Number 18, April 1997
Only A Mother: An Interview With Judith Merril
The View From A Chair
News From The Merril: or, I was a child horror
The Fantastic Pulp and Paper Show
1997 Academic Conference on Canadian Science
Fiction and Fantasy
Browsing The Stacks
to SOL Rising page
Not Only A
Mother: An Interview with Judith Merril
by Allan Weiss
On March 15, 1997, I had the opportunity to
chat with the founder of the Merril Collection.
Surprisingly, Judith had never been interviewed by SOL Rising before, despite the fact that neither it nor the
collection would exist without her. She is currently writing her memoirs,
which are anxiously awaited by everyone interested in not just her own work
but also the history of science fiction, especially its Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s.
Judith Merril was one of the
first women writers in the field, and one of the first to make a living at
it. Her first published story, "That Only a Mother" (1948), brought her instant fame; during
the next decade she published numerous other stories and novels both alone
and in collaboration with C. M. Kornbluth (as
Cyril Judd). She then went on to become editor of Dell's Year's Best SF anthologies.
She decided to move to Canada in 1968, after witnessing first‑hand the events at the
Democratic National Convention in Chicago where police violently
crushed an anti‑war demonstration. In Toronto, she became part of the scene
at Rochdale, an alternative college that
was the seedbed for new movements in many arts, notably poetry and music.
It was at Rochdale that the collection's history
began; she would lend out her books to friends, knowing full well many of
those books would never return. Eventually she agreed to donate her
collection to the Toronto Public Library.
By now her careers as fiction writer and editor were
largely over, and she turned her attention to political causes, above all
the nuclear arms race. But she remained part of the science fiction world,
and her next important contribution to the field was the editing of the first
anthology in 1985.
We spoke for an hour‑and‑a‑half; what follows is a
very condensed version of our conversation, which‑even during its
"heavy" parts‑was frequently punctuated by laughter. It
provides a taste of the amazing story we can look forward to in her
We began by talking about her childhood, and
especially one of the most important events in her life: the suicide of her
father. She recalls that her family tried to hide the true cause of his
death, pretending that he had had an accident so as to avoid family shame
and so that he could be buried in a Jewish cemetery (according to Jewish
law, suicides may not be buried in sanctified ground). She had what she
described as "a love‑hate relationship" with her mother,
although the true cause of the strain only became clear much later, as we
Judith's parents were
intellectuals who had very high expectations of themselves and each other, they encouraged her to write, and inculcated
their Zionism into her. At that time, Zionism meant more than simply Jewish
nationalism; it was an idealistic, leftist movement for social reform that
sought goals like the establishment of kibbutzim (cooperative farms). Her
politicization, then, began early, and was reinforced at school:
JM: I was at a high school
called Morris High School... Morris was extremely radical,
and mostly Stalinist at that time. I made a move from just plain
conventional Zionist to Poalei Tzion, which was social democratic Zionist. And then
after a couple of years in the high school I made the next jump to the
I wondered whether the Depression, which had
radicalized so many people, contributed to her own political development.
JM: I was practically born into
the Depression. It couldn't radicalize me, I grew up in it. To the extent
that there was a specific ideological radicalization it was the atmosphere
in the high school.
The Depression had two main psychological effects for
her. First, she became determined not to seek what seemed both unattainable
JM: I have noted that I'm a
minority member in regard to Depression effects, because economically the
effect it seemed to have on me was to make me uncomfortable with any kind
of security, whereas most of the people I know who grew up in the same situation
were desperate for security and couldn't survive in an insecure situation.
AW: And you were the opposite?
You were afraid of security?
JM: By the record I was afraid
of security. I mean, I was not conscious of being afraid of security, but I
had a repeated pattern of dumping everything I was doing every time I was
in danger of making a living.
during this period, and through her involvement in radical politics, she
developed an aversion to hierarchical social or other structures; when I
commented on her lifelong resistance to authority and convention, she
JM: Yes, whether it stems from
my relationship with my mother or whether it stems from I don't know what, certainly rebellion against authority has been a
consistent pattern. There used to be a song called the "United Front
Song" that us young radicals used to sing and
it had a line in it that for me was a passionate statement of where I was
at: "I want no servants under me or bosses overhead." [The
significance of it was that] it wasn't only rebellion against authority but
it was also rebellion against being an authority, and that, too, has stuck.
We talked about her beginnings as a writer of fiction.
She started out writing for the school paper, doing articles for the
Trotskyites, but had little thought of creative work. At this time she met
her first husband Daniel Zissman—bizarrely
enough, at a Trotskyite Fourth of July picnic—who was interested in
science fiction. She said that she had always avoided those magazines with
the terrible covers, but when she was home sick for an extended length of
time, she ran out of things to read and tried one of Daniel's magazines.
She was instantly hooked, although she couldn't say why; it seemed to have
been all the exciting new ideas portrayed, and she agreed that ideas had
always excited and been important to her. Also, there was the matter of
wanting to get the other installments of the serials published in the
issues she read.
While Dan was posted overseas during World War II,
Judith and her new‑born daughter set up house with her friend and
later agent Virginia Kidd. They had adjoining "railroad
apartments," meaning that a door joined the apartments; they knocked
out the wall between their closets and formed one large U‑shaped
apartment. That allowed them to spell each other in their maternal duties.
The combined apartment, which they called Parallax, became a gathering
place for the Futurians, a group of writers
including James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, and
Frederick Pohl, who met to discuss science fiction, politics, and so on.
AW: The Futurians
were a social as well as intellectual grouping; you were friends with each
other, occasionally lovers.
JM: Most of us were friends.
There wasn't as much climbing in and out of beds as one usually associates
with this kind of group. For one thing there were very few women.
AW: Apart from you who would
JM: Virginia Kidd at that time.
There had been a few women who were either active Futurians
or closely connected with them. In the pre‑war period when they were
living in their Slan‑shacks [fan communes]
and stuff like this, there had always been a ratio of about—this was
common in science fiction—at least four‑to‑one or
something like that. So there wasn't a lot of musical
chairs going on.
AW: Did you folks have a
philosophy? Did you share general ideas about things?
JM: I think the earlier Futurians had more shared philosophy, but they might
have been as argumentative—probably were. One of the recurrent
entertainments of the Parallax period was, we used to have community
dinners once a week; all these people came over, shared the costs, and
Virginia and I and sometimes one or two others would come over to help
cook... for some period of time the after‑dinner entertainment was
political arguments basically between Jim Blish
and myself. Jim in those days presented himself as what he called a
"book fascist," that is to say, that fascist economic ideology
and artistic ideology as of a miscellany futurist thing. Definitely he
totally deplored the crassness of Adolf Hitler;
he was a Mussolini man. And although by that time I had left the
Trotskyites, that was still the closest thing to
what represented my political state of mind. So we would get into very,
very challenging debates. My memory of these debates—Jim is not alive
to dispute it—is that week after week at the end Jim would say,
"Well, I don't know the answer to that point." And then the next
week we would take it up again and Jim would be sure he had the right answer,
and he would say, "Well, hum,..." So, I
think I won all of these hands down.
AW: Certainly not biased memory
at work there...
JM: No, of course not!
She began to write fiction professionally without
planning to make a major shift in her life; it just sort of happened
because of pressure or suggestions from others, above all Theodore
Sturgeon. Meanwhile, she and Dan had drifted apart:
JM: He got back from the front
lines where he had been offering his life in support of democracy... We had
both changed considerably; I had by that time begun to think of myself,
not necessarily as going to be a WRITER in stars on the marquee but as a
working writer, and he had decided that it was necessary in life to make a
living. I still thought of myself as some kind of revolutionary and he had
decided he was going straight. And I thought of myself as some kind of
intellectual and he had had a good immersion in U.S. military anti-intellectualism.
So we didn't really fit together very well. We had broken up.
In her early years, during the late 1940s, she wrote
mainly conventional sports stories for Scott Meredith, the literary agent,
who sold them to various pulp and general‑interest magazines. She
even sold a (technically inaccurate) golf story to the Toronto Star Weekly, her first connection in life with Toronto.
She met Frederick Pohl thanks to a vodka‑drinking
contest he and Bob Lowndes had decided to stage in Parallax:
JM: Fred [sat] there on the
living room couch and got very sick. And woke up
in the morning and by that time obviously we were well acquainted. When you
clean up somebody's vomit...
They began their relationship at the World Science
Fiction Convention in Philadelphia; eventually they married and
had a daughter. Last year was the sixtieth anniversary of the first
Philadelphia WoridCon, and Judith noted with
JM: April of this year is my
fiftieth anniversary as a science fiction writer. April of '47 is when I
wrote my first science fiction story. And in April of this year, if I don't
have a heart attack first, I am going to be presenting one of the awards at
the Nebula banquet as their emeritus author of the year. So I think it's a
very suitable occasion for my fiftieth anniversary.
I commented on the fact that the dominant theme in her
fiction is the relationship between mothers and daughters:
JM: Well, you have to figure how
much of my life was dominated by my relationship with my mother. Start with
that before you get into my relationship with my daughters... Remember I
did not basically in my formative years—or intellectual formative
years—have a father... I did not have sons. So it was all mothers and
AW: Were you trying to do
something in your fiction, to come to terms with your relationship with
AW: It was more than a
reflection of just the fact that that was such a dominant relationship in
your life. So you were working out the details of that kind of relationship
simply because that was what you knew best.
JM: That statement doesn't feel
right. I wasn't working out anything consciously. And I wasn't
particularly aware of the fact that I was writing about mothers and
daughters, even when Damon Knight made his famous canard remark in a review
to the effect that my fiction unfortunately always had the smell of diapers
and baby urine or something like that. It certainly didn't occur to me that
this was anything but a shortcoming of Damon's.
JM: After my breakup with Fred I
had a short period of quite interesting psychotherapy with a guy named Joe
Winter ...he [had] set up practice as a practitioner of psychosomatic
medicine in New York... and through various events I wound up under the
therapist care of Joe in the period when I was trying to put myself back
together after the breakup with Fred. And the significant thing that I was
trying to put back together was that I had gone completely dead in the
middle of a novella, and couldn't write.
JM: Joe had a couple of times
before told me that I could use a little psychotherapy and I should come
see him, and I had made noises to the effect of "I don't think
so!", and then I went running. I think that was the first time that I
ever looked analytically at what I wrote and why I wrote it, in part
because of the fact that Joe was looking analytically at it, and he started
questioning me on the basis of "That Only a Mother" as to why I
thought I was a monster. And I said, "My God, yes, I do think I am a
monster!" Isn't that interesting? [AW: I gave her a quizzical look.]
JM: Well, it seemed fairly apparent.
This was like, "Wow!" I had always been afraid that I was a
monster, at least in part because Mom had always sort of implied that I was
a monster. Or at least a very, very repulsive person. So, it was looking at
my own work from that kind of analytical stance that made me start saying,
"Oh, well, I've been writing about this or this..."
AW: Why did your mother imply
you were a monster?
JM: Well, I guess I was monster‑like
in her eyes. I don't know. How can you figure why your mother thought you were
a monster. No, I know some of the reasons she
thought I was a monster. Nothing I did, you must understand. I had had an
older brother, who was four years older than me, who was the absolute joy
of his parents' life... His name in fact was Simcha
[Hebrew for Joy]. And they called him Jiggs. I
was a baby in the carriage and he was a four‑year‑old active run‑arounder. An aunt was looking out for the two of us for
the afternoon, and she was paying attention to me 'cause I was crying in
the carriage or something like that and he ran out into the street and was
run over. So I killed her son. Truly. And I killed her husband, because he
couldn't handle the responsibility.
AW: Of course! Makes sense!
JM: Yeah, well, it does. No, it
really does. I mean, to her. When you get to know how mothers are it makes
sense. On the other hand, I was all she had left, so there was this really
possessive love at the same time, you know.
The writer's block was the result of her repressed
rage; Winter gave her the freedom to feel and express her anger without
guilt. Whenever she had sat down at the typewriter she tensed up:
JM: What I'd been doing was
being furiously angry but refusing to admit that I was angry at anybody
about anything. And so I was in a constant state of, "I'm going to hit
those keys! No, I can't hit anything!" So I started hitting
everything. I put up a punching bag. I had quite a roving population
through the house at this time, and people would hear the punching bag
start going and they would all say, "Did I do something?" And if
they had done something they would rush down to apologize to me. It was marvellous! I never had to get angry at anybody.
I asked whether she had a conscious political purpose
in writing stories focusing on female protagonists who were not stereotypical
big‑breasted heroines or pretty young innocents needing to be saved
from bug‑eyed monsters by granite‑jawed heroes. "No, no. I
was just writing about what I knew. I was writing about what interested
me." Such feminist expression came out of the fundamental political
element in her nature:
JM: This kind of politics is so
deep in me that it's not simply what you'd call ideological; I mean, it's
very emotional, it's personal, it's me... I've written very few pieces of
fiction in which I set out to express an ideological stance. It's certainly
true of "That Only a Mother," and it was true for my first novel [Shadow on the Hearth]. But in everything else, whether
political or moral or social or what have you, the viewpoints simply belonged
to the women I was writing about. And the women I was writing about were
one or another aspect of myself. The decision to
write about women was because it's what I could do. It's what I was.
AW: But the works on nuclear
holocaust—that had a more political purpose.
JM: That was directly designed
to be propaganda.
During the 1950s she became so consumed by her
editorial work that, without being completely aware of it, she stopped
writing fiction. Why?
JM: I don't think I've had a
reason for anything I do. What happened was a whole mess of things. I'd
started doing the annual anthologies in the mid‑fifties. I had
recently moved to Milford, I was putting my life back
together after losing out on an attempt to form a family with [Walter M.]
Miller, [Jr.], I was engaged in a long, drawn‑out custody suit which
also came out of the experiment with Miller, I was working for part of the
time as editor and total staff for a country weekly newspaper in Milford,
PA, I was involved in much more superficial relationships with two or three
different people over a period of several years, and I was learning to
listen to jazz... I was writing less, but not on purpose, and not with
much awareness that I was writing less... It took me some time to realize
that I hadn't written anything for quite a while, and it took much longer
to realize that I didn't really want to.
Perhaps she stopped writing fiction partly because she
had exorcised the demons in her that constituted the mother‑daughter
relationship. More importantly, the increased freedom that came with the
cultural revolution of the 1960s meant she could say what she thought
directly; she no longer had to couch revolutionary ideas in fictional form.
She also stopped doing anthologies for a characteristic reason:
JM: One of the things that was happening had to do with this business of not
wanting to be boss any more than I wanted to be servant, which was that I
had become a power in the field, and I was finding it very uncomfortable. I
was finding it harder and harder to have personal relationships with
anyone, because people would sidle up to me and say, `You know, if you want
to use one of my stories you don't have to pay for it' [laughter] and shit
like that. And I was also becoming very, very—although gradually—very
acutely uncomfortable in my persona as an American, which became much more
It may be, too, that she did not want to be the sort
of dominant and controlling figure in the field that her mother had been at
home. In any case, the very real possibility of nuclear Armageddon and,
later, the Vietnam War, attracted her inherent political drive, and so in
the 1960s, science‑fictional speculation gave way to activism. She
participated in the anti‑Vietnam War and nuclear disarmament movements.
Also, she went to England during the mid-1960s,
intrigued by the exciting new things happening there:
AW: I really wanted to get to
know the whole scene over there. So that was what happened.
More exciting things were happening in science fiction over there...
JM: Well, certainly more
exciting things were happening in science fiction but also more exciting
things were happening in general. I mean, this was swinging London.
AW: Music, clothing, you name
JM: Science fiction...
AW: And then you came back and
there was Chicago.
To be continued.
Books by Judith Merril
Shadow on the
Gunner Cade (Simon & Schuster, 1952)
(with Cyril Kombluth)
Outpost Mars (Abelard, 1952). Originally published as Mars Child (Galaxy 2, [May‑July
1952]); also published as Sin in
Out of Bounds (Pyramid Books, 1960). Introduction by Theodore
Earth (Gollancz, 1968)
Daughters of Earth: three novels (Doubleday, 1969)
and Other Stories
The Best of Judith
Merril (Warner, 1976)
Books edited by Judith Merril
Shot in the Dark (Bantam, 1950)
Beyond Human Ken (Random House, 1952)
Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time (Random House, 1954)
Human? (Lion, 1954)
Off the Beaton Orbit (Pyramid, 1955 and 1959).
Also published as Galaxy of Ghouls
(Lion Library Editions, 1955)
SF: The Years Greatest Science‑Fiction and
SF '56 (Gnome Press, 1956)
SF: The Year's Greatest Science‑Fiction and Fantasy:
2nd annual volume
SF '57 (Gnome Press, 1957)
SF: The Years Greatest Science‑Fiction and
Fantasy: 3rd annual volume (Dell, 1958)
SF: The Years Greatest S‑F and Fantasy. 4th
5th annual edition: The Year's Best S‑F (Dell, 1961). Also published
as The Best of Sci‑Fi 5
6th annual edition: The Year's Best S‑F (Dell, 1962).
7th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S‑F (Dell, 1963). Also published
as The Best of Sci‑Fi 7
The 8th Annual Edition of the Year's Best S‑F (Simon & Schuster, 1963)
8th annual edition: the Year's Best S‑F (Dell, 1964). Also published
as The Best of Sci‑Fi 8
9th annual edition: The Year's Best S‑F (Dell, 1964).
9th annual edition: the Year's Best S‑F (Simon & Schuster, 1964).
Also published as The Best of
10th annual edition: The Years Best S‑F (Delacorte
Press, 1965). Also published as The
Best of Sci‑Fi
10th annual edition: The Years Best S‑F (Dell,1966)
11th annual edition: The Year's best S‑F (Delacorte
Press, 1966). Also published as The
Best of Sci‑Fi
SF: The Best of the Best (Delacorte
SF12 (Delacorte Press, 1968).
Also published as The Best of Sci‑Fi
The Best of Sci‑Fi 10 (Mayflower Books, 1968)
England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (Doubleday, 1968)
Path Into The Unknown: The Best of Soviet Science
Fiction (Delacorte Press, 1968)
Tesseracts (Press Porcépic,
There's been a lot of discussion recently on the internet
newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written about Judith and
her recent honouring by SFWA as Author Emeritus.
Among them I found this little gem, from firstname.lastname@example.org:
I am a very big Judy Merril
fan and have been for years. My admiration only intensified when I met her
in Vancouver. I spent an awe‑struck and marvelous afternoon
in the cafeteria of UBC, listening to Judy talk on while intelligently
covering a variety of subjects. After she left for another appointment, I
fumed to a fiend and said, 'She's the woman for whom they invented the
phrase, "Geez, what a great old broad."'
Obviously, when it comes to Judy Merril, I’m
Right on. We are, too.
The View From A
by Jody Hancock
I recently attended a "Gathering of
Friends," hosted by the Friends of the North York Public Library. This
annual event gives library volunteer groups an opportunity to come together
to share information and ideas on how to accomplish their common goals as
This year's gathering heard thirteen different
presentations from groups as near as our own Friends of the Merril Collection to as far as the Friends of the Lac du Bonnet Public Library in Manitoba. While our organization has
officially been around since 1981, most of the groups in attendance were
formed within the last five years, primarily in response to budget cuts
and/or legislative changes affecting their respective libraries.
Each group highlighted its recent activities and
outlined plans for the coming year, concentrating on the twin tasks of
advocacy and fund‑raising. I was quite impressed by the amount of
money these young organizations had already raised, most often through book
sales. But what impressed me even more was, for all we have in common with
these other groups, the Friends of the Merril
Collection is still rather an odd duck when set down amongst its siblings.
Unlike the others, we support a specialized research
collection ‑ a non‑circulating library within a circulating
library, if you will. While this narrows our scope from that enjoyed by the
typical library group, it allows us the rare opportunity to reach beyond
the local community to cultivate an international membership. The nature of
the Collection precludes our raising money by selling its used books but it
also means we can point to the Collection and truly say what you find here
you will find nowhere else.
Because most of these groups were born from the need
to raise money for their libraries, their activities focus on exactly that
and their success as Friends organizations is measured by, though not
limited to, their ability to raise these funds. For much of our life, fund‑raising
has been a non‑issue. Instead, we focused on other priorities with a
different set of benchmarks for what constituted success.
Historically speaking, our activities have been driven
by two things. First was the decade long struggle to secure a better home
for the Collection, and second was the real desire to give our members
"something of value" in return for their ongoing support. Our
members enjoy a far greater variety of benefits than do members of other
Friends groups, including author readings and book launches, free or
discounted event admissions, discounted merchandise, and an award winning
However, all these activities are labour
intensive and consume the lion's share of what little money they may earn.
While our members have said they want, even expect, these
types of activities, actual member attendance is declining. On the
other hand, non‑member attendance is increasing, paid membership is
at an all time high, and both the Collection and the Friends are benefiting
from a heightened public recognition.
From a fund‑raising standpoint, the effort
expended far exceeds the revenue generated while membership fees barely
cover the newsletter and flying in one author for a reading. But from a
public relations view, we are in top form. Like other Friends groups, we
need to raise significant funds and this will necessitate some changes in
what we do and how we do it At the same tine, we want to continue giving
our members "something of value." Achieving a balance between the
two will be tricky but we can do it as long as we remember our overriding
goal is to do what is best to support the Merril
Back to top Home
News from the Merril: or, I was a child horror
by Lorna Toolis
Libraries don't occur nearly often enough in fiction.
This is probably because they are popularly perceived as being dull, safe
places. This has never been the perception of the people who work in them,
although admittedly seething human passion is discouraged. It interferes
with the orderly pursuit of knowledge. See? I sound like a Vulcan.
The Merril Collection is
fabulous because interested people are able to come to one place and find almost
everything they have ever wanted to read. If, of course, the book actually
exists. Not all the books we are asked for are, or were, actual
Long ago, before acne became my major problem in life,
I rummaged in the stacks and card catalogue of the Winnipeg Public Library,
firmly believing I was going to find The
Necronomicon mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's books on the shelf somewhere. The mental
image that comes to mind is of a horrible, Len Norris‑style moppet,
pointy eyes, ears and eyes, running amok in the stacks, while staff come
running with a butterfly net. In retrospect, I'm surprised the long‑suffering
librarians didn't mug me and hide my corpse in the patent section.
Now, of course, I am one of the librarians and I have
to work at overcoming the urge to tell the person requesting the tome of
ancient, sinister, forbidden knowledge that the books bound in human skin are
all in the South of France, getting
a good tan; that we had a copy, but the Men in Black came for it last week;
or, that we had a copy, but we signed it out to someone who never returned
it. The card was, of course, signed in hieroglyphs not known to man.
As another staff member put it, "You never let us
have any fun!"
After a phone call from a TPL branch which I will not
identify out of sheer sympathy for the librarian involved (who had spent a
great deal of time searching for another apocryphal book), staff created a
master‑list of ancient, hidden tomes of forbidden wisdom that
unfortunately happen not to exist.
Accordingly, the next time a young and trusting
patron insists that Dean Koontz's oft‑cited The Book of Counted Sorrows definitely exists,
we will be able to assure him: "He made it up! A member of the Friends
of Merril checked!"
Mostly the patrons refuse to accept this, and are
deeply convinced that librarians are unfamiliar with the dark secrets of
the earth. Could be. There is no doubt that librarians
as a group have a reputation for being pleasant, unworldly and occasionally
vague. The patrons then head South, in order to check out the second hand
book stores owned and run by those incredible sophisticates, the bookmen of
Sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive. For
hopeful travellers, The Merril
Collection catalogue lists four different books under the title of The Necronomicon
to top Home
Pulp and Paper Show
by Don Hutchison
Who knows what obsessions lurk in the heart of mid‑town
Only The Shadow knows... and even he turned up at the Friends of the Merril
Collection's first annual Fantastic
Pulp and Paper Show.
From a weather standpoint, it was a day right out of Weird Tales. But some 200 dedicated
souls braved driving rain, sleet, and chilling winds to make the Merril Collection's salute to science fiction and
fantasy's pulp fiction heritage an overwhelming success. It was, in fact,
one of the most successful events in the history of the collection, drawing
in many people of different backgrounds, ages, and collecting interests,
all sharing a common obsession with the literature of the fantastic.
Pulp magazines? You can't find them at your local
bookstore anymore—not in the last half century anyway—but we
had hundreds of them for sale and display, ranging from such famous (and
infamous) titles as Astounding
Science Fiction and Amazing
Stories, The Shadow, Foreign Legion Adventures, Jungle Stories, and
even Spicy Mystery Stories. If
you couldn't afford the pulps (even though many sold at bargain prices),
there were pulp cover fridge magnets, pulp fiction reprints, original art
and cover art reproductions, digest magazines, posters, pulp‑related
comics, and even pulp cover T‑shirts available. Of course there were
also books galore, ranging from collectible paperbacks to limited edition sf and fantasy hardcovers,
to inexpensive hard‑to‑find reading copies—heaven on earth
for those who treasure imaginative fiction of all stripes.
In order to bring these paper treasures together in
one day under one roof, dealers congregated not only from points in
southern Ontario but from places as distant as
Michigan, Maryland, and Illinois. A major reason for the
successful turnout of both readers and suppliers was an energetic
promotion campaign which included the wide‑spread distribution of
advertising flyers, articles in various newspapers and magazines, and
considerable coverage on local radio stations and television outlets. The
event itself was covered by a crew from YTV's AntiGravity Room series, which is also
broadcast throughout the United States on cable television's Sci‑Fi
Channel. The result of such media attention was a steady stream of
customers throughout the day, many of whom were previously unfamiliar with
the Merril Collection. In all, 187 people turned
out, including actor John Colicos, best known for
his roles in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.
While we advertised our one-day extravaganza as a
show, not a convention, the overall atmosphere was convention‑like,
with food and liquid refreshments, ongoing tours hosted by collection head
Loma Toolis (a total of 92 people had a chance to
look at the collection), book and magazine appraisals by experts Robert
Knowlton and Jamie Fraser, and an auction amusingly handled by sf fan Michael Glicksohn. A
sure sign of the show's success was that even the dealers and volunteer
helpers professed to have had as much fun as those who paid their admission
to the event.
At the end of the day, all of the suppliers, both
local and out‑of‑town, indicated their delight with the first
annual Fantastic Pulp and Paper Show and they plan to return in 1998 with
even more spectacular material for sale.
See you next year?
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Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy
The 1997 Annual Academic Conference on Canadian
Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held this year on Saturday, June 7 at
the home of the Merril Collection in the Lillian
H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library (basement program room). It
is a one day academic symposium at which guest speakers will be giving
papers on topics of their choice in the field of Canadian science fiction.
Subject matter is sourced from any media, such as print, television, film,
and comic/graphic novels, as long as it
has Canadian content. This year's keynote speaker is Guy Gavriel Kay; special guest speaker is Judith Merril. There will be papers on the writings of [Guy Gavriel] Kay, William Gibson, Phyllis Gotlieb, Elisabeth Vonarburg,
and Margaret Atwood, as well as on the television show Forever Knight.
Past speakers include Allan Weiss (co‑curator of
the Out of this World exhibit at the National Library in Ottawa), Robert Runte
(co‑editor of Tesseracts6), Nancy Johnston, Trevor Holmes and Paula
Johansen. Attendance at the conference is open both to academics and to a
general audience. There will be a small registration fee.
If you are interested
in attending the conference, or would like more information, please direct
your enquiries via e‑mail to email@example.com, or write to: Allan
Weiss, Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, c/o
English Department, York University, 4700 Keele
North York, Ontario M3J 1P3.
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by Lorna Toolis
Neil Gaiman's Sandman books
offer the reader a library that holds all of the books that humans have
ever dreamed of writing, instead of those where somebody actually sat down
and applied a writing implement to a piece of paper, or a chisel to a slab
of stone. This would be a good collection, not as good as the Merril Collection, but close. Like Morpheus,
we don't store books, we house dreams. For people deeply involved with the
genre, we offer everything they have ever wanted to read, including those
titles they couldn't find any place else.
People who have been looking for obscure titles for
decades and have given up in disgust can finally see materials they have
given up all hope of ever finding. A patron mentioned James Schmitz's A Nice Day for Screaming and Other Tales
of the Hub in tones of gentle regret, saying "What a pity it was
never published." He was deeply surprised to learn that the book had
indeed been published and staff were happy to be
able to provide it.
Some people love the books for their content, others
as artifacts. Ideally, of course, the best books are fabulous stories,
beautifully assembled. Cheap Street is a publisher who puts together remarkably
beautiful books, hot‑metal type on hand‑made paper, written by
major authors in the field. The Merril Collection
is one of the very few Canadian subscribers to Cheap Street.
When I first came to Toronto, I remember phoning Jan O'Nale, one of the publishers of Cheap Street, to convince her that she
should accept the Merril Collection as a
subscriber. The process was not unlike trying to buy a kitten from a
particularly choosy breeder. You explain the reasoning, give references,
and when that doesn't work, you break down and plead, offering large sums
The large sums of money tend to be a recurring theme.
It is difficult to predict which books will really become popular with
collectors. Scarcity, condition and popularity are all contributing
factors, but the net result is a lack of general availability to people
without the financial resources to obtain their own copies.
The most often requested out of print materials are
those that were published by Arkham House.
Originally founded to keep the works of H.P. Lovecraft
in print, Arkham House has had a rare gift over
the years for publishing excellent dark fantasy. Largely unavailable
through reprints, often referred to in the literature,
a source of Arkham House books is a wonderful
thing for people who spent most of their childhoods trying to find copies.
The Arkham House printing of
Leah Bodine Drake's book, A Hornbook for Witches, was extremely small, only about 500 copies;
attrition further reduced the number of copies available. Patrons may read
the Merril Collection copy anytime. Likewise, Skullface and Others contains some of Robert
Howard's best fiction. Howard is much better known for Conan [the Barbarian], but I have always felt that nothing has
ever matched the menace generated by Kathulos of
Atlantis in the title story, or the savagery encountered by Solomon Kane.
Wrapped in a fabulous Hannes Bok
dustjacket, Skullface is the epitome of
wonderful pulp fiction.
The pulp magazines also offer the lure of the exotic,
with appealing, unselfconscious art that draws every patron who looks at
them. Scarce and expensive, the pulps have been stored in the back room for
over two decades, too fragile to survive the amount of handling they
attract. As the Merril Collection is hosting the
first annual Fantastic Pulp & Paper Show this April, staff will assemble
a display of the most interesting items.
Staff will be taking tours through the stacks during
the Fantastic Pulp & Paper Show so that people will be able to look for
their own favourite items.
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