Number 20, January 1998
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When I was a little girl, the
first stories I read were myths, folktales, and legends from all over the world. And I
knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: I wanted to be a hero.
But then again, I also knew I was
not a boy. Things being what they were, I may have regretted it now and then, but somehow
I managed to survive-almost all little girls do. It was only a little harder then. We
became teenagers, and then women, who read stories written mainly by men about men, and
somehow managed to get our fix of heroism by identifying with the male heroes. Of course,
that does not go without some rampant identity problems down the line, but at the time I
did not think much of it. It was during the Fifties, in the French countryside, not
exactly at the cutting edge of social revolution.
At the beginning of the Sixties,
however, I was beginning to feel uneasy. I was being told, in school and out of it, that
the universe is a well-known, well-understood, nice, cozy, and limited place. Things are
what they are, they said, it is like this, it has always been like this, it will always be
like this. But somehow, it didn't feel quite right. Oh, please, it couldn't be right?
It was the mid-Sixties now;
something was blowing in the wind. That was when I discovered science fiction. Not as a
woman, but (I thought) as a more or less unsexed, ungendered spirit yearning for freedom,
for new, unknown, dangerous, exciting things. That was when I began feeling that, I might,
after all, be able to realize my childhood's dream. There was definitely a possibility for
heroism in science fiction, the old-fashioned way, the best: finding treasures and wisdom,
saving universes, fighting dragons-and, even better, making friends with them.
That was when I first met Judith Merril. Actually,
I met a story-"That Only a Mother." There were other stories, other women-Leigh
Brackett, Andre Norton, Catherine Moore, Katherine MacLean, Margaret St. Clair, the first
of our elders... but this one story is the first I remember. It felt different from
everything I'd read beforeeven Ted Sturgeon's stories, which I loved the best. There
were no fancy space adventures, no disguised knight in shining astronaut's suit, and the
dragon was almost as metaphorical as they come. There was a mother, a father, a daughter
and nuclear energy. It could have been here and then. But it was different, I didn't know
why, or how. Somehow, even though it was taking place in a world so like our own, it
opened other spaces in my mind. Somehow it had
a different voice. And I began to
listen for that voice in other SF stories, first without knowing what I was looking for,
then with a heightened awareness-not so much as I came upon Judy's other stories (very,
very few translated in French at the time), but when I read some of the stories she'd
helped get into print.
By then I had a very definite idea of who Judith
Merril was. She was one of the very few women I could look up to in science fiction, as a
female reader and as a fledgling female writer. At that time science fiction was very much
a Man's Landstill is, although thanks to Judy and others, we don't feel as lonely
there as we used to. But Judy was there in the beginning, for me. I was proud of
hereven though I didn't know much about her: like all American SF writers, she was a
quasi-mythological being for me. Somehow, she was even more mythological than the other,
male American SF writers: she was a woman who wrote and published and criticized science
You see, by that time, after intensive reading of
all the science fiction I could find (and there was a lot of it in France, even then), I
was beginning to feel uneasy again, caged again: all those male voices, all those male
More than uneasy: I was feeling betrayed. To me, science fiction was the
literature which was not afraid to ask questions, all the questions in the world (and in
other worlds!)but as far as women were concerned, science fiction only seemed to
have a lot of answers, the ones I had heard over and over again in my booksand in my
life. It was like it was, like it had always been, like it would always be.
Except for women writers' stories, of course. I
was beginning to understand what it was that I heard in Judy's stories, and in the stories
of other women who were writing science fiction. Science fiction is about the Other,
mostly-and there was no shortage of that in all those male stories, doubly so! And meeting
with the Other is fine, but too much of it can be overwhelming, especially when you begin
to feel that there are different sorts of Others, and that you are one of them! Judy's
voice, and the other women's voices, were the voices of this other Other, the Other that
looked like meand I desperately needed to hear them.
Then I left France and Europe, to come to
Canada-which my imagination, bred on Jack London and Fenimore Cooper, saw as the land of
adventure, the land of opportunities. Somehow, indeed, a lot of things seemed possible
here. When I heard that the fabled Judith Menil was living in Toronto (my God, she was
real!), and since I was organizing an SF convention, I rashly invited her.
And she came.
And we met, face to face.
And that's it. Almost. I never dared say we were
friends: we did not know each other personally that well. I knew her writing, she came to
know some of mine. She chose one of my stories for the first Tesseracts anthology-thus
opening the English SF world for me-and I was dumbfounded, kind of a Burning Bush
experience... but apart from that, as I see it, not much. It was late in her life and in
mine when we met in person, and we lived far apart, and I am not the roaming kind. Each
time I would see an announcement of some activity taking place in Toronto, I would sigh
nostalgically, thinking of the lucky people who got to be with her more often. We met
mostly at SF conventions, not the ideal place to be with someone, really. We exchanged a
few letters, a few phone calls. In the end, a bit of e-mail. She was busy, had more
important things to do; I did not want to bother her. The usual crap. And now the usual
useless regrets. Although I got to tell her twice, and very publicly, what she meant to
me. And once again not long ago, very privately. And I can say it again, for that kind of
legacy does not pass away.
That first time in Chicoutimi, in 1982, when I saw
Judith, when I heard her beautiful, echoing voice, when I saw her smile, and dance, and
opinionate all over the place, I knew I wanted to grow up to be like her. What Judy taught
me, more than any other female SF writer I have met, and perhaps more than any woman I
know, period, is that you can be the heroine of your own life. When I say heroine,
especially in relation to Judith, I am not talking about some sweet pale blond helpless
thing wringing her hands at the top of some tower. But I will not say female hero. Be a
heroine. All you can be, yes, and in order to know what that is, always ask questions.
Always be open, but never surrender. Never stop growingin every direction, in as
many different worlds as possible. And never stop giving, even, especially, if it is hell.
And this for you, Judy, for being that unwavering,
demanding, generous beacon for my spirit and for my heart, as for so many others.
Élisabeth Vonarburg has
written science fiction novels and short stories. From 1983 to 1985, she was the editor of
Solaris, one of Quebec's major speculative fiction magazines. She lives in Chicoutimi.
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The Judy I knew was a woman who had her eye open
every second for the opportunity many let pass. I did not know it when I first met her,
but she had chosen a life style founded on poverty that was guaranteed to keep all of her
senses operating at full gear.
Much as I might have scared the spit out of her,
when she found out I had prints of great films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, The
Battleship Potemkin, and many more, she wanted me to screen the
films in Rochdale.
Thus I grew to know her because I had value for
her. Judy had the rare gift of not wasting her time on those who had no value for her.
Judy's friendship was a rare and valuable pearl.
I was passing her house one day. I was in a very
confused state. I decided to stop in. "What is the matter with you?" she asked,
adding, "You are usually pretty cheerful."
I told her I was in a very confused state of mind.
"There are times in our lives when we
experience torrents of ideas," she told me. "It is important not to block them
but to let them all pass through. Make notes of the ones you like," she added.
Judy had given me a great gift. With her words she
had given me a handle on my "problem." She had shown me that what I saw as an
obstacle was really an opportunity.
I looked for a way to return the gift she had
One day, passing Beverly Street, I stopped in to
find Judy confused, distressed and perplexed, a thing I had never imagined possible.
"What is the matter?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"I have company coming up from the States for
the weekend. I asked the people who live here with me to help me clean the house today.
They all took off."
"Well, I have the afternoon at my disposal.
What can I do to help?" I replied, relieved that the issue was such an easy one to
correct. She asked me to clean the room I was in, and the kitchen.
Everything was easy until I got to the stove. It
looked like it had not been touched since Eve decided to teach Adam a lesson.
"Whoa.." I thought to myself. "Do you really want to tackle that?"
Well... I had told her I would clean the place.
Judy came downstairs. She inspected the room
first. She looked everywhere. Then she went into the kitchen. When she was done there, she
returned to the main room, sat down and began to cry. "What have I done wrong?"
"Wrong? Wrong? You have done nothing wrong. I
got so tired of cleaning up that stove after the people I share this house with I decided
to leave it alone until one of them finally got so fed up that they cleaned it. Then you
walk in here off the street, you don't even live here, and you clean the place
I guess that was when we became friends.
Reg Hartt is a devotee of film and organizes
showings of classic film and animation which are open to the public.
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When World War II had
finally run its course and I was back in New York as a civilian, I was hungry for the
company of people who spoke my language-that is, people who knew what science fiction was
There were plenty of them in the city at that
time. Some were old friends who, like me, had just returned from wartime service; others
were people I had never met. Theodore Sturgeon was there, already establishing his claim
to being one of the finest science fiction writers ever to have lived. So was L. Jerome
Stanton, John Campbell's assistant editor on science fiction's premier magazine,
Astounding. So was Philip Klass (better known under his pen-name of William Tenn), and so
was a dark, energetic young woman named Judith Merril.
We all got together occasionally at parties at one
person's home or another-we were all very big on parties in those days. When the annual
science-fiction world conventions resumed after being interrupted by the war, the first
one was held on the East coast in Philadelphia, in 1947; we were all there and enjoyed it
so much that we decided occasional parties weren't good enough. So a month later, Judy,
Lester del Rey and I, with half a dozen other like-minded people, got together in my
apartment on Grove Street in Greenwich village and created the Hydra Club.
The Hydra Club wasn't exactly a fan club. It
wasn't a writers' circle, either, and at its meetings it hardly ever transacted any kind
of business. In fact, it didn't exactly have meetingsjust get-togethers, where up to
fifty of us, joined by nothing more than our mutual interest in science fiction, but
joined solidly all the same, spent a few hours enjoying each other's company.
The original nine grew quickly as we were joined
by George 0. Smith, Fletcher and Inga Pratt, Horace Gold (just tooling up to start his
magazine, Galaxy), Harry Harrison (drawing comics for a living and not yet
prepared to launch his writing career) with his young wife, Evelyn, Fredric and Beth
Brown, Arthur Clarke when he was in town, Thrilling Wonder's editor, Sam Merwin,
Basil Davenport of the Book-of-the-Month Club-all these were regulars, along with a couple
of dozen others. For a couple of years in the late 1940s, the Hydra Club defined the world
Judy and I lived in.
Judy was in her twenties at the time. She wasn't
pretty in any conventional sensenever had been, never would bebut she was a
striking young woman with a gentle voice and an expressive face; my friend Jacques
Lacroix, then director of Paris's leading portrait salon, Studio Harcourt, whispered to me
on meeting her, "But she has the capacity for great beauty!" Both she and I had
recently been divorced; and in the fall of 1948 we were married.
We lived at first in Judy's basement apartment on
East 4th Street-half a dozen huge rooms, intended by the builders to be occupied by the
building's superintendent; but the super's wife didn't like living underground, so they
moved to an upper flat and rented the basement out cheaply enough for us to afford. It was
a nearly totally Jewish neighbourhood-the finest kosher delicatessens and the leading
Jewish theatres (where Judy's father had been a celebrity before his death) only a block
or two away-and the largely orthodox inhabitants of our building severely disapproved of
our annual Christmas tree. (But they had to tolerate us, because I was the only shabbas
goy around to unlock their doors for them on the high holidays.)
Judy had published her first short story,
"That Only a Mother," shortly before we were married. It was a remarkable piece;
it caused a stir of excitement among the fans when it appeared in Astounding, and had made
a different sort of stir when her agent, thinking it too good for the pulps, tried it on
the big women's magazines (causing one editor to get on the phone to the agent and demand
that he send someone over to pick it up at once, because it made her feel too creepy to
keep it in the office).
For a time Judy worked as an editor for Ian
Ballantine's brand-new paperback publishing company, Bantam Books. There she published her
first anthology, Shot in the Dark. The contents were all science-fiction stories,
but the book was given an ambiguous title and cover because Bantam's then editor-in-chief,
Arnold Hano, thought there wasn't enough of a market for science fiction to justify
publishing it as what it was. What he hoped was that the stratagem would lure a few
mystery fans to buy the book. Working in the lively ferment of the new Bantam books was a
good job, and Judy enjoyed it, but left after a year or so to concentrate on her writing.
One way and another, we had prospered enough to
treat ourselves to the rental of a huge summer home in the hills overlooking the Ashokan
Reservoir. There Judy began her most famous novel, Shadow on the Hearth,
retreating to a rented motel room on weekends to work on it without distraction. It turned
out to be a good book, well received and ultimately made into a TV movie. When my old
collaborator Cyril Kornbluth came to visit us from his home in Chicago, the two of them
began to work together. They produced two additional novels under the joint pen-name of
Cyril Judd, Mars Child (in various editions also known as Outpost Mars
and Sin in Space) and Gunner Cade.
It was a productive and rewarding time for both of
us, but it came to an end. Shortly after our daughter, Ann, was born we faced up to the
fact that we had some fundamental differences on life style, which we saw no way to
resolve. We separated reasonably amicably, but that didn't last, either. When we came to
getting an actual divorce the process became a bitter one because we could not agree on
the custody of Annie. For a couple of years we talked to each other only through lawyers,
and then for another few years as little as possible.
Fortunately, that situation didn't last, either.
Time-and distance-blurred the angers that had divided us and gave us a chance to remember
the things we had treasured in each other. For a time we saw each other rarely while Judy
was roaming the world, living in England for a time, then in Japan, but by the time she
had returned to make her home in Canada we had become good friends again. And remained so,
for more than a quarter of a century, until Judy's death.
The last time I saw Judy was a few months before
that. The two of us had retreated to the porch of Ann's home in Toronto so that we could
indulge our unwelcome habit of smoking cigarettes without bringing down on us the wrath of
our nonsmoking family. We talked, among other things, about dying; I had just had a fairly
close call of my own and Judy was well aware that her body was rapidly wearing out.
It was not a morbid conversation. Judy had
accomplished most of the things she had wanted to do in her life, and when she spoke of
the likeliness of its approaching end she was good-humored and sensible about it
just as I remember her throughout her life.
Frederik Pohl, well-known author and editor,
was married to Judith Merril from 1949 to 1952.
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Greatness in a writer is measured by more than just sales figures, or even
by critical approval. That obvious point was never more vividly illustrated than in the
case of Judith Merril. Judy's greatness is best measured by the influence she has on every
community into which she placed herself.
Speaking specifically of the science fiction
community, Judy influenced an incredible number of writers, most of whom never met her,
and many of whom might never even have heard of her. Whether they are aware of her or not,
though, every writer who has ever been involved in a peer-run workshop owes a debt to
Judy. It was she who popularized this form of workshop, starting in Milford, Pennsylvania
in the 1950s and continuing through the rest of her life.
I'm a member of one of those workshops. Back in
1986-87 when Judy was the writer-in-residence at the library that now bears her name, she
came into contact with many aspiring writers. In September of 1987, she invited those she
considered the most promising to meet with her. On Tuesday, September 8, 1987, ten of us
joined Judy in a small office above a travel agency at the comer of Spadina and College in
What happened at that meeting was entirely typical
of Judy. She explained in exhaustive detail how the Milford-style workshop functioned. She
told us that the room in which we were meeting had been borrowed for that evening only,
and it was up to us to find a regular site. She informed us that the type of workshop we
were about to set up worked effectively only if all members were treated with equal
respect-and equal firmness. "No leaders," she told us. Then she said that this
was the last time we'd see her at a workshop meeting, and left us. We were, she said, on
That was typical of Judy: establish a situation,
galvanize people to action, then step back. Some have suggested that this attitude
demonstrates that Judy was easily bored, or that people didn't live up to her
expectations. I don't agree. (I know for a fact that, while Judy seldom talked to us
directly about the workshop in the decade after its founding, she was interested in our
progress. And I know that she was pleased [and maybe even a bit astonished] at the way the
Canadian SF community grew during that decade.)
I'm convinced that Judy stepped back from every
workshop she created because she wanted the writers she inspired to grow to be as
incredibly self-sufficient as she was. (I derive no small amusement from the fact that
Judy grew up believing in a collectivist ideology while being without a doubt the most
aggressively individual person I've ever met.)
And while I can't say whether or not we lived up
to her expectations, I do know that we fascinated her, in a weird way. Judy was always
astonished that workshops like ours worked: brutal honesty is the only way to be, she
always said; and to her (as she told me more than once), "You Canadians are too
Michael Skeet is the author of numerous short
science fiction stories, and, together with Lorna Toolis, co-edited Tesseracts 4.
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from the Memorial Service, September 20,
1997, Performing Arts Lodge, Toronto
Judy and I first met soon after she came up here.
I went on a pilgrimage to the Spaced Out Library's early home on Palmerston Avenue to meet
the woman who had dominated my boyhood reading. We clicked immediately as fellow pushy
Bronxites trying to cope with a town where people say "Sorry" when you push
them. Indeed, our common ancestral homeland forms the organizing framework for my thoughts
The Judy I knew was a member of one of Canada's
most useful and least recognized minorities: New York Canadians. Although Judy had
definitively left New York behind when she came up-she hated to go back-she had also
brought New York with her. What are the ethnic characteristics of Judy, the New York
Because Judy was a Utopian idealist, she was-like
most New Yorkers-demanding in the best sense. A realistic Utopian, she dealt with the
world as it is and demanded that it become as it should be. She was a demander of
perfection both as an editor red-penning manuscripts and as a force for righteous
behaviour in everyday private and public life. She fearlessly pointed out the moral and
practical difficulties of insisting that writers only give "voice" to people of
their own kind. "Who will speak for the aliens?"
Judy was a truth teller. New Yorkers always
believe that knowledge and truth will make you free and be good for you. Judy told the
truth in her daily life, as an editor and as a force for righteous civic life. Although
some genteel folks thought this made her a pain in the ass, her goal was to prod folks to
live more righteous lives.
Judy cared about nearly everything, just as New
Yorkers have always been active supporters of causes. A decade ago, she put on her witch's
outfit, travelled to Ottawa and put the hex on Parliament for supporting the destabilizing
American nuclear cruise missile initiative. But she didn't only focus on the big stuff;
she also worked to help individuals, such as getting deserving folks into the Performing
Arts Lodge and making PAL work.
Judy worked hard at life. Like more extroverted
New Yorkers, she talked to strangers-a custom that strikes Torontonians with horror-and
she went everywhere she could. She was quick with a quip and a comeback, and she never let
inhibitions get in the way of action. Even when Judy had to use an electric scooter, she
got the hotrod model: "Six klicks an hour," she told me.
Judy worked hard at her craft. She spent hours
commenting on my stuff and giving free workshops on how to edit. She was constantly
revising her memoirs. I worked a bit with her on this, although it was certainly much
easier to be edited by Judy than to edit her. Judy liked to say about herself (attributing
the insight to an ex-husband): "I'm a bitch when I don't work, and a bitch when I do
work, but at least there's some excuse when I write." But she wasn't a bitch; she
just cared intensely-about everything.
Judy was a democrat and a snob, like most New
Yorkers. She didn't respect status, but she did respect hard work, style and integrity.
She talked to everybody, be they Ali in his College St. Shwarama shop or Pierre Berton at
the Writers' Union. Once, when she was Writer-in-Residence for a year at the University of
Toronto, she told me about all the incompetent writers who came to her for help. "Why
do you deal with them?" I innocently asked. "I'd rather work for the people than
the princes," she replied. "Serious writers usually have to get money from the
public purse somehow, and I would rather do it working with ordinary people than, as in
the Middle Ages, for some nobleman's ass."
Judy was lusty, a most unToronto trait. She'd
solved the mind-body problem. The last thing she said to me-when I went to get her advice
about my sociological study of a Wired Suburb-was, "Go develop cybersex! Maybe that
will solve the problem that 70-year-old women have. We want lovers, but do they want
us?" Judy danced all day at Caribana; she loved going to Jamaica where folks accepted
their bodies rather than repressing them. She was a lover of jazz and jazz musicians-years
later they would give us the best seats in the house for their gigs.
Judy was fussy, because like all New Yorkers she
would not settle for second best. She didn't believe in Free Love: she was quite picky.
And she took responsibility for her love: writing her memoirs was delayed by her
insistence on getting clearances from her lovers before writing about them. She loved to
dress for effect-we spent many hours choosing her costume for her Harbourfront gala. But
it wasn't all showmanship; she was an informed, warily respectful consumer of medical care
and a fierce opponent of the medical system, who won all the rounds except for the last
one. And even then, she battled to a near-draw, going out on her own terms.
Some thought Judy rude, but they confuse the
pseudo-form of surface politeness with its deep substance. The Judy I knew had New York
substance and not Toronto surface. She was extraordinarily polite in the true sense of the
term. She cared about you as a person, went to the core of problems, and tried to solve
Being a demanding, truth-telling, lusty idealist
made Judy Merril seem aggressive to some. But this is a New York praise word-not that
wimpy Toronto word, "assertive." If you want to make a better world, then you
speak truth and you take action until you get it. You give a damn about the society you
live in, and about the individuals you encounter in your daily life. Anything else would
be an insult to humanity.
I've always puffed with pride when I've told
people, "Judy Merril is my friend." Her memorial stone should simply say,
"Judy Merril gave a shit!"-about competency, individuals, and the worlds she
lived in and looked forward to.
Barry Wellman teaches sociology at the
University of Toronto.
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originally published in Aloud,
for the Tribute to Judith Merril held at Harbourfront, October, 1992
Judy Merril was almost the first person I met in
Toronto when I first visited the city in 1971. 1 had come here to see a friend from
University who was in graduate school at the University of Toronto. He lived on Markham
Street, and the first place he wanted to show me, after Honest Ed's, was The Spaced Out
Library, which at that time was located in an old house on Palmerston Ave. My friend asked
if I had ever heard of Judith Merril, the woman whose donation of books to the city had
founded the library. Judy's name is, of course, one of the great names of science fiction.
I had read her stories and the many anthologies she has edited during the dreamy, humid
Philadelphia summers of my adolescence. I was eager to meet her.
Judy was tolerant of a walk-in fan and quickly
demoted herself from any pedestal on which I wanted to place her. We discussed SF and SF
artists, and she invited me to return to Toronto later that year to display my artwork at
the Secondary Universe conference she was helping to organize at the Ontario Institute for
Studies in Education. I did attend that conference and met the sparkling collection of
writers, thinkers and artists that Judy had assembled, many of whom were Toronto
residents. I was also moved by her persuasive description of Toronto as the city where the
future was already happening. This visit had a lot to do with my own decision to move
there later that year.
Toronto was, in the early 1970s, in its full
cultural flowering as "the only livable city in North America," as Jane Jacobs
had put it. Judy was perhaps not as well known as Jane, but I believe her influence was
equally important in creating the city's ambiance of avant-garde cosmopolitan excitement.
She seemed to move easily among the worlds of Toronto: from Rochdale College to the
Japanese community to the halls of the CBC to Tiger's Cafe in Kensington Market.
Her interests and appetites for new ideas knew no
bounds. In 1974 she enlisted me to assist her in a radio documentary she was making for
the CBC program "Ideas." The series was called "The Limits of
Knowledge." She had proposed a program called, characteristically, "What
Limits?" Judy has little patience with limits of any kind, and her influence on a
young artist was to show that limits are, finally, only self-imposed. I am a painter, but
she persuaded me that I could also make radio shows and I spent part of the next 15 years
doing that. I credit her with planting the seed.
I often had reason to go to the Spaced Out Library
and would look forward to sitting in Judy's office talking about politics, space and the
future. The Library was not only a good place to hang out, it was also a great resource
for someone like me, working on projects where science fiction imagery could be used in
books and television.
Judy is still on my short list of Toronto's most
interesting people. She has the rare gift of never being boring. She's a great friend
provided you have a medium-to-high tolerance for surprises. Once she wanted to throw, on
very short notice, a birthday party for her friend Stafford Beer, a
cyberneticist/philosopher/guru who she had been instrumental in bringing to Toronto on
various occasions. Her flat, however, was too small for a party. Her solution was to call
me up and ask me if she could hold a party at my house. About one hour later Judy,
Stafford and a throng of people arrived. Except for Judy, I didn't know anybody. Some
people would feel slightly inhibited about doing this but not Judy, for whom being
unconventional is almost an act of faith.
What impresses me most about her is how she has
resisted all attempts to be seen as an eminence of authority. Judy doesn't like authority.
She has always held strong beliefs about social issues. Her keen-eyed radicalism suffers
no fools or sell-outs. She lives the kind of life that young artists dream about
romantically but that few have the ability to really endure.
Toronto has changed a lot since I first met Judy
on Palmerston Ave. Toronto seemed then a "city of the future." Now it is, in her
own phrase, a city where "the future is on hold." One symbol of this is the name
of the science fiction library that she gave to the city. She called it "The Spaced
Out Library," a brash name that challenged pretension and unashamedly appropriated a
term from the 1960s to convey a melding of inner and outer space. Recently, the library
staff successfully lobbied for a name change, feeling that the new Toronto for the '90s,
more staid and prosaic to match the decade, couldn't quite accept a name that so affronted
Canadian sensibilities. It is appropriate, but somehow ironic, that the new name is the
Judy has left her mark on the city in many ways
and founding one of the world's best libraries of SF is one. But for a woman who always
preferred defying authority, it must not be easy to become one. She has her office in the
Merril Collection, and I am sure she would understand Northrop Frye's remark that when he
sat in his office in Northrop Frye Hall he felt something like "a chicken
omelette." But becoming a "Respected Elder," with the authority due the
rank and office, may be something she just has to suffer. But if part of her sits regally
in the Merril Collection, some other part of her will be in the cafés or on the street
ready to throw, if not a rock, at least a barbed comment sharpened to puncture whatever
pomposity she sees inflating within.
Jon Lomberg is an artist best known for his
work portraying astronomical subjects. He was the Chief Artist for Carl Sagan's Cosmos
series, and the Designer of NASA's Voyager Interstellar Record. He has also made many
radio programs for the CBC series "Ideas."
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Originally published in Ansible
123, October 1997
Fom the moment she arrived in Canada in 1969,
until she died in September, Judith Merril lived in the heart of Toronto. This was
something of a miracle, as the heart of Toronto-though intensely urban and much loved by
those who lived inside its invisible walls-is not very large.
It had taken Judith Clute and myself years to find
it. The apartment block we eventually moved into, 160 Huron Street, was dark, dismal,
festooned with balconies like a New Orleans slum, as stinky as New York in August. I doubt
there was another place like it in the city. We loved it, and mourned departing it when we
left the country in 1968. Neither of us knew Judith Merril at all, or spoke or wrote to
her about where to live in Toronto when she came; but in 1970, like a mongoose scooting
into its lair, Judith Merril found 160 Huron, and went inside. And stayed a long while.
Here she was close to the University of Toronto,
and to the public library where, very soon, she deposited her SF collection which formed
the core of the archive known first as the Spaced Out Library, eventually as the Merril
Collection. By 1977, when Judith Clute and I returned to Toronto for a while, she had
become the central voice of SF for the metropolis, a function she only slowly relinquished
as her body began to fail her, and as the Canadian SF community began to exfoliate a
jangle or three of new voices.
In 1977 she was domineering, raunchy, funny,
bad-tempered; and bore a scolding gravitas; and was locked into the very famous writer's
block that lasted the rest of her life, with remissions. She had a mongoose eye, and a
grin. She certainly frightened me quite a bit, though I loved being around her.
As the years passed, and she resolutely failed to
live wisely, she became solider and wider, pressing heavily on the ground (or later into
the motorized wheelchair she used with an ill grace when her heart was paining her). She
gossiped, with an exhilarating viciousness, about the past; she longed for new stuff.
In June this year, she came to Ad Astra, a
convention held at Toronto Airport. Physically she had continued to melt into the
humiliating soft girdle of age. She hated it volubly; she hated dying. There, and in her
new apartment a mile or so from Huron Street, we talked a bit, gossip mainly; though she
had a sharp longing to hear about anything new: new books, new careers.
It was not an old person's apartment-it was full
of new books, and gadgets, and it smelled good. The gossip also smelled like good clean
I loved her. I can hear her voice now, inside the
head, shaping the pasts of so many personages of SF into tales more human than perhaps
they dream for themselves.
John Clute co-edited The Encyclopedia of
Fantasy (1997) and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1977). His essays and
reviews have been collected in Strokes (1988) and Look at the Evidence (1996).
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Originally published in Locus 442,
The life's work of Judith Merril first caught my
eye in the early fifties with her story "That Only a Mother." I remember the
horrid chill it gave me, and reading it over just this moment, I still feel an extra flick
of anguish at recalling life as a young mother in those boring old Leave-It-To-Beaver
fifties that I spent terrified of atomic war. The story is still for me an emblem of those
times. Later on I learned to respect Judy as not only an innovative writer but also a
first-rate editor and anthologist and a champion of exciting experiments in science
fiction. The several series of anthologies that she edited in the fifties and sixties are
still models of the range and variety that science fiction ought to encompass. In those
times Judy lived the history of science fiction and was one of its invaluable
But it was not until 1968 when she moved to
Toronto that I realized the real scope of her talents and the selflessness of her
generosity to the causes of science fiction.
The Canada of 1967 did not have many SF pioneers.
When Science Fiction Writers of America was founded in 1965 by Damon Knight, there were
two Canadian members: William Bankier of Montreal, and I. Bankier left soon after to write
detective stories and I was the only native-born Canadian I knew of living and writing
science fiction in Canada, a community of one. Judith Merril changed that.
She brought to Canada not only her personal
collection of five thousand SF books but the energy and organizational ability that have
given us the makings of a Canadian science fiction establishment. Her books have become
the basis of the Merril Collection, a steadily growing library of science fiction and the
critical studies that have clustered around it, and any number of writers' societies, as
well as a new interest in writing and publishing science fiction in Canada.
Personally, I admired Judy not only for all of the
above, but even more for the courage she showed in making a choice that others might
tremble at, to live as an individualist in complete independence, earning her living in
the profession of her choice-a profession still and probably always precarious-and owing
nothing to anyone, least of all her freedom. I admit it's the kind of choice I respect
rather than envy. What I did envy was the energy she brought to everything she did. Life
was not easy for Judy, particularly in delivering hard blows in the form of dangerous
illnesses that would knock an ordinary mortal down for good.
But Judy was not an ordinary mortal: she was an
extraordinarily tough scrapper who knew how to pick herself up and get on wit it. That's
why I believed she'd go on forever. She was the only SF writer of my generation here in
Canada, and I miss her already.
Phyllis Gotlieb writes science fiction and
poetry. Her latest novel, Flesh and Gold, will be released in February 1998.
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