Obituary: Judith Merril

osephine Juliet Grossman (Judith Merril), science fiction writer: born New York 21 January 1923; married 1940 Daniel Zissman (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1947), 1949 Frederik Pohl (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1953), 1960 Daniel Sugue (marriage dissolved 1975); died Toronto 12 September 1997.
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udith Merril was one of those rare writers whose influence far outstripped her own written work.

Born osephine uliet Grossman, she took the name Merril after her first divorce, before her four-year marriage to the veteran science fiction writer Frederik Pohl in 1949. Her first story, "That Only a Mother", published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1948 and still anthologised today, set the tone for her fiction, exploring the powerful love of a mother for her radiation-deformed baby.

Her first and best novel was published a year later; Shadow on the Hearth was unusual for its time in telling its story from the viewpoint of an innocent bystander - a housewife who has to draw on her own psychological resources to protect her children and herself in the face of a nuclear attack on New York, and the unwelome advances of a male neighbour.

A later novel, The Tomorrow People (1960), a psychological mystery, is generally thought less emotionally powerful than her earlier work. She also co-wrote two novels with Cyril Kornbluth in 1952, under the name Cyril udd. The three space-travel novellas in Daughters of Earth (1968), written in the mid-1950s, deal in different ways with the relationship between mothers and daughters. Merril was one of the few female science fiction writers in the 1950s and, in dealing with women's issues in a woman's voice, she was the forerunner of later feminist writers.

Merril's main significance to science fiction lies in her work as a critic for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and most of all as an anthologist; she edited around 20 anthologies, including 12 volumes of a highly regarded annual "Best of" series in the 1950s and 1960s. She was the most active American proponent of the "New Wave" of British science fiction of the 1960s, as exemplified in Michael Moorcock's ground-breaking New Worlds magazine; through this encouragement, and her own anthologies, she was responsible for launching the careers of many young experimental writers. She also campaigned for science fiction to be renamed, more accurately, speculative fiction, so emphasising the stories of social (rather than scientific) extrapolation which she preferred.

Merril moved from her native United States to Canada in 1968. Her donation of her own huge SF library formed the basis of what is now the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy at Toronto Public Library, one of the largest such research collections in the world.