Si la vie vous intéresse" ("A Life in the
Forces"), won the Septième Continent award and headlined the issue. It
was published simultaneously in the Belgian periodical Magie Rouge 38-39, in spite of the reservations of that
magazine's editor. Bouchard's story tells of a future Québec where women
join the army to contribute to a new revenge of the cradle... French writer
Micky Papoz and Canadian writer Sylvie Bérard contributed two other short
stories, while another Canadian, Danielle Tremblay, signed the first part
of a four-part serial.
In other Québec publishing news, Daniel Sernine's
fiction collection Les Portes
mystérieuses (The Mysterious Doors) was released by Héritage as a young
adult book. Charles Montpetit's young adult novel Copie Carbone (Carbon Copy), based on an earlier short story
which appeared in Solaris, was
put out by Québec/Amérique. The editions Québec/Amérique also announced the
upcoming release of Contes de
Tyranaël (Tyranaël Tales) by Élisabeth Vonarburg in their juvenile
fiction line. Another young adult novel, Tupeux compter sur moi
(You Can Count on Me), by Jean-François Somain, originally published in
1990, will appear this Fall in
Japanese translation. Major novels await the opening of the Fall season,
and especially the November Salon du
Livre in Montréal.
Earlier, Jean-Pierre April's novel Berlin-Bangkok, which actually came
close to predicting the fall of the Berlin Wall, was reissued by J'ai Lu in
France in a somewhat revised
edition, four years after its original publication in Canada.
The fanzine scene remains fairly sedate in Québec. Old-timer
Samizdat continues to appear
sporadically, emphasizing well thought-out reviews over fiction. Issue 24 had a story by newcomer
Julie Martel as well as a long-delayed (four years?) one by Jean-Louis
Trudel. The young and energetic Christian Martin continues to pump out Temps Tôt on a bi-monthly basis,
favouring fiction over reviews. So far, issues 22to 25have come out
this year, with the end of Jean-Louis Trudel's SF serial, a cadavre exquis by Laurent
McAllister, and stories by a medley of mostly new writers, including Claude
Bolduc and Francois Escalmel. Issue 25was a special issue devoted to newcomer Hugues Morin. In other news,
Benoît Girard, who earlier launched an English-language fanzine called The Frozen Frog, has spearheaded the
birth of a Québec APA, called APAQ. There have also been rumblings of new
magazines coming onto the scene, such as Cité Calonne. The first two issues of a cinema and horror
magazine called Le Réveur fantastique,have actually appeared, with a heavy
dose of reviews and a cluttered lay-out. Whether it will last is still
unclear, but it bears witness to the continued vitality of the scene in that
Mici Gold caught
up with Toronto author Michelle Sagara at the October 1993 meeting of
Ontario Hydra for an informal conversation about life as an
author, and as a mother.
Michelle Sagara: I'm working on the re-write
of a novel, my fifth novel, it's called Hunter's Oath. It's not connected
with the other books (the Sundered series). So far there are three books
(of the Sundered series); the fourth and final book (Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light) iscoming out next May. It's finished; it's on the editor's desk.
The rewrite I'm working on now should be finished by the end of thismonth. And then I can start the
I'm also working on a short story. It's supposed to be
sixty-five hundred words and it's now eighty-one hundred words. So, a
little bit long. I'm trying to do a little bit more short fiction because,
in some ways, it gives you a lot more room to experiment with form and with
style and with texture, because it's short. Mostly fantasy stuff right now,
although I do have a couple of science fiction short stories I'd like to
Again, that's a little bit of
departure. I'd like to try different things with style. So that's what I'm
doing. I'm also being a mother. (For
a number of family reasons, Michelle had brought her four-and-a-half-month
old son to the meeting: he was sleeping in another room during the
During the day, I thought, "Oh, I can get writing
done when the baby sleeps." The baby never sleeps. I mean, he sleeps
for a half-an-hour here but you have to be carrying him, or something.
So now I get my writing done in the evening ... and
it's very stressful. If I'm trying to get this thing done during the day, I
start thinking, "Aren't you ever going to go to sleep?" And it's
very frustrating. If I think I'm going to do it at twelve at night, then it
doesn't matter. I can play with the baby and talk to the baby and change
the baby twenty-five times. It's different. That's the other thing I'm
MG: Has it changed your routine
or rhythm of writing?
MS: Humongously! Because I'm
used to working full time, and one of the best times to write was on my
lunch hour at a portable computer. I'd sort of sit down, I'd start, I'd
write for the whole hour, I'd stop. It was great. The first year, I tried
to do that, it was difficult because it's hard: phone rings, somebody comes
into the shop—What about this? Michelle, what about this? Michelle,
what about this?—But you eventually get used to it, and I think you
train your subconscious so, four years later, it was really easy and re-adjusting
to that is difficult.
MG: So you got used to telephone
and request interruptions and now you have to get used to feed-me and
MS: You know it's different,
though. Because a baby—and this is one thing that really surprised me—it's
not that he requires all this attention, but for some reason, I'm very
focused on him, where I concentrate, I'm always listening for him. He's
just such a presence that it's not very easy to write, answer the
questions, go back to writing; it's just very, very different. And I never
expected that. But I haven't been a parent before. It's a course of
discovery as we go on.
MG: So now that you have this
new member of your family, do you think it's going to make a difference in
what you write?
MS: I imagine that it will,
although I don't know if it'll make a difference right away. For me,
everything always takes about ten years to sort of "sift
through." I'm getting better at it. I'm getting better at having
experience come out in the writing. Things like children, they sink slowly.
They sink roots. I always say that: they sink roots into your subconscious.
They sink roots into your awareness, and ten years from now I think that'll
really start to show. But sometimes right now, he's just not real. I look
at him and I think, I have a baby?
There's a book, a novel, that I distinctly want to
write and it's science fiction. It's more of a
social science fiction rather than the high fantasy I've been doing. And, I
started several times when I was younger because, in some ways it's an
older story, but it revolves around having children, the import of having
children. And I decided, No, Michelle, you have a whole life! What's the
hurry? Because, frankly, you don't know anything about having children.
Have a kid. Write this other stuff and get back to it once you have some
experience. Maybe that story will come out, having had children, I don't
It's very specific. It's about a society in which it's
all women and the technology is, for a variety of economic reasons, quasi-good;
it's not the best that it could be, it's not the worst. What they do,
because it is a lot less expensive, they artificially inseminate when
people want children. But when you're pregnant, you go for the various
genetic tests to tell you if it's a female or a male child. And when the
child is male, there's a whole series of procedures that are followed, but
basically you get called up in front of a council, sort of a council of
elders, and you get asked if you're going to keep the child. And, people
don't, if it's male. For a variety of different reasons.
The whole society is a little bit different. You don't
grow up just in the colony, reared out by people and come back just to live, you come back having reaffirmed their view of the
MG: There's an outside world in
which people are having children as usual?
MS: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. As
usual, and it's quite a different place. The first section of the book is
about a woman who very, very much wants to have a child and who has had a
series of miscarriages but when she gets pregnant with a male child, and
she's asked if she's going to keep it, she says "yes"—which
is bad. And there is some pressure on her.
I mean, it's not a fascist place and they would never
force somebody to have an abortion because that's against their tenets, but
there is a certain amount of social pressure, obviously. And she wants to
have it, and they don't quite panic because she's had a lot of
miscarriages. And she carries the child to term. And then she has to deal
with the child. And she has to deal with finding a place in society for
that child, and the child grows up and it sort of shifts focus from her to
that child, who is growing up as a very alien "she" in an all
female society because he's not female. But it's all that, it's the whole
thing about children, about raising children, about the way we feel about
it; and all that stuff, I had no clue about.
There're aspects of this society that I love—as
I said, it just goes on and on, and it's quite complicated—and
there're aspects about it that I don't. But I suppose it's my nature versus
nurture novel. I don't really believe that everything that we do is nature
and I believe that a lot of important things are nurture. And the point of
it is that, in some ways the male of this culture is a very special
individual, because he really is a freak. And I don't know how it's going
to turn out because I'm never sure. I never know how any of my stories are
going to turn out. I always know where I'm heading, I always what know the
emotional end, I think, is going to be. But you'd be amazed how characters
and conversations change.
MG: You mean, from the beginning
of the book to the end, or from your initial
concept to your realization?
MS: To your realization. There
are things that you thought made sense that make sense very early but don't
make sense when you're right there with the characters.
In the fourth book (of the Sundered series), the end
that I thought was going to happen doesn't happen because a certain
illuminated character says "That's enough, I will not play this game
any more" and walks. And the ending that I had—I sat there
thinking, "Oh, my gosh, what do I do
now?" Because until I sat down, I thought for sure we were going to
have a small war, and when he said it, I realized I was going to have to
rewrite the whole book.
MG: What made him say that? What
made this happen?
MS: Because he was tired and had
changed enough over the course of the novel that he could just walk instead
of starting a war. And, in fact, once he said it, it was the only thing he
MG: But it was a major surprise
to you to actually see that happen.
MS: I thought, "Oh, what am
I going to do with the rest of the book?" It was a big shock. For me,
at least, I like that better. I like to see what the book does. Sometimes.
I don't know, I guess my conception from start to stop isn't necessarily as
true as the actual writing is. Or I gloss over things that, in the end,
have much more of an effect on the story.
MG: So it leaves you with
something to look forward to as well.
MG: It's not like you know all of the outcome.
MS: No. I usually have a fairly
good idea but it often deviates in ways I haven't expected. As I said, I'm
very often choosing between what actually is right and what I had originally wanted to say.
Don Hutchison editor of Northern Frights, has assembled Northern Frights 2 (Mosaic Press).
It contains seventeen more outstanding tales of horror by noted Canadian
writers, including Mel D. Ames, HughB.Cave, Mary E. Choo, Carolyn Clink,
Sean Doolittle, Gemma Files, Charles Grant, Edward D. Hock, Nancy
Kilpatrick, Shirley Meier, David Morrell, David Nickle, James Powell,
Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Dale L. Sproule, Edo van Belkom, Diane L. Walton,
and Chet Williamson. The previous anthology, Northern Frights, received a World Fantasy Award nomination.
The book was one of five nominees from around the
world for best anthology of the year—in the fantasy category, not
horror. Other nominees come from Britain (one) and the U.S. (three). He's hoping that
kind of interest from around the world can translate into interest in Canada.
fourth and final book in the Sundered series is coming out in May. She's
working on the rewrite of her fifth novel, called Hunter's Oath. It's the first of a new series. She's also very
busy being a mother: she and Thomas have a six month old son, Daniel.
Karl Schroeder has sold a 10,000 word story,
"The Engine of Recall," to Aboriginal
Science Fiction, published by Charles Ryan in the States. He continues
to teach his science fiction writing course at GeorgeBrownCollege. Direct inquiries to the
continuing education department at GeorgeBrownCollege.
Schroeder and Dave
Nickle won the 1993 Aurora Award for best short story
for "The Toy Mill," which they wrote one weekend just for fun. It
appeared in Tesseracts4,
published by Beach Holme Press.
Dr. Allan Weiss and Hugh Spencer are co-curators of an exhibit on Canadian Science
Fiction to be held at the National Library in 1995. It's going to run from
May to September at least and will possibly be extended to November. The
exhibit is about the history of Canadian SF, from the first SF in Canada, published in French in the
1830's (the earliest English work was The
Dominion in 1983, published in 1883)
Cory Doctorow has sold a story called
"Resume" to On Spec and
another story called "Car Swing" has just appeared in a US small press anthology called Air Fish
Near Death, sold last spring to
Pocket Books and is expected in fall 1994. Her first and only fantasy
story, "Your Essential Unsung Hero," is in Xanadu 3, edited by Jane Yolan Xanadu 2 is just coming out now. Kilpatrick's short story
"Punkins," appearing in Northern
Frights 2, has already re-sold to Karl Wagner's Year's Best Horror 22. Another story will appear in Let's Shiver Again, an anthology of
new and classic ghost stories to be published in the spring of 1994 by
General Publishing. (Greg loannou
at General Publishing plans to reissue the original Shivers at the same
time and hopes to continue the anthology as an annual showcasing new talent
along with established pros.) On November 26, Kilpatrick was on the CBC
Radio Noon phonein with Random House Canada senior editor, Doug Pepper, the topic was writing
and how to get published.
Robert Sawyer was profiled in the September
1993 issue of Science Fiction
Chronicle and has also appeared in The
Toronto Star (5 June 1993) and on The
CTV National News (10 June 1993). His novel Golden Fleece was a nominee for the Seiun Award ("the
Japanese Hugo") for best translated SF novel of 1992.
His short story "Just
Like Old Times" appeared in the Summer issue of On Spec and was reprinted in the DAW anthology Dinosaur Fantastic (July 1993). He
has sold another short story, "You See But You Do Not Observe,"
to another DAW anthology, Sherlock Holmes in Orbit. He's recently sold
British rights for his Quintaglio series to Hodder & Stoughton. The
third (and last) book in the Quintaglio series, Foreigner, is now available. His novel, End of an Era (Ace) will appear November 1994. He's now working
on a sixth, Hobson's Choice, for
which he has received an Ontario Arts Council "Writers'
Tanya Huff has sold an amusing short
fantasy story, "The Harder They Fall" to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. An upcoming anthology
called The Best of Marion Zimmer
Bradley, by Warner, will include one of Huff's Magdalene stories,
"Be It Ever So Humble" (summer 1994). Huff also has a short story
("First Love, Last Love") in MZB's
fall 1993 issue. "This Town Ain't Big Enough," a short story that
is a direct sequel to Blood Pact, will appear in an anthology of vampire
detective stories collected by Martin H. Greenberg. A future fantasy series
concerning a female bard is in the works; look for Sing the Four Quarters soon, followed by Fifth Quarter, and No
Quarter (working titles) from DAW.