Number 19, August 1997
The 1997 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and
The View From A Chair
News From The Merril
Prix Aurora Awards
Beyond the Whole Jar: An Interview With Judith Merril,
Browsing the Stacks
Back to SOL Rising page
1997 Academic Conference On Candian Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Allan Weiss
The Merril Collection recently hosted the 1997
Academic Confrence on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (ACCSFF), which I had the
honour of organizing and chairing. The conference, which we hope will become an annual
event, is an offspring of a similar conference founded by Jim Botte and Sían Reid and
held for two years in Ottawa. The two-day event was held Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June
7, and featured twelve presenters, two guest speakers, and a special tribute to Phyllis
Gotlieb. Our organizing committee was made up of Nancy Johnston (Treasurer), Trevor Holmes
(publicity), Paul Valcour (publicity), Annette Mocek of the Merril Collection
(refreshments) and Theresa Wojtasiewicz of the Friends of the Merril Collection
(publications and registration). Janet Hetherington was responsible for designing the
artwork. Financial assistance was provided by the English Department of York University,
Paul Valcour and the Friends of the Merril Collection.
The Friends held a pre-conference reception Friday
evening, to honour the participants and permit us to get to know each other. The
conference then began with a provocative opening address by Collection founder Judith
Merril, followed by a lively panel discussion on Canadian fantastic fictions chaired by
Veronica Hollinger, co-editor of Science Fiction Studies.
The activities on Saturday opened with a keynote
address by Guy Gavriel Kay, who spoke on the relationships between history and fantasy. We
then had the presentation of papers, in five sessions: "Nationalism and SF,"
"Feminist and Dystopian Worlds," "Phyllis Gotlieb," "New Modes of
Production," and "William Gibson." The presenters were: James Allard
(University of Waterloo), John Fitzsimmons (Central Queensland University), Sylvie Bérard
(University of Toronto), Sharon Taylor (McGill University), Dominick Grace (Algoma
College), Nancy Johnston (York University), Wendy Pearson (Trent University), Trevor
Holmes (York University), C.J. Lockett (University of Toronto), Julie C. Dueck (University
of Manitoba), Michael Laplace-Sinatra (Oxford University) and myself (York University).
Apart from Gotlieb and Gibson, papers dealt with such authors as Kay, Margaret Atwood,
Louky Bersianik, and Élisabeth Vonarburg; my own paper discussed Canadian narratives
about foreign and alien invasions. During the session on her work we presented Phyllis
Gotheb with a certificate honoring her for her lifelong contribution to Canadian science
fiction. For many years, she virtually was Canadian SF, and this recognition was,
we felt, long overdue.
We were thrilled with the turnout. The total
number of participants, counting presenters, guests and attendees, was 48-far exceeding
our estimates. The papers were very interesting and took a variety of approaches, some
traditional, others more theoretical, but all helping us better understand the works being
discussed. Even people who had never attended an academic conference before found much to
think and talk about-which is what these conferences are all about.
The quality of papers and the great support of
both the academic and science fiction communities helped make the conference a tremendous
success. Participants enjoyed it immensely, and were enthusiastic about coming back next
year. Without the Friends, the members of the organizing committee, and all our speakers,
ACCSFF could not have taken place, let alone become so successful. Thanks to their
contributions, we were able to prove that Canadian science fiction has reached the point
where it can be taken seriously as part of our literary heritage.
Back to top Home
The View From
by Jody Hancock
I recently came across a poster published by Lockheed-Martin to
help celebrate the first annual Space Day in the United States. The overall theme was
"Embrace Space" and one of the accompanying publicity blurbs promoted Space Day
as an opportunity to recognize some of humanity's greatest achievements made possible by
the space program and to nurture children's love of science, math, and other space-related
The poster itself was titled "101 Things to do on Space
Day" but I think it should have been titled "101 Things to do on Any Day."
I'd like to share a few of them with you.
8. Rent 2001: A Space Odyssey.
27. Tour the science center nearest you.
35. Ask a child to write a poem about space.
43. Write a short story that begins, "Last night I dreamed I was an
58. Watch Alien. But not alone.
59. Read a Jules Verne book. List all the things about the future he got
right. (And wrong.)
80. Visit your child's school and learn all you can about the science
81. Determine which co-worker you'd most like to see sent into space for
an indefinite period.
85. Go to your public library and check out books about the moon.
95. Read The Martian Chronicles.
96. Read the Foundation trilogy.
100. Hum a few bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Better yet, hum
101. Celebrate humanity.
The list included many other wonderful suggestions but I think you
get the idea. One can hardly "embrace space" and celebrate all that humanity's
space-related efforts have accomplished in medicine, communications, and countless other
fields without including speculative fiction in its many forms. As I've said before,
dreamer and doer, fact and fiction, often walk hand-in-hand.
So, with this in mind, let me add a few suggestions of my own.
102. Visit your child's school and learn all
about the literature curriculum. Encourage the school to include speculative fiction.
103. Give the gift of a good speculative fiction work to a friend.
104. Watch Plan 9 From Outer Space with several of your least
serious friends and plenty of junk food. (It's the only way.)
105. Go to your public library and work your way through its entire
speculative fiction list. If the list is small or incomplete, donate a new copy of a
favorite book to help fill the gap.
106. Offer to read science fiction and fantasy to children at your local
library or school.
And, of course,
107. Support the Merril Collection with your direct donations and through
membership in the Friends.
I'm sure you all have excellent ideas of your own to add to the
above list. Share them with friends and family. Embrace space yourself, with a good book
firmly grasped in your hand.
Back to top Home
by Lorna Toolis
I went to see Contact recently. The
critics' response to this movie has been mixed, I think because a lot of people don't
understand what I will call, for lack of a better phrase, the outward urge. People who
read science fiction won't suffer from this problem.
From the moment the audience sees Jody Foster's
character setting up shop in the more remote parts of the world for SETI (the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence), they understand the hunger that drives her life.
Show me a creature that is not a human but is as
intelligent as a human-to paraphrase John Campbell. This is what the best science fiction
is about: encouraging us to learn to think better, and to think differently, trying to see
around the blinders that our culture and our time create.
Science fiction, like other forms of popular
culture, is worth studying because it is in our most unguarded moments that we display the
ideas in which we are truly interested. One of the most successful attempts to look at
human society from outside is Frank Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment. It is a
fascinating study of power structures in different cultures. It is also one of his least
popular books, because the reader has to pay close attention in order to understand what
Herbert is saying.
Following this thought took me to the latest
shipment received at the Merril Collection, which I was checking against the series list.
Out of 40 titles, all but four had to be added to one series listing or another. This
indicates a certain lack of originality, to say the least. Over the last decade sequelitis
has snowballed, becoming a literary equivalent of Gresham's Law, whereby series fiction
drives out originality. Without casting myself as a major attraction in the next Jurassic
Park movie, I can remember a time when books were about ideas, and when the idea stopped
so did the book.
I notice that many vendors have started shelving
some science fiction and fantasy apart from the rest of the genre, these being the Star
Trek and Star Wars novels and anything involving Dragonlance and The
Forgotten Realms. Were they to continue this policy by filing all series books in
this section, however, there would be very few books, either science fiction or fantasy,
in the one-of-a-kind section.
This isn't something that is being inflicted upon
us. We buy these books, or else the publishers would stop publishing them. When people are
tired of vampires, the vendors will stop shipping the Merril Collection half a dozen of
the wretched things every shipment. (Staff are very tired of vampires.) [Before vampires,
we were tired of dragons, and before dragons, we were fed up with unicorns.]
If we declare cultural bankruptcy when movies
happen with Roman numerals after the title, the same rule has to apply to printed
fictions. Think back to when you first found the book that made you care, the
lightning-in-a-bottle sensation that good SF gives. There isn't enough of that kind of
fiction, so we settle for what is available. But now, collectively, we have created a
market that actively works against originality.
So, where does it stop? Does the genre divide, the
gulf between the saved and the damned being approximately the difference between those who
like repetitive fiction and those who don't? Or is this a trend that has already been
carried as far as it can go, without boring everybody to tears?
Back to top Home
by Dennis Mullin
What is an Aurora? According to my dictionary:
A display of arcs, bands, streamers, etc. of
light occasionally seen in the skies of polar latitudes.
The dawn. In Roman mythology, Aurora was the
goddess of the dawn.
The name given the awards presented annually for
the best in Canadian SF and fantasy. Collectively known as the Prix Aurora Awards.
This is the 17th year that the Canadian SF and
Fantasy Association awards will be presented. Each year a different convention or group
has hosted the awards. In 1997 they will be presented November 1st at a ceremony hosted by
PRIMEDIA (a fan-run media convention being held in Toronto, Oct. 31 -Nov. 2).
Since 1991, awards have been presented in 10
categories. There are 6 professional awards (3 English and 3 French), 3 fan awards, and
the artistic achievement award (open to both pros & fans). At the beginning, in 1980,
there was only one award.
The Auroras are closest to the style of the Hugos
in the method that they are selected. First there is a nomination phase to select a short
list, then a voting phase to pick the winner from that short fist. The Australian voting
method is used for the voting phase. This method has the voter rank their choices in each
category. Voting this way makes it difficult for anyone to "buy" an award.
The awards are financed by voting fees, by
donations and by the host convention. There is no permanent funding-it is on a year to
year basis. This can cause problems if the host convention lost money overall. Some of the
1996 Aurora winners are still waiting for the delivery of their trophies.
How important are the Prix Aurora Awards? This
varies a bit depending on the category. For example, for the English professional
categories the Auroras are third in importance, after the Hugos and Nebulas. A number of
books have been published in the past couple of years proclaiming the author to be an
Aurora winner. I also know the delight that many people express when I let them know that
they have been nominated. Another measure of the importance of the awards, unfortunately,
is the attempts at "buying" an award, rather than winning it on merit. This is
primarily a problem with nominations. One of the duties of the committee overseeing the
nomination and voting process is to discourage such efforts.
This year, the Aurora committee (consisting of
Dennis Mullin and Ruth Stuart) received 175 nomination ballots in time to be counted.
Thirty-eight ballots were received that had identical selections; they were all
photocopies of a filled out ballot that had been sent to friends and relatives to mail in
(one of the clumsier attempts to influence the awards). All were disqualified.
There is a fine line between asking people to look at your work and to nominate or vote
for it if they like it and asking people to nominate or vote as you indicate. The awards
will only continue to have value as long as the nomination criteria is based on merit
rather than on the number of friends or relatives a person has.
Despite problems, the future of the award looks
good. I know of at least 4 conventions whose organizers have expressed an interest in
hosting the awards in upcoming years. You can expect some changes in the award over the
next couple of years. This is a good sign, as it shows that people are interested and
willing to take the effort to make the Aurora the finest of Canadian awards.
Dennis lives in Kitchener, Ontario. He
discovered organized random in 1975, spent over a decade helping run Wilfcon, and has been
involved with the administration of the Prix Aurora Awards since 1992.
Back to top Home
the Whole Jar: An Interview With Judith Merril, Part II
by Allan Weiss
In the April issue, my first interview with Judith
Merril - covering her life up to the 1960s - appeared, and proved to be a fascinating
document. Members of the Friends of the Merril Collection who know little about the
library's founder, and even those who think they know about her, learned a great deal
about Judy and the science-fiction world of the 1930s and 1940s. I had the opportunity to
speak with her again, on March 25, 1997, and to bring the story up to date. Most
relevantly for SOL RISING, we talked about the founding of the library, and
Judy's motivations for coming to Canada in the first place. We also discussed her
impressions of Canadian nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, and her role in editing the
first of the important Tesseracts anthologies. Despite a bad cold, she was
articulate, forceful, and very patient.
She has also pointed out some errors in the last
interview. She became a Trotskyite not in high school, but during her brief stay at the
City College of New York. I misspelled Frederik Pohl's first name and mistakenly described
Theodore Sturgeon as a member of the Futurians. Judy was encouraged to write fiction by
Futurians Robert Lowndes and John Michel; "two or three years later, Sturgeon pushed
me into writing science fiction." A "railway apartment' is one with no hall,
"in which you go through rooms to get to other rooms." Also, the true story of
the origins of the Collection appears below.
THE THEME OF TELEPATHY
We began by discussing an aspect of Judy's fiction
we did not get into last time, the prominence of the theme of telepathy. She explained
that it was a common subject of fiction and discussion at the time, and she came to
believe we have always possessed the ability to communicate in ways that transcend
JM: I have had a number of experiences that have convinced me that it is
a human capability, and I spent a good deal of time many years ago trying to think about
what it consists of, and why it sometimes works for some people and doesn't work for many
others. It is certainly something I and a number of other writers that I knew at the time
were very interested in and we did a lot of talking and thinking about it. I should make
absolutely clear that I have no belief in the supernatural; I do not think it is
extrasensory in any sense whatsoever, and I have no interest or belief in stuff like
channeling or so forth; but I do think human beings have a basic ability to perceive
certain kinds of energy configurations which are not explicable to us so far in terms of
what we call the usual five senses.
She provided some specific examples of experiences
she has had:
JM: Well, one of the things that awoke my interest in it was the
experience of being the mother of a newborn baby. I think most mothers I've talked to have
had similar experiences. I think it is an ability with which we are born. I think it
diminishes, whether because we train it out of children or because it becomes less
necessary when they develop speech. In my view, it is indeed an ability which only by
rather intensive training can be maintained after the semantic centres of the brain begin
to be trained and grow, that the development of speech is inhibitory to this ability. And
some people by esoteric disciplines or by luck are, able to maintain it. Most people are
not. I have never met anyone who has unvarying control over the facility.
I mentioned the prevalence of the theme in the
works of other writers of the period, like Isaac Asimov:
JM: There was a period in science fiction-which I can't date off the top
of my head at the moment, but was probably the forties, fifties-when there was as much
interlocked group-think about this as there was, for instance, a little earlier about
space travel. That is, quite a lot of authors were speculating about it, picking up things
from each other's stories, adding to it, building on it, and talking to each other about
I noted that groups of writers often influence
each other-in theme, subject matter, even technique:
JM: Well, I think this has been spectacularly so in science fiction, in
its earlier period in North America in particular, when it was a ghetto literary society,
and self-enclosed to a certain extent, and that there was a constant intellectual
interchange going on, partly through the reading of other people's stories, and partly
through group discussion and correspondence. In regard to telepathy in particular, some of
the names one thinks of immediately during that period are-you mentioned Asimov, who was
not really part of the interchange to a great extent, but certainly Theodore Sturgeon,
Mark Clifton, Randall Garrett, Wilmar Shiras, Katherine MacLean, to name the ones that I
can think of off the top of my head. Theodore Cogswell. There were others.
She even performed some experiments, especially
with Katherine MacLean:
JM: Each of us had a particular thing about our appearance that we wished
to change, and this house had an enormous mirror floor to ceiling in our living room, so
we would sit in front of the mirror for a certain period each day, and concentrate on the
change we wanted. What I wanted was curly black hair, and what I had was straight or
almost straight brown hair. What she wanted was to change the shape of the area over her
upper lip. It didn't work too well for her; it worked dramatically for me. My hair did not
actually turn black, but it appeared black, and it did get curly. I can show you
photographs of before and after. It stayed curly for years and of course stayed more or
less black until it turned gray. It even seems to me, as I report it now, improbable, but
it did occur. Considering the number of things that we can do with our bodies either under
hysterical pressure or by trained mind-body stuff, hair would be one of the most
susceptible things. What's needed to change that curl factor in the hair is not something
insuperable. What happened with the colour is more interesting, because it did darken. It
was never truly black, but from that time on people spoke of me as having black hair.
She had what she called a "hypnogogic dream,
a half-waking vision," in which she thought she was seeing Mark Clifton's home in
JM: We had never met, I had never seen a photograph or anything else, and
I had made a drawing of this and sent it to him. It was not a picture of his home; it was
a picture, almost exact, of a house that was being built across the street from him. So
there you have both the reliability and unreliability of this kind of information.
A CANTICLE FOR MILLER
We discussed Judy's relationship with Walter M.
Miller, Jr., and how it began.
AW: First of all, how did a devout Catholic and a Communist Jew hook up
in the first place?
JM: [Laughter] Pheromones. ESP. I was living in Red Bank, New Jersey, in
the house that Fred Pohl and I had lived in as husband and wife-Fred had moved out and our
divorce arrangements had worked out that I would retain the house. In the aftermath of the
WorldCon in New York there was a Hydra Club party that Walt was at. Well, our first
meeting had apparently been years before at a New Orleans con, but I was unaware of having
met him there. I was a big pro and he was at that time a fan, and although the con was
small I think he probably didn't even approach me. He was not-shy isn't the right word-but
in social situations where he was not totally at ease he tended to just withdraw into
himself. At the Hydra Club he was doing the same thing; I saw him, I had read some of his
work, I was interested in meeting him, but. you'd walk up to a few feet away from him, and
he was sitting there with his arms crossed across his chest and an absolutely rock-like
look on his face, and it was as if there was a wall. So, although we were introduced we
did not really speak. Kate MacLean, who was then living with me in Red Bank, somehow got
past that wall, and wound up inviting him out to Red Bank for the weekend. When he
arrived, and I opened the door, I think everything that happened afterwards was implicit
in the first glance.
JM: Yep. So that's how a Catholic like him and a Jewish
Trotskyite-please, not Communist!-like me got together. He walked up to the door and
knocked on it.
Their relationship lasted about a year, and they
lived together, "first in New Jersey, then Colorado, then New Jersey, then
Florida." Judy had two children-one with Daniel Zissman, one with Frederik Pohl-and
her relationship with Miller led to a custody battle:
JM: The custody problem was about my having had a relationship with
Miller and having lived with him. Actually, the custody problem was always potentially
there and the interlude with Miller was sort of seized upon by my various
ex-"spice" as something that looked like it might work.
I asked if she and Miller had had interesting
JM: Many. Many. About almost everything. But they were intellectual
differences, and they were exciting and interesting differences. The real differences I
don't think either of us let ourselves be aware of until after the whole thing was over,
and those had to do with lifestyle expectations. For instance, I was astonished at how
much I was willing to be in the position of a wife when I was with him, that because of my
respect for him as a writer, it seemed to me as worthwhile for me to be taking care of the
kids or cooking dinner as sitting at my typewriter as long as he was sitting at his
typewriter. Which is not to say that if it had been only his typewriter I would have been
satisfied. But I thought we were having a pretty "normal" husband-wife-type
labour split: the things he did and the things I did. It wasn't till much later that I
discovered what a struggle he had been going through putting up with my lacks as a wife!
But we were- "in love" is not a terribly meaningful term, and it has a lot to do
as well with the talk about telepathy and ESP and so forth: we fitted together, and
differences were like differences in oneself-, you believe this but, no, you believe that.
It was compulsive, it was addictive, and there was never a breakup in the emotional sense.
What broke it up was my first daughter's father coming down and pulling a sort of raid
thing with the sheriff to carry her off, because Walter and I were living "in
AW: I would love for you to be able to tell me that your interest in the
problem of nuclear weapons had something to do with A Canticle for Leibowitz.
JM: I think Walt's concern was as great as mine at the time we met. He
had been in the Air Force in Italy, and there is a story of his-"Wolf
Pack"-which expressed his own concerns. I think the effect I had on A Canticle
for Leibowtiz was the character of the Wandering Jew. [Laughter] I'm serious!
A "NEW THING"
During the 1960s, Judy became closely associated
with the New Wave movement in science fiction in England, which was centred around the
magazines New Worlds (edited by John Carnell and then by Michael Moorcock) and Science
Fantasy/Impulse (edited by Kyril Bonfiglioli), and featured authors like Brian
Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, and John Brunner. Because she promoted the movement in her
"Books" column in Fantasy and Science Fiction, a myth arose-initiated,
it appears, by Samuel R. Delany-that she had coined the term.
JM: I can't get into this issue without trying once more to dispel the
notion that I ever used the phrase "New Wave" or described what was happening in
England that way. Yes, there were very exciting things happening in science fiction in
England, and I already knew about them to some extent before I went back there-I had been
in England in '64 for the WorldCon, and left my daughter Ann in school in England when I
came back to the States-I went back later partly because I was already very excited about
some of the writing that was being done there, and partly because Ann was there.
In her column for the January 1966 issue [of Fantasy
and Science Fiction] written in London, she puts the movement into its general
cultural context, speaking of "a feeling of excitement, a ferment of interest and
creative activity, both within the field and surrounding it, such as has not been felt on
the American scene for almost fifteen years" (p.39). She describes it as a movement
seeking to break down the boundaries between science fiction and mainstream fiction, mind
and body, the self and the outside world. She praises members of the movement for their
"impatiences with the artificial limitations of genre or 'category'" (p.42), and
says of Ballard:
Stylistically, he allies himself with the avant
garde, with experimental techniques, and surrealism. But his subject matter, his
preoccupation with the metaphysics and biophysics of time and space-time conformations,
his 'ontological' explorations of psychic and sur-realities, his deep awareness of the
inextricable relationship between mind and matter, organism and environment, are directly
on the main line of speculation in serious science ficton-and particularly current
throughout the British field... his own work represents that area where s-f thinking and
surrealist writing meet and marry. That marriage seems to me to be the Big Event of the
contemporary literary scene. (p.41-42)
In later columns she refers to the movement as the
"New Thing," and sees it as not "so new: it is nothing more than the
application of contemporary and sometimes (though mostly not very) experimental literary
techniques-the kind of contemporary/experimental speculation which is the essence of
science fiction." (F&SF, November 1967, p.29)
The drive toward integration and unity seemed to
have fit well with Judy's own belief in telepathy and other mind-body phenomena. Also, in
its concern with the contemporary issues like nuclear weapons and the environment, the New
Wave appealed to her fundamentally political nature.
By now, Judy was ready to leave the U.S., having
been extremely angry with her country's behaviour since the Spanish Civil War, and even
with its entry into World War II:
JM: It was evident that participating in the war was going to accelerate
the move toward increased imperialism and increased totalitarianism in the United States.
And indeed from all my observations after the war, this was happening, had happened, and
had begun to rise to a peak where it was even evident to other people by the time the
Vietnam situation developed.
McCarthyism simply reinforced her feelings:
"It was a serious intrusion into my life and the lives of a lot of people I
knew." McCarthyism became a "horror" for her when her daughter brought home
a history textbook that contained only one line about the Spanish Civil War, referring to
Ferdinand Franco's fascist coup in Spain as a "successful revolution."
JM: This was on top of the ruined lives and blacklists and House
UnAmerican Affairs [sic] Committee and all these things, all of which were simply
more exaggerated, more pointed, more vicious tactics of the sort that had always happened
She knew people who were blacklisted, including
Chandler Davis, "a promising young science-fiction writer" and brilliant
mathematician who was unable to get a job teaching in an American university because his
father was a Communist and because he refused to take the "loyalty oath." He
eventually moved to Canada.
So Judy returned from England determined to find
out if a revolution was happening in the United States, or to live elsewhere if there was
none. The climax came at the 1968 Democratic Convention in police crushed an anti-Vietnam
AW: Tell me about Chicago.
JM: Well, that's where I determined for sure that there was no revolution
happening in the United States. [Laughter] What do you want to know about Chicago?
AW: Were you expecting something like that to happen? The riots?
JM: Oh yes. The Yippies had been fomenting this for a long time before
the convention was actually held. The first thing that caught my attention and made me
think I might like to go to Chicago was when someone in Ramparts said something about a
Yippie plan to dump LSD in the reservoir during the Democratic Convention, and I thought,
boy, that would be really neat; I want to be there if that's going to happen. And by the
time the convention was actually coming up there were a number of other factors.
One was that I had reached a real point of despair, politically and personally; I was
going through what I suppose in retrospect could be called a mid-life crisis, but it was a
little bit more than that, even aside from the political thing. I had become a real power
in the science fiction world. Harlan Ellison was making millions of long-distance phone
calls to tell me he was getting every other award and anthology that year and what about
me? I couldn't have any social life in science fiction any more, and it had been my entire
social life for a long time. I was above the crowd. And in the fifties this was not a
position for a woman to be in. I discovered-I probably would have known it if I'd thought
about it beforehand-emphatically that I don't like being a power, I don't like being a
boss, I don't like being on top, it's not a comfortable place for me.
So all these things were going on, together with my real despair about my main problem:
can I find a revolution or do I have to leave here, and if so, where do I go? Because I
simply could not continue to accept the political responsibility of being a citizen of a
country that was a democracy in which I had voting rights and in which I had no way of
influencing or controlling what I thought were the crimes the country was committing.
I had driven Ann and her boyfriend at that time, Peter Turner, and three or four other
people who were all part of what was called the "McCarthy Art Department" in New
York; what these people used to do was silkscreen posters for the [Eugene] McCarthy
campaign. So we went out there in my station wagon with silk-screening equipment and all
these ardent young silk-screeners. When we got there we found out that the Democratic
Party organization was not permitting McCarthy supporters to bring placards into the
convention area; so the kids set up their silk-screening equipment and silk-screened stuff
on newsprint and on cloth that people could fold up and put in their pockets and pull out
in the convention hall. Their greatest triumph was one point during the convention when
everyone in the balcony stood up and began singing, "We Shall Overcome," and
pulled out these silk-screened-on-cloth things they had which said, simply, "END THE
WAR." And my kids made those!
Anyhow, we were coming back from Chicago, feeling very beaten and dusty and exhausted. I
had picked up a copy of the Toronto anti-draft booklet, so Toronto was in my mind, and we
all sort of sat there and I said, "Why don't we go back through Canada?" And
everybody said, "Yeah! Yeah!" I phoned up Chan and asked if he could put us up
overnight if we came and told him all about Chicago. And he said, "Absolutely."
So, we came back through Toronto. He invited Dennis Lee over and they told me about
Rochdale, when they heard that I was interested in leaving the States. So that was how I
wound up living in Canada. I went home and packed and came back.
Rochdale provided her with accommodation and food
in exchange for being a "resource person," and her royalties covered her other
living expenses. At the school she met a number of writers and artists, including the
poets and editors who went on to found Coach House Press. And it was there that Spaced Out
JM: Well, my role at Rochdale was supposed to be resource person in
publishing and writing. And there were two institutional ways in which I started things
moving in regard to that. One was establishing a space; we used two rooms on the second
floor called the "pub" - "pub" for "publishing"-which
contained typewriters and mimeograph equipment and various pieces of low-tech things to do
with getting something on paper that was in your head, and which anyone in the building
was welcome to use, including the resources of myself and others. The other main thing was
to set up a library.
The library was simply a collection of books belonging to people in the building who were
prepared to put their books into the library knowing that they were going to lose some of
them. They weren't giving the books to Rochdale; it was supposed to be a temporary
donation. A young poet and artist, D.M. Price, who was crashing in the building, took on
the job of cataloguing. Besides my stuff there were a couple of other people who put in a
fair amount of science fiction. And the library was helped in establishing itself by the
Toronto Public Library's [Chief Librarian] Harry Campbell, who lent us some display
shelves and gave Mike Price some information about cataloguing.
They were interested in the library from the very beginning. The library opened
spectacularly during the first Rochdale Summer Festival, which was held specifically to
coincide with the first landing on the moon, and which featured a group of science fiction
writers who had come from various placesand not just writers but also Ed Emshwiller who
was an artist and filmmaker. We had a big event on the night of the moon landing; leading
up to the landing we had a big seminar with four science fiction writers and four
astronomers from the U of T, discussing the landing. So that's when the library actually
opened. That would have been July of '69.
A year later the library was closed, because Rochdale had run out of any education
money-there had never been much-but the financial situation had become really desperate.
By that time, I had moved out, and I wound up having to reclaim those of my things that
were still there. I was sharing a house on Beverly Street with five or six other people. I
had a room with books climbing the walls to the ceiling all around me. I would fall asleep
at night waiting for the books to fall on top of me. I figured I should sell them, but it
seemed wrong to sell them one by one; so I was trying to find someplace that would be
interested in buying the stuff as a collection. I got a couple of offers but they were so
ridiculously small for what I imagined the value of the collection might be that I didn't
want to consider them, and I couldn't imagine how I was going to continue to live with
them. Then Harry Campbell came to me and said, "I hear that you want to dispose of
your collection." I said, "Yes." He said, "Well, why don't you give it
to the Toronto library, and we will start a special science fiction collection," and
I said, "You're on!" Harry wrote into the deed of gift that I was to have office
space in the collection, which over the years has surely come to more than I could
possibly have gotten from selling it.
Thus, in 1970, the Spaced Out Library began as
part of the Toronto Public Library system, in a house on Palmerston near the present-day
Palmerston branch. In 1976, it moved to 40 St. George St., and in 1995 it found a
permanent home at the new Lillian H. Smith branch.
Continued in the next issue of SOL Rising.
Back to top Home
by Lorna Toolis
During the first year that I worked at the
Merril Collection, a man came in and inquired, "do you folks collect anything besides
I looked at him without answering him
immediately. Sometimes, librarians just get a feeling, and the feeling I was getting
caused me to say, "Yes, we do. What sort of anything do you have?"
It turned out that he was getting married, and that his wife-to-be hated his art
collection. So, he was trying to find it a good home.
"Tell me about your art," I said.
At this point, if he had looked closely, he probably would have noticed that the pupils of
my eyes had been replaced by dollar signs.
He reeled off a list of really good
artists: Grant Canfield, Kelly Freas, Vincent deFate, Frank Frazetta. I felt myself
smiling, smiling carefully, always keeping in mind that baring our incisors is a gesture
of friendship in our species.
"Why don't you sit down?" I
suggested, barely managing not to scream and leap.
So, the generous man donated a lovely
collection of fantasy art, some of which is currently on display in the Merril Collection
reading room. In return, after appraisal, he got a really lovely income tax deduction. The
Collection benefited, the staff were happy, he was happy, and presumably his wife was the
happiest of all.
The art collection was a source of deep
frustration for years at 40 St. George. In the old building, if there was a patch of wall
big enough to hold even a small piece of art, we hung some shelving on it. Bigger patches
got more shelving. When you are cramming over 30,000 books into space that had originally
held less than half of that number, you don't have time for the finer arts. At one point,
I seriously considered putting shelving where the library clock hung.
However, all things come to she who waits,
and eventually we achieved wall space. Over the years we acquired other pieces, besides
that donation already mentioned. The Collection holds two original pieces by Martin
Springett, one of which was the cover for the Bluejay edition of John Brunner's The
Traveller in Black. There are several Emshwillers, one the cover of the March 1958
issue of Venture Science Fiction. Jon Lomberg, artist for the TV series Cosmos,
and long-time friend of the Merril Collection, donated a large amount of significant
material. The H.R. van Dongen cover for Gordon R. Dickson's Mission to Universe
(1977 Ballantine edition) and the four Hannes Bok prints "The Powers" await
matting, so that we can display them to the world.
Heather Spears is the Canadian artist whose
work illustrated the exhibition catalogue for Out of this World, the science
fiction exhibiton co-sponsored by the Merril Collection and the National Library of
Canada. When the exhibition closed, she generously donated the original art to the Merril
We have been fortunate for display
purposes, in that the majority of the art held by the Merril Collection was created to be
cover art for a published volume, and that for technical reasons artists in the SF field
favour acrylics. Watercolours would fade much more easily and would have to be displayed
for far shorter periods of time.
Funding no longer allows us to purchase
art, but potential donors are always welcome.
Back to top Home