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Merril, Judith

Entry updated 23 January 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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(1923-1997) US-born anthologist, critic and author, in Canada from 1968. Born Josephine Juliet Grossman, she preferred the forename Judith, and became Judith Zissman by her first marriage; she began to use the surname Merril before later marrying Frederik Pohl (1949-1953), and took Judith Merril as her legal name on becoming a Canadian citizen in 1973. She occasionally used the pseudonym Rose Sharon. Merril was associated with the Futurians fan group during and after World War Two. Her first published sf was "That Only a Mother" for Astounding in June 1948. Her first novel, Shadow on the Hearth (1950; rev 1966), tells the story of a nuclear World War Three in effectively understated fashion from the viewpoint of a suburban New York housewife; one of the very best stories of nuclear Holocaust, it was televised as Atomic Attack. Merril published two moderately unambitious but competent novels with C M Kornbluth, the two writing together as by Cyril Judd: Outpost Mars (May-July 1951 Galaxy Science Fiction as "Mars Child"; 1952; rev vt Sin in Space 1961) is about the Colonization of Mars; Gunner Cade (March-May 1952 Astounding; 1952) is set in an era where Future War is a spectator sport (see Games and Sports). The Tomorrow People (1960), an intense psychological mystery story, lacks the emotional resonance of her best early work.

Her best short stories, which usually feature protagonists passively caught up in world-changing events, and often hurt thereby, were ahead of their time. The neatly heart-rending "Dead Center" (November 1954 F&SF) was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories: 1955 edited by Martha Foley. Daughters of Earth (coll 1968; cut vt A Judith Merril Omnibus: Daughters of Earth and Other Stories 1985) features three fine novellas: the title story (in The Petrified Planet, anth 1953, ed anon) is a family saga set on a colony world; "Project Nursemaid" (October 1955 F&SF) – cut from the vt above – concerns the problems of the administrator of a space project which must adopt human embryos; Homecalling (November 1956 Science Fiction Stories; 2013 dos) is a story of contact with an Alien being. She published very little fiction after 1960. Her short-story collections, which overlap somewhat, are Out of Bounds (coll 1960), Survival Ship and Other Stories (coll 1974) and The Best of Judith Merril (coll 1976); a posthumous compilation, Homecalling and Other Stories: The Complete Solo Fiction of Judith Merril (coll 2005), assembles almost everything of note.

Merril began editing sf Anthologies in the early 1950s with Shot in the Dark (anth 1950), Beyond Human Ken (anth 1952; with 6 of 21 stories cut 1953; cut version vt Selections from Beyond Human Ken 1954), Beyond the Barriers of Time and Space (anth 1954), Human? (anth 1954) and Galaxy of Ghouls (anth 1955; vt Off the Beaten Orbit 1959). She made her mark with the series of twelve Year's Greatest/Best SF anthologies, a sequence of considerable importance from its beginning with S-F The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (anth 1956) until the last volume, SF 12 (anth 1968; vt The Best of Sci-Fi 12 1970), around the time she left America for good. Though announced, «SF 13» never in fact appeared; UK editions omit some editorial material and are numbered without regard to sense: for details see Checklist. The Best of Sci-Fi 3 (anth 1964) edited by Cordelia Titcomb Smith, a retitling of Smith's Great Science Fiction Stories (anth 1964), has no connection with the Merril series. A selection from the sequence was published as SF: The Best of the Best (anth 1967). Merril was an unusually eclectic anthologist, habitually using stories from outside the SF Magazines, thus helping to broaden the horizons of the genre; she campaigned in her anthologies and in her book-review column in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1965-May 1969) for the replacement of the term "science fiction" by Speculative Fiction; her trenchant reviews and criticism have been assembled as The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism (coll 2016). She was the first US champion of the New Wave (primarily associated with the UK magazine New Worlds), which she attempted to popularize in England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (anth 1968; cut vt The Space-Time Journal 1972). She edited the first of the Tesseracts series (see Canada) of representative anthologies of Canadian sf, Tesseracts (anth 1985).

Merril moved to Canada in 1968, for reasons both personal and political; hints of her openly tempestuous personal life, and of a long-held suspicion of American foreign policy that climaxed during the Vietnam years, appear in a fragmented memoir, Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril (2002), edited after her death by Emily Pohl-Weary, her grand-daughter; it won a 2003 Hugo for Best Related Book. In 1970, soon after settling in Toronto, she donated her book collection to the Toronto Public Libraries; initially known as the Spaced Out Library, it comprised a spinal cord of central texts for what, after years of growth, was in 1991 renamed the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, located in the heart of the city. In 1997 she was honoured by SFWA as Author Emeritus (see SFWA Grand Master Award), and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2013. [BS/JC]

see also: Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award; Definitions of SF; End of the World; Generation Starships; Scientific Errors; Shared Worlds; Small Presses and Limited Editions; Women SF Writers.

Judith Merril

born Boston, Massachusetts: 21 January 1923

died Toronto, Ontario: 12 September 1997


collections and stories


works as editor


Year's Greatest/Best SF

UK editions may cut editorial matter but not, as a rule, stories; in the two-volume UK SF: The Best of the Best, however, one story is cut but the short introduction appears in both books.

individual titles as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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