Speculative Fiction Community Reflects on 50 Fantastical Years of the Merril Collection
Happy 50th birthday to TPL's fantastical Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy! Originally called the Spaced Out Library, it was founded in 1970 with the donation of 5,000 books from science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril.
The Merril Collection has become a beloved part of the speculative fiction community, both locally and around the world. As part of our Spaced Out celebrations for this important milestone, award-winning writers, editors and scholars of speculative fiction have shared their thoughts about what makes Merril so special.
Have you visited the Merril Collection? Let us know in the comments below.
"The Merril Collection is deeply special: somewhere genre fiction's past, present, and future connect and you can see how they're part of a unity. You can read first editions or see major authors' handwritten manuscript notes and letters; its librarians can find that book with the blue cover from 1974 even if that's all you remember about it. But it's also somewhere to find what's next in science fiction, see readings and panels from emerging authors, or join a workshop. It’s everything a library should be: a living storehouse of evolving knowledge. Genre fiction's roots, but also its branches."
Leah Bobet is a novelist, editor and bookseller with Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada’s oldest science fiction bookstore. Her novels have won multiple awards. Her most recent is the dustbowl literary fantasy An Inheritance of Ashes.
“I first became acquainted with the Merril Collection during its final years at the St. George Street location across from the University of Toronto engineering buildings. The Merril was a place of refuge and inspiration for a stressed out engineering student who dreamed of the stars. Never in those dreams would I have imagined that years later some of my own work would find its way into the Merril’s archives. Congratulations to the Merril on its first half century, and may it prosper into the coming centuries so vividly portrayed in the works of the collection.”
Eric Choi is an author and aerospace engineer born in Hong Kong and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. He co-edited with Derwin Mak the Aurora Award winning anthology The Dragon and the Stars. In 2009, he was a Top 40 finalist in the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut recruitment campaign.
“I was in Toronto a lot in the mid-1970s, working hard on the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979), desperate for material. A friend took me to the Spaced Out Library, in what seemed a quonset hut. It was Aladdin's Cave. There was so much that I didn't know, and so much the Spaced told me. Each evening I left like Indiana Jones. Whenever I come back to Toronto, it is the same. Treasures to explore. Treasures of the mind to treasure. Thank you all.”
“Here’s the thing about the Merril. It’s more than a stunning and unique collection. I’ve held many book launches at conventions and those are wonderful fun, connecting me to readers. Those I’ve been privileged to do in this building? I see it in the faces of my authors and their families as they walk in for their event. I feel it every time myself. That sudden realization that here the work we do, what we create, has heft to it. Matters. Is respected and yes, treasured. You cannot replace that. I get chills thinking about it. Thank you.”
Julie Czerneda is a Canadian science fiction and fantasy author. She has written many novels, including the Prix Aurora winner In the Company of Others, a number of short stories; and has edited several anthologies.
A. M. Dellamonica
“50 years is an amazing landmark! It means that for half a century the Merril Collection and the people who take care of it have been building community and making connections for science fiction writers in Canada and across the world. It’s always a thrill to walk through your doors and find out what is happening in the genre and in the Canadian writing community. Thanks for your hard work in making a home here for our literature and our people."
A.M. Dellamonica's first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Their fourth, A Daughter of No Nation, won the 2016 Prix Aurora. Alyx has over forty short stories and one anthology in print, and teaches creative writing at two universities.
"The Merrill Collection has been part of my life since I was nine years old. Without its support – as a hub, a research institution, a cultural institution and a professional development facility – it's hard to imagine how I would ever have become a writer. I haven't lived in Toronto in decades, but when people ask me about growing up in the city, I always start with the Merril."
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger (co-editor of Boing Boing) and the author of young adult novels like Pirate Cinema and Little Brother and novels for adults like Rapture of The Nerds and Makers.
"The Merril Collection is an essential resource for SF scholars. I made multiple extended visits to the library while writing my book on Phyllis Gotlieb, where I was able to review MSS [manuscripts] of many of Gotlieb’s works, including an unpublished novel, as well as all of her stories that have never been collected so must be tracked down in long out-of-print magazines and books. Without these resources, the book would have been much the poorer. As home of the biennial Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Merril is also a key gathering site for scholars."
Dominick Grace is a Professor of English, Brescia University College, University of Western Ontario. His areas of research specialization include Science Fiction and Fantasy (especially Canadian), Comics and Graphic Novels and Popular Culture.
"I love today’s Merril, from beautiful entrance to rolling bookshelves, automated lighting, and tidy cleanliness where aging me doesn’t have to climb bookshelves or slither snakelike under furniture to access such delights as original Guy Kay manuscripts in boxes.
Yet I’ll always miss the previous old-house premises, and leaning against heaps of books and papers in Judy’s [Judith Merril] office to chat about sf ideas and stories…talks that inevitably became prowls through the collection to haul out and wave old magazines, ere libations ensued. Precious memories, and an even more precious trove—nay, temple—of great writing. Here’s to fifty more years!"
Ed Greenwood, is an internationally bestselling Canadian fantasy/science fiction writer and the original creator of the Forgotten Realms game world (and longtime TPL staffer!)
"As a freelance writer, my office is the public libraries wherever I go. The Merril Collection functions as my home base in Toronto -- and that's in a city with the Toronto Reference Library as well! The collection has books I've never seen anywhere else, like Tay John, which I read in one speed-reading blur while waiting for Lorna Toolis to finish her morning's work and come for lunch with me. There are books I expect to find there and am glad to rely on. And my own novel is there among much more well-known company. There are other collections of science fiction and fantasy in this country, but the Merril Collection is relied on as the best."
Paula Johanson is a writer and editor of both fiction and non-fiction books. A long-time member of SF Canada, she has been nominated twice for the national Prix Aurora Award for Canadian Science Fiction.
"I have great memories of the Merril Collection. I was honoured to present a lifetime achievement award to Canadian author and poet Phyllis Gotlieb there once, on behalf of SF Canada. And I experienced one of the greatest days of my life at the Collection… my first ever book launch! What a privilege to be able to launch my debut novel at the Collection. A treasure trove, itself a treasure… may the Merril Collection always be a part of our futures."
"The Merril Collection has been an invaluable resource for me in my career, from when it was still known as the Spaced Out Library on St. George. I had wonderful conversations with Judy [Judith Merril] about the art and craft of writing there, the local Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, Ad Astra, held their monthly committee meetings. They even hosted my first book launch, with my co-author, S.M. (Steve) Stirling.
The Bunch of Seven writers group had several reading series at the Merril and it was a library and resource centre that felt like home."
Shirley Meier is a Canadian author of science fiction and fantasy. She has published five hard-copy books published in The Fifth Millennium series, three with S. M. Stirling, one with S. M. Stirling and Karen Wehrstein, and a solo novel, Shadows Daughter.
"In mid-1987, I joined a writers’ group being launched by Judy Merril, advertised at the Spaced-Out Library. The group became the Cecil Street Irregulars. I saw that library evolve into the Merril Collection which houses an incredible collection of rare books, original artwork and much more.
I’ve always been impressed with how supportive the library’s staff is of the writing community (from hosting book launches, to offering writing space); of their in-depth knowledge of the genre, and the numerous programs they organize and host. The library is my source when I need help with speculative-fiction content for talks I do about science and technology."
Pippa Wysong is an award-winning science, technology and medical writer.
"As an impoverished student and aspiring author, I wanted to read magazines but couldn't afford to subscribe to them all. A Bakka Phoenix bookstore clerk told me about the Merril Collection. There, I found a treasure trove of speculative fiction. Slowly, editors accepted my stories for publication, including one in the anthology Where the Stars Rise. The publisher, Lucas K. Law, held the book launch at the Merril Collection, bringing my story full circle."
Melissa Yi (Yuan-Innes) is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her newest crime novel, Death Flight, Dr. Hope Sze battles murder on an airplane. Previous Hope Sze volumes were recommended by the Globe and Mail and CBC Books as best suspense novels of the season.