Number 20, January 1998
Page 3 of 3
Beyond The Whole
Jar: An Interview With Judith Merril, Conclusion
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A Judith Merril Bibliography
Review of Whoever You Are
Celebrating 80 Years: John Millard
The Claus Effect Launches at the Christmas Cream
A Letter From The Editor
Back to SOL Rising page
John Robert Colombo
Judith Merril and Jon
Lomberg and I sit at a table in the coffee shop across the street from the library that
bears Judy's name. We animatedly discuss the form and content of what will become known as
"Visions of Mars."
The idea is a simple one and it originated with
the Planetary Society and its president Carl Sagan. A plaque that will take the form of a
CD-ROM is to be appended to the spacecraft that is being built for landing on the planet
Mars. It has already been decided that it will include an anthology of Mars-based science
fiction: stories and excerpts from novels inspired by Mars and Martians. Our task is to
determine the approach and the specific contents. That includes the preparation of a
bibliography of such fiction in all languages. A tall order!
It is an ambitious undertaking, one that inspires
audacious thoughts, such thoughts as two decades ago inspired Jon when he and his
colleagues determined the sounds and images that comprise the Voyager Interstellar Record.
Our Mars record is a "gift" from Earth to the future inhabitants of the Red
Planet, just as the earlier Voyager record is man's attempt to establish a landmark in the
cosmos. Another way to look at such commemorative plaques is to regard them as modes of
communication between generations of human beings.
An intriguing thought moves us. The Voyager record
will never again be seen by human beings; it might disappear entirely in interstellar
space. There is the remote possibility that in the far distant future alien beings might
capture it and study it. Our Mars record will no doubt be seen by human beings when they
land on Mars. It could also be seen by alien beings should they effect a landing on Mars.
A scenario develops: it lands on Mars. It survives
that planet's sandstorms. A natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe destroys
civilization on Earth. Alien astronauts, exploring the Solar System, bypass the ruins of
radioactive Earth, land on Mars, discover the Visions of Mars plaque, and employing a
computer-like program (it might well be called Rosetta Stone) decode the zeroes and ones.
The digitalized text would then be the sole description of the human experiment that
That is the far-out scenario. If it is too
improbable, here is one that is more likely: The disc is recovered by our descendants in
the distant future. They regularly sail between the planets and perhaps even between the
stars, and they have taught themselves to read the languages of Ancient Earth, including
the computer languages used in the 1990s. There is a lot to read on the disc.
We discuss the fact that future human beings or
alien beings with advanced technology would be able to play the disc. They would do so
with some degree of difficulty; they would be able to read the text, but not easily, and
with a minimal degree of comprehension. So we ask ourselves some fundamental questions.
Could our Rosetta Stone, our Time Capsule, be "read" by alien beings at all?
What would come to their minds as they scan the text and stumble upon words like
Timbucktu, Buddha, and Galileo? We discuss adding a glossary for references that would be
meaningless without explanation. Turning the text into a textbook would be possible
through the wonders of hypertext. Here is one anthology that has no shortage of
Specific references are one thing. What about
motifs and imagery? To that end we discuss adding hypertext definitions to
"explain" such notions as "first contact" and
"terraforming." These ideas, once common-place in science fiction but unknown
outside it, are now commonplace even in science fact. To alien beings they might seem to
be either novelties or platitudes.
Judy raises a most intriguing issue. Alien beings
might no longer distinguish between fact and fiction. They might see our fictional
narratives as narratives of fact, as examples of fable, or as a collection of Earth's
sacred scriptures, synoptic gospels full of hidden truths. What could they possibly make
of the metamorphoses of Man into Martian described by A.E. van Vogt in his short story
"The Enchanted Village" which is included as part of the record? Do Earthlings
regularly or only irregularly molt and sprout pointy ears and tails? Are Man/Martians
capable of physical transformations like trickster heroes?
It is a heady experience to take part in such a
discussion. I am a privileged participant. Jon has been living with such ideas for decades
and by now has "futurience," the experience of living in possible futures. Judy
is also on home ground; in her novels, stories, essays, and seminars, she finds words to
express her human concerns about the world's future and about foreign worlds. In our
discussion this afternoon in the coffee shop she does so once again with particular wit
and brilliance. She says, "We are sending a Mishna to Mars."
Her insight stuns me. It is true. We are compiling
a secular Mishna and sending it to the Red Planet. The original Mishna is the extensive,
highly evolved commentary on the Hebrew scriptures. Our secular Mishna is not a spiritual
document per se, nor is it a scientific document in any way; instead it is a psychological
record that encodes and glosses the imaginations, thoughts, emotions, and sensations of
those men and women who have written about human beings and alien beings who live on a
foreign but not really unfamiliar planet.
Jon and Judy and I are eventually joined by Lorna
Tooli, and there are many more meetings for coffee and discussion and long distance
telephone calls and eventually dispatches by e-mail. Jon is the taskmaster and it seems
that everything is urgent. The text is compiled in record time, Judy records her special
message for the ages, thereby joining the company of Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. The
plaque is designed and crafted, copies of the disc are recorded, and everything is rated
for space flight.
In the end, it takes four years for the CD-ROM to
be affixed to the Mars spacecraft. The craft is launched by the Russian Space Agency. It
never reaches Mars. It crashes into the South Pacific, where whales or dolphins (should
they evolve and acquire what is needed to descend to the ocean's depths) might some day
nudge it. Still, there is a commitment in principle from the Russian Space Agency and NASA
to attach the plaque with its disc to a future mission to Mars; short of that, it could
reach Mars among the personal effects of some future astronaut.
So the mission is aborted. Shortly thereafter Carl
Sagan dies. Then Judy Merril dies. Mars is a dangerous place.
Yet we created Judy's Mishna to Mars.
John Robert Colombo is nationally known as the
Master Gatherer for compilations of Canadiana, including Other Canadas, the first
anthology of Canadian fantastic literature. He is the General Editor of The 1998
Canadian Global Almanac.
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Originally published in Aloud,
for the Tribute to Judith Merril at Harbourfront, October 1992
In August 1968, Judith Merril made a brief detour
to Canada. She'd been at the Democratic convention in Chicago, searching for a revolution
to join. If it materialized, she told herself, she would stay in the States and dig in.
But nothing she'd seen had convinced her; now she was headed east to Pennsylvania, then on
to England indefinitely. Vietnam mattered, and civil rights mattered. But the frantic
burnout of the American Left was too much to cope with.
On impulse, she crossed the border for a day's
visit with Chandler Davis, the mathematician/activist who had emigrated to teach at the
University of Toronto. There he pointed out an independent institution, Rochdale College,
which was being set up in a new co-op student residence. The 18-storey building would open
on Bloor Street that September.
What Rochdale would be was still a blur. But the
founding statements touched a chord in Judy. No pre-set entrance requirements, course
structures, or formal credits. No hierarchy of staff and students. And an open invitation
to re-invent the forms of knowing including imaginative work, crafts, social and political
action. Judy was 45 and hungry for a serious challenge. She went back to Pennsylvania to
take stock. And in November 1968, after an epic all-night drive, she installed herself in
an Aphrodite Suite in Rochdale College. She would stay around for a year, while she worked
out more permanent plans.
And here we are, a quarter century later,
celebrating one of our own: this protean, questing, clear-eyed, prophetically non-cozy,
leather-lunged, wise-cracking, almost overpoweringly good-hearted literary broad in
This was a larger-than-life encounter-"Judy
Merril Meets Rochdale College." I observed it with a measure of awe. And I believe
you can discern much of what Judy is about by looking at the three years she ploughed into
her new home.
I had spent a year as a resource person, and I'd
never seen so many gifted, passionate, committed people in one place. Those early days
were a non-stop adrenaline high. The millennium was taking hold! ... Which accounted for a
fair chunk of what Judy would encounter. There was a drama group in the basement; as
Theatre Passe Muraille, it would soon help recast the whole idiom of the English Canadian
stage. Somebody was building a laser (or was it a phaser? a maser?) with found parts.
There were seminars posted in Hebrew conversation, integral structural systems, urban
revolution, De Fat Daddy Discontinuous Narcotics Cinema Permanent, Heidegger and
phenomenology. Coach House Press was in residence, cramming out mind-blowing poetical
whatzits. To put it as modestly as possible: Western civilization was being recreated at
the corner of Huron and Bloor.
At the same time, there was a babel of
contradictory Rochdales being promulgated. Increasingly they had to do with how people
should live together in the building, less and less with establishing any specific project
or seminar. Leafing through old copies of the Rochdale Daily Planet, I'm swept back to
that hubbub of rival visions. It was all about creating a high-rise commune. No, it was
about reconciling the freaks and the straights. No, it was about empowering the crasher
proletariat. It was about creating a place to regress in, to go sane by falling apart for
time. It was about learning a little consideration for others...
Then, turning the pages, the plaintive or wrathful
notices begin to multiply. Why didn't the garbage chutes work? When would the elevators
start again? Who was running this place? Crashers have rights! Security measures. Small
acts of kindness. The principled midnight theft of the front-door locks; were we trying to
recreate the oppressive structures of mainstream society? An entire Council impeached. The
chess ladder flourishing. Attention: the Narcs (or the Bikers) are poised to invade! Guns
and the Rochdale Daycare. Overdue rents. Mass evictions. Freakouts and suicides. The media
It would have taken someone comfortable with
simultaneous alternate realities to flourish in that brave, indulgent, absurd cacophony.
Someone with an instinct for multi-dimensional human chess: a delight in watching systems
and counter-systems moving through their changes-and not at some safe remove of
abstraction, but tangled in working dreams and lives.
I was not that someone. In fact, I was
shell-shocked. One month into the building's life and I'd become history-a troglodyte from
the far-off, risible days of "university reform." By mid-November, I was limping
around like a sullen zombie. I strongly suspected this was not my scene.
Which explains my awe at the way Judy arrived. She
simply took to the place like a denizen: riding the energies, playing the dizzying
riffle-shuffle of paradigms as though one of her own anthologies had come to life around
her. And she did it with gusto. Whatever I understood by the world
"Rabelaisian," it took on new texture as Judy bestrode the lobby or the
second-floor common room, crinkle of glee in her eyes, lopsided grin at the ready.
"What can you show me?" On the prowl for whatever unlikely encounter this
quarter-hour would bring. She wasn't just managing to cope with the hairy, incommensurable
variety. She was surfing it!
What did she do? One of her first acts was
revealing. She took a look around the day after she arrived and realized the place was in
anarchy. The question was, why hadn't it simply fallen apart? As a simpleminded newcomer,
she figured the maintenance staff must be as strategic as the administration. So she
checked it out-and met a budding nuclear physicist; a Tai Chi devotee with a Ph.D; a
general grabbag of mensches. Amid the global din of two thousand hyperventilating
strangers, she'd located a solid energy centre. Within half an hour she had bonded with
them ... And that was Judy.
What else? A bare listing of her first-year
activities makes my head spin. She co-founded "Red, White and Black," a
counselling group for dodgers and deserters. A lot of her energy went into the Rochdale
Medical Clinic (which her daughter Ann had initiated). Seeing how few seminars were
achieving continuity, she started and helped staff the Pub, a publications centre with
resources to print things yourself. She set up a library, donating thousands of her own
books and periodicals. (After several mutations, it would wind up as the Merril Collection
at the Toronto Public Library.) She was an earthy bohemian drill sergeant at Council
meetings, calling for ethical directness all the way. ("If we have to evict the speed
freaks, at least let's do it without hypocrisy.") She staged a Summer Science Fiction
Festival at Rochdale, which featured Samuel Delany, Frederik Pohl, Fritz Leiber, and Ed
But individual projects don't really tell the
tale; it's the shape of the whole picture we're looking for. And in tracking that overall
picture of Judy at Rochdale I believe we'll also descry the science fiction pioneer, and
the communal activist who has enriched life in Canada and Japan and Jamaica for 25 years.
(There's not enough space to touch anecdotal bases, but I trust the portrait will stand.
And I should mention that without picking the brain of fellow-Rochdalite Peter Turner, I
could not have located even this much coherence in the chaos of those years.)
For starters, we meet someone with a rage for
community, a passion for a family, possibly mythic, that will extend from today's handful
of comrades to take in everyone on the planet tomorrow. Looking at the Rochdale stint, we
can also discern her hunger for justice, and her readiness to be the awkward one who first
names injustices out loud. And, her dauntingly unsentimental code of service. Anyone who
truly needs her help will get it at once, in overflowing measure; anyone who merely wants
it will likely get the brush-off - maybe civilly, maybe not. Life is too short.
Let me sketch a scenario. Imagine a woman who is
attracted to high energy levels-in any field at all. And excellence turns her on. She
gravitates wherever both can be found. In so doing, she has the knack for assessing a new
field by quicksilver intuition, taking a first scan and finding her feet almost instantly.
This is a woman who absorbs paradigms like a
sponge. That's what she's about. Particulars are fine; details are okay; but what really
turns her on is to discern the deep structure energizing them.
Now let's take two steps further. First, suppose
the patterns she's drawn to are seldom the ones other people tell her are there. For the
one thing compels her is the pattern that actually emerges when she wheels her nervous
system into place, sets it up, and waits. Waits for the irrefutable ping! to go off.
The second step is this: Imagine that our
hypothetical woman is sometimes given access to a further level of formal eros, a gavotte
of paradigms which she's sometimes privileged to witness, a kinetic Siva-dance of
gestalts. It's so intoxicating she can't stay away.
It's obvious that I've been conjuring Judy Merril.
But, what I invite you to ponder is the way the account applies to any of her main
endeavours. It happens to have come from watching her in action at Rochdale, where she
could field all those simultaneous visions of the place while others were just getting
migraine. Which is why she belonged there, the right resource person at the right time.
But isn't it equally Judy the writer, spinning and twirling alternative forms of order
before our eyes? And isn't it the Judy whose anthologies revolutionized the way people
read science fiction-the editor who discerned no models inherent in the galactic cluster
of paradigms which speculative fiction comprises?
To me this is one of the rarest, yet most
immediate things to cherish in Judy Merril. Of course, each of us has our own Judy; and
that's as it should be. We can never have enough of who she is.
Dennis Lee is the author of Alligator
Pie and other works of poetry. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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Candas Jane Dorsey
I have been walking around the old
neighbourhood today: that is, Judy's old neighbourhood. The Epitome Apartments, Huron
Street, the brick place on the comer of Huron and College where she had the basement suite
for a while, and the new Merril Collection building with the gryphons. It's the first time
I've been to Toronto since Judy died, and I didn't realise until I was on my way here the
degree of resistance I had to coming back to the places where she wasn't. It's naive at my
age to expect people to live forever but it's also naive of the pragmatists of the world
to think people don't. Judy is alive in all of her written words, all her accomplishments,
the people she loved and who loved her, the memory of conversations she had, and the paths
she walked. If each person's city has a character, made up of the people with whom one
discovers it, my Toronto has a big chunk of Judy in its makeup as I found today when I
rediscovered her here.
I thought I'd try to write more about her, but I've discovered
death is wordless and so, in some ways, is memory. I wrote the piece below for when I
heard about Judy's death, and, factually and practically, I don't have much to add. But
walking around the streets I strolled along with Judy, I'm adding something else: the
confidence that we haven't lost her. She gave us too much of herself for us to do that.
Judy Merril is-was-a good friend of mine. I'd stay with her
(despite the cigarette smoke!) in her tiny apartment sometimes, and we'd eat take-out
Indian food and talk late at night about life, love, sex, art, intention. Sex and writing
come from the same sources, we agreed, and so sometimes we told stories about our lovers,
and sometimes heaped love on our stories.
Judy was also a colleague, mentor, role model and all those other
personae: how tangled relationships become between the private and the public. We met
after she included a story of mine in the first Tesseracts anthology, but what few know is
that it was me, in my innocence and admiration, who suggested to Gerry Truscott that Press
Porcépic, who later founded the Tesseract imprint for Canadian SF, approach Judy to edit
their SF anthology. I didn't know that Judy hadn't edited an anthology for almost twenty
years; I only knew about the many she had edited, many of which I had read in childhood
and in my teen years as my father and I shared in reading as many of the library's SF
books as we could carry home on Saturdays.
After the anthology came out, I found Judy in Halifax: I was at a
Periodical Writers Association of Canada annual general meeting and she was at a Writers
Union of Canada annual general meeting down the hall. I sought her out during the evening
socials. She was dancing at the time. How appropriate.
When Elisabeth Vonarburg, Judy and I met in Toronto at the
Harbourfront launch of Tesseracts, the first order of business, once the official
programme was over, was a place to dance. Despite Toronto's boasts of cosmopolitanism, in
1986 they rolled the sidewalks up at 11:30 on a Saturday night: worse than my prairie
hometown. Judy wasn't fazed, though: she took us to the home of friends who lived in an
upstairs suite of one of those converted-to-businesses mansions on Yonge or Jarvis
Streets, where despite the sleepy protests of the live-in finches we danced to reggae and
blues far into the night.
Judy lived in the Epitome Apartments then. It's pronounced
"Eppih-tome" to rhyme with "home," and it's a building only a block
from the new Toronto Public Library building which now houses the collection founded on
Judy's collection of first editions, and that bears Judy's name. But this is now: then,
Judy lived on a shoestring budget in two crowded, vivid rooms furnished with eclectic
ingenuity and full of creative energy. It was a short walk down the yellow-street-lit
alley, past the Cecil Street community centre and over to the Kam Jug Yuen for the best
Chinese food on the Spadina strip. Judy knew how to eat.
Judy had an appetite for life-not just food, but all the other
passions from which her writing and her joie de vivre sprang-which never deserted her,
even late in life when she was riding a cart to save her knees, recovering from a triple
bypass heart surgery, and having cataracts removed. But that was later too, years later,
after the Epitome home and the winters in Jamaica were only memories, and she lived with
great joy and much more comfort in the wonderful Performing Arts Lodge on The Esplanade.
When we first met, she was still dancing.
Still dancing. She was always dancing-in her heart, if not with
Let's see now. I was storytelling about 1986. Next, Judy organised
the first SFCanada professional speculative writers workshop, on the Milford model she'd
instigated in Milford, PA, decades before. She invited eight of us to Peterborough,
Ontario, where we lived in two college residences, cooked nightly co-op meals, and turned
each other's stories into shreddies. But we did so too tamely for Judy. "I really
like this," someone would begin, "but... I'm having a little trouble on the
second page. The characters, well, I'm sorry to say, they don't really work for me, the
plot's, well, a little muddy, and, um, there are some other problems..." Finally,
after the eighth 'I really like this, but...' Judy-by then a proud Canadian for about two
decades-exploded: "You Canadians are too fucking polite!" She was probably
right, but we just couldn't help ourselves. Still, the first person to say, 'I really
didn't like this...' got a round of applause.
After the workshop I stayed with Judy for a couple of days, and
she introduced me to the essential Toronto experience: Honest Ed's discount store. And we
talked about sex and who was having some with whom. And about writing. And we probably
went out to hear blues music, or to dance.
Many years later, in one of those peak experiences which anchor
memory, Judy and I ate sushi with Ursula and Charles Le Guin in a Yorkville Japanese
restaurant and discussed Canadian politeness: Ursula and Judy came from different American
traditions, but both could relate under what circumstances it was impolite to be too
polite-something a nice white prairie crocus found hard to imagine. But I was quite
willing to be instructed, and, in fact, trips to the United States have been much easier
for me since then. Judy never stopped being exactly who she was, but she had a brilliant
gift for respecting who others were, and building bridges of communication from one place
of mind to another.
The Merril Collection was called the Spaced Out Library then. Judy
had an office there for her lifetime, and it too was crowded with the documentation of a
full life. There, she worked on her writing. When I first knew her she was still working
on the giant novel which obsessed her for years. I remember when she gave up writing
fiction. "It's the first time since I was nineteen that I haven't felt guilty,"
she told me, grinning. But she never gave up writing. Writing had propelled her life.
Recently, Judy had been working on the memoirs of that full, delicious, sometimes
tremendously difficult life: not, she insisted, an autobiography but memoirs, that much
more literary, literate and non-linear term. Judy was never linear.
The memoirs, what I have read of them, are superb. Are thoughtful,
beautifully written, heartbreakingly evocative; honest, true and fine. Not for her the sad
litany of makeup secrets and date-book reconstructions into which many autobiographical
writings decline: Judy's writing was the strongest, most vigorous, most delicate, most
beautiful writing of her life: allusive, recursive, pellucid yet darkly layered. I hope it
is published, complete or not: it would be the best memento mori that Judy could have.
I had written this much of my memorial to Judy when I answered the
telephone to hear that my father had just died. I had already written about how he and I
read SF together. Soon after I met Judy, my father and Judy met, in my home in Edmonton.
At the dinner I threw for them all, Judy and my parents didn't get along, to put it
mildly, despite Judy being closer to my parents' age than mine. The spirits which made
each of them beloved to me did not endear them to each other. They both missed essentials
in each other that I was able to see, to my good fortune.
In the few days since my father died I have experienced the
terrible straitjacket of bureaucracy that keeps us from collapsing under the weight of
loss. Now I not only feel for Judy's family but feel with them that terribly personal loss
of source, of original parent, and the terrible necessity to put aside that loss to do the
necessary housekeeping tasks death requires. In the last few days I have been overwhelmed
with tasks, and unable to write more about Judy's career and achievements or about the
things Judy had shared with me about her community, her home and family. Yet still,
despite the overwhelming loss of my father, I am also remembering to feel keenly the loss
of Judy, my friend. I am doubly in mourning.Judy's was not a life to mourn, however; it
was a life to celebrate. Which we will all do in Toronto, somewhere around January 21,
1998, the date which would have been her 75th birthday. We all know that Judy would like a
party far better than these prose memorials, which I suspect she would think too fulsome.
So we'll have a party for Judith Merril, our friend in so many ways.
And there will definitely be dancing.
Candas Jane Dorsey writes science fiction and poetry. She is
the publisher of Tesseract Books and lives in Edmonton, Alberta.
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Suzette Haden Elgin
Judith Merril's science
fiction anthologies were my treasures, so much so that every copy I have is now dog-eared
and has to be held together with rubber bands and tape. She always chose precisely the
stories that I would have chosen myself, often found stories I never would have known
about without her help, and wrote introductory notes that were worth the price of the book
all by themselves. Very early in my life as a teacher, I learned that a question she had
once asked in a "Best" anthology was a perfect solution to that nightmare of
teachers called "running out of material." The question goes roughly like this:
Suppose you have an empty shoebox, with the lid on, and you carry it into another room;
does it still contain the same chunk of space it had in it when you started? Students will
discuss this passionately for hours and leave the classroom still arguing about it; it's
magic, and has saved me many a time.
I didn't meet Judith until she and I were both
guests at WisCon 20 in 1996. WisCon is the feminist science fiction convention held in
Madison, Wisconsin, every spring; the 20th anniversary WisCon, with Ursula K. Le Guin and
Judith Merril as the Guests of Honor, was such a marvel that it has become the science
fiction fan's Woodstock-people who weren't there regret it bitterly (and some pretend that
in fact they were there). WisCon 20 brought back every previous guest of honor who was
willing and able to attend, and it was a sparkling and unforgettable celebration and
mindfeast. At one point, Judith and I went to the hotel bar and played hooky for several
hours, getting acquainted and enjoying ourselves enormously; we missed the group photo
session scheduled for that time period and got in substantial hot water over it. Since
both she and I had Ph.D's in Getting In Hot Water, we listened respectfully to the
well-deserved fussing and expressed our apologies and went right on. But I would not give
up that long conversation with Judith for all the gold in Fort Knox; it was a priceless
occasion, and a blessing I doubt I deserve.
Suzette Haden Elgin, author and poet, has a
Ph.D in linguistics. She founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 1978.
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My contacts with Judy were
occasional but memorable - whether it was reading and rereading Shadow on the Hearth or
interacting with her in concert with my parents. She came and went in my life, always
somehow connected with memorable moments.
My mother is sometime science-fiction writer Betsy
Curtis, who was especially active in the field in the early fifties-though her
"Steiger Effect 'was nominated for a Hugo in the mid-sixties. She and Judy met only
now and then, but I recall a caravan of fans and pros (including Sturgeon and Jerry Bixby)
who stayed at our house on their way to some fifties convention. She could gather
incredible people together to make memories for them all.
The year Heinlein won the Hugo for Starship
Troopers, Judy and my parents and the Liebers were lolling about in Mom and Dad's
room, when Judy bounced up, proclaimed the event dull, and asked whether they would mind
if she brought some more people to the party. She dashed off and returned with an
incredible group of people in tow: Asimov holding aloft Heinlein's Hugo and singing
"Hail the Conquering Hero," Randy Garrett, and a plethora of other delightful
Last year, Judy was one of the guests at
WisCon-and, thanks to that, I was able to persuade my mother to travel to Madison, where
she and I had a wonderful time. But among those memories were moments which Mom and Judy
spent, being "Bad Girls" smoking and drinking in the hotel bar (in a city where
almost no other public place permitted smoking).
And I listened to tributes to Judy, as numbers of
women stood-some shyly, some defiantly, some adoringly-to tell Judy what she had meant to
them: how she had stood as a demonstration that they could be creative, live their own
lives, find courage, and/or be meaningful to others.
As she tooled around Madison, faster than any of
the rest of us via her buzzing wheelchair, she continued to provide still further
demonstration that nothing's over till it's over. And that one of the creations that can
be permanent is a memory. At least, when it's shared.
Maggie Thompson is a second-generation science-fiction buff-and, with
her late husband, Don, not only co-edited the weekly comics newspaper Comic Buyer's
Guide, but also The Official Price Guide To Science Fiction and Fantasy
Collectibles. Her comics-related activities currently crowd out a lot of SF
activity-but she knows Fandom Is a Way of Life.
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Excerpted from Aloud.
When Judith Merril looked deep into the soul - if the word is
truly applicable - of the United States government (especially as exemplified in Chicago)
in 1969, and decided to move to another country, she left her native land thus
impoverished by the lack of one bright spirit. I can't help feeling that had she stayed
here, she would now be in office, or one of the leaders among the feminists, or the
cleverest commentator by half on the political scene. Or in jail.
She was "an island of intellect" for me,
when I first met her, in 1945. I shipwrecked on her superior knowledge again and
again-and Crusoed it into some understanding of what was already clear to her, as
often as not. What's more, as dean and innovator in the field, she gave me a basic course
in the editing of anthologies, for which I've always been grateful. To a large extent, she
shaped my mind and helped me get a fix on the city of my dreams, New York City. She
re-introduced me to the world of science fiction, which I had put aside for domesticity.
She has been a rock, a best friend, and an inspiration.
I owe her one.
Virginia Kidd is an American editor, poet and literary agent.
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In the course of organizing
Judith Merril's 75th birthday party, I have made hundreds of phone calls. One question has
come up time and again: "Why are you doing this?"
I think it's because I never got a chance to say
"thank you" and "I love you" to Judy in this lifetime. There is a line
from a song that says, "If I touch you, I will know you." Every phone call,
without exception, has been a privilege and a way of touching Judy's friends and feeling
her influence on all of us.
I first met Judy and her daughter, Ann Pohl, in
Rochdale at the time of the historical cultural revolution of the late 1960s. The
performance art group "General Idea" was formed, founded and formalized in
Rochdale; I was Miss Honey, Miss General Idea, 1970. Judy and I didn't become friends or
even friendly, then. Yet, somehow, our lives always intertwined.
Years later, Judy was in the audience at one of my
concerts. She was impressed by my artistic development and recommended me to be
interviewed for the book and movie The Dream Tower-a history of Rochdale. Her
recommendation and encouragement meant a lot to me.
Again time passed. One day, I needed to get away
from Toronto and escaped to Niagara Falls, N.Y. As I was walking around, anonymously, who
should I run into but Judy Merril. She seemed to appear out of nowhere and to appear when
I needed her insight. And so, our friendship bloomed.
Judy wanted to visit Jamaica after her first heart
attack. I wanted to see the world. Judy invited me to visit her world.
I got off the plane and was immediately whisked to
a friend's place to store my things. Then, Judy took me swimming in the sea. It was dusk,
the orange sun was setting into an indigo horizon. The water was warm, welcoming and
embracing. It was like landing in a place where your first impulse is to kiss the ground
in reverence and gratitude.
The year after I visited Judy in Jamaica, she
decided I was brave, generous and smart enough to travel with her to Cuba. En route, Judy
lost her credit card. That became an insignificant power trip for me and a true bond of
trust was formed between us.
We stayed on the northern side of the island but
both of us wanted to visit the Bay of Pigs on the south side. The question was, how? We
could rent a car but I couldn't drive a standard. Judy could drive a standard but couldn't
see well enough to drive.
The solution was that I would drive and Judy would
tell me when to shift gears. We made it all the way to Matanzas, a city an hour away from
Truly, there must have been an angel watching over
us. In Matanzas, we stalled going up a hill. I couldn't get out of first gear no matter
what I tried. We were stuck in traffic and holding up the route. A compassionate man was
observing this drama. He came to our aid and drove us all day long. Judy and I didn't
speak Spanish and Ernesto didn't speak English, yet we had many conversations.
One time, at the P-art-isan Gallery, I sang a song
that had the following words in it:
May the work I have done speak for me...
If I should fall short of my goals
Someone else will take a hold
And the work that I have done
Will speak for me.
Judy told me she wanted me to sing that song at
her memorial. I didn't expect to have to sing it so soon.
Judy became a mothering friend to me. She was a
strong-willed, analytical-thinking, kind-hearted Jewish woman. She loved jazz, poetry,
speaking out against injustice, people, good works and the passion of experiencing life;
these were some of the things we had in common. I miss her deeply.
Organizing this party is a full-time job. It's
also an honour. Thank you.
Wherever you are, I love you.
Toronto singer Honey Novick has been referred
to as "one of Canada's premier avant-garde vocalists" and "a musical
philosopher. " Her newest CD "In Tribute (A Labour of Love)" includes the
song (excerpted above) "Speak For Me."
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Beyond The Whole Jar
An Interview With Judith Merril, conclusion
I conducted two
interviews with Judith; one on March 15, 1997 (published in SOL Rising #18), the other on
March 25 (the first half of which was published in SOL Rising #19). What follows is the
conclusion of that second and last interview with Judy. In the first half, we covered the
1950s and 1960s, culminating in the founding of the Spaced Out Library as Rochdale
College's school library in 1969 and then its transfer to the Toronto Public Library
system in 1970. In the second half, we discuss her work for the CBC, Canadian nationalism,
science fiction during the 1970s and 1980s, and the role she played in the flourishing of
Canadian SF during the 1980s, especially as editor of the first Tesseracts volume.
I asked whether the innovation that was so much a
part of the post-modernists, and indeed constituted the philosophy of the New Wave, had
appealed to her:
JM: I don't care whether people
do something new and exciting, I want what they do to make something new and exciting
happen in my head. This may come from a quite conventional piece of work, if there is a
subtext that's significant; or a piece of total new and innovative work may leave me
absolutely cold because to me, there's no content to it.
AW: But you're still excited by
the writer's willingness to do his own thing.
JM: No; I'm excited by how well
the writer does his own thing. His willingness makes no difference to me at all. I'm not
excited by the writer being bold and brave, I'm excited by the writer doing it in such a
way that it can reach me.
I asked whether there was nothing in science
fiction during the 1970s that excited her; she mentioned the work published in New
Worlds and Orbit, and...
JM: Ballard's semi-science
fiction novels that came out I think in the seventies-Crash and High Rise and
those things. Some of the feminist work really excited me. Suzy Charnas' first
book, which I think was [published] in the Sixties, did, but the later ones didn't hit me
as hard. Tiptree interested me, and I really liked her work, but she didn't excite me,
most of the time, in the way that Ballard or Delany or Marian Engel did, because I hardly
ever got a really new idea from reading Tiptree. Every time I discuss this I have to keep
emphasizing what I'm talking about that excites me is not what good idea the author had
but what effect reading the author had on my own innovative process. And with Tiptree it
was more like nodding my head and saying, "Right on! Right on!"
AW: But it didn't
get deep down inside...
JM: Well, no, that's not what I
mean. It did get deep down inside but it didn't effervesce. It didn't produce ideas I
never had before. Or only rarely did it do that. Mostly it was just delight at someone
expressing so well things that I had never said clearly, and that I didn't know anyone
else who had said clearly. I was very busy in the seventies, and I don't think I was
reading much. I know I misses the beginning of Bruce Sterling, which I think was in the
seventies; I'd never heard of him until after I read Gibson. [Sterling] was a new name to
me at the time, and he'd already been writing interesting and evocative-evocative! That's
the word I wanted!
During that period she was active in a variety of
causes, and not just nuclear disarmament:
JM: I haven't been much of an
activist for the last couple of decades, but to the extent that I have been it's probably
had more to do with environmental stuff and with racism, which was always as important to
me as the nuclear war thing.
We discussed Canadian nationalism during the
1970s, and whether a sense of nationalism inspired her to do the first Tesseracts
JM: It was the fashionable thing
at the time that [people like Margaret] Atwood-let's take Atwood as a symbolic person
knowing that we're talking about a whole bunch of writers-were coming forth with [the
ideal that Canadian nationalism is not anti-Americanism, it is support of Canadian
cultural nationalism. And I would respond, well, to the extent that I'm a nationalist it's
because I'm an anti-American. It's the same thing that keeps me from being a nationalist,
because in the States nationalism had reached the status of religion, I mean it was the
AW: Did you get interested in
Canadian science fiction as a separate subject during that period  or later on?
JM: I don't think that you could
say I've ever been specifically interested in Canadian science fiction, any more than I've
been specifically interested-well, I was for a short period specifically interested in a
part of British science fiction. I was interested in connection with the library, and in
connection with the Writers Union, and in connection with trying to find out where my
opposition to nationalism-which was part of my opposition to the United States-how that
settled into me in relationship to my pleasure at being a Canadian. I did not wish to be a
Canadian nationalist, I did not wish to see nationalism increase in Canada. It was very
popular at that time-through the seventies-[to ask], what is the Canadian identity? and I
knew the answer to that one: the CBC was the Canadian identity. Anybody, anywhere in
Canada who had an idea or a thing to say could with a little effort get to say it on the
CBC. And if you were in Timbuktu and someone turned on the radio and it happened to be the
CBC you would know it instantly. It had a totally different sound.
AW: Tell me about the origins of Tesseracts.
JM: Ellen Godfrey (at Press
Porcépic) asked me if I would do it, and I said, "Hm, I really thought I had quit
doing anthologies, but you know I think there just might at this particular point in time
be an anthology that could be got together. It was sort of the same time that I thought it
was time to start Hydra North. There were just enough people, there was just enough
happening, and indeed it turned out to be very much the case.
AW: You caught the wave.
JM: I caught the wave! Boy,
that's what I'm good at. Wave-catching.
AW: So there wasn't really a
JM: There was a nationalist
motivation or a similar-to-nationalist motivation, in the sense that I was eager to see
more stuff being done here, and I felt [the anthology] would encourage that. But mostly it
was just that I thought there was perhaps enough being done-I thought that I might have
to, I expected it would have to be partly historical-I expected we were going to have to
go backwards. I thought that Laurence and Engel and so forth would help sell it, 'cause I
thought they were going to have to be in there, but we didn't need them as far as content
went and we didn't need them to sell it.
She felt she found something distinctive in
Canadian science fiction, and in her Afterword described it this way:
We have met the Alien and it is us.
Maybe Pogo was a closet Canadian. Identifying the alien within is not an easy state of
mind for Yanks or Brits. On the record, in this book, it seems a relatively confident
assumption in the prevailing Canadian voice... (p. 284).
AW: Is that still largely true as
far as you're concerned?
JM: No, I think there's very
little "Canadian science fiction;" there are a lot more Canadian science fiction
writers, but almost all of them are trying to be as American as possible.
AW: Does that bother you?
JM: That's where the money is.
Science fiction has become a money field. There are individual authors who are still
writing it because they like exciting ideas, and authors who are writing it from one
political view or another, but most science fiction at this point doesn't interest me at
all, and some of it appalls me. I feel sad that a certain number of people who might have
been good writers are corrupted (so to speak) by the relatively easy money. This happens
wherever there's money available. It's not something I rail aggainst, or would tell
someone don't do, unless I thought he was a really really fine writer who was about to be
undermined. But even then, it wouldn't be "Don't do," it's "Be aware that
this happens, and make up your mind whether you want to do it."
We talked about the contemporary scene in science
AW: Are there any writers whose
work you find evocative?
JM: Quite a few. I started
reading a lot more new stuff when I was getting ready to go to WisCon, because I found
that a lot of people who were going to be there were names I didn't know at all. And I
found several people whose work was very evocative for me. Rebecca Ore, Catherine Asaro,
Suzette (Haden) Elgin. Candas Dorsey's work has always been so for me; Neil Stephenson's Snow
Crash, Wilhelmina Baird, Pat Cadigan, and Paul McAuley. More recently, the book that
has hit me hardest this year is Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. I've been
buying copies to give away. There have been quite a number of the newer authors that I've
read one [of their books] and said to Lorna [Toolis, Collection Head] "Give me more
of this person," and never got it again. Whatever evocation they had to give was the
evocation they had to give, and it didn't work a second time.
AW: Is it getting more difficult
to say something new?
JM: Nonsense! From the time of
the first Sputnik, there was a headline that kept appearing everywhere: "Science Is
Catching Up With Science Fiction." Well, science can't catch up with science fiction,
because science fiction is dealing with what might be happening later. It's not dealing
with what's happening now. And in the same way, there's no way you can ever fill up the
jar of something new; something new is something beyond the whole jar. All you can do is
get middle-aged and stop wanting to think anything new.
AW: Is that the advice you'd have
for people? To resist the temptation to get comfortable?
JM: They should do whatever they
want. I can only speak for myself and I don't have to resist the temptation. I just have
to keep trying to find something that will catch my attention.
AW: Challenge conventions,
challenge authorities, as you've been doing for your whole life...
JM: That's not what I get kicks
out of. This is compulsive behaviour, challenging authorities, and I don't do nearly as
much of it as I used to, not because I have less resentment of authorities, but because I
have less energy. New ideas are not necessarily challenging anything or opposing anything,
but they're what's fun. I used to talk about the two kinds of science fiction, the one
that starts with the question, "What if?" and the one that starts with the
supposition, "If this goes on..." And I think the stuff I wrote that was,
"If this goes on..." was much more powerful for readers than the stuff I wrote
that was, "What if?" But as a reader I'm not interested at all in, "If this
goes on ... ;" I'm only interest in "What if?"
AW: Well, what do you think are
going to be the major issues to write about? Any thoughts?
JM: I don't know. Or to quote
Arthur Clarke once again, "We can predict the technology of tomorrow, but we cannot
predict the science of tomorrow, because the science of tomorrow is by definition magic
today." And what are going to be the topics? I don't know.
Space does not permit inclusion of her very
interesting comments on the relationships between music and science fiction, or more
detail about her views of Canadian, American, and Quebecois nationalism. Our conversation
illustrated Judy's lifelong determination to resist the powerful and defend the powerless,
without becoming a power herself She has fought complacency, both her own and others', and
seeks authors and thinkers who push the boundaries. As a writer, editor, and activist,
Judith Merril has represented what science fiction is all about-looking "beyond the
whole jar" and making the rest of us do that, too.
Allan Weiss is a freelance writer, editor,
researcher, and part-time college instructor. He was co-curator (with Hugh Spencer) for
the National Library exhibit on Canadian Science Fiction "Out of This World"
and, currently, is organizer of the annual Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction
Back to top Home
- Shadow on the Hearth (Doubleday, 1950)
- Gunner Cade (Simon & Schuster, 1952) (With C.M.
- Outpost Mars (Abelard, 1952). Originally published as Mars
Child (Galaxy 2 [May-July 1951]) (with C.M. Kornbluth)
- Out of Bounds (Pyramid Books, 1960)
- The Tomorrow People (Pyramid Books, 1960)
- Daughters of Earth (Gollancz, 1968)
- 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)
- Galaxy of Ghouls (Lion, 1955)
- SF: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (Gnome
- SF '57: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy
(Gnome Press, 1957)
- SF '58: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy
(Gnome Press, 1958)
- SF '59: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy
(Gnome press, 1959)
- The Year's Best SF: 5th Annual Edition (Dell,
- The Year's Best SF: 6th Annual Edition (Dell, 1962)
- The Year's Best SF: 7th Annual Edition (Dell,
- The Year's Best SF: The 8th Annual (Simon & Schuster,
- The Year's Best SF: The 9th Annual (Simon & Schuster,
- The Year's Best SF: 10th Annual Edition (Delacorte Press,
- The Year's Best SF: 11th Annual Edition (Dell, 1967)
- SF: The Best of the Best (Delacorte Press, 1967)
- SF12 (Delacorte Press, 1968)
- The Best of Sci-Fi 10 (Mayflower Books, 1968)
- England Swings SF (Doubleday, 1968)
- Tesseracts (Press Porcépic, 1985)
A complete bibliography, including all of Judith's short stones
and other works not related to science fiction, is available at the Merril Collecton.
Back to top Home
Love As A Weapon
Challenging the Assumptions of Science Fiction
Whoever You Are
Stage play written and directed by Ronald Weihs
Artword Theatre, Toronto
Two science fiction dramas went public in November 1997.
Both are adaptations of works by major SF writers written in the 1950s. Both stories
depict military personnel defending Earth from attacks from beyond our solar system.
One of the SF dramas is the film adaptation of Robert A.
Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers. The other was Artword Theatre's stage
production of Judith Merril's 1954 short story "Whoever You Are." Now the
Unlike Starship Troopers, Whoever You Are did not
feature over 40 minutes of advanced computer generated graphics, it did not offer heroic
bug-blasting battles on strange and expensive planets, and it was not seen by millions of
people around the world. Nevertheless, Whoever You Are is an ambitious and entertaining
science fiction experience.
The premise of the play closely followed Judith Meriil's
original story: The Solar Defense organization operates "The Web"-a vast
electromagnetic sensor system designed to warn Earth of alien intrusion.
The human race has become docile, xenophobic and easily
frightened. Solar Defense doesn't just track spacecraft and maintain satellite listening
posts-it also employs public relations specialists and psychologists whose job it is to
constantly reassure everyone that "everything is all right ."
And everything does seem to be all right, until a returning
Earth exploration craft penetrates the Web, piloted not by the original crew but by
aliens, proclaiming a message of universal peace and love. Solar Defense must now
determine if this is friendly contact or a subversive attack
The question of alien invasion as handled by Merril and
Weihs has a more sophisticated and frightening form than the clear-cut human-vs.-alien
model of the Alien films, Space: Above and Beyond or Starship Troopers. Kill or be killed
is a much easier moral and behavioural equation than: is the entity who loves me actually
and what should I do about that?
Ronald Weihs' production was more than a faithful
adaptation of the original story. Everything in the play-costumes, sets, music and
dialogue-were creative interpretations of the original text. This is a striking contrast
to film adaptations of SF works such as Dune, The Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers, in
which characters, events and settings of the story are sometimes radically re-worked and
up-dated to suit contemporary sensibilities and cinematic technology. Whoever You Are's
minimal but intelligent set design and special effects with touches of retro dialogue,
made you feel as though you were somehow inside a science fiction story from the 1950s. By
creating the unique fictional atmosphere, Weihs challenged today's assumptions about the
look and feel of the future. Weihs also made you wonder if extravagant special effects and
cinematic production values can sometimes distract you from what is best in SF: the
exploration of new ideas and the discovery of character in incredible worlds.
Whoever You Are also benefited from a strong cast
which deftly handled the play's only serious fault: long passages of expositional
dialogue. The details of the Web and psychology of deep-space explorers really didn't need
to be explained in quite so much detail. One area in which film and TV have succeeded is
in creating an audience that is at home with the settings and terminology of science
fiction stories. It doesn't take as much talk to set people up for a story in space. But
this was a minor problem in an otherwise remarkable production; the cast's ability to
interact almost seamlessly with video-recorded actors was also particularly impressive.
Over the coming months, with pay television and video
cassette releases, we will have many more opportunities to see Starship Troopers.
But we won't have the same chance to see Whoever You Are, as the play closed its
run on November 30, 1997. This is unfortunate, because it was an entertaining and
thought-provoking drama-and we don't get to enjoy SF as live theatre very often.
It would also be nice if we were reading as much Judith
Merril as Robert A. Heinlein.
Hugh Spencer is a consultant in the field of museum
planning, as well as a science fiction writer. He was co-curator (with Allan Weiss) of the
National Library exhibit on Canadian Science fiction "Out of This World."
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Members of the Friends of the Merril Collection and invited guests gathered
at the Collection on the afternoon of Saturday, November 29, 1997, to help John Millard
celebrate his 80th birthday.
A long time member of Toronto science fiction
fandom, John was the first Chair of The Friends (1980 - 1988), and served for fifteen
years as Co-Chairman of the Building Committee, which assisted in the Toronto Public
Library's long search for the Collection's present home. He is still an active member of
the Friends' Executive Committee.
John was the Chairman of Torcon II, the last World
Science Fiction Convention held in Toronto, in 1973. At the birthday celebration John
donated a school bell to the Collection. The bell is inscribed with the name "Torcon
II" and was used at the convention to announce various events. John has stipulated
that, should the current WorldCon bid comniittee be successful at bringing the WorldCon
back to Toronto in 2003, they should be allowed to use the bell, and have it suitably
John has also donated his files from Torcon II to
the Collection, as well as two "First Fandom" patches.
The celebration was attended by over thirty
people, including all of the other past Chairs of the Friends (Peter Fitting, Larry
Hancock and Hugh Spencer) and Ned McKeown, Chairman of the first Torcon in 1948. Also
attending was Margaret Keifer, John's good friend from Loveland, Ohio.
Coincident with his birthday, John has moved to a
new apartment. In preparation for the move, John shipped 50 boxes of books and periodicals
(between 600 and 700 items) to Sotheby's in London, England, where they will be auctioned
in February 1998. These books comprised John's extensive collection on Antarctic
exploration, voyages and travel, including all the publications of the Hakluyt Society
from 1968 to the present.
John Millard expresses his sincere thanks to
everyone who attended or sent their congratulations. He was very flattered by the honour
and wishes everyone as long and eventful a life as he has had.
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This year, the Friends' 9th Annual Christmas Cream Tea held on December 5,
1997 was combined with the launch of The Claus Effect, the new novel by David
Nickle and Karl Schroeder, both Toronto writers. Over 85 people turned out for the event,
making it the second largest attendance at a Friends' function on record.
Nickle and Schroeder took turns reading from their
novel to an enthusiastic and often chortling audience. The Claus Effect (published
by Tesseract Books) is a continuation of their Aurora-awarding winning short story
"The Toy Mill," originally published in the anthology Tesseracts, and
which has been included as the opening of the novel.
Following the reading, the authors signed copies
of their book, on sale at the Collection courtesy of Bakka.
Bakka also generously provided the catering for
the event, allowing the Friends to waive the traditional admission charge.
Back to top Home
This year, the Halloween weekend was a special one for the Friends of the
Merril Collection-SOL Rising was honoured with the Aurora Award for Best Fanzine at
Canvention 97. The award was handed out at Primedia, a fan run media convention held this
year in Markham.
I have enjoyed editing SOL Rising over
these past couple of years. It has allowed me to develop skills I didn't know I had, and
to put to practical use the experience I've acquired in my 8 years with the Cecil Street
Putting together SOL Rising isn't the
domain of just one person, however. There are a lot of people involved in this process,
and I would like to take this opportunity to name them, and to thank them for their
First and foremost are the thanks due to the
contributors without whom, of course, there would be no SOL Rising: past chair
Hugh Spencer, who began "The View from the Chair" column, ably succeeded by our
current chair, Jody Hancock; Lorna Toolis, Collection Head, who informs us with "News
from the Merril" and "Browsing the Stacks"; our page 3 cartoonist David
Nickle, who provides his own somewhat bent interpretation of what Lorna is really trying
to say in her column; and regular contributors Mici Gold, Allan Weiss and Don Hutchison,
whose interviews and articles offer insightful, sometimes humourous and always informative
Other contributors include Gordon Black, Cory
Doctorow, Kevin Proulx, Lorraine Pooley, Janet Hetherington, Mark Shainblum, and Michael
Skeet, to name a few; to them and to all those not mentioned, I thank you for helping to
make SOL Rising a success.
My personal thanks also go to the Executive
Committee of the Friends, for allowing me to do this task for them, and to the membership,
for enjoying the fruits of our labours.
May SOL Rising continue to provide you
with the best reading we can offer.
Theresa Wojtasiewicz, editor
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