Number 13, May 1995
The View From A Chair
News From The Merril
Meetings at the Merril: Space-Time Continuum
Out of This World: Curator’s Report
Interview with Sean Stewart: Part I
Interview with Marian Hughes
to SOL Rising page
of the early Spaced Out Library talk about using the Library, they always
mention reading science fiction and fantasy under the chestnut tree in the
yard of the Palmerston branch. Nostalgia for the
chestnut tree survived the move in February, 1975, when the Library moved
from Palmerston Avenue to the second floor of Boys
and Girls House, 40 St. George Street.
In January, 1991, the Spaced Out Library was renamed
the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. After a
lengthy selection process, the site at 239 College St. was chosen as the new home
for the Special Collections, and construction commenced.
Now the Merril Collection is moving into its brand new
home: the newly named Lillian H. Smith Branch at 239 College Street. The Merril Collection will
be on the third floor of the new branch. Patrons who still miss the
chestnut tree will enjoy the bronze griffins, one on either side of the
front door. The griffins lend a wonderful air of fantasy to the new building.
From its beginning as the Spaced Out Library on Palmerston Avenue, with its initial collection
of 5,000 books donated by Judith Merril, the Merril Collection has grown to
become the largest collection of speculative fiction in Canada and one of the largest in the
world. Now numbering over 50,000 items, the Merril Collection has been the
source of reference material for many high‑profile projects such as
the National Library exhibit of Canadian Science Fiction "Out of This
World," Carl Sagan's Mars Project fiction
collection, TVO's Prisoners of Gravity, and productions by Atlantis Films.
to top Home
The View From A
by Hugh Spencer
Future... Serving the Future
At the last Annual General Meeting, Larry Hancock best
summarized 1995 for the Executive Committee of the Friends.
He said that the period of April '94 to April '95 was
a period of unprecedented activity for the Friends. Larry was probably
I may be right when I predict that the period of April
'95 to April '96 will be even busier.
It was very exciting on May 12, when the Merril
Collection was featured as the co-sponsor of "Out of This World,"
the exhibition on Canadian Science Fiction at the National Library—and
where the Friends were able to launch their first promotional product. If
you find yourself in Ottawa over the next nine months, I
urge you to visit the National Library and purchase one of the Merril
Collection tote bags.
It will be very exciting when the Merril Collection re‑opens
in its new home at 239 College Street and the Friends hold the SF
party of the decade. The opening event will be a one-of-a-kind evening, a
true celebration of the imagination in our community, and incredibly fun!
Part of the reason for all of this activity is to
raise money. And why do the Friends have to raise funds? To promote the
Merril Collection... but also to serve.
Here's one example of a project we would like to
undertake: SF Literacy Kits for young people. The kits would consist of an
appropriately designed carrier about the size of a very durable suitcase.
The carrier would be filled with donated books, magazines, illustrations,
videotapes, CDs and audio tapes—all samples of the best SF and
imaginative expression. The Friends of the Merril would rent these kits out
to schools, service groups, and even hostels for at‑risk youth. These
kits could introduce the Merril and the world of the imagination to new
generations of fans and writers, they could encourage people to pursue
reading in their leisure time; they might give troubled runaways a few
hours of fun and safety as they try to work out the rest of their lives.
Since the Friends are asking the public to give to
something we care about, it is only fair that we give something back to the
public. Not only are we asking the public to help preserve the future of
the Merril Collection, we need to demonstrate how the Merril Collection can
be a unique and valued part of the future of our community.
to top Home
by Lorna Toolis
It's a sesame street world. Today is brought to you by
the letter ‘O’, as in overdue. Ahem. Really, this column should
have been called The Dust of The
Ages. In preparation for the move to the Lillian H. Smith Building at 239 College, the staff of
the Merril Collection have been inventorying and packing our 58,000+ items.
Think of it as if you were moving, times ten.
This work is being done by Mary, who has repetitive
strain injury in her right arm and therefore shouldn't use it; Annette, who
is pregnant; Lorna, who has damaged her left hip and can't lift anything heavy, nor can she walk
very much. Also Giles, just back from Montreal with his M.L.S. Giles gets to
lift a lot of heavy boxes, as does Hutch, on loan from another department.
Sara, meanwhile, frantically shelf‑reads and corrects errors. (Since
none of us could have made these errors, obviously the fairies at the foot
of the garden snuck in and made them while we were gone overnight.)
A cartoonist might show us with casts on the various
bits of our anatomies, surrounded by a fine haze of dust, spores and
mycelia being disturbed for the first time in decades.
The inventory is important for insurance purposes and
it also allows staff to identify valuable books, which must be individually
Two of us sit by the aisles of books, calling off
information and packing furiously. Meanwhile, a third person is rapidly
wrapping rare books in acid-free tissue and bubble pack so as not to
interrupt the flow, and the fourth person is retrieving more materials to
be packed and inventoried from the back room.
The neat part is that, even after years spent working
for the Merril Collection, we are still finding fabulous books and other
curiosities that staff had no idea were in the holdings.
As Giles asked, "Do
we really have a book by Leonardo da Vinci?"
Lorna responded, "Check the
title page. Was it communicated through a spirit medium?"
Various problems arise throughout the course of the
day. Ace Doubles were kept separately in the back and are now being
integrated into the collection. Meanwhile, of course, the staff are calling
out to each other, "I need G-598
wrapped and over here right now!" Annette has been known to offer
to stay the night, just to get a jump on the wrapping. Unfortunately, the
alarm system does not distinguish between socially responsible movement and
the kind of movement which occurs when people show up with boxes, a truck
and shotguns to steal your books. (When I was somewhat younger, my mother spent
a lot of time trying to convince me that no one wanted to steal my books. I
have always known that she was wrong.)
We are all looking
forward to our new home with rare intensity. Air systems that work.
Windows. Griffins. Unpacking all these books. The opening celebration, a
party to end all parties. See you there.
to top Home
the Merril: Space-Time Continuum
Living Up to Our Name
by Aaron Alan Yorgason and Rebecca M. Senese
Long, long ago in a municipality far, far away, two
inmates of the London Minimum Security City escaped to the wilds of Toronto. While making such an escape
they had to sacrifice much, including membership in the world-renowned
club, Science Fiction London. Pining for fellow science fiction readers,
they decided to spread the word in Toronto, and, after foolishly
mentioning it aloud in the Spaced Out Library (later the Merril
Collection), were forced into action. Their names: Rebecca M. Senese and Walter Giesbrecht,
which would forever be spoken with a hush (or a rude gesture). And thus,
the Space-Time Continuum was born.
After five years, the Space-Time Continuum is alive
and well. Meeting monthly at the Merril Collection, the Space-Time
Continuum is a forum for discussion of science fiction novels, movies and
short fiction. Topics have been as diverse as Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the
Bomb to K.W. Jeter's Dr. Adder.
We have explored such themes as surrealism in J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World to vampirism in
Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend to the cyberpunk
sensibilities of William Gibson, and Neil Stephenson's Snowcrash. The latter book
included a debate on whether it was child pornography (think about it).
Some authors have been done to death, such as Orson Scott Card. Topics are
chosen and presented by the members, including biographical material about
the author, reviews and other semi-relevant material, including appearances
by the authors themselves, either in person or on audio tape. Having
managed 60 meetings so far, we have only begun to delve into the riches of
And most of those riches can be found at the Merril
Collection. Not only is it a wealth of fiction, it is a wealth of reference
material when you have to do the equivalent of a book report every month.
Not to mention the librarians who, after finding out you want material, are
only too happy to bury you under it and leave you to dig yourself out. The
Merril Collection also provides us with a physical meeting space over which
we've only quibbled with the Toronto Trek people once or twice. (No deaths
have resulted and we deny all charges.)
The Space-Time Continuum is not limited to discussions
of science fiction nor to meeting at the Merril
Collection. It has been known to take the show on the road. Numerous guest
appearances at Ad Astra, where we had to contend
with crying babies in the con suite during a dialogue on Blade Runner, resulted in getting a
real panel room with a lively discussion of the movie Brazil. The occasional pilgrimage to
London resulted in the viewing of
the play Flowers for Algernon,
and members of Science Fiction London have occasionally escaped to make
appearances at our Toronto meetings.
But we're not always serious. Recreational activities
include bowling (we've actually hit pins occasionally!), laser tag, outings
to movies (some good, others unspeakable), and the legendary Bookstore/Pub
Despite these harmless outlets, some members still
have a masochistic need to put themselves under tremendous pressure. One
such member is the creator and current editor of the club journal From Beyond the 0ört Cloud,
published four times a year and available by subscription. Highlights of
the journal have included an exclusive interview with Derek Grime, Computer
Effects Expert from TEKWAR, a
long (winded) exploration into the nature of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, the relevance of
"Thumbelina" in a feminist world, and a speculative version of Akira‑Disney style.
Heading into the future, the Space-Time Continuum is
looking forward to the Merril Collection's move and the new meeting
facilities. Current plans include a trek to Montreal next year to invade Concept,
even more exposure at the next Worldcon, and my
conquest of the planet as we know... (oh, sorry,
that's a personal goal).
Although we don't advertise much, feeling that too
many people spoil the chance for everyone to participate (this is the
closest we've come in several years), we believe in the idea that if people
find us they are meant to be here. So if, one day, you are wandering the
halls of the Merril Collection and bumble into a room filled with
bespectacled people yammering aimlessly and enthusiastically about life,
the universe and other conspiracies, don't be too
afraid to join in. We won't bite. Promise.
to top Home
Out of This World:
by Hugh Spencer
Q: What is the most common medium for
science fiction and fantasy in Canada?
My research for the exhibition on Canadian Science
Fiction and Fantasy, co‑sponsored by the National Library of Canada
and the Merril Collection, revealed almost 800 fantastic radio dramas and
commentaries dating from 1939 to 1994. Reviewing the holdings of CBC Radio
Archives, I discovered adaptations of famous and classic works such as Childhood's End, Brave New World, The
Trial, Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (also a classic Twilight Zone episode), Blood Music, and Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest" and The Dispossessed. Ray Bradbury has
the distinction of being the SF writer most often adapted for Canadian
I also discovered many original works by Canadian
writers such as Phyllis Gotlieb, John Douglas,
Carol Bolt, Tim Wynne‑Jones and Alf Silver. Two asides: 1) Many
thanks to Gail Donald, the Chief Radio Archivist who is a great admirer of
Phyllis Gotlieb and was a great resource to the
research project. 2) Alf Silver's works for the Vanishing Point series "The Man Who Thought That Ian Tyson
Was God" and "The Unknown Planet Tetrology"
are hilarious and should be as well‑known as another SF radio comedy series,
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Unknown Treasures of the
This legacy of invisible tales was a bit of a
surprise. The Radio Archives doesn't even have a subject heading for
fantasy or science fiction! Michael Skeet, a manager at CBC Radio, was
taking me through the Radio Drama department and happened to show me some programme logbooks from previous decades. I couldn't
believe it when I looked at 1954 and saw a radio play by Alan King titled
"Day of the Flying Saucer." Moving ahead to the 1960s I found a
series called Mystery Theatre with
adaptations of stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Arthur
C. Clarke. Moving into the 1970s, there was CBC Stage with Crawford Kilian's
adaptation of DeMille's seminal Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper
Cylinder and an adaptation of Olaf Stapledon's Star
Maker. Into the 1980s and 1990s, there were the technically and
dramatically sophisticated programmes Nightfall, Vanishing Point and Dark Waters.
Ultimately, almost 800 productions.
Why is radio such an important
medium for Canadian SF?
- Radio is accessible. We produce much more
radio than we publish books and magazines in this country.
Historically, radio has been a bigger market for writers.
- Radio is more affordable. Even the more advanced
series such as Vanishing Point and
Dark Waters have tiny
budgets compared to film or television productions.
- Radio is very imaginative. Sounds, music, and the
spoken word recruit the listener into the role of production designer
and special effects artist. Radio is often the perfect medium for
telling fantastic tales.
Displays of the
Why are so
few people aware of our amazing legacy?
Perhaps the same reasons that it was not easy to
include radio in the National Library exhibition. You can't see a radio drama. Radio leaves no
physical trace after the announcer has finished reading the closing
It's difficult to find Canadian SF radio at your local
bookstore or library. One of the few products is The Best of Vanishing Point, two boxed sets of the CBC series
distributed in the United States!
We did the best we could in the exhibition. We
displayed some scripts and publicity posters; we even put some actual
production tapes on display. Most importantly, there are audio kiosks with
excerpts from the best Canadian SF radio.
0n the Ether
Like most curators, I wanted to do more. The Merril
Collection holds a large filing cabinet full of old reel‑to‑reel
audio tapes. In the 1970s, Judith Merril worked as a correspondent for the
CBC radio documentary series Ideas. She
travelled the world, tape recorder in tow, making
unique records of science fiction writers, critics and futurologists. She
also has rare recordings of major cons from the 1970s, as well as
interviews with Alvin Toffler, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, J.G.
Ballard, Frederick Pohl, Samuel Delany and many
Some of these tapes have never been broadcast. The
interviews are thoughtful, funny and in‑depth, and the aging recordings
are badly in need of preservation. But that is another story and perhaps
Hugh Spencer is
co‑curator of "Out of This World," an exhibit on Canadian
Science Fiction co‑sponsored by The National Library of Canada and the Merril Collection. The exhibit runs from May
1995 to January 1996 at the National Library in Ottawa.
to top Home
Sean Stewart: Part I
By Allan Weiss
Last year, the Aurora Awards honouring Canadian
science fiction and fantasy were given out in Winnipeg at Conadian, the 1994 WorldCon. For the second straight year, Sean Stewart
won the award for best English‑language long form work, with his
Son. The novel challenges the
escapist nature of the fairy‑tale tradition, asking, "What
happens after 'happily ever
after'?" As Stewart himself points out, his win was a surprise given
the competition; however, the interview I conducted with him the day after the
awards ceremony reveals the thoughtful and serious approach that Stewart
takes to his writing of fiction.
His novels are built on solid philosophical foundations—if only to
ask possibly unanswerable questions. They explore the processes by which
people make ethical choices; that exploration is part of a general
interest in seeing the individual in his or her context: ideological,
social, and familial. The philosophical depth of his work is sufficient
explanation and justification for his dual victories. This interview took
place on Sunday, September 4, 1994; the transcript cannot convey the fun Stewart and I
were having playing with these huge ideas.
AW: First of all, I would like
to congratulate you on your second straight win at the Aurora Awards for
your novel [Nobody's Son].
SS: Thank you very much.
AW: Was this a major surprise to you?
SS: It was a bit of a surprise,
actually. I didn't think I'd get it two years in a row. I didn't think I'd
get it over an extremely classy field. I mean, Guy Kay was one of the
guests of honour at WorldCon
last year, William Gibson is William Gibson, Rob Sawyer has published
three, four books now and [is] better known, and I got it last year. So,
yeah, it was nice, it was gratifying. It proves that people who share none
of my genetic material have actually read the book, which is a matter of
some doubt for me‑since the book that won the Aurora Award [i.e. Passion Play] I don't think has sold a thousand copies yet.
AW: The two books are very
different from each other, were you trying to do something particular by
changing tack so drastically?
SS: No. I mean I write the book
that goes with the book, if you know what I mean. If the germ of the idea—the
theme, the thrust, the tension of it—comes first, the setting and all
the things that elaborate that and articulate it come afterwards. So I
started writing a Crime and
Punishment kind of book, and gradually the society of Passion Play built around that. The
premise for Nobody's Son has to
do with a lot of thoughts of mine about fantasy and why we read it and what
we love about it and where it's dangerous and when escapism is good and
when it's a crucial and critical mistake. Nobody's Son is a book that has all the moves of traditional
quest fantasy; it's just that they are all done by the end of Chapter 2.
It's about exploring what happens happily ever after, and so necessarily
that demanded a fantasy setting and not a particularly articulated fantasy
setting because it's Every Fantasy Book. The whole point was not to do a
richly articulated world like Tigana, for
instance; in some senses there's no historical precedent for the society in
Nobody's Son. Nobody's Son is like a fairy tale; it's once upon a
time, a long time ago, there was a young man who... As for the distinction
between the two books, that distinction between science fiction and fantasy
is one that has never seemed viscerally very meaningful to me. It's a
whole set of neat stuff you can screw around with, however, to suit the
demands of the story, but the demands of the story, or more accurately,
the demands of the book, will determine which sets and characters and all
those sorts of things you use. I come from a generation that grew up
reading Andre Norton books and basically you go down to the public library and everything with the same kind
of cover you read; some of them are science fiction and some of them are
fantasy. It's a distinction which I think means more to a previous
generation of writers.
AW: What were the dangers of the
fairy tale, that whole fantasy notion that you could live happily ever
after, which you particularly wanted to show up?
SS: What people in fandom call people outside fandom sometimes—"mundanes"—and I think that that, in a
nutshell, is what is dangerous about it. When people read to escape in that
sense, they run the risk of implicitly devaluing the lives they actually
have. You'd better pay attention to what you've actually got, and Nobody's Son is talking about paying
attention to what you've actually got. In the real world there isn't a
stirring triumph with a happily ever after; happily ever after is
achievable in some senses, I said this in my acceptance speech. I
personally am involved in a marriage that I think stands up well with Beren and Luthien [see The Silmarillion,
J.R.R. Tolkien]. But it's real and that means
it's hard and it's work and it's pain and it's joy and it's frustration and
it's jubilation, and all those things, and you have to stop looking for the
quick ecstasy of the public triumph and start looking for the genuine
satisfaction of an actual life. And I think that's one of the things that
fantasy tends to devalue. We tend to focus on the large public act, and
ignore the fact that life is not lived in the large public act; life is
lived day after day within the circle of one's friends and family. I
started a long time ago thinking about, you know, if you had a story about
a guy who kills the God‑Demon of Bolzak or
whatever and probably when he's ninety years old his wife left him will be
more important to him. I guess that was one of the starting points of the
AW: Family does seem to be an
important aspect—I think in both books, but particularly in Nobody's Son. Everybody is trying to
locate a family, and particularly a father.
SS: Yeah, that's an intelligent
comment. And you'll find that the emphasis on family more variegated but
even more present in Resurrection Man,
the book that's coming out next, which is very much about family. Nobody's Son, of course—the
personal matrix that it grows out of is that it's a book that I started to
think about when Christine was pregnant with our first child, and I thought,
"Oh, wow. I'm going to be a Dad! I guess that means... I guess that
means..." and I looked inside myself and of course there was nothing
there, because I hadn't had a father in my family since the time I was
three, so I started thinking about that, and I started thinking about why
it was that I wrote books, and if you'd asked me two years earlier from that
what difference it had made in my life that my father hadn't been around, I
would have said it didn't make any difference at all. I mean you can't miss
what you didn't have. Now if you'd ask me what difference it made I would
say it was the single most important thing that's happened in my life.
People who slay dragons, people who accomplish miracles, or even to a certain
extent someone who sits in a study for ten hours a day while other people
are out having fun are impelled, and we take the driven character in
science fiction for granted as if that were an entirely good thing. People
tend to forget that driven people are driven—they do not have choices;
those decisions are made at an emotional level by the three‑year‑olds
or four‑year‑olds inside them, and to whatever extent I look
back and saw the writing career as one way of saying "Fuck you"
to a family unit that hadn't stayed together, and that's probably a sense
in which the main character in Nobody's
Son has taken up his mighty quest more than anything else, to say it to
his Dad (although he would never have said this, had never realized this):
its central root probably comes from a three‑year‑olds desire
to say, "Fuck you, you were wrong to leave."
AW: And then also in the
process, by recreating his father's skill with the sword, and the things
he thought his father would have done if he'd been around, to become his
SS: That's right. And of course,
the truth is that you can't do that. In the end you have to—what's
the Bujold line?—you have to play the hand
you're dealt. But one of the things that happens
to Mark is that he finds it very difficult not to look for father figures
one way and another. Part of what's going on is his difficulty coming to
terms with the fact that that's not going to happen, and coming to terms
with the fact that the ambition that's driven him—he has accomplished
everything he has ever desired but the ambition doesn't go away, as long as
there's still that part of you that wants to say, "Fuck you! Fuck you!
Fuck you! Fuck you!" It's still there, and simply what you do as a
twenty‑nine‑year‑old or a twenty-five‑year‑old
or a thirty‑eight‑year‑old doesn't make any difference to
the three-year-old, if there's no communication. That part of you is never
AW: Your approach to the
domestic is, from what I can read in both books, complex. You seem to be
suggesting that acceptance of both the negative and the positive of the
inadequacy of real life, as opposed to the perfection of the ideal life,
seems to be a necessary step for people to take—to learn to accept
SS: That may be true. I might
draw back a bit from that and just say art—my wife calls it "Big‑R
Art" when I start talking like this—that Big‑R Art, if
it's not about truth it's not about shit, so whether it's a necessary step
or not, art should be about the truth. It should be talking about something
true. It doesn't have to be talking about something verisimilitudinous,
but it's got to get at something underneath things. Hamlet has the great
line about the mousetrap: "By indirections find directions out"
[II.i.66]: I mean, that's fiction. Or Emily Dickinson's line, "Tell
the truth, but tell it slant." That's how this business works, I
think. If nothing else one at least has to... art should be examining that
complexity, not trying to collapse that complexity, or at least the stuff
that I'm doing, I'm always struggling to avoid collapsing real and complex
situations into flat and simple situations.
AW: Which leads me to the one
topic that I wanted to get into with you, which is religion. The approach to religion that I see in your work matches
my own, or seems to match my own, and I wanted to ask what your views were.
You are an atheist.
SS: My usual line is, I'm an
atheist but not proud of it.
AW: Yet, on the other hand, in
both novels religion plays such a strong role. And I'm wondering if you
could tell me whether your atheism has led you to be more conscious of the
role of religion in a person's life and in the world around you.
SS: Not as an intellectual
exercise. As a lived experience. I spent every summer of my childhood as
the non‑believing child of a non‑believer, in the homes of my
fundamentalist grandparents in Texas. So, I wouldn't say that
atheism as an intellectual stance has extended my interest in religion or
anything; I would say merely that just reflects my experience of any
outsider looking in on a very religious sort of context and community. I
think anyone who reads a lot of fantasy who says they're not religious is
fooling themselves; that's what this stuff when it works—that's what
it's about. I mean, if you look at every major fantasy work—The Mists of Avalon, The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Earthsea, Dune, and Star Wars are the ones that come to mind—they're all
grounded in a distinct religious tradition and very deeply grounded in a
distinctive religious tradition, because fantasy particularly, and
sometimes science fiction, is in the incredibly privileged position of
being the only literature that ever addresses the God‑shaped hole
left in popular culture. I mean, no one else is talking about the problem
of evil. It just does not come up in those terms; no one is talking about
cosmological significance; no one else is talking about one's existential
position. Science fiction and fantasy, oddly enough with the horrible cover
art, have been left dealing with a lot of the most important questions in
contemporary culture. And it's very strange that it should be us doing it.
"Of course, there are people who are mainstream
novelists who touch on it, and of course there are thriller writers who
touch on aspects of it, and probably Western writers, and for all I know
nursing stories. But in the main, the thrust of latter‑half high
literary writing has been towards a kind of rococo formalism, and the mass
readership literary writing—the Anne Tyler—comes out of the
tradition of Wolfe to Lessing to Tyler of
carefully observed psychological models, which are great, and I read those,
and I like them, but what they don't tend to address are questions outside
the range of the purely personal and psychological. Science fiction and
fantasy often have the range to extend the psychological into the social
realm, into the religious realm, into the political realm, to deal with the
larger penumbras surrounding psychological development. This being said, of
course, most SF doesn't. But in principle, we have the range to do that, in
a way that very few writers do. So, what the fuck, I mean, move in there!
It's a huge niche. It's so obvious to me, anyway, how neatly The Lord of the Rings fits into that
(to be continued in the next issue)
Back to top Home
by Mici Gold
Marian Hughes is enjoying the aspiring writer's dream:
she published just one speculative story and then her first book. Initiation, published by Baen, was released in January 1995. How did she manage
such a remarkable career?
"I worked at it for years in that I wrote for a
horse magazine for years," Hughes says. "They always just said, ‘thank
you,’ and sent me a cheque. But I would
race for the article, sit down with my manuscript and see how they edited
it. I learned an awful lot about writing from seeing how they edited it.
After a couple of years, suddenly I started getting more requests for
stories, because, as my editor said, ‘you started to write well.’
And, of course, it was from paying attention to that...
"I've only written one (speculative) short story,
which was the one that was published because whenever I get an idea, it
turns into a novel. It's really hard to get an idea that's small enough to
encompass in a short story. In fact, the short story that was published, I
sent to a publisher in California and got a sort of frustrated
letter back saying, ‘why are you sending us the first chapter of a
book?’ As a matter of fact, that short story has been changed; it's
now the first chapter of a book."
How was it that Initiation was accepted by a major
publisher when her only other professional sale had not yet appeared in
"I sent it to Del Rey
first, and they rejected it. Then I sent it to Baen.
I hadn't thought of sending it to Baen, because I
wasn't sure it was a Baen book. And Stephen Stirling said, ‘Well, just because they don't
publish exactly that kind of book, doesn't mean it isn't a Baen book. It means it hasn't been presented to them.'
So he suggested that I send it in. He sent a covering letter, which he said ‘will not get you
published, but it won't hurt you.' Then, Josepha
(Sherman) phoned me up and said, ‘Well, we're
interested, but there's a few problems’—the problem being they
wanted me to cut the prologue and put the information in the book. So I did
it and sent it back to her. She phoned me back almost immediately and said,
‘You didn't get it.’ I think Josepha
is wonderful, because she could have just said, ‘Well, sorry; we
don't want it.’ Instead, she said, `You didn't get it.' And I said, ‘Well,
how about hitting me over the head with a hammer and telling me in no
uncertain terms. Don't be delicate about it.’ She was really
explicit. So I tried again, and this time, they said it was okay."
Hughes first entertained the idea of a writing career
when an effusive high school teacher recommended that Hughes publish a
story she had written. Hughes, however, resisted.
"I looked at this short story, and with the
typical impetuousness of youth, I evaluated it as being shallow. Because it
was," Hughes recalls. "I mean, what does an eighteen‑year‑old
girl living in a little tiny mining camp in northern Ontario really know about the world?
I just wrote a copy‑cat story, and it was good, by that standard. But
in terms of what I was reading in the library, I knew it wasn't good. So I
thought, ‘This is ridiculous; she's wrong.’ So I didn't write
another—apart from professional writing—until 1979. Because if
there had been someone around to tell me, ‘It's all right, Marian;
everybody's first writing is copy‑cat writing, and everybody's first
writing is shallow until they find their voice...’‑but there
was nobody around to tell me that. I judged it; I judged it fairly. It
didn't match what I was reading in international magazines. So I
She finally returned to writing because she was
looking for something to do.
"A friend of mine said, ‘Hey, it should be
really easy for you to write, Marian. No problem at all, you've got so many
interesting ideas. Why don't you try to write?’ And so, I started to
write. I thought it would be easy, too. I didn't have a clue... It was
appalling. I read it now and I laugh.
"I read what other people do, and I admire other
people's writing, and I think, ‘Well, why can't I write that well?’
But then I find that I have my own voice. When I was starting to write, I
thought I'd like to write like Anne McCaffrey: a nice, clean passionate
story. And I can't write like that, because I get involved in politics, and
all my people are real people‑not to say that hers aren't real‑but
my people are complicated people who aren't sure why they're doing some
things themselves, and who are balancing family against passion against
responsibility against dreaming... I find that I'm finding my own voice,
and my own voice is interested in people's rites of passage."
Although it's hard to characterize a writer's style
from a single story and book, what comes across in Initiation is a strong
connection between people, biology and geology.
"I have a bachelor of arts in history,"
Hughes admits. "I took three years of honours
history, and then at that point I foresaw that women would have no good
chance of a job with a history degree. So I switched into honours geography. I've got a master's degree in
geography. And I've got a master's degree in special education, specializing
in communication problems. I'm very eclectic, and I read history for
pleasure. I watch the Discovery Channel for pleasure. My husband is a
documentary ‘freak,' and we watch between
four and seven documentaries a week."
In another novel she's working on, Hughes is using
actual bits of history that she is upset over. "I crimped from bits of
history and then changed it to the way I really think it should happen...
Ideas fascinate me, politics fascinate me, how people end up doing things
that they don't really want to do in the first place fascinates
me. Because people are constantly doing things that they don't really want
Hughes is planning more novels and short stories and
hopes to have an established writing career by the time she retires from
teaching for the Halton Board of Education. She
lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with her husband, David, and
her cat, Owaine, short for Owaine
Glen Dower, who was a great Welsh freedom fighter. Now what did you expect
an historian would name her cat?
to top Home
by Allan Weiss
Allan Weiss is
co-curator of the "Out of This World" exhibit on Canadian Science
Fiction co-sponsored by The National Library of Canada and The Merril Collection. He worked on researching
the library collections and printed material for the exhibit and has
compiled an extensive bibliography of Canadian science fiction.
Helping the national library put together "Out of
This World," their exhibit on Canadian fantastic literature, had many
side benefits for me and Hugh Spencer. Anyone at all familiar with Canadian
science fiction and fantasy knows the names of Gibson, Robinson, Vonarburg, Rochon, Duncan,
and de Lint. But our research for the exhibit and the associated
bibliography introduced us to authors and works that only a tiny group of
scholars and fans (Cuthbert, Colombo, Ketterer,
Runte, and Halasz, to
name most) had ever heard of and that deserve to be better known. I thought
I'd take this opportunity to call your attention to hidden treasures I
found in my own reading. Some of them will be available only in research
libraries‑like the Merril Collection, of
course‑but recent ones may have found their way to the second-hand
bookshelves of SF and other stores.
As far as I'm concerned, Robert Charles Wilson is Canada's best science-fiction
author; his combination of engaging prose, uncluttered plots, and rich
characterization puts him in a league by himself. His first novel, A Hidden Place (1986), is a somewhat melodramatic but interesting story about
Earth-bound aliens and other social misfits. Better is his parallel-world
novel, Gypsies (1989), about
people who can transcend the boundaries between worlds as they try to find
one where they truly belong. A Bridge of Years (1991) and The Divide
(1990) are equally skillful and enjoyable takes on familiar SF themes:
time travel and scientifically enhanced intelligence, respectively.
On the latter note, I might mention Crawford Kilian's Brother
Jonathan (1985), about experiments to create greater intelligence
through nanotech brain implants. The world portrayed, particularly with its
ubiquitous AIs and their humanoid interfaces
called "turings," is reminiscent of
Gibson's. But it's worth noting that the book came out only one year after Neuromancer's first publication; in other words,
another Canadian was there at the beginning of the cyberpunk movement.
Edward Llewellyn published a number of novels with
DAW, most about near-future "cowboys" who share the qualities of
moral uprightness and strategic brilliance. The most interesting novel for
me was Word-Bringer (1986), one
that asks just how much knowledge we humans are really capable of handling.
It's more uncertain, and therefore more credible, than some of Llewellyn's
other (more American-style?) works.
Fans of surrealism would very much enjoy Eric
McCormack's collection of short stories, Inspecting the Vaults (1987). The stories are truly weird, at
times to the point of obscurity, but it helps to keep their metafictional purpose in mind. The stories are often
about the process of writing stories, meaning that they twist and turn
their way into themselves. You're supposed to feel alienated in your
reading experience, because after all it's only
fiction ...Then there are the vivid stories of Canada's foremost surrealist
writers, J. Michael Yates and Michael Bullock. Try Yates's Fazes in Elsewhen
(1977) and Bullock's Sixteen
Stories As They Happened (1969).
For sheer fun there are a few works out of Canada's literary past that deserve
a read. If you haven't read The
Dominion in 1983 (1883) in John Robert Colombo's Other Canadas, do so. Flora Macdonald's Mary
Melville, the Psychic (1900) is very
rare, although the Merril does have a copy; it's about a young woman with
psychic powers, especially telekinesis, that are the product not of some
supernatural gift, but of the process of evolution. She has extremely
intelligent parents (the feminist elements of the novel are noteworthy),
and represents an advanced form of humanity that will take the rest of us
generations to produce. But produce them we inevitably will. Mary Melville
is one of the world's first science-fiction Supermen, or rather Superwomen,
predating A. E. van Vogt's Slans by some forty
In a similar vein is Charles G. D. Roberts' In the Morning of Time (1919?), a
prehistory novel that informs us that a pair of bright individuals‑Grôm and his woman A-ya‑were
personally responsible for the discovery of fire and cooking, and the
invention of the bow and arrow and romantic love. The Darwinian portrait of
nature red in tooth and claw is noteworthy for both historical and dramatic
reasons: we get a real insight into the Victorian mind, and nonstop action.
Even the most gentle herbivores can't resist
charging when they see humans in range.
Another early novel that is sheer fun is Hugh Pedley's Look
Forward (1913). Briefly, a Presbyterian minister unhappy with sectarian
conflict among the Protestant denominations also happens to be an amateur
scientist. He discovers the secret of hibernation. By a series of classically
Canadian misadventures (including the interference of a red squirrel), his
experimental sleep of two weeks stretches into twenty-five years. He
awakens in the year 1927 (the novel is set in 1902 so that Pedley can gain credibility for his predictions by
beginning with some history about the period 1902-13) to find that his long-time
dream has come true: the churches have united to form the United Church of
Canada. Church Union has led to utopia; political corruption and the worst
effects of poverty have been eliminated, and Canada is leading the way towards
global spiritual renewal. The novel is enjoyable for its prescient
predictions (the United Church was formed in 1925) and its
silly nationalism. Pedley took to heart Wilfrid Laurier's claim that the twentieth century
would belong to Canada, but carried it one step
further to claim that Canada would become a religious
beacon unto the world. The True North strong, free, pure, superior... I
suppose we know where Jesus will be making his appearance next time 'round.
More recent examples include Marie Jakober's
The Mind Gods (1976), a philosophical
novel about two opposing human spirits: the need to see the universe in all
its (sometimes frightening) diversity, and the desire to find some
unifying, in fact simplifying, vision that makes the universe much more
comfortable for us. The main conflict is between Tanya Rastov,
an officer in the Confederacy's space force, and the followers of cult
leader Roger Caron; while the struggle is a military one, it is really a
fight between philosophies and tendencies in the human mind.
Another novel about clashing ideologies is Donald
Kingsbury's Courtship Rite (1982),
which deserves the critical acclaim and Hugo nomination it received. It is
a somewhat long but entertaining account of a decadent Faith colony that
has developed its culture around the problems of survival on a world with
too few resources, especially food. It ranks with Dune in its careful delineation of an entire planet's culture
and mind-set as influenced by harsh environmental conditions.
Wayland Drew gained some fame as a writer of movie novelizations. He is more interesting to CanLit specialists for his novel The Wabeno Feast (1973), which
portrays the effects on the land of our ecological carelessness‑and
the possible repercussions. Howard O'Haga's Tay John (1939) also brings in Native
religion; although the fantastic elements are not as prominent, they
nevertheless play a key role, and the novel is very entertaining.
On the French side are a couple of important works
that have been translated, and one or two that ought to be. Among the
latter is Michel Tremblay's symbolist La
cité dans l'oeuf (1969). Readers will detect striking echoes
of Lovecraft in the pantheon of demonology
created. The short novel details the narrator's trip through a strange city
located inside a transparent egg. As Tremblay explains, the work symbolizes
some things going on in his own mind, particularly the struggle of the creative
spirit. Yves Theriault's story collection Si la bombe m’était
contée (1962) should also be translated in
full. The stories, about nuclear holocaust, are sharp and uncompromising;
between the tales are documents on the same theme.
Among the translated works are the first work of
francophone political SF and some examples of the distinctive Quebecois
genre known as le fantastique.
For My Country by Jules-Paul Tardivel (trans.
1975) is about a future Quebec about to have its French and
Catholic nature destroyed by a conspiracy of devil-worshipping Freemasons
and Protestants. Quebec's last remaining hope for salvation
is Member of Parliament Joseph Lamirande‑but
given his personal tragedies he may not have the strength to carry on the
struggle. To modern readers the novel's denouement goes beyond incredible,
but the work is a fascinating document.
There's a tradition in Quebecois fiction, as in the
works of Roch Carrier, of portraying violence so
exaggerated it takes on ritualistic qualities. The fiction shows, and
becomes the vehicle for, the release of suppressed passions through such
extreme and even surrealistic violence. An example can be found in Jacques
Benoit's The Princes (trans.
1977), about a city that may or may not be a
surreal (or futuristic?) version of Montreal ruled by savage men and
civilized dogs. It is inevitable that the two species, or perhaps cultures,
Felix Leclerc wrote
fantastic fiction as well as some of Quebec's best-known songs. His The Madman, The Kit and The Island (trans. 1976) is clearly a
Christian allegory, reflecting the long-time preoccupation of Quebecois
fantasists with religious themes.
It's worth reading for its interesting combination of
traditional spiritual concerns (particularly with the emptiness of modern religious
practice) and revolutionary Quebecois literary practices that built on the
surrealist movement of the 1940s.
I thought I might end by citing a work of Canadian SF
best kept secret‑no one should know about it, except to avoid it. It
is R. J. "Chick" Childerhose's The Man Who Wanted to Save Canada (1975), about a conspiracy of Americans and Canadian traitors
to make the country a part of the U.S. As in Tardivel's
novel, one man, Neil Brody, stands between national salvation and disaster.
The novel was self-published, with predictable results. Here is a sample of
Childerhose's literary technique:
"Where's Pete Ranallo?"
Brody asked anyone.
"Pete's dead." It was Ron who answered him.
Pete was dead...
Later, Brody is arrested and his teeth are knocked out
during a vicious police beating.
He awoke to the sound of a door opening... he sensed
"You awake?" one of them asked.
"Yes," said Brody. It came out ‘yeth’.
"Can you walk?"
"Come on; we'll help you if you need it "
said, sitting up.
During his interrogation by the police, Brody learns
the vast extent of the conspiracy, and asks one of his captors, “‘Who’th the other guy?’ Brody lisped. ‘Your Thee.I.A. advither?’”
Undoubtedly there are other buried treasures (or
candidates for turkey readings) that I haven't found yet but that merit a
wider audience. I'll definitely keep looking. The bibliography Hugh and I
put together will be published shortly, and I hope that when it comes out
you'll use it to help you seek out your own little-known but worthwhile and
enjoyable works of Canadian SF.
to top Home