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Judith Merril was one of the most influential American science fiction reviewers and editors of the 1960s. She introduced and championed the writers, works and revolutionary aesthetics of the British New Wave in North American, transforming the genre in the process.

In The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism: Judith Merril’s Nonfiction, part of Aqueduct Press' Heirloom series, editor Ritch Calvin has brought together a number of works that illustrate the evolution of Merril's critical theory: review columns, anthology introductions, and other selected essays.

Calvin's introduction to the collection, which he titles "Introduction: The SF Aesthetics of Judith Merril," is in fact an essay that sums up the key aspects of Merril's thinking about science fiction - which she often referred to as science fantasy - as a mature theory of criticism. The essays of Merril collected in the volume show the development of that theory through her ongoing examination of the works of sff writers over the years. They also, as Calvin notes, offer

"...a history of SF, SF authors and editors, and SF publishing. In her reviews, introductions, and tributes, she chronicles the lives and work of many prominent and lesser known figures. She details the lives and deaths of a number of writers and editors. And she recounts the developments within the field as they happened. Over a period of twelve years, we get yearly, and sometimes monthly, updates on who is publishing, what is being written, and how the field is changing."

Reading through the introductions - the earliest of which is for the first edition of SF: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, published in 1956, is indeed very much a journey through history. As I read her discussions of the authors and works included in these volumes - some of the names still well-known, others barely remembered - I found myself transported back in time, to the memories of the child reading all the sff books she could find in her local library, spending her precious allowance on sff monthly magazines and the occasional new book she found in the carousel bookstands that used to grace variety, department and grocery stores.

I'm grateful to these reminders of the past, to have brought back to mind stories and authors whose works are rarely in the "Best SF Short Stories" anthologies that pick a topic or a decade and republish the great stories that are always republished. I'm also happy to be learning about authors whose work I somehow never encountered as a child - in the hopes that I may some day find an online repository where I can read them now.

A wonderful book for anyone interested in learning about, or revisiting, the history of the genre.

Date: 2017-08-28 02:44 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Joanna Russ)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
So nice to know someone else read this! I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

I was lucky enough to meet Judy Merril toward the end of her life. She was of a "type" that I think is now mostly gone but I've always been very fond of: chain-smoking, raspy-voiced older women who pay scant attention to their appearance and hold very strong opinions, which they will voice without any sign of self-consciousness at any opportunity.

She and I are both huge fans of Theodore Sturgeon, so one of my warmest memories from the convention where I met her is a panel on Sturgeon's works. Someone brought up a particular story ("Mr. Costello, Hero") from the audience, saying they thought it was one of Sturgeon's best. (I completely agree.)

Judy said, "I don't remember it, so it can't be one of the great ones."

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