Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Gotlieb, Phyllis

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1926-2009) Canadian author who may be best known for her Poetry, some of which – such as the long performable poems assembled in Doctor Umlaut's Earthly Kingdom (coll 1974) – is strongly fantastic. She took an MA with the University of Toronto in English language and literature, and married a professor of computer science, whom she credited for assistance on her second sf novel. She began publishing sf with "A Grain of Manhood" for Fantastic in September 1959 and gained considerable praise for her first novel, Sunburst (1964), which treats feelingly of the growth of a connected group of Mutant children whose ESP powers give them various Superman abilities – of their harrowing difficulties, of the gestalt concord they arrive at, and of their coming to (a somewhat overplotted) accord with the surrounding world; the Canadian Sunburst Award is named after this novel. Though not literally fantastic, her intense depiction of the psychic rebirth, many years later, of a survivor of Auschwitz enlists Why Should I Have All the Grief? (1969) as a strong example of Holocaust Fiction.

All Gotlieb's longer work after this first novel is set within the overarching GalFed universe, a loosely described galaxy-wide Space Opera venue, set in a future moderately distant, though some individual tales are set in the past, on Earth. Complexities of kinship and identity also pervade her Sven Dahlgren books – O Master Caliban! (1976) (see William Shakespeare) and Heart of Red Iron (1989) – which take place on an alien planet in an isolated reservation set aside for environmental experiments (see Islands), presenting in this venue a sustained play on The Tempest (performed circa 1611; 1623), interwoven with actions derived from an ongoing game of Chess. In the first the young four-armed Dahlgren must confront and defeat the AI-powered self-aware Robots which have seized power from his scientist father; in the second he must calibrate the needs of various Alien races and come to terms with his own humanity. Her second series, the Starcats books – A Judgement of Dragons (1980), Emperor, Swords, Pentacles (1982) and The Kingdom of the Cats (1985) – features interstellar travel and other sf trappings attuned to Science Fantasy needs, through which her persisting and penetrant interest in the interactions of Gender and power is clearly visible. Her third series – the Flesh and Gold sequence comprising Flesh and Gold (1998), Violent Stars (1999) and Mindworlds (2002) – again focuses on those races and sexes and individuals in her vast harsh venue who suffer from the exercises of impersonal greed; in this case, her potential Clone victims, Genetically Engineered as interstellar slave labour, rebel successfully. The main drawback to most of her work may be an excessive ingenuity in the unravelling of action plots, which sometimes distracts attention from the underlying eloquence, just anger, and celebratory humaneness of their highly intelligent author. A late singleton, Birthstones (2007), rescues more victims, somewhat implausibly, from the corporate coils she so convincingly delineates.

Gotlieb's stories – most of the best are assembled in Son of the Morning and Other Stories (coll 1983) and Blue Apes (coll 1995) – also tend to investigate questions of human nature through sf tropes, like Psi Powers, that are congenial to that sort of exploration. With Douglas Barbour she edited Tesseracts2 (anth 1987), one of a series designed to showcase Canadian sf. Gotlieb's career was not conspicuous or remarkably prolific; but, quite quietly, she became some time ago and remained until her death, along with William Gibson, Robert J Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson, among the most important of contemporary Canadian sf writers. She was given Canada's Aurora Award in 1982 for lifetime achievement. [JC]

see also: Canada.

Phyllis Fay Bloom Gotlieb

born Toronto, Ontario: 25 May 1926

died Toronto, Ontario: 14 July 2009



GalFed: Sven Dahlgren

GalFed: Ungrukh Chronicles

GalFed: Flesh and Gold

  • Flesh and Gold (New York: Tor, 1998) [GalFed: Flesh and Gold: hb/The Chopping Block]
  • Violent Stars (New York: Tor, 1999) [GalFed: Flesh and Gold: hb/]
  • Mindworlds (New York: Tor, 2002) [GalFed: Flesh and Gold: hb/Allen Douglas]

individual titles


poetry (selected)

works as editor

  • Tesseracts2 (Victoria, British Columbia: Porcépic Books/Tesseract, 1987) with Douglas Barbour [anth: Tesseracts: Tesseracts: pb/Jeff Kuipers]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies