by E.B. Klassen
About the only time I ever met Judith Merrill was centuries ago at a V-Con. There were other folk there too, but Judy was the most important one for me, as Judy Merrill changed my life. Not at that year’s V-Con, no. But a lifetime earlier in Alberta.This was during the Golden Age of Science Fiction; that is to say I was about fourteen years old at the time (which is everybody’s Golden Age of SF according to Damon Knight). When I was younger, I read everything I could lay my hands on, including an encyclopedia from 1960 and books with no covers the titles of which I never discovered. There was a period when my Dad and I read westerns together. But slowly my reading began to focus more and more on SF, and soon I was reading it almost exclusively.These were the days when two novels a day was a slow day; days when I read everything and remembered it all. Asimov and Bradbury of course, and Verne and Welles too. Not much Heinlein, but thousands of short stories, novellas and novelettes. And then high school and a new library devoured in six months. And then England Swings SF.It’s hard to remember what an effect this book had on the world as I knew it. The “World’s Best” collections were starting to develop a tension between what was called Old and New SF. Odd stories were cropping up, stories that had Bogart-like characters and less than happy endings. And I opened England Swings SF and there was the Voice of Judy sounding a lot like Steven Stills: “There’s something happening here/ and what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Judy had started reading a bunch of new English writing and discovered a changed world. And best of all, she had every intention of dragging me along into it with her. And she did.I haven’t read England Swings SF in several years. But I remember that when I first read it I thought this was absolutely fabulous. That half the stories had no SF content at all didn’t faze me for a minute. For a kid in Edmonton, this was the lifesaving drink of cool water in a cultural desert. And with her introductions and her forwards, Judy changed my life.I got the chance to tell her so years later at that V-Con. By then my life had changed. I was no longer living in Edmonton, I had a life, an education, and a copy of England Swings SF that I had bought at the last library book sale. I asked her to sign it, I told her how she had changed everything with that book, and I said thank you. And you know, I really meant it. Thank you, Judith Merrill. And goodbye.
Judith Merrill photo courtesy of Annette Mocek of The Merrill Collection.