Originally called the Spaced Out Library, it began in 1970 with the donation of five thousand books from science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril. Now it contains over 80,000 works of speculative fiction including science fiction, fantasy, horror and magic realism.
This year, this crazy year, is the collection’s fiftieth anniversary.
The Merril Collection graciously allowed me to hold the book launch for my debut novel A Time and a Place at the collection (which I wrote about here).
To mark the Merril Collection’s anniversary, several award-winning writers, editors and scholars of speculative fiction have shared their thoughts about what makes Merril so special. I am honoured to have been included among them.
It was just supposed to be a short trip to pick up some Thai take-out.
I headed south on Brock toward the FreshCo in my 2019 Hyundai Elantra. The one that I’d purchased for its safety features and drive-ability, mindful that my two daughters would be learning to drive in it.
The light turned red at Dundas. A Durham Transit bus pulled up beside me on my right. On my left, a guy crossing the street waved at me. I waved back, until I realized he was waving at the bus driver to wait for him. I smiled at my foolishness. The light turned red. The intersection was clear. I pulled out in front of the bus.
Safely through the intersection, I headed down Brock for another block. Bowman & Gibson Insurance Brokers sits on the northeast corner of Colborne and Brock. It’s a single story brick building that obscures much of what might be westbound on Colborne. It shouldn’t matter; there’s a stop sign there. You should be able to proceed north or south on Brock without worrying about anyone on the side streets.
I don’t know what I was thinking about in those few seconds between Dundas and Colborne. Whatever it was, BAAMM!!! it was violently knocked outta my head (and possibly into the next province) when a thunderous crash and an enormous impact assaulted my reality and rattled my brain. In that same instant I found myself in a sea of white, my vision completely obscured as (I realized later) multiple air bags deployed around me.
“HOLY F***!!!” I shouted.
It seemed an apt response.
My past didn’t flash before me. My future did. Was I about to die? Was I badly injured, crippled maybe?
I felt no pain. I knew that pain might come, once the shock of whatever had just happened wore off.
My vision in front of me and to the left was almost completely obscured by the white air bags. I don’t remember bringing the car to a halt but I found myself stopped, the car still in gear. After a few seconds I had the presence of mind to take the car out of gear, but I didn’t think to turn it off.
I didn’t appear to be physically injured but I was pretty emotionally shaken up. I thought about getting out of the car. There was an air bag in my way. It was enough to deter me from getting out. I thought, I’ll just sit here a bit and collect myself. I wanted to get to the point where I could talk without my voice sounding all shaky. I knew it would be a while.
A guy showed up in the driver’s side window. “Hey buddy, how you doing?”
I thought he might be part of the emergency response team, even though it had only been about a minute since the crash. It was his manner, pretty calm and collected. Turned out his name was Brett and he worked at the Brock Street Brewing Company just down the street a bit further. I will be going there for a drink someday where I hope to buy Brett a drink.
“Blew through the stop sign,” Brett said.
I started to panic. “I blew through the stop sign?”
“No, no, the other guy!” Brett clarified. “He blew through the stop sign right into you. Now he’s buying some smokes in the corner store.”
I was relieved that I wasn’t at fault. There was definitely something amiss with the other guy, though… blasts through a stop sign onto a major road in downtown Whitby, crashes into another vehicle, and then before doing anything else goes into a convenience store to buy a pack of smokes.
“I’m gonna go make sure he doesn’t get away,” Brett said, after making sure that I was more or less okay.
I did seem to be okay physically. I tried to think how I could get the Thai food I’d ordered, then realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. I still wasn’t quite up to getting out of the car. I remembered a friend telling me about a similar accident and how he’d made the mistake of deciding he was okay, and telling the paramedics he was okay, only to have them all leave him alone while he gradually went into shock. I thought I would just sit tight and then get myself checked out.
Brett came back, said they’d got the guy. He suggested I turn off the car’s engine. Sheepishly, I turned it off. I told Brett I’d better call my wife and let her know that I wouldn’t be coming back with the Thai food.
“I’m okay,” I told her when she picked up. “But I’ve been in an accident. It’s pretty bad but like I said I’m okay.” I was sounding pretty shaky but there was nothing I could do about that. “Can you call Thai Delicious and tell them I won’t be coming?”
She told me she would and that she loved me. I told her I loved her too.
We resolved to give Thai Delicious plenty of business later to make up for it.
Brett gave me a note from a witness with a name and number. “She wanted you to have this in case you need a witness,” he said. I tucked it in my wallet.
A paramedic by the name of Tristan (I think) showed up and checked me out. Turned out I had a nasty cut on my right leg and some scrapes on my right arm. There was what looked like a bad carpet burn on my left elbow. Looking at the pictures of the airbags that were deployed, it’s obvious that all my injuries are a direct result of the airbag deployment. The airbag beneath the dashboard cut my right shin . The one from the steering wheel cut my right forearm. The one from the driver’s side door burned the skin off my left elbow. Presumably they all prevented more serious injury.
Later I would find other scrapes and the distinct impression of a seat belt running up my side. The paramedics took me to Oshawa hospital where I was also checked out and given a relatively clean bill of health and released back into the wild, though I was warned that some whiplash could develop over time.
I was kinda surprised that the hospital did nothing for my cuts and scrapes. When I asked about them, the doctor’s assistant just said, “Clean them and they’ll heal up nicely.”
The following day I had an opportunity to speak to the investigating officer when he kindly came to my home to return my driver’s license and insurance papers. He explained to me that no police are required for minor fender benders, but police are required when there are injuries involved. In this case the injuries turned out to be pretty minor (I don’t think the other guy was hurt at all), but at the time of the accident it looked to witnesses like the injuries would be far more serious.
All the witnesses the officer questioned thought I’d been killed, such was the violence of the collision. I had been struck on the driver’s side, toward the front of the car but the impact had included part of the car door. It had probably looked pretty darned dramatic. (Sure wish I could get my hands on some security footage, if any exists!) Our Hyundai Elantra’s safety features performed as advertised and I sure am happy about that.
Although the other guy claimed he’d been waved onto Brock by another driver, all three witnesses said he blew through the stop sign and right into my car. The police officer told me that if he hadn’t hit me he could well have struck and killed pedestrians crossing the street. It turned out the fellow was driving with a suspended license and had taken the family car without permission. He’s facing three charges, including careless driving. The other two charges are personal in nature and the officer wouldn’t tell me what they were (I didn’t pry).
Despite what happened to me and my car, it appears there were other factors at play that make me feel some sympathy for the guy, and his family… I think he has a rough road ahead of him.
Whereas I’m back on the road, a little worse for wear, but still intact, mobile, and enormously grateful to be alive.
People love to tell me that there are no stupid questions.
Well, there are, and I ask them.
I think it’s important to ask questions. I think it’s especially important to ask questions even when you think they might be stupid. Chances are somebody else is wondering the same thing. And once you know the answer, you are less stupid than you were before.
So here’s a list of questions I have about the virus officially known to the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” and “SARS-CoV-2”, or simply as the disease Covid-19 to the rest of us.
I am under no illusion that any of these questions are particularly astute or original. Some of them are obvious; others might well be stupid. Some have probably already been answered. Others, I know, nobody has answered yet, though scientists and medical professionals the world over are hard at work trying to come up with answers.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s what I’ve been wondering about:
Once you’ve had Covid-19, can you get it again?
If you get it and do become immune, how long is that immunity likely to last?
Are there different strains of Covid-19 out there? The answer appears to be yes, though the differences are minute. And it doesn’t appear that one is more dangerous than the other. Will yet more strains emerge? Might they be more or less dangerous? I would like to know.
Considering that Covid-19 is a novel coronovirus, a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans, why do otherwise healthy people respond differently to it? Why do some succumb to it, others get very sick, others experience minor symptoms, and yet others show no symptoms at all? Not talking about the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions; just wondering why healthy people respond differently.
Just how infectious is Covid-19? What are the actual odds of getting it if I’m talking to someone who’s infected and I foolishly touch my nose, eyes, or mouth? Will I definitely get it, or am I just likely to?
How exactly did this begin? We know that its origin was natural. Apparently there are two primary possibilities. It could have evolved through natural selection in a non-human host (most likely a bat) and then jumped to humanity through an intermediate host (such as a pig). This is the most likely scenario, and if indeed this was the case, it could easily happen again. A less likely possibility is that a non-pathogenic version jumped to humans (from an animal such as a pangolin) and then, once inside humans, evolved a ruthless ability to bind to human cells, and became the super-villainous virus we all know and hate today. So… which was it? Or was it some other natural phenomenon altogether? Whatever the case, what can we do to reduce the possibility of it occurring again?
Approximately one third of the planet is currently in lockdown because of the pandemic. What are the rest doing?
Are people still fighting wars while the pandemic rages? If so, where? And more importantly, why? And what will the impact of that be? Nothing good, I would imagine.
Will there be a second pandemic wave? If the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu is any indication, the answer is yes. How do we prepare for that?
When will it be safe to emerge from our homes? The Spanish Flu pandemic lasted two years (though the worst of it was one three month period in 1918). We know more than we knew then. We are responding in an unprecedented fashion pretty much worldwide. One has to hope this will result in a much better outcome.
Today’s tour starts with Robert J. Sawyer‘s Red Planet Blues. What a terrific title. To paraphrase the great Orson Welles,* with a title that good, forget the book, just release the title! Fortunately for us, Sawyer released both.
Sawyer no doubt requires no introduction to readers of this blog. Carol Birch, on the other hand , probably does. An English writer of (at last count) 12 books, she’s the author of the next novel on this section of the shelf, Jamrach’s Menagerie. What a tale this is, with plot elements lifted from the real life story of the whaling ship Essex. If you don’t know anything about what happened to the Essex, great! Don’t go looking. I’m not even going to link to it. Read Jamrach’s Menagerie first, and only then look up the true story. A haunting, unforgettable, riveting tale that will stick with you, and probably dissuade you forever from a career in whaling.
Almost hidden behind that cute little bear up there is The Moon Panther by local Whitby author Jason Shannon, a book I have not read yet. Since writing my own books, I have attended a number of book fairs, and met a lot of other indie authors like me, and if I like them, I generally purchase at least one of their books. This has resulted in a lot of books to read! And I feel tremendously guilty not having read them all yet. This is why, whenever anyone purchases one of my books, I always give them at least ten years to read it, and I’m very good about extensions. But I do very much like to support local indie authors, and I would encourage you all to do the same.
Alongside Jason’s book is Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror & Fantasy, with an introduction by Neil Gaimon, as though Rudyard Kipling requires an introduction. This book was given to me by my youngest sister and her husband back when I broke my ankle to give me something to do, as I guess they figured I’d have a lot of time on my hands. As luck would have it, thanks to technology and the nature of my job, I just wound up working from home, so I didn’t have as much time on my hands as expected. Just the same I managed to read many of the stories within, and appreciated the chance to catch up on my Kipling.
Last year, at CANCON, a writer’s convention in Ottawa, I was about to purchase a book in the dealer’s room when I spotted the author of that book. It’s a friendly conference so I thought, oh, I’ll just introduce myself to the author and tell them I’m about to buy their book and maybe they’ll sign it for me and then I’ll have fond memories of our brief encounter while I’m reading the book and forever more. I did so. After informing the author that I was about to purchase their book, my impression was that they could not wait to get away from me. We did not chat and they did not offer to sign their book. So I put the book back and did not purchase it.
Immediately afterward I met the author C. L. Polk, who was as friendly as could be, so I bought her book instead, and she signed it for me. As an author myself, if somebody told me they were about to buy my book, they would have my full and undivided attention, not to mention gratitude. Now, I get that everyone is fighting their own battle, and maybe this other author was having a bad day, or was in a huge rush, maybe really had to pee or something, but… too bad. I bought C.L. Polk’s book instead, and it’s C. L. Polk’s book Witchmark that I’m reading RIGHT NOW instead of theirs. (Well, not exactly right now… when I finish writing this blog post.)
The Knowledge: How to rebuild our World From Scratch, by Lewis Dartnellis the book you want in your hands when civilization finally crumbles, which, from the looks of it, could happen any day now. I bought it thinking it would be handy writing a post-apocalyptic novel, which I’ve always wanted to do. Now I’m thinking it might come in handy in a month or two. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be so flip about our collective possible fate. I’ll just add that to the growing list of other things I shouldn’t do either, such as walk in the house with my boots on. Shh! Don’t tell my wife.)
Legend by David Gemmell is just a terrific book, one I’ve read several times. Thoughtful action/adventure in the sword & sorcery vein, and a treatise on heroism. Highly recommended.
Dune, by Frank Herbert. An SF classic; enuff said. Well, maybe not enough… apparently they’re making another film version of it. Here’s hoping it’s better than past versions.
Stephen King, a couple of books in the Dark Tower series. Gradually working my way through this one. I was lukewarm on the first book, but quite liked The Drawing of the Three, another clever title, I realized, once I completed the book.
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. Another absolute classic. If you haven’t read this book already hie thee to a book store immediately (or, um, as soon as the pandemic is over) and pick this one up. You won’t regret it. I’ll take this opportunity to recommend another, lesser known Haldeman book as well: Camouflage, which won the Nebula Award in 2005. Just a great read.
Born Standing Up is an autobiography by comedian Steve Martin. This is also a great read, really interesting insight into the man himself, the nature of comedy, and his somewhat sad relationship with his father.
And finally, Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, a neat little SF tale, with a tragic story at its core, that I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
*Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovitch told Orson Welles he was thinking of changing the title of his film adaptation of the novel “Addie Pray” to “Paper Moon,” but wasn’t sure whether the new title worked. Orson allegedly told him, “With a title that good forget the film, just release the title!”