SOL Rising
Number 28, May 2003

View From the Chair: Spring Thaw, Many Shows Ahead
From The Collection Head: The Year at a Glance
Nothing But ‘Net…
Fantastic Pulps!
The 2003 Writer in Residence Program
So Bad They’re Good: Battlefield Earth

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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.

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View From the Chair: Spring Thaw, Many Shows Ahead

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 US neighbours 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 resolution.


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 Collection stacks.


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 Librarians.


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, Crowne Plaza, 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.


Jamie Fraser, Chair

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From the Collection Head: the Year at a Glance

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 cases.


On March 27, The Friends arranged for a guest speaker: Steven Brust, best known for his Vlad Taltos 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 8:30 PM., 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 staff.


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…


Lorna Toolis, Collection Head

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Nothing But ‘Net: Websites of Interest

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 Teague's Project 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 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.


Jim Pattison

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Fantastic Pulps!

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 year.


Jamie Fraser, Chair

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The 2003 Writer in Residence Program

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 Toronto sf 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 to hold 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 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.


Sabrina Fried

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So Bad They’re Good

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 Thinking?


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 enjoyed Waterworld. 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 Tribune—"It's 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 name."


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."


Orange County Register—"You 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."


So, 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. That's unforgivable!


Ted Brown

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© 2000 Friends of the Merril Collection