SOL Rising
Number 15, February 1996

Wasn’t That A Party!
The View From A Chair
News From The Merril: Bureaucratic Dysfunctions and Convivial Moments
It Came from the Slush Pile, and other tales of Northern Frights
The Writer’s Workshop Meets (and yet has no name)
More Buried Treasures

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Wasn’t That A Party!

The votes are in... the Science Fiction Heritage Costume Party was a major success!


After The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy spent the summer packing the collection, shipping it from 40 St. George to its long awaited new home at 239 College St., then unpacking everything‑including the mice‑it was time to celebrate. And we did‑with THE PARTY OF THE DECADE.


And what a party... Planning began back in February of 1995, with a long list of "what are we going to do to celebrate the opening" suggestions being produced, pondered, discussed and decided upon. Having established what we were going to do, the planning committee then set to with all the zeal of the Allies planning the invasion of Normandy.


We had to decide on ticket price ("how much?!?") and how many tickets we were likely to sell, which dictated whether we could have a really big bash, or just a medium‑sized one.


Food—that was easy. We'd have some. (Okay, it wasn't that easy.)


Liquor—of course. That meant a liquor license. And a bartender (or maybe two). And ice. And glasses... you get the idea. (We observed that the beer we chose as "premium beer" went rather better than the usual Labatt's and Molson's. We make note of this for future reference.)


Decorations‑balloons. Which then led to turning the decorations into a fundraiser, which meant we had to have prizes, preferably donated, which then meant we had to find donors...


Prizes for the costume judging.


Entertainment. We decided on Nash the Slash (Hugh's number one choice). Negotiations. Timing. Fee (ouch! let's look at that budget again.)


Invitations. Tickets. Flyers. Speaker's Corner at City-TV.


Setting up on the day (have you ever tried to stick tiny little pieces of paper into hundreds of balloons with zero hour approaching faster than you'd like and your happy helpers falling like flies from exhaustion? Try it some time. You'll learn a lot.) Tables. Tablecloths. Chairs. Glasses (more glasses?). Plates. Cutlery. Napkins.


Thousands of details.


Slight panic created when TPL was obliged to change its official opening date from library Week (beginning October 14th) to sometime in November; we decided to stick with "our day" (we just couldn't wait!).


Another moment of panic when it seemed likely our founder, Judith Merril, would not be able to attend due to a prior commitment. We were pleased when she was able to attend after all. Judith, the Friends' chair Hugh Spencer, and TPL's CEO Gabriele Lundeen (who was sporting enough to come in costume!) provided the opening remarks to our event.


Nash the Slash, in his guise of the Invisible Man, performed a set accompanied by spectacular special effects. (His version of Holst's "Mars" from The Planets was my personal favourite‑ed.)

Michael Skeet inflicted (at our request, of course) his infamous Fanthorpe "Turkey" reading on the guests. The favourite this time, outdoing The Alien Ones (popular at past WilfCons), was the excerpt from March of the Robots... where most people actually paid to hear more... the agony was exquisite... and these pesky ellipses kept fuming up in Fanthorpe's text, to the delight of the audience.(dot, dot, dot)


The Balloon Pop was fun and frantic (remember all those tiny little bits of paper?). Of course, you can't have helium filled balloons without some of them disappearing into the upper stratosphere, and since nobody wanted to miss a chance at a prize, some really tall guys were enlisted to fetch them down.


And then there were the costumes. Not many (not as many as we'd hoped), but enough to illustrate our theme of "Science Fiction Heritage." At the end of the evening, the best costume, hands down, was Gordon Black's "The Traveller" from H.G. Wells The Time Machine. Second place was Mici Gold's Miss Northern Frights. The Bride of Frankenstein, being MC, did not participate in the event (alas!).


The collection staff led tours through the building for guests, giving them a privileged showing prior to the building opening to the public on October 16th. John Millard, co-chair of the Building Committee, Executive Committee member, and a First Fandom alumnus, was the first official signee of the guest book.


Among the more interesting elements of the building (apart from the griffins, of course) was the echo dome in the basement. Another nice touch was the torches going down the stairs to the basement. Those and the pillars around the echo dome gave a dungeon-like atmosphere to the space, appropriate for the occasion.


Also participating in the event were ICE, computer CD developers, and Inforamp, an internet service provider, each giving demonstrations of their products. Hugh Spencer, co-curator of the National Library's OUT OF THIS WORLD/VISIONS D'AUTRES MONDES exhibit, brought slides taken at the exhibit, which ran continuously throughout the evening.


It was the best attended Friends event ever, with over ninety people in all.


The Executive Committee wishes to thank Gabriele Lundeen for attending this very important event in the history of the Merril Collection. We also wish to thank TPL staff Brigitte Richter, Jennifer Blunt, and Mary Anne Cree for coming (with special thanks to Brigitte for generously donating the griffin pins she had won in the balloon pop to our door prizes).


A thank you also goes to collection staff Lorna Toolis and Mary Canning, who indefatiguably took guests on tours of the building (and stress-testing the elevator, by-the-by).


A number of other thank yous are also in order:


To Anne Dixon and Karina Rammell from Toronto Trek 9, and Joanne Smith and Wayne Campbell, who volunteered their time and services to help us out;


To Nash the Slash, for an excellent performance;


To Tony Collins, our ARF trained bartender, who is also a custodian from Northern District Branch, and who cheerfully joined in the fun by running the bar in costume;


To Karen Fleming, TPL staff, who exerted herself in getting our liquor license;


And a very special thank you to you, the Friends of the Merril Collection. Without your long‑standing support as an active member of the Friends, your participation in the Building Committee, and your attendance at Friends' events, we could not have had THE PARTY OF THE

DECADE. Your continuing interest and support are a vital part of what being a "Friend" of the Merril Collection is all about. We look forward to sharing the future with you, with new beginnings, with new directions.


The Executive Committee wishes to thank all those who generously donated to the Science Fiction Heritage Costume Party:


  • ICE
  • Inforamp
  • Future Shop
  • H B Fenn
  • Toronto Public Library
  • Jamie Fraser Books
  • Steven Temple Books
  • Worldhouse
  • Ad Astra ConCom
  • SIM-EX
  • Quarry Press
  • Atlantis Films
  • Raymond Alexander
  • Mary Canning
  • Robert Hadji
  • Don and Jean Hutchison
  • Loma Toolis
  • Theresa Wojtasiewicz

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The View From A Chair

by Hugh Spencer


This view is from a long way off.


Adelaide, Australia. December 1995. The museum I intended to visit is closed for "summer hours" so I am standing in the middle of the university campus with not much to do except melt in the heat.


A teenage girl, and what looks like her little brother, come up to me to ask if I know the way to a coffee shop that's supposed to be in the vicinity.


It has happened again. My museum work requires me to travel to other countries on a regular basis. Everywhere I go people ask me for directions. Los Angeles, London, Vienna, Hong Kong. Even in places like Singapore or Korea where I am an obvious foreigner, people seem to think I would be a good person to get orientation from.


People who know me understand that this is not the case.


Sometimes I wonder why this keeps happening to me. I used to think it was because I was such a friendly, approachable person. Anxious and able to help anyone.


Anxious to help, certainly. As for able—people who know me understand that this is not the case.


Back in Adelaide. Heading into the KNOWN SPACE BOOKSTORE, looking for Australian SF, I finally arrive at a plausible theory.


I am a SCIENCE FICTION PERSON (SFP for short). This is something a little different from being a science fiction fan. An SFP is more of an existential condition than that of being a fan. You don't just love SF; to some extent you are living SF.


My life is a little like a science fiction story. I circle the planet in sub-sonic jet aircraft (that Tom Swift would kill for), dropping in briefly to communicate with different cultures. I'm going to start my office memos with the phrase "Captain's Log" pretty soon.


As an SFP, I am evolving into a literal Citizen Of The Planet with a direct global perspective. People keep coming up to me for directions because they innately sense that I have seen the most streets in the most cities in the world.


My theory starts to break down at this point because although I've seen a lot of these places, I can never remember how to get around in them.


I know a lot of other SFPs. They include the people who were playing "STREK" on the high school computers back in 1974 (years before we even knew about Pong); the woman who was using the internet back in 1979 when she was working at the Royal Bank (she had her own interest group 15 years before everyone else was logging onto the net); and the retired NRC telecommunications engineer who built his first crystal radio from instructions in Hugo Gernsback's Electrical Engineer magazine.


These people are all SFPs. I think it has something to do with personal time warps. I don't necessarily think that SFPs are superior to other people, but I do think we might be sitting on slightly higher rocks. So we sometimes have a responsibility to share the benefits of the resulting unique perspective.


And the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation is a unique resource in substantiating the SFP perspective and generally cultivating a much needed sense of wonder in the word.


All of the above is a very roundabout way of saying that work on the programmes and events we've been talking about in previous newsletters is proceeding. Our youth literacy work is in development. We are also negotiating with possible partners for creating digital records of the rare audio collections at the Merril. But we desperately need more people to work with us.


To quote one of the scariest lines in the old Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast: "Is there anybody there?"


SFPs? Fans? The interested and the helpful?


The directions are right here in this newsletter. Much more reliable than asking a stranger on the street...


(P.S. I did find some great Australian SF in Adelaide: Aurelius Magazine and the Alien Shores anthology.)

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News from the Merril: Bureaucratic Dysfunctions and Convivial Moments

by Lorna Toolis

It is the end of a long day. Up until. Now the high-stress point of the day has been dealing with an aggrieved patron who doesn't care for the new layout. “But I always enjoyed being able to listen to your personal phone calls,” he tells me. The workroom, it appears, has taken away all of the fun.


Most of the public love the new building. They love the griffins, they love the way light falls through the entire building, they love having a building in their area. The staff are also very taken with the new facility. Before, when it was so cold that our hands and feet were numb, it was because the boiler didn't work. Now it is because we are still trying to achieve a balance between the temperature that is best for the books and one that allows patrons to sit and read without having to bring their quilts.


The Small Child looks at me trustingly. As in all the very best Len Norris cartoons, he is small, with tangled hair and pointed ears and toes. He smiles at me and whips a diskette out of his pocket, which he then presses into my hand.


"Please miss, make me a copy of your card catalogue," he says.


“Ahem, oo... er...” I say. I can feel my face turning red and the tips of my ears burning. Taking the S.C. by the hand, I lead him over to the card catalogue, six light oak cabinets containing 250,000 cards, representing over 30,000 books and a huge number of short story entries. I explain its function, also that it does not download onto a diskette. He looks at me disbelievingly.


"Search by hand?" he says, incredulous.


Actually, in the days of my youth we used to chisel the cards out of slabs of slate, lovingly quarried by retired librarians with a passion for stonework. Later we became soft, and took to using clay tablets.


The child has at last absorbed the concept of a paper card catalogue. Obviously, we can't mean this to exist. Obviously, therefore, we are doing something about it. We will whip a scanner in tonight, run the 250,000 cards through, and have the catalogue up and running with no problems by morning.


I clear my throat. I hate to disappoint the S.C. I could explain that the catalogue was delayed while we got the new building for the Collection, but the small patron is only interested in results, not history. I could explain that in order to convert the catalogue it will be necessary to achieve some sort of modus vivendi with the Cataloguing Dept., and, alas, they love us not. Rumour has it that they are laying in food for a seige.


"We are certainly going to put the catalogue on line," I say firmly, "As soon as possible." I won't even think about the whole issue of funding. After all, fantasy is my life. "In the meanwhile, maybe you should just ask."


He looks at me even more doubtfully. "Ask?" he inquires.


"Mostly, we remember," I tell him. He nods agreeably, entranced by his enhanced understanding of how people lived in the Dark Ages.


"I want books on phonetics," he tells me. "That's spelled f-o-n……"


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It Came from the Slush Pile, and other tales of Northern Frights

by Don Hutchison


Why Northern Frights? Doesn't this old world contain enough real horror without our inventing more?


Those were the questions asked by way of introducing Canada's first original dark fantasy anthology series. As editor, I answered my own question by voicing a somewhat simplistic (and calculatedly disarming) theory that fear can be fun... vicarious fear, that is. I also stated that one of the main reasons for the series was to supply a new type of market for Canadian short-story writers.


But there is more to Northern Frights than simple spookery or a chance for authors to sell stories.


Like science fiction, dark fantasy is often given a bad rap by people who react to labels, confusing fiction with film. Horror films go for the gush of blood, the cheap shock. But, contrary to some opinions, horror fiction is not written by demented troglodytes who like to pluck the wings off house flies. Like the best of science fiction, the best of dark fantasy evokes a sense of wonder by reinventing mythic landscapes. At its best, it is a serious literature. (One might say deadly serious.) It speculates on what may lie beyond our mortal miseries. It deals with life, death, good, evil, love, hatred, decay, rebirth, God and the devil. And sometimes, of course, it is only fearsome fun, a kind of Hallowe'en frolic for the child that lurks in all of us.


So why not Northern Frights? In the early nineties, Canadian SF was alive and well due in no small part to the availability of groundbreaking markets like Tesseracts and On Spec. Since science fiction and fantasy (dark or otherwise) have long been fellow travellers, I reckoned that it was time somebody designed a vehicle solely to show off Canadian literature of a darker, more fantastic nature.


The question remained, who would publish such a book? And would the writers be there to service it? I was lucky on both counts, proving‑at least to me‑that Northern Frights was an idea whose time had come.


Thanks to an enthusiastic friend, I was introduced to a maverick publisher out in Oakville, Ontario, who thought that Northern Frights was a fine idea. You have to know Howard Aster to know that he has a quick mind and likes to make instant decisions. Howard had no acquaintance with the genre, but he often takes chances with material that more timorous souls might shun. He not only liked the concept, but asked if I could develop it as a series. Since that was my original dream, we met and shook on the project. There remained only one small problem: I needed some stories good enough and numerous enough to fill a couple of hundred pages.


In case it appears that all this came fast and easy, I have to backtrack by stating that Northern Frights was a title and a dream that I had nursed silently for many years, ever since I worked as contributing editor on Borderland, the small press dark fantasy magazine published by Raymond Alexander and edited by Robert Hadji back in the mid-eighties.


Borderland did not require its stories to be written by Canadians or be set in Canada (perhaps an impossible restriction at the time), but it did reflect a Canadian sensibility that I dreamed might someday result in a publication dedicated entirely (or almost entirely) to dark imaginings by Canadian writers.


That was the idea behind Northern Frights. Originally I thought that the first volume might have to feature reprint material. I had assembled a number of suitable stories by the likes of A. E. van Vogt, H. Bedford Jones, Algernon Blackwood, and even Robert Bloch‑expatriate Canadians or foreign authors who had set horror stories in these environs. As for original material, I knew I could count on friends like Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Shirley Meier, Galad Elflandsson and Karen Wehrstein to supply strong stories, but that would account for only a small amount of the requisite contents. I placed market requests in Locus and Science Fiction Chronicle, but time was of the essence since we wanted to get the first book out for the fall of '92. Along came Lorna Toolis and the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection to our rescue. Loma arranged for a meeting with a number of local authors who had expressed interest in writing dark fantasy. Many of these writers placed stories in the book. A few had manuscripts just waiting for such a market, and others came up with new material that filled our requirements.


After that came the flood: dozens of unsolicited manuscripts arriving almost daily, the odd story submitted by a familiar name, but larger quantities from would-be writers of varying talent. At first the experience was a heady one. I opened each envelope with the tremulous expectation of an editor at Viking or Knopf about to discover a new Stephen King or another Peter Straub.


Alas, as the manuscripts piled up, excitement cooled down. I was now not only an editor, but also the not-so-proud possessor of an honest-to-God "slush pile" of yet-to-be-read manuscripts.


Mysteriously, it was a pile that never seemed to diminish, no matter how many hours of Herculean reading was accomplished. It wasn't that there was a lot of really bad material. It's just that so much of it was... well, ordinary. The best editorial practice, I have been informed, is to read the beginning of a story, perhaps flit to the end, and if you still like what you see, give the middle a shot or two. I couldn't handle it that way. Call me crazy, but I found that I had to read the whole damned thing. Some stories, of course, I did place on "fast forward." Eventually, my own reading for pleasure took a back seat to plowing through more and more fabricated frights as they plopped ominously through the old mail chute.


There was one other thing I didn't reckon on. All the unused stories not only had to be returned, but had to be accompanied with sympathetic reasons as to why they didn't make it. Perhaps it's just a weakness in my nature, but I quickly found that when it comes to rejection, giving is almost as bad as getting. Eventually, however, we did come up with seventeen stories and a poem, and Northern Frights was launched upon the unsuspecting world.


With three Northern Frights books out there, a Northern Frights audio tape, and a fourth book gestating as we speak, I'm often asked just what I feel constitutes Canadian horror and dark fantasy. What makes it distinctive from similar material published elsewhere? For one thing, I think the Canadian muse of the macabre is more subtle, more ambivalent, just like us. Our stories usually have a strong moral grounding, a greater human subtext, even though the coldness and isolation of our environment is given eerie prominence.


As for the genre itself, it appears that we have more work to do before all accept it as "respectable." One of our book's top writers tells me that his mother picked up a copy of Northern Frights 3 at her local Smithbooks. She purchased a volume of Bible interpretations at the same time‑just so the clerk wouldn't think she was too demented!


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The Writer’s Workshop Meets (and yet has no name)

by Michael Skeet


The Merril Collection has from its inception sought contacts with the SF writing community. In at least one case, though, the word "community" has a couple of meanings. One segment of the Toronto speculative writing community has a relationship with the Collection that is close both emotionally and geographically.


The Cecil Street writers' group meets on a weekly basis just around the corner from the Collection's new digs on College Street. And since its foundation this group has used the Collection both as a resource and as an archive for its members' writings. It's a relationship that has proven fruitful for both groups. And it's a relationship that begins‑as does so much relating to the Collection‑with Judy Merril.


In 1986, Judy organized a week-long writers' retreat at Peterborough's Trent University. The retreat was Judy's method of introducing the Milford style of writers' workshops to this country. The retreat brought together writers from across Canada; it also marked the beginnings of a growth of community that eventually resulted in the founding, three years later, of SFCanada, the national SF writers' group. It also made a workshop convert of at least one of its attendees, a beginning writer named Michael Skeet.


At the same time, Judy was also embarking on a period as a Toronto Public Library Writer In Residence. In this role, Judy acted as advisor to Torontonians who presented her with their fantasy or SF manuscripts. Greater love hath no writer than to spend an entire year perusing the output of aspiring but in many cases untrained tyros. In Judy's case, fresh from a very positive experience at Peterborough, one result of her reading and advising was her conclusion that the most promising of the writers who had submitted material to her should be brought together, the better to encourage their continued development.


Accordingly, on a September evening in 1987, a diverse group of somewhat unsure individuals gathered in an office above a German travel agency on Spadina Avenue. Judy introduced the writers, none of whom had met before, to each other. She explained what a workshop was and how it worked. She advised them that the office in which they sat had been borrowed for the evening only, and it would be up to them to find a meeting place from hereon in. She explained that she did not believe in the so-called "mentored" workshop, whereby an established writer lords it over the beginners in the hope that some of the genius will transfer by some spiritual osmosis.


Then she left. The writers were abandoned to make their way or not, as their own determination dictated.


With a few exceptions, the group formed that evening has been meeting every week since. By a wholly unscientific estimate, over 350 manuscripts have been copied, distributed to members, analyzed, critiqued and commented on in that time. Some 325 litres of diet cola, 280 litres of diet ginger ale, and at least seventeen litres of beer have been drunk, and approximately eleven kilograms of chocolate have been consumed‑along with one memorable bag of chicken-flavoured cookies (better you shouldn't ask).


Oh, yes. The workshop has also produced a number of writers who have taken their place among the new generation of Canadian genre writers: Dave Nickle, Karl Schroeder, Cory Doctorow, Allan Weiss, Keith Scott and Edo van Belkom, among others. (Keith Scott has to possess some kind of record for being the longest-developing rookie writer in SF. His first story was published sixty years ago, his second "publication" was a radio play broadcast in 1969, and he began to sell SF on a regular basis in his late sixties.) When the group formed in 1987, only two of its members had published SF stories. Now only two have yet to crack the publication barrier.


More important than enhancing credits and CVs, however, the workshop has helped its members grow as writers. It hasn't been so much the barrage of helpful (and politely vicious) criticism of the writers' own works that's done the trick. But eight years of analyzing other peoples' work for flaws has helped every member become more aware of the appearance of those flaws in his or her own work. If only out of a strong desire to avoid being hammered by well-meaning but savage companions at the weekly workshop sessions, the members of the workshop group have striven to improve their writing. The hard work has paid off.


A description of a typical meeting might prove illuminating. The week before, the group's members will have agreed on a story to be workshopped; copies of this story are then handed to the members, who have the intervening week to read the story and mark it up, in the fashion of a particularly blood-thirsty editor. Each member prepares a set of comments on the story, which are either written on the back of the final page or on a separate page appended to each member's copy. At the appointed time, the group's members arrive. Well, some of them, anyway. About forty minutes after the appointed time, when everyone who is going to show up has arrived, and the attendees have filled one another in on the latest gossip, the workshop session begins. One by one, group members critique the story, using their notes as a basis for what only seem to be spontaneously vicious attacks. In fact, all criticism is relentlessly fair for all that it is cutting. (We advise against trying this at home.)


A crucial aspect of the meeting's structure is that during the workshopping portion, only one person is allowed to speak at a time. This means that the poor victim, whose story is being so relentlessly torn asunder, is not allowed to raise voice in anguished protest at this treatment. Nor are other voices, dissenting or otherwise, allowed. One person speaks; the others listen. This works, we think, because we are Canadian and therefore genetically polite (or "@#$%!! polite," as Judy has been known to describe it). But it is crucial because it keeps what could be a very damaging activity on a cool, professional level. It helps the group to remember that the primary purpose of the workshop is to help one another improve as writers.


Once all group members have verbally critiqued the story, the poor author is at last allowed to speak. This is commonly known as the "rebuttal" phase, because (at the beginning at least) it so often consisted of a wounded writer splutteringly attempting to explain what it was that he/she had actually intended the story to be about. As the group has progressed, the "rebuttal" has come to involve a more serene summing up of points on which the writer agrees with his/her critics, with the other points generally left to decompose in embarrassed silence. After the rebuttal, the formal aspect of the meeting rapidly breaks down, as group members animatedly discuss possible ways in which the story could be improved, or how they would have written it differently (and, it goes without saying, better). At this point, the meeting usually leaves the cool confines of the Cecil St. Centre basement and makes its way to a less formal spot, usually someone's nearby apartment, where various consumables await and the second-most important part of the evening, the dissemination of gossip (the mortar of the writing community), begins.


Because the group's meeting place is so close to the Merril Collection's old and new homes, it would have been inevitable that the group form a close relationship with the Collection, even had one of its members not been married to the collection head. Very shortly after the group was founded, the Collection volunteered itself as a repository for the group's archives. Since then the library has served both as archive and unofficial second home to the group collectively and its members individually, many of whom spend a good deal of time there researching or catching up on developments in the SF field. And as conscientious members of the Toronto writing community, members of the Cecil Street group can always be found attending functions sponsored by the Friends. (The group has also provided the Friends with several members of the executive over the years.)


The group founded by Judy Merril had ten members. Members have come and gone over the years, but the membership still stands at ten, and half of the current members were part of the original group. It is unlikely that any other group of Canadian writers has met so consistently over such a long period of time‑nor is it likely that any group has gone on so long without ever being able to agree on what to call itself.


The absence of a name for what some people (though seldom group members, and then never for the record) call the Cecil Street Irregulars was, in the long-ago past, a matter of some concern. In 1987 Toronto was home to a writers' group called the Bunch of Seven. (There were nine members, but that's another story.) Minneapolis housed The Scribblies. Out in Idaho resided the Moscow Moffia. Clearly, in order to be taken seriously a writers' group had to have a name.

The only problem was that none of the Cecil Street group could agree on what made an impressive-sounding name. The various suggestions proposed in all seriousness in the late eighties are so embarrassing in the context of the nineties that it's probably better that they not be mentioned. Suffice it instead to say that since no name met with unanimous approval, and since the proudly leaderless group would not allow a name to be imposed by anything less than unanimity, the group has never been called anything other than some variation on "those people who meet in the basement of the Cecil Street Community Centre."


This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's been suggested more than once that this absence of a name is actually a perfectly appropriate mirror of the classic, chronic Canadian confusion about national self-identity. Many members of the group have now adopted the lack of a name as a form of identity in itself, and fiercely reject all new efforts to come up with a name that looks good on a t-shirt.


Some of the stories which passed through the workshopping process and were eventually published are:


"Ants," Allan Weiss, Tesseracts4, Beach Holme. (Anthology)

"Breaking Ball," Michael Skeet, Tesseracts3, Porcépic Books. (Anthology)

"Chains," Michael Skeet,100 Viscious Little Vampires, Barnes & Noble. (Anthology)

"The Pools of Air," Karl Schroeder, Tesseracts3, Porcépic Books. (Anthology)

"The Progressive Apparatus," Hugh Spencer, On Spec (Summer 1994). (Magazine)

"The Sloan Men," David Nickle, Northern Frights 2, Mosaic Press (Anthology), and Year's Best Fantasy and Honor, 1994. (Anthology)

"The Toy Mill," David Nickle and Karl Schroeder, Tesseracts4, Beach Holme. (Anthology)

"Water," Keith Scott, On Spec (Fall 1991). (Magazine)


Michael Skeet is a writer, a broadcaster and a film critic for CBC Radio living in Toronto. His fiction has been published in both Canada and the U.S. His most recent fiction publication is "Scout, Experimental" in the Spring 1996 issue of On Spec.

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More Buried Treasures

by Allan Weiss


The explosion of Canadian SF in the late 1980s may have left some people with the impression that very few writers before then‑notably A. E. van Vogt and Phyllis Gotlieb‑wrote for the American market, especially during the rise of the Unending Series in the 1970s. In the last article, though ["Buried Treasures," SOL Rising #13, May 1995], I discussed the work of Edward Llewellyn; another prominent writer of series novels was Crawford Kilian, whose Brother Jonathan I mentioned last time as well. He has produced a number of novels in his Chronoplane series, which postulates that one can jump back and forth between different periods in Earth's history. These periods have been colonized, leading to conflicts with the Agency for Intertemporal Development and indigenous peoples. The premise also lends itself to fairly conventional plots of the superman-versus-the-Empire variety, wherein characters assisted by beautiful but strong female sidekicks demonstrate the perfection of their stratagems against treacherous Higher-Ups. On the other hand, Kilian's Eyas (1982) is a distant-future novel that raises questions about predestination and free will. The hero named in the title suffers from the superman syndrome, and the novel's ending is somewhat rushed and not altogether clear, but Kilian shows his skill at creating "aliens" (if future Earth-dwellers can be so labelled) and action sequences, as well as dealing with the implications of technology.


A nearer future is the setting of Helene Holden's powerful After the Fact (1986). The situation is not explicitly described, but we gather that Quebec has become independent after the election of a socialist, perhaps even Communist, separatist party. Anglos have become refugees, and the economy is in a shambles (I say nothing about current events). The hysteria and desperation are effectively portrayed, shown through the eyes of a woman on the run with her daughter and boyfriend, and those of a woman in the village where they try to hide out. A very interesting comparison could be made between this novel and The Handmaid's Tale, in their use of a woman's first-person present tense narrative point-of-view, the theme of changed names/identities, and the witch-hunt atmosphere established. (It's a comparison I hope to make in some future article.) Given that Atwood's novel was published in 1985, it's doubtful Holden read it before writing her own work.


Another dystopian work is Jim Willer's Paramind (1973). Thomas Kasgar recounts his work on advanced computers and his growing realization that these new models have achieved the ability to think for themselves. He cannot convince his superiors at ITM [sic] that they have produced an artificial intelligence, and so he takes his message outside his company, trying to prevent a complete computer takeover of the world. Or is the new series of thinking computers simply the next step in evolution?


Among the early works is Robert Watson's High Hazard (1929), an entertaining novel about a lost world in the far north-one of the very few works of Canadian SF with that setting. Sensitive readers may be disturbed by the strong language, as in this exchange between the hero, Eric Gilchrist, and the villain, Earle Sangster:


"Damn you for an interfering lout!" [Sangster] exclaimed angrily. "What in the hell are you poking about up here for?..."


"It isn't any of your business what or why. And no man calls me a lout, Sangster, without apologising immediately, or taking the consequences," retorted Eric quickly.


Sangster later calls Eric a "Nosey Parker" and declares, "What your interfering kind needs is a good lambasting." Watson's description and narration of the action sequences are considerably better than his dialogue. The modern reader who can get by the racism and sexism of the novel will find it a most enjoyable Canadian version of H. Rider Haggard's adventure fiction.


Frederick Philip Grove is known to CanLit specialists for his prairie novels. But he also wrote one work of fantasy, Consider Her Ways (1947), about a scientific expedition of ants traversing South and North America in search of new knowledge and territory. The ants encounter vicious new species of ants, and the even more vicious and dangerous species known as humankind. Grove had translated [Jonathan] Swift's works into Swedish, and so was aware of the satiric possibilities of fantastic travel narratives. He exploits these possibilities in his thinly veiled or explicit attacks on such targets as materialism and literary criticism. My own particular favourite passage concerns the meeting between some of antkind's greatest scientists and a car:


Sixty-six great scholars, every one a leader in her field, and collectively perhaps the greatest and most amazing aggregate of learning that had even been assembled on earth, were reduced to a greasy smear on a highway! The futility of it all! The utter senselessness!


It is not common knowledge that Canadian fantastic literature has often been very funny. We don't think of Canadian writing generally as humorous (that's because few have read very much beyond Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, and W. O. Mitchell, although even then...). But if we remember that Canadian SF writers, especially during the early days, often wrote for satirical purposes the humour we find should not be all that surprising.


One novel that fully deserves the label of a "hoot" is Robert Green's The Great Leap Backward (1968). It is set in Toronto in 2021, when machines have taken over everything, including their own repair and upgrading. The result is that elevators go faster than ever‑so fast they're completely unsafe, and passengers must strap themselves in to avoid serious injury. Moving sidewalks have similarly seen a progressive increase in speed, so that only futuristic versions of teenage "hotrodders" are prepared to brave the fast lane. Countering the machine dominance is an anti-technology movement that has set up nudist colonies in outlying areas like Richmond Hill.


On the French side is Jean O'Neil's Giriki et le Prince de Qucan (1982). The Archangel Gabriel arrives in Montreal to announce to the narrator, a writer, that a Prince of Qucan (i.e. Quebec) has been chosen, and he needs a bride. The woman chosen to be his Princess is known only as Giriki, which proves to be the postal code of one of the writer's greatest fans: G1R 1K1. He seeks out and finds the woman, only to fall in love with her himself. But he agrees to let her live out her destiny, and in a hilarious scene some of the greatest figures in history appear to attend the wedding held in Montreal's Olympic Stadium. As I mentioned in the paper I presented to the academic conference at Can*Con, before the wedding Jesus has some fairly raunchy exchanges with Mae West; when it comes to Pope John Paul II, however, the two find they have very little to say to each other as they try to make their way through the crush:


They met briefly, maybe too briefly, in a crowd of guests at the entrance to the stadium.


"It's pretty tough going," said John Paul II


"I've seen worse," replied Jesus.


And that was it. (My translation‑AW.)


Concerning the political situation in Quebec, see also William Weintraub's satiric The Underdogs (1979), about the rise of an Anglo terrorist group in a separate Quebec.


I've been focusing on novels, but there are numerous periodicals and short stories that deserve a look. During the 1940s a number of pulp magazines were published in Canada, mostly made up of reprints of stories appearing in the American pulps. But some published mainly, or at least a few, Canadian works. The story of the Canadian pulps is well covered in John Robert Colombo's Years of Light, his study of Leslie A. Croutch and the fanzine he published, Light. I might mention one prominent domestic publication, Uncanny Tales (1940-43), edited by Melvin R. Colby and possibly Thomas P. Kelley. Kelley was Canada's premier pulp fiction writer of the day, apart from van Vogt, and a number of his stories and novels appeared in Uncanny Tales, often under pseudonyms. Other Canadian writers appearing here and elsewhere during the 1940s included C. V. Tench and Leslie Gordon Barnard. The stories are often thoroughly derivative, like Kelley's almost plagiaristically Lovecraftian “The Shaggy God” (Uncanny Tales 1 [May 1941]), and at times unintentionally funny, as in the bizarre understanding of absolute zero in Tench's “Compensation” (Uncanny Tales 2 [Dec. 1941]).


It's always fun‑and perhaps a little cruel‑to seek out the early publications of well-known authors. Early stories by Charles de Lint and Charles Saunders can be found in the small magazines Dark Fantasy and Copper Toadstool, both available at the Merril Collection. The Merril also contains a compute run of Bakka Magazine, the fanzine put out by the store in the 1970s, wherein one can find—in Issue #6—a story by Elwy Yost.


One genre that Canadian writers have made distinctly their own is the animal fantasy: stories about rational, and often named, animals. Charles G. D. Roberts was our most important practitioner; others included W. A. Fraser, whose Mooswa and Others of the Boundaries (1900) is a "simple romance of a simple people, the furred dwellers of the Northern forests" (author's introduction).


Recent stories of note include those of Lesley Choyce, best known as the editor of Pottersfield Press, one of the few SF publishers in the country. His collection The Dream Auditor (1986) contains a favourite of Lorna's [Toolis, the Merril's Collection Head], “Buddha at the Laundromat,” and a favourite of mine, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer.” Andrew Weiner's marvellous collection Distant Signals and Other Stories (1989) contains “The News from D Street,” while Terence M. Green's The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind (1987) is noteworthy for “Ashland, Kentucky” and “Legacy.” Of course, anyone seeking early short gems should consult the two earliest anthologies of Canadian SF: John Robert Colombo's Other Canadas (1979) and John Bell and Lesley Choyce's Visions from the Edge (1981). In the latter, check out H. Percy Blanchard's novella “After the Cataclysm,” and Laurence Manning's Stapledonian “The Living Galaxy.”


I ended the last article with an example of Canadian SF's best kept secret, and will end this with another. Robert A. Smith's The Kramer Project (1975) has its moments, mostly at the end, but the bulk of it is a series of conversations between undeveloped characters. The Soviets have developed a serum allowing humans to connect their minds directly into the computer network, and are attempting to dismantle the United State's defense system. The novel could have been a good thriller had it not been for the nonexistent characterization and the Rod-and-Donish, plot-driven dialogue. In fact, the most credible dialogue comes from the experimental chimp named Jerry on whom the Canadian research team is working; using his plastic symbols, he spells out such lines as: "JERRY PUSH KRAMER INTO DIRTY BANANAS."


That should do for now.


Allan Weiss is a writer and teacher living in Toronto. As co-curator of the "Out of This WorldlVisions d'autres mondes" exhibit at the National Library of Canada, he compiled an extensive bibliography of Canadian science fiction from which "Buried Treasures" (appearing in the May 1995 issue of SOL Rising) was born. "More Buried Treasures" brings to light more works from that research.


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