(Glen Cook was
in Toronto on April 10, 1994, to read from his latest "Garrett, P.I."
book and from Glittering
Stone, a work-in-progress. Afterwards
he gave SOL Rising a 30 minute
interview, the first part of which appeared in our last issue. Part II
MG: You also mentioned that you
had taken sometime off work to get some projects finished?
GC: No, work's taken time off
from me. The board of directors at General Motors, in
their infinite wisdom, have decided that a plant which was designed
to build subcompact cars and was actually designed to build luxury cars is
the best place in the world to build commercial vans. They're going to
close the place where they build commercial vans now and move their
production to our plant, which entails about a third of a billion dollars
of changes inside the plant in order to put new machinery in it. It's going
to take about fifteen months to take out all the old production stuff and
put in the new, and in the interim, I had just enough seniority so that I didn't
have to stay; so I get fifteen months off with partial pay while they do
that. It's entirely possible that I won't go back at all and then take an
early retirement. They're trying to get some of the top seniority people to
take early retirement and get out 'cause they have so many people on the
rolls. I'm not sure I know the economics of how it works, but it's to their
advantage to get some of their people to retire. Next week I'll be going to
a meeting to see how I could qualify—I've had twenty-nine years and
some months of service and, theoretically, you're eligible to retire at
thirty years, regardless of your age, although it's not a full retirement.
One of the things they were offering was full retirement at age fifty, and
I failed qualifying for that by nine days.
MG: No fair!
GC: Yeah. I kind of whined and
looked at that, "Oh, man, cut-off date was the first of July and my
birth date was the ninth!" Whimper, whimper, whimper.
I know a guy, last time they offered it, about five years ago, who missed it by about twelve hours. He was born just a
couple of hours after of the day of the cut-off. He
whimpered a lot, too.
MG: That would give you some
benefits that would allow you to look after writing in a bigger way.
GC: Yeah! The principal reason
that I have stayed working for General Motors is for the benefits package, the
health benefits and what-not that you get. The whole package includes
dental, birth, eye care, and, I believe, legal representation for some
things. That all covers part of the benefits package that you don't have as
a self-employed individual. It costs so much for an individual to get them,
I just can't make that much money writing. I didn't want to go out where
I'm at now; I probably would have quit if I thought I could have my family
covered. I didn't, so I stayed working. And I will continue to work as long
as I need to. Here I am, sneaking up on fifty years old, and I have a kid
just starting kindergarten next year. That's another consideration.
MG: Kids can go through a lot of
GC: I've been real lucky on
teeth so far. And school costs! Mine are going to Catholic schools. The
public school system where I live is really bad and they got teachers that
can't spell their own names, never mind the kids'!
MG: You also mentioned that the
"Dread Empire" series has possible novels but that they might not
see the light of day.
GC: There's a lot of stuff. I've
got whole file drawers full of short fiction from that setting. The first
thing I set out to do when I started writing was to create and write in
that world. There's lots of stuff that's never been published and probably
never will see publication simply because there doesn't seem to be any
market for it. There are individuals who are very much interested in it and
like it, but it takes a lot of individuals to make something commercially
MG: Unlike your
"Garrett" or your "Black Company" series.
GC: Yeah, those have both been
very successful commercially. The "Garretts"
don't have a fanatic fan following, but they sell well. They sell better
than anything else. "Black Company," there's
always people bugging me... [Laughs] There's a very strong feeling
there, I'm not sure what the difference is or why, but a lot of people get
attached to individual characters ....
MG: I admit to being interested
in the character Croaker. Is he going to be around in the next two books?
GC: He'll be around, I guess.
When Shadow Game came out and he
apparently died right at the end, boy, I got some flak! [Laughs]
MG: I was devastated!
GC: I got some real flak. When I
was writing the book called All
Darkness Met, Ihad a girl
who was typing for me. She was fifteen, the daughter of a friend. She was
typing the manuscript and she called up at in the morning. And the phone
was ringing—ring! ring! ring!
ring!—"Um, what d'yaya want?" "You son of a bitch! You
killed—" "What? Who is this?" She was really put out
that I had killed this one character. Called me up at a ridiculous hour to
let me know in no uncertain terms that it ought not to be that way; that
was her favourite character.
MG: There are a few of your
characters that are dead and then they aren't dead, it turns out.
GC: With the "Dread
Empire" books, characters can come back in the sense that, as the
books go along, you keep seeing certain events from different viewpoints.
You might follow two or three characters in an incident here and the story
goes on, but later on in another book, there'll be characters over there
and they see the same things from a whole different viewpoint. That's
really partly what those books are about, important incidents interpreted
completely differently by different people around them. Even the importance
of a particular incident is interpreted differently. There's one time where—I
don't recall what book it occurs in—there's an assassination of a
prince, a whole bunch of people were out to get him. And it just happened,
coincidentally, that all of them went after him about the same time. He
ends up getting killed, and as things work out later, the characters in
these various groups of people all think they did him in. Their whole
direction is predicated upon the fact that they believe they were
responsible for the death of this particular person. And it may or may not be
true, but you keep seeing the same assassination during the course of the
various books from different viewpoints, seeing different people who were
involved in some plot against the particular character. I had fun with
those books... I have lots more to do to work it all out.
MG: Are you likely to do it,
though, unless you have a publisher?
GC: No... I used to write
entirely just for my own pleasure, and I still do, to an extent. I don't
write stuff, for the most part, just because somebody wants me to write it.
I write stuff that I enjoy but, if I could take my pick of three different
projects to work on, I'm going to write the one that I enjoy that's going
to make me a few dollars, too. [Laughs] Every time I have a good run,
something happens, I sell books. I did a convention in Boston a few weeks
ago that turned out to be very lucrative, very successful commercially, and
I got home and the very next day when I went in to wash my dirty clothes
from this trip, the washer died, it just blew out, smoke pouring out of it,
stuff like that. It had to be replaced. By the time I got home from going
out and ordering one of those, one of my kids was home from school and came
running down the stairs to me; "Dad, there's something wrong with the
television; come and look!" Sure enough, it would show only red. It
wasn't showing anything after about half an hour. I talked to various
friends and they said it was a cheap TV, it would
be cheaper just to go out and buy a new one than to have someone work on
this one and fix it. The picture tube was gone. It would cost eighty bucks
or something like that for a picture tube and to have it put in, if they
could find one, 'cause for these off-brand Korean TVs, you got to find the
right tubes that'll fit them. I ended up going out and buying another TV,
and by the time I was done with the various things there, the profits were
all gone from that wonderful weekend. I just expect these things... I had a
real good weekend last week in Minnesota and came home and spent 200dollars on the car.
MG: Is this a pattern?
GC: Well, I'm not making a bunch
of money from this one, so maybe there won't be anything waiting for me. I
certainly hope not... Well, that's life. I take the Garrett approach and
expect the worst and I'm pleasantly surprised.
MG: Is there anything you always
wanted to write but haven't yet gotten around to it?
GC: Not really... One book I
started in 1973 or '74,
that I never really abandoned. It seems to get shot down by current
events... frequently. It's supposed to be set in the late twenty-first
century, but technological advances keep going faster than what's going on
in it. [Laughs] When I first started writing it, I had about maybe a
quarter of it done, and one of its basic themes, other than the things it
was being written around, was that the guy who was head of basically the
ministry of information, whatever propaganda people were in it—they,
of course, didn't call themselves that—the men who put out the news—had
a daughter who got kidnapped by some kind of screwball revolutionary. As it
happened, at the point I had gotten to, Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by
the lunatic Symbionese Liberation Army people in California; and that just shot the guts
of the thing for me for a long time. Picked it back up and something else
happened, and by the time, about 1981 or 1982, I was looking at it again, a lot of the communications
technology I was making up was already real. It had gone from being just
boy-would-this-be-neat-to-have to being at least will-be-on-line-down-the-line-before-too-long.
I'd have to go back through it; a lot of the stuff, relationships and
things like that, can still be imagined... but I don't know if I'll ever be
content with it. It was an experimental sort of thing for me. I write these
adventurous things and this was not an adventure novel. It was just a
really dark future. Sort of like lots of news clips, and little flashes of
life and what-not. And you see somebody working at this job and somebody
doing this... For a few pages there would be just part of a page of a
newspaper. And you get things that are going on in various places in the
world. Just trying to create a map of the future that I wouldn't want to
MG: Except that life kept making
GC: Every writer's seen that,
everybody in science fiction thinks something up he believes is real
original and here it's been done a hundred times... There's an early story,
a fairly long one... I sent it to my agent and he sold it right away but he
wrote back and said "You realize that this is the same story as Shane." And I said,
"Huh?" Now, I saw the movie Shane
when it first came out, when I was a little kid, and I had never seen
it since... And, as luck would have it, Shane
was on that weekend on one of the channels late at night, and I stayed
up and watched it... And it was almost the same story! So I wrote back and
I said, "Boy, if you're going to have trouble with plagiarism or
something, let's not sell this!" And he said, "No; it's too good
a story! It's not a direct one-for-one plagiarism or anything; it's just
basically the same idea." He said it's an honoured
story tradition that goes back to Homer, so why not? Let's do it... It's
powerful when you get a story that great. Things like that happen all the
MG: It's a short story?
GC: Actually, it's a short
novel, about twenty thousand words, which is not much for a book. It was in
MG: An anthology?
GC: I bet I can find it right
here. [As we happened to be sitting
in the anthology section of the collection, Glen turned to the shelves of
books behind him and found a 'proof' copy of the volume! To his surprise.] Ihave it in paperback. Most of my
books I don't have the proofs of. They don't send them to the authors...
They only do about six to a dozen of those and send them around to people
that they have reason to hope will actually read it and make some
MG: Is there anything you've
always wanted to say to your readers directly that you've never had a
chance to, always wanted to tell them about Glen Cook?
GC: I can't think of anything.
[Laughs] I'm always puzzled that there's any interest at all. I'm boggled
by it. Never really thought of it as doing anything special... I'm putting
on weight now. On the other hand, sometimes I do see people getting made a
fuss over, and I think there's no excuse in the world for that particular
person when I'm so much better, or something like that. Mostly I don't see
that I do anything that's that special that there should be any fussing
MG: Well, you do have quite a few
readers that appreciate your work, Glen. That shouldn't be a big surprise.
GC: [Laughs] More and more, it
seems like it. That's nice. That's good for the ego, I guess, to know that,
even if they're not in my own neighbourhood or
something... I wrote for about fifteen years before anybody in the local
area, newspaper writers, ever noticed. Every year they'd have a thing in
the Post Dispatch, there'd be a
special section on local writers, and they'd have like fifteen romance
writers and our local, big name mystery writer, and someone who writes very
humorous columns on every day life and a few other writers, and I'd like to
write 'em a nasty letter saying "Why don't
you ever mention Glen Cook?" Finally, they did. Now the last few
years, occasionally there's something in the local papers here and there,
by somebody desperate for a story! [Laughs] He comes out and walks around
the house, going "Ooh, have you read all these books?"
MG: You've got quite a
collection, I hear.
GC: Yeah, I've got about thirty
thousand paperbacks. I've got virtually all the digest science magazines
ever published in the United States and Canada. And a lot of the old pulps.
I've been doing that, collecting, since the 'sixties...
MG: You could open your own library!
GC: Yeah, I probably could. There's collections around that are better than mine. In
Memphis, Tennessee, there's a guy, Doc Richardson—who's got to be 120
years old, 'cause he retired from two different jobs. He was a preacher for
twenty years or something like that, then he retired from that and did
something else for 23 years, but anyway, he collects not only one of
everything, but one of every edition of everything. He's got shelves and
shelves and shelves full of multiple editions of Heinlein and what-not...
well over two hundred thousand books, I gather, though I've never seen the
collection myself. Just incredible mounds of stuff.
MG: In your own collection, do
you have favourites? Someone who maybe inspired
you or meant a lot to you?
GC: Oh, I have particular
authors I like, but strong influences, I thought were great at one time,
like Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Tolkien, of course... let me look around...
MG: That's cheating!
GC: [Laughs] Guys I don't like:
Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov... I find Asimov tedious, boring, transparent and various other things. Bradbury's just
too artsy for me. Couple of his stories are okay,
but overall, the body of his work is not appealing to me. Just a matter of
MG: What about in the fantasy area?
GC: Well, Leiber
and Vance... in fact, mostly the fantasy is what I like. Leiber's "Fafhrd and The
Gray Mouser" stuff and Jack Vance's Dying Earth book. I still reread Dying Earth every once in a while, and
that's his first thing published, that first came out in 1949...
(So ended Mici Gold's interview with Glen Cook last year. In the
next issue we will have an interview, also by Mici
Gold, with Toronto-area writer Marian Hughes who has just published her
first novel, Initiation.)
I don't think the last ten months as Chair of the
Executive of The Friends of the Merril Collection could have contained more
action and adventure... even if it had been written as a science fiction
story. The last year has been a period of tremendous activity, made much
more enjoyable by the efforts and support of the Library staff and Friends.
There is a lot to talk about, but the following are my
views of last year's highlights:
1.The first annual Worldcon meeting of The Friends of the Merril
Collection—showcasing the work of The Friends to the national and the
international science fiction communities.
2.An active and dedicated
Executive. Doris Bercarich, Mici
Gold, Kathryn Grimbly-Bethke, Peter Halasz, Larry Hancock, Don Hutchison, Do-Ming Lum, John Millard David Nickle,
Jean-Louis Trudel , and Theresa Wojtasiewicz... Some of these names you may know, some
may be new. The Friends and the Collection are very fortunate to have their
help and dedication.
3.Discovering what a Friend is.
The TPL Board recently made a number of recommendations regarding issues
with some wide-ranging implications—from possible user fees, the need
for fund-raising by The Friends, and the future roles of The Friends. The
Executive has been working on behalf of all of The Friends to ensure that
we continue to serve as a community advisory group and promote the
appreciation of The Merril as a world treasure of fantastic and speculative
writing. We are continuing to work with the Board regarding the role of The
Friends and the future of The Merril. Our primary goals are still to
promote the Collection—and all of fantasy and science fiction—to
the community, and to work to protect and celebrate the Collection in its
present and future homes.
4.A new role for The Merril
Collection in Toronto. Most of us are aware that
this most special of special collections will be housed in a new building
by next fall. But soon The Merril will work beyond its walls. As of January 1, 1995, a pilot project begins where the staff of The Merril
will select science fiction and fantasy works for many Toronto Public
Library branches. This new practice has enormous implications for The
Merril, building on the expertise and resources of the Collection, and
giving it an active and important role in the whole community.
5.Meeting new challenges. Our programme of author readings and receptions continues
and we are pleased with the results. Theresa advises me that membership of
The Friends is rising steadily. But there are those new challenges; owing
to budget cuts, TPL no longer funds SOL Rising—our main organ of
communication. The Executive is currently preparing a new, self-sufficient
We must also respond to economic realities and develop
programmes that will both promote and raise funds
for the future well-being of The Merril Collection. Right now we are
working in several areas—promotional products, film series, literacy
kits, and even an SF walking tour of Toronto. Any and all suggestions and
support from The Friends are welcome.
If you'll forgive the narrative
analogy one more time, the story is continuing... you know some of the cast
of characters (one that includes you!)... and
we're hoping for a happy resolution... with your help...
Preparing to move The Merril Collection to the new
building at 239 College has been the main goal for staff in the past year. TPL's Implementation Team is responsible for seeing
that the new building is furnished and set up appropriately, as well as
recommending to the TPL Board a time to close the old building and open the
new building. (A notice will be sent out as soon as the Board determines
these dates.) A citizen's advisory committee provides public input.
As the new building at the corner of 239 College rose,
staff got together to discuss the services that would be offered in the new
building and the layout and design necessary to support these services.
Carpet, colour of paint and decorative flourishes
are added to make a whole building.
Other projects include the science fiction exhibition
co-sponsored by The National Library of Canada and The Merril Collection.
The exhibition opens on May 12 in Ottawa. It is timed to coincide with
Can-Con, an annual convention celebrating Canadian science fiction and
fantasy. It will be available on World Wide Web for people who don't care
Other than these two projects, staff worked as usual,
assisting patrons, acquiring materials and making them available to the
In selection, every year staff target one area of the
collection for development. This past year we tried to develop the pulp
The Merril Collection started with a good pulp
collection from Judith's initial donation, but replacing missing and
damaged issues is a necessary step in collection development. It is in the
nature of this kind of material that it becomes rarer and more expensive to
purchase every year. Accordingly, we are trying to complete the runs of
pulps while they are still cheap, relatively speaking.
Pulps are popular and frequently requested by patrons.
Some patrons are reading the pulps as a form of nostalgia, others have only
recently discovered them and are fascinated by the exuberance the magazines
display, still others are using them as research
materials. In 1994, the pulp, The
Shadow, was popularized by a movie of the same name and patrons
immediately appeared, asking to see original issues of The Shadow magazine.
In books, the most popular themes in science fiction
and fantasy change from time to time for no apparent rhyme or reason. In
1994 vampires were extremely popular, to the point where the staff
complained bitterly. In 1993 a lot of science fiction revolved around
memory and what happened if you lost it, acquired someone else's or
remembered a previous life. Now memory isn't a concern anymore, but it
appears from the forthcoming publication lists that ghosts are back,
popular for the first time in several decades.
Work continues on the National Library of Canada's
exhibition on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, with new developments
The exhibition co-curators Hugh Spencer and Allan
Weiss have worked with the staff and collections of the National Library
and the TPL's Merril Collection (partners in the
project) and honed a long list of books, comics, magazines, fanzines,
manuscripts, television and radio memorabilia into
the two hundred items which will form the nucleus of the exhibition.
Additional artworks, artifacts and audio-visual elements are under
development. The exhibition title has now been confirmed as "OUT OF THIS WORLD" ‑
"VISIONS D'AUTRES MONDES" in French.
The exhibition will start with a brief world history
of fantastic literature followed by seven main themes: Identity Variations;
Fantastic Voyages; Strange Worlds & Strange Peoples; Quebec Fantasy and
Science Fiction; The Genre Variations; The Media Variations; and Who Reads
This Stuff? The Publishers of ...and Audience for ...Fantastic Fiction.
The opening date of the exhibition has also been
confirmed, and will take place early on the evening of May 12,1995, at the National Library of
Canada. Can-Con will be a collaborator for the events of the opening
evening, which lead into Can-Con's full slate of weekend activities,
including an academic conference; the Canvention
and Boréal national conventions; workshops,
seminars, readings, panels and entertainment; and presentation of the Boréal and the Aurora awards on May 14th [Tel: (613) 596-4105
The exhibition opening will also be the launching pad
for a new anthology of essays on Canadian science fiction and fantasy. The
books, produced in English and in French, will be co-published by the
National Library of Canada and a private sector publisher. Essays have been
submitted from across Canada, from France and from England. Contributions are from your favouritesf&f authors,
broadcasters, historians, scholars and teachers, and include sketches by
Heather Spears and a graphic story collaboration
by Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas. Retail
price of the anthology will be announced at a later date.
The National Library will also launch a reading list
based on the bibliography and the media resources list prepared for the
Another step forward—the exhibition is currently
being formatted for distribution on World Wide Web. Following the outline
of the exhibition themes, and using the covers of the books in the
exhibition as the points of reference, the medium will allow us to include
sound and a rich cross-referencing of information on authors, their books
and other threads of the exhibition.
The National Library's annual "Read up on
it" program, which promotes the reading of Canadian children's books
and is distributed in schools across Canada, will feature ansf&f theme in 1995,
including lists of suggested reading for children and young people in both
English and French.
To underscore the importance of the sf&f genres, an education program for grades 1-9 is
being developed. May and June will be scheduled for groups from outside Ottawa. The activity will include a
tour of the exhibition and an interactive game that "will transport
students into the sphere of Canadian science fiction and fantasy."
A smaller "spin-off" exhibit will be planned
for the opening of the new Merril Collection facility in the fall of 1995.
The last element of the exhibition will be a reading
corner, where visitors can sit down and leaf through some of what they have
seen in the exhibition, some of what was not in the exhibition, and expand
their horizons by discovering new authors, new titles, or re-discovering
their old favourites. Contributions for the
reading table will be happily received at the address below. Items sent
will not, however, be returned.
For a brochure on the exhibition or a copy of the
National Library News featuring an outline of the exhibition themes and
background information, contact the National Library of Canada, Marketing
and Publishing, 395 Wellington Street, OttawaON, KIA ON4. For general
information on the exhibition or the education program, contact the same
address c/o Andrea Paradis, Telephone: (613) 992-3052/Fax:
(613) 943-2343, or via Internet: Andrea.Paradis@nlc-bnc.ca.
Star Trek Toronto Inc. is a non-profit corporation centred in Metropolitan Toronto. The club is comprised
of approximately one hundred Star
Trek fans living throughout Canada and the United States who conduct their monthly
general meetings in the Canadiana room at The
Star Trek Toronto's primary objectives are to
encourage an interest in Star Trek,
science fiction, fact, fantasy and related interests/activities and to
provide a common meeting place for persons interested in the aforementioned
activities. Star Trek Toronto also assists Toronto Media
Fan Club Conventions Inc. with the operation of its annual Star Trek
convention, Toronto Trek.
August 1995 will mark the ninth anniversary year of
Toronto Trek. Guests scheduled to appear at Toronto Trek IX will include
Mira Furlan (Ambassador Delenn
of "Babylon 5"), Grace Lee Whitney
(Yeoman Janice Rand) and Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Nurse Christine Chapel/LwaxanaTroi) from "Star
Trek," and science fiction writer Timothy Zahn
(author of the Star Wars trilogy comprised of Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command).
Star Trek Toronto meets on Saturday afternoons
from to General meetings frequently
feature guest speakers on such diverse topics as fanzines, the environment,
and space camp. Some guest speakers featured at past Star Trek Toronto
meetings have included Lorna Toolis (Head of the
Merril Collection), Star Trek writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
(authors of Memory Prime, Prime
Directive, and Federation), Richard
Chaves (who portrayed Lieutenant Colonel Iron Horse on "War Of The
Worlds"), science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer (author of Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter,
Foreigner, and End of an Era), and
media personality David Onley of CITY-TV (author
of the science fiction novel Shuttle).
Practical scientific demonstrations have been given by
some speakers such as Julius Grodzki of Toronto's
Defence and Civil Institute Of Environmental
Medicine who combined a virtual reality viewer with a practical application
to contemporary robotics research being conducted at the institute, and
Wolfgang Reichmann of Genetron Systems Inc. who
constructed a self-contained ecosystem for club members illustrating how
various compatible life-forms can co-habit in a common environmental
A raffle of Star
Trek and related SF merchandise is also a featured event at each
meeting. Trek Talk gossip sessions comprise the balance of the meeting.
Annual social functions include a July barbecue/picnic at Toronto's CentreIsland, a Hallowe'en
costume party, and a Christmas party.
The club corresponds with and/or meets with other Star
Trek clubs through-out Canada and the United States whose members visit Toronto. Groups of Star Trek Toronto
members attend other Star Trek
and science fiction conventions held within commuting distance of Toronto.
Star Trek Toronto publishes a newsletter, The Trekletter,
sixtimes a year, on a
bimonthly schedule. This newsletter contains letters and articles on club
activities, as well as information on what's happening in the local Star
Trek and science fiction communities in general. Star Trek Toronto has also produced two volumes
of a fanzine, Continuing Voyages,
which contains short stories, poems, and artwork created by club writers
Club members also receive a ten per cent discount on
purchases made at Bakka Books, but must present a
valid club identification card to qualify for this benefit. Individual
memberships in the club cost $20.00 annually. There are special rates for
family memberships and out-of-town members who cannot attend monthly
meetings. For further information about Star Trek Toronto and current club
activities, contact President Martin Miller at (416) 699-0479.
(This is the
first of three articles about the organized groups who use The Merril
Collection facilities regularly.)
There is a new national organization for those
interested in speculative fiction and related arts which has undertaken the
challenge of "enriching the community through the promotion of
The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Foundation /
de la science-fiction et dufantastique
is a national, non-profit organization of individuals and groups aiming to
give this vision form by:
the growth of Canadian imaginative works;
the accessibility of imaginative works in Canada;
support, education, liaison, resources and communication across Canada and internationally;
First introduced at Worldcon
in Winnipeg this past fall, the Foundation came about as a
reaction to some of the challenges facing The Merril Collection. Increased
strain due to the poor state of the Canadian economy on both financial and
human resources had put this fantastic collection at risk of reduced
access, growth and utilization.
Although The Friends of the Merril Collection have
been working diligently in concert with the Toronto Public Library Board to
forestall these possibilities, a group of concerned supporters felt that it
was time to pool the resources of our widespread and faithful sf&f community across Canada to create a safety net
against similar occurrences in the future.
At Worldcon, we were
heartened by the support we did receive, not just from Canadians, but from
others abroad. Obviously, the Merril's reputation
as an exceptional resource makes it an easy cause to back. Currently, we
have almost fifty members, from B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Québec, the United States and England. We are especially grateful
to Rob Meades and The Friends of the Science
Fiction Foundation (England) for their generous financial
and moral support. For those of you who may not know of it, the Science
Fiction Foundation (England) was created in 1970 with the
aim of "promoting a discriminating understanding of the nature of
science fiction; of disseminating information about science fiction; of
providing research facilities for anyone wishing to study science fiction;
and of investigating the usefulness of science fiction in education."
The Foundation has its own collection, "the largest SF collection attached
to an institution of higher education outside North America," and the collection,
under its head Andy Sawyer, is housed at the University of Liverpool.
Aside from just this one issue, however, a national
foundation could accomplish other goals that would be of benefit. In
October, the founding committee circulated a vision questionnaire and
interviewed a number of contributors and fans in the field in order to
amass as much information as possible before hammering out a mission
statement and draft objectives at an all-day planning meeting. The response
was supportive of our initial starting position, and from the ideas and
comments we received Foundation volunteers have been working on the
establishment of specific goals and objectives for the organization. Long term
plans will certainly cover such issues as fund-raising (the Foundation will
be applying for charitable status); the preservation and growth of the
Merril Collection; encouraging the translation of Canadian works into
English from French and vice versa; establishing a communications network
for the sf&f community; and providing support
for researchers, new authors and artists. Also of importance will be the
introduction of young readers and "reluctant readers" (those who
currently do little or no reading at all) to works of Canadian imaginative
Of course, these plans are ambitious, and of course,
the Foundation does not expect to accomplish all these objectives
immediately. Short-term, we will have to concentrate on building a solid
membership base, establishing the communications network and providing
support for already existing resources, such as the Merril.
The Foundation will be holding its first official
annual general meeting and elections this spring. At the moment, Candas Jane Dorsey (Chair), Kathryn Grimbly-Bethke
(Executive Director), Peter Halasz, David Nickle, Robert Runte and ÉlisabethVonarburg have been
acting as interim directors, with lots of help from many enthusiastic
volunteers working on various committees.
In preparation for this general meeting, we will be
circulating complete details about our mission statement, by-laws, goals
and objectives and plans for the immediate future. We want to have as much
input as possible, from as many sources as possible, so that the Foundation
remains truly national in character and action.
We are encouraging interested parties to write to the
address listed below to be added to our mailing list. At the moment, we
have no formal membership fee and will send limited information at no
charge. However, we have been seeking (and receiving!) start-up funding.
Most members to date have given a minimum amount of $50, which will be
applied towards the first full year of membership, once the by-laws have
been passed. Any amount would be most appreciated and would help to offset
the costs of incorporation and mailings in this intensive start-up period.
The first Annual General Meeting of the Foundation
will take place at Can‑Con, May 12‑14, to elect the board of
directors and to vote on its mission statement and by‑laws. For more
information about the Foundation, please write to:
The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy
Ok, the next time you're at ansf convention, go to the slush panel. Usually,
it's called something like, "It Came From the Slush Pile!" and it
features editors reading selections from the unsolicited manuscripts that
have crossed their desks at one time or another. The readings are
stupendous, the perfect blend of stupidity and illiteracy, and the net
effect of having them read to you is a sort of wincing laughter, the guilty
pleasure that comes from knowing that you're laughing at some poor
schmuck's life-work coupled with the raw hideousness of it all.
I've been to a bunch of these. I stopped going. I
figured that the editors were picking out only the worst of the lot, and
that seemed somehow mean spirited. It was like a story in which the author
chooses only to illuminate the awful and the petty, painting the world as a
place populated by thugs and bastards.
But last week, I found myself in New York City with a day to kill, before
the annual Science Fiction Writers of America editor-author reception. I found
myself in New York City, in midtown Manhattan, in the offices of a major
genre publisher. They put me to work.
When a hopeful author mails a manuscript to a
publisher, chances are, she addresses it to the Senior Editor or the
Publisher of the company. Presumably, the editor or publisher will read the
manuscript, carefully consider it, and either buy it or send it back with a
damn good reason why not.
Nothing could be further from
the truth. When slush comes in, someone, usually one of the near-minimum-wage
folks in the bullpen or a doin'-it-for-free
intern, opens the envelope, makes a note of the name of the author, the
title of the work, and the date, and then rubberbands
the whole mess together and throws it onto a pile, where it languishes
until someone has nothing better to do than to have a look at it.
This takes a while. Publishers are chronically
understaffed and overbusy. I get the impression
that slush is read only when it grows so massy that it threatens to rip the
slush-shelves free of their brackets. Paper is heavy.
But since the reception was that night, and since a
bunch of writers had dropped in for the day, we all ended up with piles of
manuscripts on our laps, a stack of form-rejections in the centre of the
room, the lot of us overcrowding the bullpen.
The instructions were simple. Read as much of the
manuscript as you needed to determine whether it was written by someone who
had the faintest idea what he was doing, and once you discovered that he
didn't, stick a form rejection into the self-addressed, stamped envelope
that is supposed to accompany each submission and drop it in the big box
that the mailroom guys would cart away at the end of the day.
It's telling that the editor who briefed me didn't
bother to say what I should do if I found anything good. I asked, and he
laughed hollowly and said, "Make a pile."
The publishing house that I was at receives about
twenty manuscripts per day, six days a week, year round. In six hours, I
cleared some 150 manuscripts. I could have cleared more, but some part of
me insisted that I read the first page or two before rejecting someone's
novel. The more experienced hands sometimes bounced a manuscript on the
Never again will I complain that editors don't give
manuscripts a fair chance before rejecting them. Everyone has one book in
them, and in most cases, it should stay there. What I'm trying to say is, most people write tripe.
Look, I got into writing because I liked to read, but
so much of what I found between the covers was abysmal; "I could write
better than this!" I thought. Time will tell whether I was right, but
I'm dead sure that nearly none of the people I found in the slushpile that day will ever write as well as even the
worst crap on the bestseller list.
How bad was it? You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
There were about ten real, totally outreslabs of
ten pound bond with cover letters that threatened death or promised
millions if the editor had the thick-headedness to reject it or the far-seeing
bravery to buy it. There were manuscripts tied up in pink ribbons;
manuscripts that the author had printed and bound in hardcover, complete
with dustjacket, press kit and poster;
manuscripts typed on both sides of onionskin paper with a fading ribbon;
manuscripts printed out in teeny-weeny Eyestrain-O-Rama™,
and manuscripts that used enough typefaces to do any ransom note proud.
There was not a
single manuscript that followed the publisher's standard format guidelines.
guidelines are freely available, and apply to virtually every publisher in
the world. They're widely reprinted in how-to books, trade journals, and
documents circulated on the 'net.
This may sound picky. What bearing does the format
have on the quality of the novel? In theory, very little. In practice,
Over the course of six hours, I noticed a distinct
correlation between the degree to which the presentation approached
professional standards and the degree to which the content approximated
English. I wasn't alone in this. As editors passed in and out of the
bullpen, nodding sagely at us writers, who would break the monotony by
reading particularly dumb passages aloud, I asked one if any of the weird
manuscripts on purple paper with silver ink, bound in red leather and
accompanied by a box of Godiva chocolates had
ever proved to be publishable. "Of course not," he said.
"Then why bother with them at all?" "We need the
Being fresh and unjaded, I
actually read large chunks of these manuscripts before sending them to the
recycling bin. The writing fell into a few loose categories:
Many manuscripts were written by people who apparently
didn't speak any human language. They had seemingly thrown random words
onto several hundred pages and then put the resulting mess in the mail. A
few spelling errors, typos and punctuation problems are understandable.
Misspelling the title of your novel isn't.
Biblio the Bobbit
lives his happy, roly-poly life out, but is disrupted when his old friend, Glandulph the Wizard drops in to sweep him away on an
exciting quest! (This manuscript didn't actually show up. We did, however,
get one called Meet Bucky Gump, Forrest Gump's Cousin.)
It's important to have something actually happen
fairly early on in the manuscript. When your character is still in bed,
contemplating his hangover and thinking about the day to come on page ten,
you've got a problem. This was easily the most common inanity in the slush.
"The rock whizzed over John's head and he turned
and played his flamethrower over the massed aliens; they crisped up nicely
but his grim labour was interrupted when the UFO
swept out of the sky and aimed its laser cannons at him! He dodged but fell
down the tunnel of the dragon! John pocketed his flamethrower, knowing the
dragon's legendary resistance to jellied gasoline and whipped out his
sword! Etc! Etc!"
"In the lush central valley of the enchanted,
ancient kingdom of Buttheadia, whose praises are
sung from one comer of the world called Wankeranda
by its denizens, be they human, elvish, dwarfish,
sylph-like or semi-hemi-demi-ogre-tastic, there
lived, humble and alone, a small child, possessed of skin the colour of a saucer of cream licked by the pink tongue
of a silver, majestic unicorn; of eyes the green of a pine in the brightest
moment of winter on the continent of Thehelliwillia,
of features of the surpassing delicacy of the most fragile strand of spider-silk
that rests at the heart of its web; yes, there she dwelt, and she was feelin' blue."
Picture the oldest typewriter ribbon imaginable. Now
age it by ten more years while submerging it in bleach. Type 400 pages with
it. Send it to a publisher.
It's no joke that you can usually tell within a few
sentences whether anyone, anywhere, would ever pay any money to read the
manuscript you hold in your hands.
It's hard to understand why a publisher would even bother.
In a good year, one or two manuscripts will climb out of the slushpile and into print.
But those one or two manuscripts will be killers. An agented submission by a known writer will get a
thorough reading, even if it is substandard. The author has a track record, the editor has good reason to believe that the
book will be OK. On the other hand, J. Random Bozo with his novel in the slushpile can't afford any mistakes, because there is
no forgiveness for him.
Thus, the writers who climb out of the slush are
damned hot. Just this year,
Wilhelmina Baird's acclaimed novel Crashcoursemade
It would've been nice to find its equal on my day on
slush-duty, but it just wasn't in the cards. More's
But I gotta
say, I like the competition.
(Cory Doctorow is a Toronto-based science fiction writer and