SOL Rising
Number 18, April 1997

Not 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

Back 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 Tesseracts 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 memoirs.


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 will see.


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 Trotskyites group.


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 and undesirable:


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.


Second, 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 replied:


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 there be?


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! [laughter]


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 pride:


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 daughters.


AW: Were you trying to do something in your fiction, to come to terms with your relationship with your mother?


JM: No.


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 drastic later.


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.

Aft 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 it...


JM: Science fiction...


AW: And then you came back and there was Chicago.


JM: Yep.


To be continued.


Books by Judith Merril


Shadow on the Hearth (Doubleday, 1950)

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 Space

Out of Bounds (Pyramid Books, 1960). Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon

The Tomorrow People (Pyramid, 1960)

Daughters of Earth (Gollancz, 1968)

Daughters of Earth: three novels (Doubleday, 1969)

Survival Ship and Other Stories (Kakabeka, 1973)

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 Fantasy (Dell, 1956)

SF '56 (Gnome Press, 1956)

SF: The Year's Greatest Science‑Fiction and Fantasy: 2nd annual volume (Dell, 1957)

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 annual edition (Dell, 1959)

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

  Sci‑Fi 9

10th annual edition: The Years Best S‑F (Delacorte Press, 1965). Also published as The

  Best of Sci‑Fi 10

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 11

SF: The Best of the Best (Delacorte Press, 1967)

SF12 (Delacorte Press, 1968). Also published as The Best of Sci‑Fi 12

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, 1985)


End Note:


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


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 prejudiced."


Right on. We are, too.

Back to top   Home

The View From A Chair

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 Friends.


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 newsletter.


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 Collection.


 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 publications.


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 Queen Street.


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


Back to top   Home

The Fantastic Pulp and Paper Show

by Don Hutchison

Who knows what obsessions lurk in the heart of mid‑town Toronto?


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?

Back to top   Home

1997 Academic 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, or write to: Allan Weiss, Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, c/o English Department, York University, 4700 Keele St., North York, Ontario M3J 1P3.

Back to top   Home

Browsing the Stacks

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 of money.


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.

Back to top   Home




© 2000 Friends of the Merril Collection