Every year the staff of the Merril
Collection create several displays, often in conjunction with an
appropriate event. The current display is entitled Pulp Grrls; Heroic Women of the Pulps and
runs through June 30th in the lobby of The Merril Collection. It is timed
to coincide with the Annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale that The
Friends of The Merril Collection present each year. This being the 7th year
for this extremely popular event, the staff decided to vary from their previous
Pulp displays and design one that showcases the women of the science
fiction & fantasy pulps.
Annette Mocek and Kim Hull
of The Merril Collection put a great deal of thought, not to mention time
and effort, into the design and creation of this unique exhibit. They
didn't want to merely show the all too common image of a beautiful woman
wearing a clear or saran-wrap style spacesuit while the heroic & fully
clothed male comes to rescue them from the bug-eyed monster. Instead, they
painstakingly selected pulp magazines that contained stories about strong,
heroic women who were quite capable of taking care of themselves, and in
some cases even came to the male's rescue.
Each case contains several pulps with stories and/or
covers of a particular theme and is labelled
accordingly. The various themes include Soldier Grrls,
Scientist Grrls, Warrior Grrls,
Goddess Grrls, Rebel Grrls
and Explorer Grrls. Such pulps as Amazing, Astounding, Fantastic
Adventures, Thrilling Wonder
Stories, and most prominently Planet
Stories are featured. Even though the latter two often sported gorgeous
damsels in distress cover art, their stories featured more feminist ideas
than most other pulp magazines.
In fact, many of the early sf
pulp magazines published stories featuring savvy spacewomen, and exotic
alien goddesses. The formidable warrior queen was another popular
character. Planet Stories in
particular almost specialized in such strong female characters, which made
their covers stand out even more. And when you consider that the pulps were
vying for attention and thereby sales through their striking covers it
highlights the contribution of Planet
Stories as a forum for feminist ideals.
This is a one of a kind display. I urge everyone to
come see it, it will alter your perceptions of the
stereotypical science fiction pulp magazines.
The past several months have been exhausting and
exasperating for all of us. We're finally nearing the end of one of the
longest and most physically demanding winters in recent memory. Toronto—and the rest of Canada by association—is internationally recognized as being one of the
hotspots of the SARS outbreak. Relations with our USneighbours
are becoming increasingly strained, and our lives are filled with the
images and horrors of the war in Iraq.
But there is some much welcome
light at the end of the tunnel. After one last and especially nasty ice
storm our winter seems to be winding down. Doctors in Vancouver were among the first in the
world to genetically sequence the corona virus responsible for SARS.
Canada/US relations haven't gotten any worse lately. And the conflict in Iraq seems to be close to a
The Merril Collection has been
bustling with events all winter, and we have many events planned during the
summer to make visitors attracted by the other events in town feel welcome.
The 2nd Fantastic Art Show
opened in January, with a blizzard on the opening night. Many people braved
the elements to attend, including four of the six artists whose work was on
display. The quality of the art on display was superior to last year's
show. This year's crop of artwork was so well received that we even sold
one piece during the opening evening festivities.
On March 27th, author Steven Brust appeared at the Collection and read from his
latest fantasy novel. As always, he was the perfect guest and his
appearance included a fun and boisterous reading followed by an
enthusiastic question-and-answer session. After he finished signing books,
many of us accompanied him to a local pub for dinner and drinks. He then
graciously suggested we adjourn to his hotel room to continue the evening's
festivities. A great time was
had by all.
Almost a month to the day
later, we held our annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale. It was the
seventh year for the sale, which has proven to be the most popular and
successful event the Merril sponsors. We had more dealers than ever before
and a wider range of items on the tables. The show saw the debut of Pulp Grrls, a new slideshow presentation. Visitors were also
treated to our Fantastic Pulps auction and hourly tours of the Merril
This summer is going to be an
exceptionally busy one, with many large literary conferences and
conventions in town. As a key literary sf
destination in Toronto, the Merril will be offering
tours and presentations for many of these events. The tours and
presentations would not be possible without the generous help provided by
the Friends of the Merril. If you would like to volunteer during one of
these events, please see the Volunteers Needed! box
on page 7 for more details.
The Annual General Meeting of
the Friends of the Merril Collection will take place on May 3rd. The annual
reports from the Chair, Collection Head, and the Treasurer are followed by
the elections of executive committee members. I urge each of you to attend
as this is such an important occasion.
The American Library
Association, or ALA, will be holding their annual
convention in Toronto this June. Approximately
10,000 librarians will be visiting literary landmarks in our city,
including the Merril Collection. Shortly before the visit by the ALA, there will be a conference
of Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarians. The Merril Collection will be one
of the hosts of a gala welcoming party for the Rare Books and Manuscripts
The 61st World Science Fiction
Convention comes to Toronto this August, just in time for
the Labour Day weekend. Worldcon
is the largest sf convention in the world and has
attracted as many as 10,000 people in the past. Torcon
3, as it is better known, will be held at the Metro Toronto Convention
Centre, with some events taking place in four of the major hotels in the
city, including the Royal York, CrownePlaza, and SkyDome
Hotels. Guests of Honour are George R. R. Martin,
Frank Kelly Freas, and Mike Glyer.
Spider Robinson is the Toastmaster. The late, great Robert Bloch is the GoHst of Honour.
It's going to be a very busy
and exciting year for all science fiction fans in Toronto, and especially
for the Friends of the Merril Collection, as so many of you are directly
involved in the organization of these shows and events. I thank you for
your efforts and look forward to seeing you at all the shows you've helped
create this year.
This year is shaping up to be a busy year for the
Merril Collection staff. In January, John Rose of the science fiction
specialty store Bakka Books and I spoke at the
annual Ontario Library Association Conference. The title of the lecture was
Enduring Dreams: Heroism, Escapism
and Affection for Fantastic Literature. We talked for an hour to about
fifty librarians, most of whom were interested in
what they should order for their younger readers. The concept of science
fiction and fantasy as relevant to adult readers is one that those of us
who read the material still need to explain.
Also in January, the Friends
of the Merril Collection sponsored the 2nd Annual Fantastic Art show, which
ran between January and the end of March. This has become a regular feature
of the Merril Collection. The Friends arrange for artists in the local
community who work with images relevant to speculative fiction to display
their art at the Merril Collection. The artists have a chance to display
their work, and possibly to sell it, while the people in the reading room
enjoy new art in a variety of styles. They are also able to enjoy the
marvelous art books from the Collection holdings, on exhibit in the display
On March 27, The Friends
arranged for a guest speaker: Steven Brust, best
known for his VladTaltos
books. Mr. Brust read from a forthcoming book, part two of The
Viscount ofAdrilankha, and answered questions
in an extremely cheerful and energetic question-and-answer session. When it
became necessary to leave the building, which closes at ,
many of the people attending the reading went on to the pub with Mr. Brust and continued the discussion.
The 7th Annual Fantastic Pulp
Show will happen on Saturday, April 26 in the basement of the Lillian H.
Smith building. The extremely popular show of pulps in the basement is
accompanied by a lecture and slide show in the Merril Collection's third
floor reading room. The Merril Collection display in support of the Pulp
Show this year is Pulp Girls!, created by Annette Mocek and Kim Hull. Tours of the stacks will run
throughout the afternoon.
The Annual General Meeting of
the Friends of the Merril Collection on May 3 will also host a book launch.
Land/Space: an anthology of prairie
speculative fiction, edited by Candas Jane
Dorsey and Judy McCrosky, published by Tesseracts Books, will be available at the AGM. Local
authors Hugh Spencer, Carolyn Clink, Ursula Pflug,
and Saskatchewan author Stephen Berzensky will be available to sign copies.
In June, the Science Fiction
Research Association will hold its annual conference in Guelph, with a bus bringing participants
up to the Merril Collection for a tour on the Friday of the conference.
Later in the summer, the annual conference of the American Library Association/Canadian
Library Association will happen in Toronto. Tours of both the Merril
Collection and the Osbbrne Collection have been
organized for conference attendees. The Friends of the Osborne Collection have
organized a reception for the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division of the ALA for which the Friends of the
Merril Collection have been asked to provide volunteers. Anyone interested
should speak to Jamie Fraser or anyone else on the executive committee.
In August, the Academic
Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy will take place at the
Merril Collection. Members of the Friends interested in either attending or
volunteering should contact Annette Mocek on
Over the Labour
Day weekend, last but not least, TorCon 3, the
World Science Fiction Convention, will take place in Toronto. When Terry Fong, the
director of planning for the WorldCon, dropped
through the Collection to chat, we assured him that we expect to spend the
entire long weekend at the WorldCon, except for
keeping the service desk open and giving tours to anyone who comes from TorCon to see the Collection.
The Merril Collection will
exhibit science fiction and fantasy titles at the Toronto Reference Library
during the period in which WorldCon is held.
Organized by Kim Hull and Annette Mocek, the display
will be aimed at the regular users of the Toronto Reference Library, trying
to explain what science fiction and fantasy are,
and why they might be interested. The rare, the beautiful, and many of the
most interesting items from the Merril Collection will be on display at the
Toronto Reference Library for a six-week period.
My manager wanted to know what I would be doing after WorldCon. So far, curling into a fetal ball and hiding
under my desk seems like a plan…
December 2002 marked the 30th anniversary of Apollo
17, the sixth and final manned lunar landing. The news that three decades
have passed since man last walked on the moon came as a bit of a shock,
since it reminded me that (a) I'm getting old, and (b) the future ain't what it used to be. If you want to relive the
glory days of the Apollo project, I recommend Andrew Chaikin's
best‑selling book A Man on the
Moon, as well as the documentary film For All Mankind. Michael Light's Full Moon is a stunning coffee‑table book of Apollo
photographs that is also worthwhile. If all that serves only to whet your
appetite, then your next step should be a visit to Eric Jones's Apollo Lunar Surface
Journal. It'll take days to absorb all of the content here, which
includes carefully annotated transcripts of all conversations between
Mission Control and the astronauts on each mission, as well as extensive
image galleries. A useful companion site is Kipp
Apollo Archive, which also contains a lot of images, along with maps,
mission chronologies, information on individual crews and spacecraft, and
much more. Teague's site also has a set of links to what looks like every
other worthwhile site on the Internet that has anything to do with Apollo.
There's even an entire section of links to sites devoted to debunking the
persistent rumour that the whole thing was a
hoax; that all those images we saw from the surface of the moon were really
filmed on a soundstage somewhere on earth. In that spirit, I just have to
mention moontruth.com. This site
contains a single video clip that is purportedly an out‑take from a
film of a staged landing. As the clip begins, it looks quite similar to the
familiar image of Neil Armstrong as he prepares to take that one small
step. But just after ‘Neil’ plants his feet on lunar soil, a
lighting grid breaks free from the ceiling of the studio and drops to the
floor behind him. As ‘Neil’ throws up his hands in despair,
half a dozen crew members swarm over the set, preparing it for the next
take. As you might imagine, the clip is a fake—albeit a very good
one. If you scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on the link
there, you'll find out who made it and why they did it. It turns out to be
quite an interesting little story.
I've always been a big fan of
M. C. Escher. I love the way he was able to transform optical illusions
into works of art. I never thought I'd see his drawings turned into three‑dimensional
sculptures, but that's exactly what Andrew Lipson has done‑using
LEGO™, of all things. His LEGO Page, contains photos of three of Escher's most famous
works reinterpreted with the ubiquitous plastic bricks:
"Balcony," "Belvedere," and the classic "Ascending
and Descending." It's all done with forced perspective, of course. If
you look at these creations from just the right angle, they do indeed look
like Escher drawings come to life. Alter your point of view just slightly,
and the illusion is destroyed. Lipson presents lots of work‑in-progress
photos, so you can see how he put these sculptures together. Some might
complain that these behind-the‑scenes pictures spoil the magic, but
for me the effect is just the opposite. I was even more impressed with what
he'd accomplished when I saw the effort involved. Lipson also has lots of
other interesting LEGO creations on display, including a number of items
that only a mathematician could appreciate: objects like Mobius strips and Klein bottles. If that doesn't
interest you, then you can check out his renditions of every office
worker's favourite comic strip characters:
Dilbert, Wally and the Pointy-Haired Boss. In a similar vein is Block Death: A Museum of Horrors, a
collection of LEGO sculptures with a slightly more gruesome subject matter.
On display in the Ages of Execution gallery, for instance, you'll see a
gallows and a guillotine, along with an electric chair and a gas chamber.
The Torture Classics gallery contains a rack and an iron maiden. It's an
amusing idea, but the sculptures themselves seem fairly simplistic when
compared to the much more elaborate efforts on Lipson's site.
Last time out, I mentioned the Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index,
so I'd be remiss if I didn't give equal time to the competition. Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics,
maintained by Mike Voiles, is, well, pretty amazing. The site is actually a
spin‑off from Voiles's main hobby:
acquiring a copy of every comic book ever published by DC. Since setting
this seemingly unattainable goal in the mid‑eighties, he's amassed a
remarkable collection of 24,225 comics out of the 29,286 that DC has issued
since 1935. (That's 82.7% of the total). Even more impressive is the fact
that he's just turned thirty, so he still has lots of time to track down
the other 5,061 comics he still needs. The organization of the site is a little
chaotic, so it'll take you some time to explore all its features. In
addition to the obligatory cover gallery—organized by title and date—the
site also contains an index to the contents of the comics. Inspired in part
by the Marvel comics indexes first published in the seventies by
Torontonian George Olshevsky, the index tracks
story titles, page counts, creator credits, and character appearances in
meticulous detail. This part of the site is very much a work‑in‑progress,
but there's a lot of information there already, and more is being added on
a regular basis. Looking at the site requires some patience since it
appears to be located on a relatively slow server. If you want to do some
off‑line research, you can always download a spreadsheet that gives
the title, issue number and cover date for every one of those 29,286
comics. Be warned, though: it's almost 3 megabytes in size.
The 7th Annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale was
held at The Merril Collection on Saturday, April 26th. As in the past, it
featured a select dealers room of pulp magazines,
pulp reprints of all types, and many unusual relaxed items. The room also
offered scarce and collectable Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
material, including first editions, paperbacks, fanzines, and paper
ephemera going back to the early 1900's.
The main attraction of the Pulp Show is always the
Dealers Room, which this year featured 21 tables of dealers from across Ontario. Unfortunately, three dealers
from the USA had to cancel due to family
and business considerations, two of whom had been at all six previous
shows. Although we all missed them dearly it did not affect public turnout
or sales in the dealers room. We had 133
attendees, all of whom enjoyed the vast selection of material available for
sale. The dealers were all happy with the show and everyone's sales were
brisk, so much so that all the dealers will return next year. We had three
new dealers this year, including one shop that specializes in old movie
serials and movie posters. We had a tv/vcr set up
so they could play various serials in the dealers
room, entertaining the attendees.
As in previous years, guided tours of The Merril
Collection were available, and they were well attended. Not too
surprising, considering this is the only day of the year when the public is
offered such intimate access to the Collection.
In conjunction with the Pulp Show, the lobby of the
Merril Collection is hosting a unique exhibit of science fiction pulp
magazines entitled Pulp Grrls! Heroic Women of the Pulps. This display runs
until June 30th and showcases magazines, stories and covers that portrayed
a stronger, more formidable woman. This was an uncommon theme for the 30s,40s, and 50s when the beautiful damsel in distress,
usually wearing a bikini or transparent spacesuit was the common image on sf pulp covers.
We had another of our extremely popular slide show
presentations of science fiction pulp art. And as the cover art used in the
presentation changes each year, you're always guaranteed a new experience.
On behalf of myself and the Pulp Show Committee I'd like to thank everyone
who was able to attend, and I look forward to another great show next
As a Merril volunteer, it never ceases to encourage me
that not only is the collection promoting the reading of science fiction,
it is promoting the writing of it as well. In April, world‑renowned Torontosf
author Robert J. Sawyer began a three‑month
tenure as Writer in Residence at the Merril. The Writer in Residence
program is a chance for aspiring sf writers to
get practical advice on their cherished writings from someone who has been
publishing award‑winning novels and short fiction for over a
decade. Robert Sawyer, whose latest novel, Humans, has just been nominated for a Hugo award, will critique
manuscripts in one‑on‑one sessions with aspiring writers. He
is the first author tohold the
position of Writer in Residence since the late Judith Merril herself, who
held the position in 1987.
The Merril is still accepting submissions of new
manuscripts for review. In order to be considered, manuscripts must be
presented in standard manuscript format (a description of which is
presented on Rob's page at www.sfwriter.com/mschklst.htm) and be no more
than 15 pages in length. Manuscripts may be mailed in or dropped off in
person at the Merril. When your manuscript is critiqued, the Merril will
set up a one‑hour appointment for you to
come in and speak with Robert Sawyer face to face. Appointments take place
in the Collection, are free of charge, and are available for almost any
time the collection is open.
In addition to his manuscript reviews and critiquing
sessions, Robert Sawyer will be holding two workshops at the Toronto
Reference Library during the months of May and June. The first workshop,
taking place on May 12, is entitled How
Publishing Really Works. On June 10, he will be hosting the Editing Yourself workshop. Both
workshops will take place in Beeton West
Auditorium. Admission is free. The workshops are designed to dispel some of
the myths that have always existed about publishing and editing sf.
One of the first pieces of advice that Rob gives to
aspiring sf writers on his website is that there
are no magic words, no secret handshakes, and no fast-tracks to getting
published. You still have to come up with a good idea and write it out in a
way that will make people want to read it, but events like the Writer in
Residence program can go a long way towards helping you do that by giving
you a grasp of just how far along the road to publication you really are.
An occasional look at sf
movies that bombed at the box office despite big budgets and pretensions to
grandeur ‑ but took on new lives as “cult” films.
Battlefield Earth – What Were They
I tried—I really did—to force myself to
watch Battlefield Earth again. I
had, after all, promised to write about it for this issue of Sol Rising. I couldn't do it,
couldn't even bring myself to go to the video store and stare at it on the
shelf. It wasn't because the movie is bad, I like bad movies. I even
The problem, as I eventually realized, is that this movie is not "so
bad it's good."
I recall that the release of the movie was a big
disappointment. I confess to having enjoyed the novel considerably in my
callow youth. I know, it's garbage, but once I had
"suspended disbelief," I thoroughly enjoyed the sprawling,
rambling tale of Jonnie Goodboy Tyler and his
apocalyptic struggles with the evil alien Psychlos.
I was quite impressed that I was actually enjoying a novel by L. Ron
Hubbard. When the movie was announced, I was thrilled (but couldn't quite
figure out where John Travolta would fit in the cast list—certainly
not Jonnie Tyler, certainly not the chief Psychlo).
But it didn't take long to hear rumblings of discontent. Long before the
movie appeared in theatres it was being reported as a horrible piece of
junk. Oh-oh. But I remained confident. The novel is a piece of junk, too,
but I enjoyed it immensely. Then I saw the trailer ... Oh dear.
What I recall seeing was a couple of minutes of what
looked like an abandoned steel mill, lit by a 40-watt bulb, with figures
running around in all directions fleeing special effects. Not too
promising. But then the Psychlos appeared, and my
heart sank. They looked like members of the heavy metal parody group GWAR,
in KISS boots. Then the 9-foot tall chief Psychlo
spoke—in John Travolta's high, squeaky voice.
At that point I knew my confidence had been misplaced, and that this movie
really was doomed.
Because of the absolutely godawful
pre-release "buzz," Battlefield
Earth had the third worst 3,000 theatre-plus opening in history. So, I
didn't bother to go to a theatre to see it, I waited until it came out on
video. I have seldom ;been so appalled (and
disappointed) in my life. It was horribly, execrably awful. $80 million
dollars worth of awful.
Here's a sampling of what reviewers had to say, listed
in order of increasing vitriol:
Salt Lake City
a 10-car pileup and dumber than a tree..."
Montgomery Advertiser—" ... a laughably inept big-budget sci-fi
bomb ... memory fails to summon the name of a movie as ludicrous ...
Adapted from [L. Ron] Hubbard's sludge pile of a novel..."
Joel Siegel, ABC
News—"we get bored and [the aliens] get silly. So silly, at
first I thought it was intentional self-parody."
Montreal Gazette—"This movie gives stupidity a bad
National Post—"Why on Earth did
Travolta do it? ... `Battlefield
Earth has the stench of death,' says one Hollywood producer..."
New Times LA—" ... John
Travolta decked out like a gay Conehead..."
Star Tribune—"The aliens wear
nose devices to help them breath Earth's air, which they think stinks.
That's not all that stinks."
could pick at this movie the way a hyena picks at a deer carcass, but
unlike the hyena, you wouldn't end up feeling fulfilled afterward."
You get the idea. Here's the final word, from the
master of critics himself, Roger Ebert: "Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who
has needed a bath for a long time."
what's the lesson here? Partly it's confirmation
that if you have the kind of studio clout that John Travolta has (had?) you
can get away with celluloid murder. But mostly, I think, it's the simple
fact that we viewers are prepared to forgive, and even enjoy, movies that
are bad for reasons that we accept as "the right reasons." (We
know Ed Wood was trying hard, and so we forgive his errors in judgment and
his incompetence.) But we do not forgive and forget when $80 million
dollars is spent and the result is so awful that we can't even laugh at it.