At the 1990 annual meeting of TheFriends of the Spaced
Out Library, the Executive Committee of The Friends will put before the
membership for its consideration the motion that "the membership of
The Friends of The Spaced Out Library recommends to the Toronto Public
Library Board that the name of The Spaced Out Library be changed as soon as
possible to ‘The Toronto SF Library’".
This motion is in response to business transacted at
the 1989 Annual Meeting during which the membership of The Friends passed a
resolution in favour of changing the name of The Spaced Out Library. A suitable alternative name was not
suggested at the time and the Executive Committee was empowered to return
to the membership with a recommendation.
This is an important issue for The Friends. In fairness to those parties with viewpoints in
favour and in disagreement with the name change, it was felt that Sol
Rising would be a suitable forum for presentation of the arguments on both
sides of the issue. The membership could be well informed on the matter
prior to arriving at the Annual Meeting on the evening of Friday May 25, 1990.
All members are urged to attend the Annual Meeting in
May and vote on this important issue. It is hoped that the following
statements will assist you in forming your own opinion on the matter.
Why the Library's
Name Should Be Changed—by Larry Hancock on behalf of the Executive
The Spaced Out
Library was a finename for
the library during its early years, giving recognition to both the timing
of its origin (the Sixties) and, through a pun, an indication of its
However, times change and a name which may have been expressive at one point in time may, and
indeed has, become a burden at a later point in time. Too often, members of
The Friends and the staff of the library have had to explain the name of
the library, and have met with doubt as to the sincerity of a library with
such a name. Overtime, the drug-induced-state-of-mind connotations of
"Spaced Out" have led to the need for lengthy explanations of the
nature of the library, and then where the name came from, and why—usually
to the echo of titters from the other end of the telephone connection.
The name of the library, or any institution for that
matter, is the very first thing that the public knows about us. It is our
calling card, our first impression. The name must be meaningful and must
project an image which will last. A flamboyant name may grab a person's
attention, but will it retain it?
Long-time members of the academic and science fiction
communities are aware of the library and the benefits they can derive from
it, but potential new patrons fail to understand the nature of the
Staff of the library have written a letter to the
Executive Committee on this matter. To quote from that letter:
"Our name is the image we present to the public. ‘Spaced
Out Library’ is a very evocative name for people who have used the
library for the twenty years of its existence, creating mental images of
their youthful selves, discovering the wonders of sf while reading a
paperback under the chestnut tree at the old location on Palmerston.
"Unfortunately, the name does not evoke this
image in people who are not already familiar with the collection. Staff deal with the greater public, day in, day out. We
are well aware that the usual response to our library's name is derisive
laughter, or occasionally the polite comment, 'Oh,
isn't that cute. And do you do adult work as well?'
"However, we are more concerned about the people
who don't show up, who never come near us, because
they don't understand what the name means. Most people don't ask what our
name means, they simply assume it is not relevant to them
. ... It is not sufficient, as I have been told, to ignore people
too stupid to understand. The Spaced Out Library has an obligation to its
potential user, as well as its current patrons, to make the nature of the
services it offers understood. Surely, it is apparent that any library that
is indifferent to the needs of the public that support it, to the point
where it cannot even make its content understood, will eventually perish?
"The public really does not understand about
being 'Spaced Out'. More precisely, what they do understand from that
phrase does not bring them into the library. The booksellers who throw out
our letters don't understand that we are a major research collection of
science fiction and related literature, but how should they? The people who
break into laughter on the other end of the telephone don't intend to be rude, they simply think it is a very funny name. The
researchers who have been referred to us and never show up may have other
reasons for not coming."
In consideration of an appropriate name for the
library, we have discussed several names that might be considered colourful
and appropriate by today's standards. However, while we appreciate the
flair that such a name may give to the library, we more importantly
recognize that today's fashion may be tomorrow's albatross. It is therefore
the considered opinion of the Executive Committee that the name of the
library should be reflective of its function and should not be mired in any
colloquialism that may seem trite at some future time.
Consideration has been given to suggesting to the
Library Board a name which would commemorate Judith Merril, the original
establisher of the collection; however, Ms. Merril has indicated strong
disapproval of having the library named after her. Since we have great
respect for Ms. Merril, this idea was dropped.
The simple name, "The Toronto Science Fiction
Library" was considered. Although the library houses more than just
science fiction—fantasy, horror, critical papers, etc.—"science
fiction" is the most recognized term by which the entire genre is
recognized. However, Ms. Merril has also expressed her dislike for the
words "Science Fiction" appearing in the name of the library, and
again her wishes should be respected.
We considered alternatives to "Science
Fiction" such as "Speculative Fiction" and "Fantastic
Literature", but these were discarded as being too nebulous and not
easily understood at a glance, or at a first impression.
We decided upon a simple "SF" which is
easily recognizable both as "Science Fiction" and as a global
term encompassing the entire genre.
The last component of the proposed name, "The
Toronto SF Library" is the name of the city, Toronto. Is the inclusion of the city
name necessary? We feel it is. The library is a world class collection and
is indeed used as a resource by many, many persons outside of Canada.
Through the efforts of the staff and The Friends we
intend to make the library even better known than it is today. The
inclusion of the city name in all correspondence, promotion and third party
references will give instant recognition to the location of the library and
give credit to the city for its support.
Will changing the name have any adverse repercussions
on the functioning of the library? Will current users think that the
library has disappeared? No. The name change will be handled properly, with
the retention of the old name as a secondary and smaller name on all
correspondence, etc. for the next few years until the new name is well
Library's Name Should Be Retained—By John Robert Colombo on behalf of
Continuity and Common Sense
You will soon be asked to vote on the motion that our
library's name should be changed from The
Spaced Out Library to "The Toronto SF Library". You will be
asked to do so by the Executive Committee, which is on record as favouring
the change and hence has placed this matter before the membership.
As a long-time reader of science fiction, as a long-term
user of the Library, and as a promoter of Canadian fantastic literature, I
confess that it irritates me that this matter has to be addressed and
brought to a vote. The reason for this is that I see no compelling need to
change the name. Hence I am going to vote No; I urge you to do the same.
Here are some of my reasons for wishing to retain the present name.
present name is memorable, well-established, internationally
recognized, and unique. In what way is it unique? I'll bet you my last
Loonie that you can't tell me the official name of any other science
fiction library anywhere in the world. The other libraries have
institutional names. Our institution is unique in that it has a non-institutional
name, a name that is decidedly outside the mainstream. That, in my
eyes, is a good thing indeed! Let's keep it that way—memorable,
well-established, internationally recognized, and unique.
Executive Committee feels that the present name is a silly
designation. My experience has been otherwise. It is true that the
present name may evoke a giggle or too, but the giggle is followed by
what Martin Gardner calls "the 'aha' response", the sense of
illumination. "Spaced Out? ... aha ... a
science fiction collection," they say, immediately making the
connection between "space" and fantastic literature.
Everyone knows that the concept of "space" lies at the heart
of science fiction (outer space) and at the soul of fantasy fiction
(inner space). Far from being silly, the name evokes the sense of
"awe and wonder" that is so characteristic of the
Executive Committee seems to feel that the present name is old-fashioned
or out-of-date. This is not true. The library came by this name
legitimately, for the library was established in the late 1960s and it
has retained some of the values of the Swinging Sixties, the era that
saw the incrediblevalues
of the Golden Age of Science Fiction take root in the popular culture
of the day. Surely this is a positive connotation. There is, of
course, the charge that the words "spaced out" refer to
hallucinogens; but the words may also be used innocently to refer to a
mild, non-drug-induced "high," a state attained by readers
of Space Opera and the sagas of Middle Earth! Hence I feel that rather
than being "old-fashioned" or "out-of-date," we
should regard the present name as rich in history; indeed, close to
name should suggest the nature of its object. The present name is
highly imaginative and unexpected, and in this way it reflects the
nature of the literature on its shelves. The proposed name is prosaic
in the extreme. Believe me, no novelist or poet would ever come up
with the handle "The Toronto Science Fiction Library". That
is bureaucratic thinking at its worst. Was there ever a more boring—a more mundane—name under the sun? As well as being boring,
it is inexact. The library does not exist to promote "Toronto
Science Fiction." Surely it is not a "Toronto Library"
but a library of world literature based in Toronto, a library of planetary
mythology established in Canada. As well, why is it necessary
to tell patrons what they already know: that the library is located in
Toronto? Finally, the library is
not a collection limited to "Science Fiction"; as it grows
it has become an institution devoted to Fantastic Literature,
including Fantasy Fiction. Weird Fiction, Post-Modem Literature, Magic
Realism, etc. So while the present name is imaginative and expansive,
the proposed name is pedestrian—as well as inexact.
a broader sense, we should strive for some degree of continuity in our
institutions. Changing names does not encourage continuity. Would our
Executive Committee, if it had the opportunity, recommend changing the
name of the CBC Radio program "Quirks and Quarks"? No doubt
theCommittee would want to
call it something more ...understandable...acceptable...and
forgettable ... like "Weekly Canadian Science Review
Program". While we are at it, why not change the name of the Boys
and Girls House. Let's call it ... let me think for a moment ...
"The Toronto Library for Books for Youth of Either Sex."
Seriously, our presentname
speaks of more than twenty years of history. Let's not erase or
institutionalize that historical connection.
Executive Committee notes that Judith Merril, the library's founder,
has stated her opposition to having the collection called "The
Judith Merril Collection." What the Committee has not noted is that Judith Merril
also objects to the proposed name. She wants "no
truck nor trade" with "The Toronto Science Fiction
Library". What is widely known is that for the last decade
and a half she has been arguing that even the label "Science
Fiction" is restrictive and irresponsible.
Executive Committee seems to think that by adding the word "Toronto" to the library's
name somehow we will "give credit" to the city. Everyone who
uses the library's facilities, in person, by phone, or through the
post, knows that The Spaced Out Library is located in Toronto. The Committee's policy,
if extended, would lead to renaming the CN Tower the "TorontoTower"; the SkyDome the
"Toronto Dome"; and Roy Thomson Hall the "Toronto Hall." How bland!
find it difficult to "buy" the contention of the Executive
Committee that "potential new patrons" are or will be turned
off by the new name. No survey, formal or informal, has been
undertaken to support this contention. Who are these cowardly
"potential new patrons" who have to be offered a pablum-powered
name? Until a survey is commissioned, I hold that a remarkable name
with a twenty-year history will attract more users— and hold
more old users— than a brand-new name— a "bland-new"
only argument that seems to me to be valid is the argument that
members of the present Library Staff are lobbying for a new name.
Certainly their concerns should be addressed. Yet I find it hard to
believe that our librarians take their work so seriously that they
have forgotten the important fact that one characteristic of the
literature the library collects is an "element of fun" and a
"sense of play." Have our librarians lost their sense of
humour. Are they, perhaps, being career-minded; do they want to give
the institution a dull-sounding name for curriculum vitae purposes—to make it seem that they
are really working, not enjoying themselves while they work? I do not
know about this but what I do know is that the librarians on staff
applied to work for an institution known as The Spaced Out Library, and the fact that it attracted
such qualified and helpful people in the first place suggests to me
there is no stigma at all attached to the present name.
we have in this instance is the classic argument between the
abolitionists (who want to rename it "The Toronto Science Fiction
Library") and the retentionists (who want it to remain The Spaced Out
Library). The abolitionists have a weak case. They have failed to
show that the old name is indeed harmful or limiting; as well, they
have failed to show that the proposed new name (the "bland-new
name") is anything more than a weak collection of descriptors (so
that it "should not be mired in any colloquialism," in Larry
Hancock's revealing phrase). What's wrong with the colloquial, the
language of the people?
This argument recalls the hubbub that happened in Alberta in 1910 when the merchants of
Hat wanted to rename their town. They wanted to give it a
more "progressive" name than Moose Jaw. The retentionists felt that Medicine Hat was a wonderful name, full of
fire and history, so they wrote to Rudyard Kipling and asked the famous
author for help. It seems three years earlier, while on a North American
tour, Kipling had visited the town and commented positively on its name and
True to his principles, Kipling responded from Sussex with a long, vitriolic
letter. The letter favoured the retentionists, of course; it argued on
behalf of the retention of the old name, and heaped scorn on the heads of
the abolitionists and their new-fangled names. Kipling noted that Medicine
Hat was a name full of "mystery and romance" and that it had a
hint of "magic." "Believe
me," he noted, "the
very name is an asset, and as years go on, will become more and more of an
asset. It has no duplicate in the world; it makes men ask questions... it
has the qualities of uniqueness, individuality, assertion and power." He
concluded that to change it would be to look ridiculous in the eyes of the
Canada would be a poorer place had
that wonderful place-name been lost. If Kipling were alive today, I would
write to him for support. Perhaps what I should do is phone Carl Sagan, fax
Ray Bradbury, telex Isaac Asimov, and satellite-signal Arthur C. Clarke and
ask them for help. If I did, what do you think
they would say? I am willing to bet my last Loonie that to a man they would
agree that the present name is vastly superior to the proposed name. They
would join forces with the retentionists and rail against the
All the friends of
The Spaced Out Library should
befriend the present name and scorn the suggestion of a name-change.
By voting No to "The Toronto Science Fiction
Library", you vote Yes to The
Spaced Out Library.
The Friends Of The Spaced Out Library is a community-support
group whose main objective is to encourage interest in the Library from the
Metropolitan Toronto community and the science fiction community at large.
While we do rely on the staff of The Spaced Out Library to assist in some
tasks (and they do so admirably), the staff are employees of The Toronto
Public Library Board and their work hours are devoted to earning a living.
The Friends is a volunteer organization, and as such is dependent upon
individuals who are willing to contribute some of their valuable time to
furthering our objectives.
If you are interested in volunteering some of your
time to help The Friends we would like to hear from you. This could be as
simple as helping to stuff the newsletter in envelopes. You might assist in
keeping the membership list up to date, or help devise and implement ways
to promote the library and our guest appearances. You may even wish to
volunteer to serve on the Executive Committee and help make the decisions
which influence the future of the library and The Friends.
If you are interested in helping out, please write to
The Friends c/o The Spaced Out Library. We will also have a volunteer list available
at the Annual Meeting.
No doubt everyone who is reading this column has
experienced a specific sensation that I've experienced. In conversation a
remark is heard or overheard. It may or may not be discussed at the time.
But it's not disregarded and forgotten. It sticks in the mind like a burr.
It commands intermittent attention, the way a sensitive molar attracts the
tip of an inquisitive tongue. Like a time-bomb it ticks away... threatening
to go off at any moment.
I had that experience with a remark made by Judith
Merril. (Please note that I am suppressing all my journalistic instincts
and not explaining who Judy is; I assume the readership of this column
knows full well the identity of Judith Merril and would regard it as
supererogatory to have her accomplishments listed here.) She said something
to me about ten years ago that at the time I could neither forget nor
What she said was straight-forward enough—for Judy.
She noted: "I know more about
the future than I know about the past." When I heard that
admission—or admonition—I am sure I nodded in agreement. At the
time Judy was thinking about the future, for she was writing the script of
a television program about the way science fiction authors of the 1930s
envisaged the future.
A decade ago I agreed with her. Now I am not so sure.
At the time we chuckled over the line of graffiti that some sage had
printed on the once-wet cement sidewalk outside The Spaced Out Library: "Bring Back the Future." We
knew all about that future. Indeed, we may know a little about this or that future. Orwell's future, Huxley's future, the near and far
futures of Wells' "chronic argonaut." But what do we know about the future?
It's frequently said that the younger generation has
no sense of the past. I grew up in the era immediately following the Second
World War, so my generation was the first to be exposed to science fiction
ideas, which, as we all know, were then largely concerned with future
histories. My generation was also, probably, the last generation to
seriously entertain ideas about the past. Judy grew up one generation
earlier than I did, and she has very pronounced ideas about the past.
If you take a generation to be about twenty-five years
in length, the generation that followed mine grew up during the 1960s and
1970s and was influenced not only by the wide-spread acceptance of SF ideas
but also by one of the dream-machines invented by SF writers: television.
All subsequent generations in "the foreseeable future" will be
influenced not only by SF and TV but also by the PC—the Personal
My feeling is that the twin effects of technology and
consumerism on our lives, regardless of our generation, has dimmed our
sense of the achievements of the past as well as diminished our sense of
the possible achievements of the future. Present-day achievements are
eclipsing the deeds of our fathers and our children. I grew up reading
about the Seven
Wonders of the World. These were then augmented by the Seven Wonders of
the Modern World. I have no doubt someone has compiled a list of the Seventy
Wanders of the Contemporary World—the inventions, discoveries, and
breakthroughs made over the last decade.
I wonder if Judy still thinks she knows more about the
future than she does about the past. I pondered her position well when I
was asked by the Canadian Gas Association to be a luncheon speaker at its
national marketing convention in Toronto on Nov. 13, 1989. Members of this association are forward-looking and
technically minded. They deliver an essential service, based on a natural
resource, so they are sensitive to social trends, new technologies, and the
opinions of public, private, and government groups. The theme of the
convention was appropriate: "Looking to the 1990s."
Amid the speakers who tried to limn the future, I
found myself sounding like Cassandra. The title of my talk was "What
We Know about the Future," But that was the short title. The full
title, which I revealed once I was on the podium, runs: "What We Know
about the Future Is Not Very Much If It is Anything at All."
There is an amusing story that is told about Sir John
Herschel, the distinguished astronomer, who during the latter half of the
19th century was recognized to be the world's leading authority on the
planets and the stars. (He was the Carl Sagan of his day.)
He operated out of his private observatory at the Cape of Good Hope where he had a clear view of
One day Sir John was astonished to receive a cable
sent to him by the American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.
The telegram read: "Sir John
Herschel, Astronomical Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa: Interested in the Red Planet Mars. Will pay ten
dollars per word for answer to following question: "What is known
about life on Mars?" Cable collect immediately
900 words. Hearst Features Syndicate, New York City."
Sir John was surprised and amused; after all, $9000
was a lot of money for 900 words, and he could devote all of it to his
scientific research. So the astronomer drafted a reply and instructed the
cable operator to send the following message, collect: "Nothing is known. Nothing is known. Nothing is known. Nothing
is known..." The message was to be repeated 300 times.
William Randolph Hearst's reaction is not recorded,
but Sir John had made his point. At that time nothing was known about life
on the planet Mars. Today, because of the Viking Lander, it is pretty
certain that there is no life—at least no surface life as we know it—on
the Red Planet Mars. I am inclined to say, along with Sir John, that when
it comes to the future "nothing is known." But that is not
strictly true. There is an order of knowledge that is so close to complete
perfection that it is able to support predictions with astonishing
I have in mind the scientific knowledge from Sir
John's field: Astronomy. It is known, with absolute certainty,
that Halley's Comet returns at seventy-five or seventy-six year
intervals. It was seen by Earthlings in 1910; it was last visible in 1985;
and it will next hove into view in the year 2061-62. So I venture to
predict that Halley's Comet will next be seen in A.D.2061-62 and not before
then. We know this much about the future. And with 100% accuracy, I can
make the supplementary prediction that Halley's Comet will not be seen by
anyone who is reading this column in 1990—unless that person is 28
years old and prepared to live to be 100 years old, or 20 years old and
prepared to live to the ripe old age of 92.
This prediction is based on another type of knowledge,
a type familiar to statisticians, who is concerned with human mortality
There are two types of knowledge about the future:
scientific knowledge and statistical knowledge. I could linger in these
fields, rambling on about the half-life of uranium and the probability or
possibility or likelihood that this or that would or could happen. But all
of us accept science and statistics as valid predictors within their
disciplines. After all, the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance
industry thrive largely because of this element of predictability.
The scientist and the statistician are allied with the
econo-metrician and the futurologist. The former, devising economic models,
and the latter, extrapolating scenarios from observed trends, are the
contemporary incarnations of the soothsayers of old. But instead of entrails,
they deal with entropy; instead of magic, they conjure with the forces of
There is another kind of knowledge about the present
that influences our knowledge of the future. Everyone who reads newspapers
or watches television is familiar with the public opinion poll. Pollsters
may measure in percentage form some of the stated concerns of the public,
and the results are said to be valid 19 times out of 20. But what pollsters
are really doing is signalling to politicians and public figures, opinion
makers and product—and—service producers, the drift of public
opinion—notably its drift into the wants and
needs of the future.
Do you remember what the late Prime Minister John
Diefenbaker said about the polls that savaged him? "I've always been fond of dogs," he said, "and they are the one animal that
knows the proper treatment to give to poles." But few of us
remember the quip made about pollsters of the late Marshall McLuhan. The
imaginative media philosopher referred to them as "pollstergeists". McLuhan was
cleverly punning on the words "pollster" and
"poltergeist." A "poltergeist" is, in German, "a
noisy spirit." A house may be haunted—may be said to be
haunted—yet no ghost or spectre or spirit need ever put in an
appearance. A poltergeist is known by its effects, not its face.
I mention ghosts and spirits and poltergeists by way
of introducing a form of knowledge about the future which is at once deeply
traditional, globally practised, and certainly topical today: psychic
Since 1967 I have been collecting Canadiana, with a
special emphasis on psychic Canadiana. In addition to ghosts, UFOs,
sasquatches, ogopogos, spiritualism, telepathy, clairvoyance, prophecy and
prediction, much of it is concerned with the future. Let me share some of the
facts and follies with you. Maybe the paranormal sheds some light on things
to come; maybe not. Whether valid or not, a preoccupation with the
paranormal illuminates some aspects of one basic human want and need: the
desire to know and shape the future.
Nostradamus is justly regarded as the greatest prophet
of all time. The French seer published his prophetic verses in the year
1555, and he is credited—by some scholars, anyway—with
predicting the rise of Adolf Hitler. He referred to the Nazi dictator in
one of his verses as "Hister."
Obscure is the word that best describes the verses of
Nostradamus which were composed in archaic French. Here is one of his
predictions—it is called his Canadian prediction—translated
into modern English. The four lines runs like this:
"Out of Montreal shall be born in a cottage,
One that shall tyrannize over duke and earl,
He shall raise an army in the land of the rebellion,
He shall empty Favence and Florence of their gold."
The words are interpreted to mean: "A Canadian leader,
of lowly birth, shall be raised to great power and eventually assume
command over men of the nobility."
In the late 1960s, Quebec commentators assumed that
this verse referred to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was born in Montreal, though it is difficult to
determine out how a millionaire's son could be considered to be "of
Then Brian Mulroney burst onto the political firmament
like a comet. The prophecy was pinned on him, though it is not very easy to
equate Prime Minister Mulroney's birthplace (Bare-Comeau) with the Montreal (Mount Royal) of the original verse. Yet
the lines about "the land of the rebellion" and the references to
the treasures of "Favence and Florence"—read
"Ontario" and "Toronto"—may yet make Nostradamus'
verse come true.
Characteristic of Nostradamus' prophecies is the fact
that they make sense, when they make sense at all, only after and never
before the event. There is no way to understand them, nonetheless act on
them. They give no advice; they offer no possibility to change. If the
prophecy is true, the future is fixed and predetermined. If the future is
malleable, the prophecy is false or—at best—provisional. There
is no knowledge here. What is the use of a false or possibly false
prophecy? What good is one "hit" among many "misses" if
the former cannot be separated from the latter? This paradox confronts all
prophets and predictors and is the principal reason why the future is not
the future if we know it.
Here are some prophecies of the psychic kind from my
collection. In 1977, and again in 1980, Jeane Dixon, who has been called
the Republican seer, made a series of predictions about Canada:
"There will be gigantic pipeline across the
country and far down into the U.S....one which
will bring the snows and ice of the north to the parched fields of the
south. I see it as a bond of water that will lieAmerica together and bring Canada great wealth and power."
Dixon on Pierre and Margaret
Trudeau: "There'll be a complete
divorce and he'll marry again in the early 1980s."
Dixon on Levesque: "His cause will succeed, but just when he's
riding high he'll run into personal and political difficulties and have to
Dixon on Canada and the world: "By the century's end, Canada and Brazil will be among the world's most powerful nations because
of their food and energy resources . ... Australia, Canada and New Zealand will form an international union in the 1990s."
Jeffrey Goodman, the U.S. journalist and specialist in
the New Age and in earthquakes, wrote in 1979: Between 1980 and 1985 "the city of Vancouver might even have to be relocated".
Here is Irene Hughes, the Chicago psychic, in 1980: "Quebec will secede from Canada no later than 1985 . ...
Queen Elizabeth will abdicate and Prince Charles will take over the throne
for about three years, then step down. Illness
will cause the Queen's abdication."
What follows are predictions made by Swami Narayana. The psychic who is based in Mississauga calls
himself the Superpsychic and the Businessman's Psychic. He says he is
registered with the Better Business Bureau. He made these stabs at the
future within the last decade:
"The United States of North and Central America will be founded within five years .
... Pierre Trudeau will be appointed to a top-ranking post in the United
Nations by 1982." (1980)
Britannic Majesty will be remembered as the last Queen of England and the Prince of Wales may never be crowned."
incoming Conservative government shall abolish two obsolete Canadian
institutions: The Senate and the Post Office." (1988)
"The overall success of free trade and its expansion into a world economic and political
community will bring Brian Mulroney the Noble Prize for Economics and assure
the gentleman of being elected for a third term in office." (1988)
That is enough of Narayana. Most psychics work on the
scatter-gun approach, trusting that there will be at least one
"hit" among all the "misses."
In all my research into the paranormal, I found not
one particle of proof that the paranormal is operative in everyday life. I
did find some evidence for its operation, however. Yet, as James Randi, the
Toronto-born conjuror and debunker of psychic claims, has maintained: "There is a lot of evidence for the
existence of Santa Claus. The problem is that it is not very good
evidence." Ivalue the
anecdotal evidence that I have collected—experiences rather than
events, revelations rather than reports.
So, in the words of a once-popular love song,
"The future's not ours to see ...." I wonder if Judy Merril
John Robert Colombo is nationally known as the Master
Gatherer for his many compilations of Canadiana. In the field of fantastic literature he has edited Other Canadas, Friendly Aliens, Years of Light, Blackwood's
Books, etc. Books of his appearing in Spring 1990 include Voices of Rama(a collection of 0jibwa
legends) and Mysterious Encounters(a collection of paranormal
"... he is not going back the way he came; and nothing now
will ever be the same again." (Ægypt, John Crowley, p 370).
Reading John Crowley is like that: nothing is ever the
same, and there is no going back. Crowley is one of those rare and
subtle writers who change their readers completely, and without fanfare.
Reading his books, one has no recourse to complacency; there is no refuge
to be taken in melodrama. Simple but not simplex, subtle without slyness,
and virtuoso without exhibitionism, Crowley is both transcendent and
profoundly quotidian. No intellectual snobbery here—but also, no
pretension to the mundane. Just brilliantly good writing.
The first Crowley I consciously read was Ægypt. Ireceived a hardcover review copy among a rabble of
"scifi" paperbacks, and was grateful to escape from their
dreadful covers and even worse content into the pages of Ægypt. Soon I discovered how lucky I
Soon, excited as I'd been by no book since Riddley Walker, Iwas reading portions aloud to
anyone who'd listen. "There were
angels in the glass, two four six many of them ... and all their names
began with A"; "In silvergreen rainy April they went down to
Glastonbury on the long straight roads, Mr. Talbot on a swayback borrowed
nag, Doctor Dee on his spotted mare, an oiled goatskin mantle on his
shoulders and a broad plaited hat like a countryman's on his head, and his
son Arthur up behind him ...." It is
hard with quotations to establish the emphatic rhythmic power of the prose,
hard to abstract the specific from the cumulative. Suffice it to say that
both by segments and in its entirety, the effect was stunning.
John Gardner has spoken of "the story unfolding like a dream in the reader's mind." Ægypt
was like that, a dream I lived in for days, much longer (and deeper)
than a book usually takes me. In addition to the joy good dreaming always
brings, I came out of the book with a new way (subliminally taught me by
Crowley's sublime craft) of using colons and semi-colons, and with a
determination to read everything else I could find of Crowley's.
Scrutinising my shelves, I discovered I had his first
two books, The Deep and Beasts, though I had only read the first, and that a long time ago. I'd liked it well
enough to keep it, but why I had an unread companion there, an undiscovered
gem of such magnitude, I do not know. I reread The Deep and read Beasts.
Then I borrowed Little, Big and
Engine Summer and read them. Then
I sat back and breathed for a while, wondering what to do next.
You see, for a writer, Crowley is terrifying. He is so good,
he challenges the boundaries of everything he tries, and he bursts them.
No, in fact he shatters them. He is the best single argument for the
fallacy of genre that I could give any student of literature, or any
beginning writer. Consider his output.
First, a slender SF novel, The Deep, in 1975. It's a story (maybe ...) of earth-colony-generations-later,
called by Ursula leGuin "an
Filled, it's true, with certain SFIsms—strange people, those
outworlders, they have a different name for everything. But also filled
with a lovely language, rhythmic and conductive. Then in 1976 came Beasts, set in a dystopian future—America
where genetically engineered animal-humans fight the Union for Social
Engineering—as do human barbarians and anarchists. This book, too,
filled with lovely language, but this time plain, blunt, colloquial
American English, without the courtly constructions The Deep affected. No less affecting for that, though: "Grief, waiting, solitude: if you want to live forever, she thought,
In 1979, Engine
Summer blew the doors between fantasy and SF right off. As the reader
is pulled through the labyrinth of Little Belaire, then the labyrinth of
what turns out to be a degenerated future America, the story changes, over and
over again, until the final dizzying full-stop which retroactively
transforms the whole thing yet again. And through it all the words, the
dizzying, dazzling words which do exactly as they should, must: transform,
over and over again, the images, the emotions, the sounds, the happenings.
Little, Big followed in 1981. This was a
fantasy (maybe ...) of place called Edgewood, on the way (maybe...) from
Somewhere to Elsewhere (no dissembling here), and of the young man who goes
there to be wed, and of the woman he is to wed, and of the photographs
which show another place very like that place yet very different, and of many
and various other beings and things too numerous to mention here. Again, Crowley uses the language he needs, and
it's a different language from the book before, or the book after, and it
left me shivering with appreciation for its effectiveness.
Ægypt (with the A and the E joined
in that archaic way, nightmare of modern typographers—the reason why
the USA has murdered the words
"encyclopædia" and "hæmophilia") was first published in
1987. It was a Bantam Spectra book, but nobody put "science
fiction" on the spine, so it wasn't ghettoised much. And what was it
about, really? More so than any of Crowley's books, it is impossible to
categorise and even worse to summarise. Pierce Moffett goes to this small
town and things happen, to him and to others. To say much more would be
presumptuous usurpation of Crowley's magnificent narrative.
Though I could mention that Pierce and the others spend some time in the
Faraway Hills, that there are large segments which tell the story of Doctor
Dee, the Queen's alchemist, and that nothing is at all what it seems, but
with typical Crowley master, he leads us on until
the last breathlessly-felt page.
Now, Crowley has a new book, also from
Bantam Doubleday (no surprise, as they would have to be nuts to let him go
to another house). Novelty is a
collection of four shorter pieces, spanning the field of fantastic
literature from something recognisably SF through something recognisably
fantasy (but watch those technological twists) to a short and sweet piece
about a writer and his new idea. I've just finished reading it. I'm still
pleasantly dazed, also rather beyond description just for the moment. In
fact, I've been rather beyond description all the way through this piece.
But what more can I do with this fine writer but introduce and praise him?
How can the books be simplified, made plain in 1300 words or so? No, you
have to read'em yourselves; that's the only way, really, to get it.
It was on the dust jacket of Ægypt,as I sat down to write this, where I discovered Russell Hoban
had said of Crowley that he is "one of those necessary writers for whom one has been
waiting without knowing it". Believe me, when I first finished Ægypt, reading the dust jacket was
the furthest thing from my mind, but now that I've found the quote, I
couldn't agree more, In fact, Hoban has summed up my feeling exactly.
Because yes, Crowley is terrifying, challenging,
but he is also a tremendous encouragement for a writer. It is when I read
the bad stuff that I get discouraged. Crowley lets me see that there is,
available and within at least one writer's grasp, a literature of the
possible which transcends the shackles of American-made pulp-genre
thinking, which leaves behind cliché and imitation, which owes nothing to
the plastic unreality of modem media, and which retains the traditional,
brilliant power of true art.
stolen fire from heaven and there are spheres where he is not loved. He is
coming to this house, though he knows it not; he is not going back the way
he came; and nothing now will ever be the same again." Yes, indeed.
appeared in a slightly longer form, in French in Solaris 88.
Candas Jane Dorsey is a freelance writer and author of
Machine Sex, a collection of short stories
published by Press Porcepic. She has had three books of poetry published by
Blewointment Press. Her novel Hardwired Angel, written with Nora Abercrombie, won the Three Day novel contest of
1987. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta and is a long-time member of The Friends of The
Spaced Out Library.
Canadian science fiction and fantasy is booming. With
this regular column, I'll try to keep you up-to-date on what's happening.
SWAC, the Speculative Writers Association of Canada,
was founded in 1989 at the ConText SF convention in Edmonton. It's an attempt to provide a
true professional organization comparable to the Science Fiction Writers of
America. And Toronto Hydra, founded by Judith Merril, is a social group for
SF pros that grew out of the "critical mass" of "good
science fiction heads" that Judy had observed in that city. Hydra is
about to celebrate its sixth anniversary.
For years, French Canadians have had two excellent
genre magazines, Solaris and Imagine. At last, we have our own
English-language Canadian science fiction and fantasy magazine—On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of
Speculative Writing. The first issue, Spring 1989, featured
contributions from Dave Duncan, H. A. Hargreaves, Eileen Kernaghan, Sally
McBride, Rhea Rose, Robert Runté, Kathryn A. Sinclair, Jena Snyder, Ron
Stewart, and Lyle Weis.
The second issue, Fall 1989, contained stories by E.
C. Bell, Tor Åge Bringsvæld (translated by James Manis) Drake Dresen,
Leslie Gadallah, Paula Johanson, Eileen Kernaghan, Trevor Murphy, and
Clelie Rich; poems by Coralie Adams, Richard Davies, Jena Snyder, and Janet
Elliot Waters; and non-fiction by Marianne O. Nielsen and Spider Robinson.
We also now have not one but two regular publishers of
science fiction and fantasy books. Press Porcepic of Victoria has a long
list of trade paperbacks and their third anthology of Canadian fantasy and
science fiction, Tesseracts3,
is in the works. And Penguin Canada, of Markham, Ontario, has announced that it will
produce Canadian SF titles, to be distributed in the U.S. as part of New American
Library's Roc line.
The 1989 poetry collection Light Like a Summons from Cacanadadada Press, Coquitlam, B.C.,
contains speculative poetry by Eileen Kernaghan and Mary Choo.
Ad Astra 10, at the Howard Johnson Airport
Hotel, Toronto, June 8 to 10, will have
these Canadian writers as guests: Lynne Armstrong-Jones, Denis Beauvais,
Terence M. Green, Tanya Huff, Guy Gavriel Kay, Shirley Meier, Robert J.
Sawyer, S. M. Stirling, Karen Wehrstein, and Andrew Weiner.
In the fall of 1989, TVOntario, the television service
of the Ontario Educational Communications Authority, began a weekly half-hour
talk show about science fiction and comics called Prisoners of Gravity, hosted by Rick Green, formerly of the
comedy troupe The Frantics. Among those who have appeared as guests are
Toronto SF writers Terence M. Green, Tanya Huff, Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens,
and Robert J. Sawyer;SF comics
author D. Larry Hancock; Lorna Toolis, head librarian at The Spaced Out
Library; and John Rose, the owner of Bakka, Toronto's SF specialty shop. Prisoners airs
Mondays at and
Lynne Armstrong-Jones of London, Ontario, had the short story
"The Case of Kestra" published in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, August 1989, and
"Just a Touch . . ." in Domains
of Darkover, an anthology edited by Ms. Bradley. Forthcoming are
"Commencement" in Sword and
Sorceress VI (later this year), "Warrior's Oath" in Sword and Sorceress Vll (1991), and
"The Lesson in the Foothills" in the anthology Free Amazons of Darkover (Winter
1990). Lynne is also a poet, with three of her efforts ("Witchy
Wood," "Bewitching Lessons," "Friday Night!")
upcoming in Weird Tales magazine,
and another poem in Great Poems of
the Western World..
Mary E. Choo's "Wolfrunner" will be in Sword and Sorceress Vl..
J. Brian Clarke of Calgary has gathered his
"Expiditer" stories from Analog
into a forthcoming novel from DAW.
John Robert Colombo continued his masterful gathering
of Canadiana with the publication in 1989 of Extraordinary Experiences (Hounslow). Coming soon: Voices of Rama (Oberon), a
collection of legends from Ojibwa sources, mainly shamanic.
King of the
Scepter'd Isle by
Michael Greatrex Coney of Sidney, B.C., the sequel to Fang the Gnome, was published in
hardcover in August 1989 by NAL. It was a selection of the Science Fiction
Book Club. His Rax (Hello Summer,
Goodbye) will be reissued by Press Porcepic in 1990 under a title yet
to be selected. He has recently completed the novels No Place For a Sealion and A
Tomcat Called Sabrina.
Ottawa's prolific Charles de Lint
writes columns for Mystery Scene,
OtherRealms, and Short Form. His
chapbook The Stone Drum was
published last year by Triskell Press, and his essay "Considering K.
W. Jeter" was part of In the
Land of the Dead by Jeter from Morrigan Publications. His 1989 novels
were Svaha, Ace Books; The Valley of Thunder (Philip José Farmer's The Dungeon, Volume 3), Bantam; and the
paperback of Jack the Giant Killer from
Ace. This year, his The Hidden City
(PJF's The Dungeon, Volume 5) will be released by Bantam. His "The
Fair in Emain Macha" is one-half of a current Tor double. Short story
publications in 1989 included "The Drowned Man's Reel," reprinted
in Pulphouse, Spring; "Life
is all Chequered" (an excerpt from The
Little Country), in Silicon '89
Program Book; "Romano Drom" in Pulphouse, Fall; "The Soft Whisper of Midnight Snow,"
reprinted in The Year's Best Fantasy,
Second Annual Edition (St. Martin's Press); "The Sacred Fire"
in Stalkers (Dark Harvest);
"Timeskip" in Post Mortum (St.
Martin's Press); and "Wooden Bones" in Things that Go Bump in the Night (Harper & Row).
His forthcoming books are Bring Down the Moon: A Novel of Urban Færie (Ace, June 1990); Ghostwood (Axolotl Press, June/ July
1990); Moonheart (first cloth
edition, Pan UK, July 1990); Angel of
Darkness (Jove, October 1990); Greenmantle
(first cloth edition, Pan UK, July 1991); and Yarrow (first cloth edition, Pan UK, July 1992). Sold, but with
publication dates still to be scheduled, are: Death Leaves an Echo (Tor); The
Dreaming Place (Byron Preiss/ Atheneum); The Little Country (Avon); Into
the Green (Avon); and an Avon mass-market edition of The Harp of the Grey Rose.
Calgarian David Duncan's novel Strings was published by Del Rey in
Leslie Gadallah, who lives in Winterbum, Alberta, published Cat's Gambit (sequel to 1987's Cat's Pawn) with Del Rey in March.
The novel Heart
of Red Iron by Phyllis Gotlieb of Toronto (St. Martin's) was on the Locus 1989 Recommended Reading List.
Terence M. Green of Toronto will be teaching a one-day SF
writing course at HumberCollege on April 21. McClelland &
Stewart recently made an offer on his novel Children of the Rainbow. He is currently working on Blue Limbo,a
sequel to 1988's Barking Dogs.
Tanya Huff's Gate
of Darkness, Circle of Light (DAW) made it to the Locus 1989Recommended Reading List. Her "The Chase is
On" appeared in the July 1989 Amazing
and "The Last Lesson" was in the September 1989 Amazing. Tanya is manager of Bakka,
Toronto's SF specialty store. She will be Guest of Honour at WilfCon VI, May 26, at WilfridLaurierUniversity, Waterloo.
Torontonian Guy Gavriel Kay'snovel Tigana will be
a Roc hardcover in August.
Eileen Kernaghan'slatest novel, The Sarsen Witch, was
published in 1989 as an Ace paperback. Eileen, who lives in Burnaby, B.C.,
reports that she's just completed another novel, Winter on the Plain of Ghosts, a prehistoric fantasy based on
the Indus valley civilization.
Last year, Baen published The Cage by Toronto's Shirley Meier and S. M.
Stirling. They are working on a novella for a forthcoming anthology of
stories about Bolo war machines from Baen.
Yves Meynard of Longueuil, Quebec, has "Le réalisateur"
in Solaris 84 (1989), "Antarctica"
in Solaris 87 (1989), and
"Les homes-écailles" in Sousdes soleils étrangers, a 1989 anthology of original Quebec
SF. He and Jean-Louis Trudel authored "Les protocoles du désir"
in L'Année de la Science-Fiction et
du Fantastique Québécois 1988 (published in 1989).
In September, Press Porcepic published a trade
paperback edition of Dreams of an
Unseen Planet by Teresa Plowright of BrownIsland, B.C. This book was previously
published in hardback by Arbor House (New York); Grafton House in the U.K. is also doing a paperback
Fantasy poet Robert Priestis now writing Canadian segments of Sesame Street.
and BlackHunter, the first three novels
in The Chronicles of Galen Sword series by Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens
of Toronto and Los Angeles will be published shortly by
Roc. Gar's Nighteyes was a 1989 hardcover and will be a 1990 paperback from Bantam. They
have also co-written "Maggie's Secret," a CBS After-School
Special which will air this year. Forthcoming novels include Slyde, a 1991Roc hardcover and Prime
Directive, the 1990Star Trek
hardcover from Pocket Books. The couple has also authored The Judgement of Ariel, forthcoming
in DC's Star Trek: The Next
Generation comic book. Gar's first three horror novels, Bloodshift, Dreamland, and Children of the Shroud, previously
published by Seal Books in Canada, will be re-issued by Warner Books, New
York. And Gar's solo novel Dark
Matter will be published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1990and his Red Lord: Bloodshift II by Warner in 1991. His short story "Masks" appears in Bantam's The FurtherAdventures of the Joker
(1990) and "It is August" is in Seal's Shivers: An Anthology of Canadian Ghost Stories (1990).
The paperback of Spider Robinson's Callahan's Lady came out in March
1990, and a sequel will appear as an Ace hardcover in 1992. Starseed, a
collaboration with Jeanne Robinson, will be an Ace hardcover next
Robert J. Sawyer's novel Golden Fleece will be published by Warner Books, New York, in December 1990. On
February 27 and March 6, 1990, CBC Radio's Ideas series broadcast Sawyer's "What If? An Exploration
of Alternative Histories," featuring an interview with S. M. Stirling
and a reading from Andrew Weiner's short story "Comedians." Rob's
short short "The Good Doctor" appeared in the January 1989 Amazing.
S. M. Stirling of Toronto had Under the Yoke issued by Baen late last year, and he was co-author
of the bestselling Man-Kzin Wars II (Baen,
Toronto's Karen Wehrstein has sold
her first novel to Baen Books. Her short story "O.R. Three" will
be in the Seal anthology Shivers.
In December, Press Porcepic published Distant Signals, a collection of
short stories by Andrew Weiner of Toronto.
Lyle Weis of Edmonton had two ghost stories
published last year. "Riders on the Shore" appeared in Amelia, Vol. 5, No. 3, and "A
Helping Hand" appeared in On
Spec Vol. l, No. 1.
Robert Charles Wilson recently moved from Toronto to
B.C. His The Divide was just published as simultaneous hardcover/trade
paperback from Doubleday Foundation.
Staff of the Spaced Out Library
have nothing but good news to start off the new year.
The library received media coverage on the CBC Journal in January and on
TVOntario's Prisoners of Gravity in
The plans for the new building are proceeding at good
speed; it looks as if the building will be both attractive and functional.
A list of The Spaced Out Library's circulating
collection will be available online very shortly. The library's holdings
are being entered into the Toronto Public Library's GEAC system by author
and title. This means that our circulating holdings will be printed out on
the fiche and be available for interloan through Metropolitan Toronto. This
makes a lot of obscure sf much more available to the public and enhances
the library's visibility at the same time.
The library was fortunate enough to acquire two
paintings by noted Toronto artist, Martin Springett. His
illustration for the Bluejay edition of John Brunner's The Traveller in Black and another piece entitled The Man Who Lost the Moon are now a
part of The Spaced Out Library'spermanent
In the coming months we will be saying a temporary
goodbye to two staff: Ms. Nancy Soltys and Ms. Annette Mocek who will both
be leaving us for one year maternity leaves. Before the next newsletter, we
expect to have hired temporary replacements and will tell you a bit about
our new staff then.
lead story/discussion is very important to the future of the library. We
hope you will take the time to read the pros and cons of the issue. But
just as important, if you are a member, please be sure to attend the
meeting and vote.
This issue we welcome Robert J. Sawyer to the fold as
a regular columnist. Each issue he will bring us up to date on what
Canadians have published in the field, and what we can look forward to in
the months ahead. Robert last appeared in Sol Risingin our
second issue (Summer, 1987).
Returning this issue is The Starr Chamber by Jane
We thank Candas Jane Dorsey for her insight into the
works of John Crowley, a writer whom, as she validly points out, we do not
hear enough from these days.
Special thanks to John Robert Colombo for double duty
this issue. His regular informative column is always eagerly anticipated
and his piece on the merits of retaining the current name of the library
was most welcomed.
Last issue, we briefly touched on the topic of
contributions to this newsletter. Presently we list our frequency as twice
a year. We hope to publish Sol Risingmore often, but this is dictated by two criteria: the amount of time
the editor has available, and the amount of material submitted to us for
So far, we have been thrilled by the material that has
come to us. We are also constantly talking to friends and contacts to ask
for specific material, but we still must also rely on members and other
readers to help supply us with articles and artwork to publish in Sol
Unfortunately we are unable to pay for contributions,
but all due credit will be given and copyright will remain your own. We are
looking for articles on all topics related to science fiction and
particularly those with an emphasis on Canadian contributions to the field.
Regarding artwork, we are not looking for full
illustrations; rather we require small, simple line drawings which may be
used to fill space.
Please send all items for consideration of publication
to Sol Rising, c/o The Spaced Out Library.
We look forward to seeing you all at the annual
meeting and the reception afterwards.
Epic medieval fantasies abound these days. It seems de rigueur to have multiple volumes,
frontispiece maps, appendices, large and confusing casts, unpronounceable
names, pageantry, blood, death, good guys, guys who aren't really bad (just
misguided), bad guys, really bad guys, magic, politics, intrigue, religion,
battle, etc., etc.. Everything after unpronounceable names is part of plot
and character, which stories have to have, and I won't get onto the
problems of multiple volumes again. This time I want to talk about world
building. I love maps of all kinds, but there's more to creating a world
than having nice maps. People are the key.
The easy part of world creation is the physical side:
land, water, air, climate. Some authors take bits
of our world, change the names and make minor alterations. Others prefer to
start from scratch, but physical geography has a certain
logic. Even the placement of human settlements is logical, if you think
about it. People tend to build near sources of drinking water. If you stick
to that and don't start throwing the arctic, the wet tropics and the
deserts too close together, you're pretty safe. Also, if your heroes are
doing a lot of travelling, make sure the time it takes them to get from
point A to point B (with or without side trips to point C) is appropriate.
David Eddings' heroes in his current trilogy (The Mallorean) seem to be covering a rather large area in not
very much time.
The hard part of a believable world is the human (and
elvish/dwarvish/trollish/etc.) part. In real worlds people farm and weave
and build and perform other mundane tasks. Our heroes may not do any of
these things, but in order for them to survive, someone else has to, and a
fantasy world that ignores this is a fantasy indeed. I call it the SCA Syndrome:
nobody wants to be a peasant.
As an example, take the works of Katherine Kurtz, a
prolific and popular author. Her Deryni
series is now into its fourth trilogy, The Heirs of Saint Camber, whose first volume is The Harrowing of Gwynnedd (1989).
Her books are exciting, involving and sometimes even moving, and Kurtz is
really good at continuity, skilfully setting the stage for events in
chronologically later books. Does it matter that there aren't any peasants?
Many of her readers probably don't care. They don't want to be peasants,
and they probably don't want to read about them. Peasants are dull. They
only have adventures if they're really royalty in disguise (see Edding's Belgariad series, among others).
Peasant life in medieval times was not the stuff of
epic fantasy, I agree. But you can't have lords if there aren't any
peasants to lord it over. Somebody must
be growing food and making cloth and ale and wine. Kurtz has written eleven
books about Gwynnedd to date but the closest she usually comes to a peasant
are the servants, soldiers and guards who only exist to be used or killed
in the course of the story, and the odd Deryni hedge witch.
In later books she is improving, but even her landed
gentry and nobility don't seem to spend much time managing their estates.
There are occasional mentions of estate managers and the like, and perhaps
it is assumed that anything else is to be taken for granted. And so what, I
hear you ask. It has nothing to do with the story anyway. Maybe not, but
she's creating a whole world for us to inhabit and real worlds have farmers
and peasants. I enjoy Kurtz's books, but I don't feel and taste and smell
Gwynnedd as I do some other worlds.
Are there books that bring that extra dimension to
life? Yes. Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane
(1985), for one. Her Lord John Aversin (the Dragonsbane of the title)
is first met standing in a pigsty, discussing the finer points of pig
culture. A working lord in a large but thinly populated and poorly defended
area, he must not only be able to defend his people with his sword, but
support them with his knowledge. The fact that he knows about pigs has
almost nothing to do with the story, but his need for information about
agriculture is his motivation for trying to kill the dragon (he wants agricultural
books as part of his reward from the king),and his practicality grounds his character and makes the whole
Tad Williams' The
Dragonbone Chair (1988) has a hero that starts low (as a scullery boy
in the castle) and moves up, but its world feels real because the people
have real concerns. The Hernystiri royal family, for example, worry about
their livestock, because that is what is going to make the difference
between survival and death in the winter ahead,which is as important as winning in the coming conflict.
I don't want to give the impression that agriculture
per se is essential to a good fantasy, but little things matter. If a
person holds a particular post, he or she has to fulfil the
responsibilities of that post or there should be an explanation of why s/he
hasn't been turfed out by his/her neglected vassals or been overthrown by
someone else. Even Bilbo came home to his house being sold off.
Granted, heroes seldom have time for much more than
the task at hand, but secondary characters can be used to advantage, as are
the Hernystiri in Williams' book. The larger the scale of the story, the
more important the characterization becomes.
Jane Starr is a
librarian at the Alberta Agriculture Library. She has read science fiction and
fantasy for most of her life and also
chaired NonCon Ten, Edmonton's annual science fiction convention.