Posts tagged ‘Canada’

Grandma Judy

Grandma Judy

In the 1970s, both Judy and I had become active in Canadian television, Judy as the person who handled Dr. Who for Ontario Television, me as a sort of all-purpose guest correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s coverage of the American space doings, ending with the CBC’s coverage of the rendezvous in orbit of the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and the American Apollo.

Things reached a point with Judy where I could do something for her. The Ontario TV authorities were getting difficult. Dr. Who had been sold to them as science fiction under the general principle that science fiction was educational and therefore good for children to watch. Educational authorities, though, were up in arms to say that such claims were ridiculous. Dr. Who wasn’t science. It was silly garbage, and it should be off the air.

And what Judy wanted to know was, “Listen, Fred, you’re pretty good at that space-program science talk. If we gave you time, is there anything you could say that would make Dr. Who sound a little more sciency?”

I thought that was a pretty funny request. I had also, for some time, been spending a lot of my time defending sf in general as healthy for people to watch. True, Dr. Who was a pretty marginal case. But you could find scientific lessons in almost any fantasy story once you allowed quantum reality to be defined as scientific, and I wrote a number of comments-on-the-air for Judy’s shows, and the problem passed.

It wasn’t just the opportunities for working together that brought Judy and me together at last. Most of all it was our growing number of descendants. Our daughter Ann had gone and grown up, and she had married a Canadian named Walter Weary, with whom she had two children, Tobias, who is now an excellent chef, with children of his own, and Emily, the granddaughter who won the Hugo Award.

After that marriage tanked, Ann married Juan Miranda, an Argentinean immigrant to Canada who was a high-tech electronics engineer. The reason he left Argentina for Canada is that Argentina had fallen under the rule of the brutally murderous “colonels,” who formed the habit of picking up people who criticized them on the street, torturing them, then murdering them and burying them in unmarked graves so their families could not even have the satisfaction of being sure whether they were dead or alive. Juan himself had been picked up by the death squads. But it was just at the end of their power. Legitimate law officials were arresting them and releasing their prisoners. Whereupon Juan very sensibly decided to get the hell out of Argentina. (His elder brother was less lucky. He had been picked up a year or so earlier and was never seen again.)

Anyway, Juan Miranda was one of my favorite sons-in-law of all time. He was smart, he was funny, he was crazy about Ann, and with her help, he gave us two more grandkids, Julia and Daniel. Judy was fond of him, too. Every time I (or, more frequently, Carol and I) managed to get to Annie’s house to view our descendants, Judy did her best to get there too.

Judy and I had one trait that united us. At the time, she and I were both unregenerate heavy smokers. Nobody else in our families was. When we needed a fix, what we did was go out on the front porch, light up, and spend half an hour chatting about things in general. You know. Like old friends do.

Part of that ended when Annie’s last marriage ended, and she moved way to the Atlantic Maritime Provinces of Canada. Then Judy’s health began to fail. She got really sick. And then, in 1997, she died.

I am pleased that, at the end of the last time I saw her, she gave me a hug. Do you know that it’s possible to have happy endings, at least reasonably happy ones, in the real world, too?

Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Judy and Merril in happier days.

Judy and Merril in happier days.

Well, let’s not draw this out any longer than we have to. Judy asked if I wanted to buy the house back from her, I said yes, Judy went off roaming somewhere, I don’t know where, and my new Significant Other, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, and I began moving ourselves in.

There are a fair number of details about that period that I’m not sure I remember right in the area of what happened before which. One of those things is where the kids, Merril and Ann, were at that point. I think most probably that at least at first all three of them were with Carol and me. (Three. Judy’s Merril, our Ann and Carol’s Karen, daughter of her marriage to L. Jerome Stanton.) And for a time there, I don’t think a very long one, Judy and I were tolerating each other.

Then we weren’t.

We disagreed over how we were going to share Ann’s time, somewhat civilly at first, and then very uncivilly. I don’t know how that would have worked out, because it was around then that Danny Zissman appeared at my front door, and he was the bucket of gasoline that set our fires roaring,

Danny was Judy’s first husband, Merril’s father. Unknown to me, he had been having his own troubles with Judy, over custody of Merril, and he was fed up. He had been talking to lawyers, he said, and, on their advice, he was about to sue Judy for Merril’s custody. He thought he had a pretty good chance of winning, on the evidence, he said, listing fifteen or twenty things Judy had done, but he wanted to make winning a sure thing. Which it would be if I would join him with both of us suing Judy at once.

Oh, that was the siren song, all right.

I wasn’t at all sure Danny’s own case was as strong as he thought it was. His list of Judy’s misdeeds included some pretty trivial stuff. But there was also some stuff that might sway a judge, and I could see that the two of us suing her together would help both our cases … and, oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have this aggravation out of the way forever? So I mulled it over and then I said I’d join him.

I think there is too much suing of people for one thing or another, and I didn’t really look forward to all the bad stuff that was sure to come. I have only very rarely done that sort of thing in my life. Even now I would like to avoid suing that wretch for his vicious book if I can. I had those same feelings about joining Danny’s suit. But I got busy, and began to prepare for testifying.

The bad things began to happen right away.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 7: When It All Hit the Fan’ »

I spend a lot of time reading what you guys have to say about items in the blog, and I have to say I’m impressed with what a smart and rewarding bunch you all are. (Of course I would probably say something of that sort whether it was true or not, but in this case it happens to be true.) So when one of you says that there is something you would like me to write about, and I can see how to do it, I try to comply. One of you, for instance, has recently asked me to try to describe what thought processes led me to the writing of my novel Gateway. That’s a welcome question not only because I’m particularly fond of that book but also because I can answer it.

The process that led to Gateway began with a remark by some scientist — I’ve forgotten which one — in an attempt to explain why, if there are other technically advanced civilizations in the universe, as many of us would like to believe, none of them have dropped in to visit us. That could simply be, he said, because they got an earlier start than we did. That is, life appeared on their planet thousands, or even millions, of years before it did on Earth, and therefore their dominant race of beings reached their spaceflight era long before we did. (After which, who knows? Perhaps they killed themselves off, of doing which there is all too good a chance that we might yet. Or they simply lost interest. Or — as I say — who knows?)

In that case, they might have visited Earth dozens of times, but finding no one here with interests closer to their own than the australopithecines — or, for that matter, than the trilobites or even the slime molds — they got discouraged and went away. And the only way we would have of learning that they had existed would be if they had left something of theirs behind for our archeologists to find.

That seemed like a territory suitable for the construction of a good science-fiction story to me, so I began trying to do it.

A lot of writers have minds more orderly than my own. These tidier souls tend to write out a synopsis of what the book is going to be, all the way to the conclusion, before they write a single line of the actual text. This approach to the how-to of writing is simply alien to my nature. Instead, when I get a sort of general idea I simply start to write, making it up as I go along. Writing, then, is pretty much a process of discovery for me. As I write I see more and more of the implications of that original idea, and I shape my story line accordingly.

Usually, it’s a fairly efficient process. I seldom have to go back and x out passages because they lead nowhere. But in the case of what ultimately became Gateway I made several false starts. I finally wrote a novella called “The Merchants of Venus.” That one made the assumptions that aliens, long ago, had indeed visited our solar system; but that they had paid little attention to Earth, for reasons we have no way of knowing, but perhaps because they altruistically didn’t want to interfere with the development of the primitive human terrestrials; and that they had accordingly then focused most of their attention on the planet Venus. And, since Venus’s surface conditions are lethally hot and nasty, they had dug huge tunnels, kept at a livable temperatures and filled with breathable air, in which they had established colonies of their scientists to study the planet — much as we humans have done in Antarctica.

Then, much later, the aliens have gone away and the human race has developed to the point of having space travel that is efficient enough to allow (rich) tourists to visit the planet, where they buy souvenirs excavated from the old alien tunnels. The tunnels were cleaned out by the aliens when they left, but they weren’t careful enough to get every last item. (Some of the “trash” they left behind is technologically advanced and very valuable to its discoverers.)

I was reasonably satisfied with the novella. But I couldn’t get those aliens out of my mind.

So a year or so later I went back to the drawing board and began writing the story of Robinette Broadhead, who visits the asteroid where the aliens have parked their surplus spaceships, and uses them to explore far-off star systems.

However, I had been thinking for some time that it would be nice for a novel’s readers if the author could give them some way of seeing everything that’s interesting in the background of the story. Not just what the author believes is relevant. And so I began writing the “sidebars” that festoon the book.

Meanwhile I was doing a lot of traveling around that time, writing on the book in airplanes and hotel rooms. (Some of the sidebars have a slight Canadian flavor. That’s because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had invited me to come up to Toronto to do commentary on the upcoming rendezvous in orbit of a U.S. Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft, and I lived there for a week or so.)

Then, when it was basically all written, I assembled all the parts and read it over.

I was reasonably content with most of it, but the short last chapter didn’t move me. So I rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again.

Then I rewrote it again and kept on doing it until I could go no farther — each time giving better and better lines to my favorite character, the computer psychoanalyst, Sigfrid von Shrink.

And that’s the way, under the title Gateway , it got published.


Red Canoe Bistro, 398 John St., Burlington, ON, L7R 2K4, Canada, (905) 637-6137.

398 John St., Burlington, ON, L7R 2K4, Canada, (905) 637-6137.

You know how it is when you’re in Toronto and you need to drive down to Niagara Falls, only it’s time for lunch and you’re getting really hungry, and you don’t know the name of any really outstandingly good restaurant on the way? Well, we can help you there.

The one you want to go to is the Red Canoe Bistro in Burlington, Ontario, voted the best new restaurant of the year and well deserving of the honor. Check out their website for directions and menus.

The proprietor and head chef is the talented Tobias Pohl-Weary, who has not only been winning awards for his cuisine but is also my grandson, of whom I am really proud.