When I was a little girl, the first stories I read were myths,
folk-tales and legends from all over the world. And I knew what I
wanted to be when I'd grow up: I wanted to be a hero.
But then again, I also knew I was not a boy. Things being what they
were, I may have regretted it now and then, but somehow I managed to
survive almost all little girls do. They become teenagers, and
then women, who read stories written mainly by men about men, and
somehow, they manage to get their fix of heroism, by identifying with
the male heroes. Of course, that doesn't go without some rampant
identity problems, but at the time I didn't think much of it. It was
the Fifties, in the French countryside, not exactly the cutting edge
of social revolution.
At the beginning of the Sixties, however, I was beginning to feel
uneasy. The universe is a well-known, well-understood, nice, cosy
and limited place, they'd told me, in school and out of it. Things
are what they are, they said, it is like that, it has always been
like that, it will always be like that. But somehow, it didn't feel
quite right. Oh please, it couldn't be right?
It was the mid-Sixties now, after all, something was blowing in the
wind, and I was not immune.
That's when I discovered science-fiction. Not as a woman, but (I
thought) as a more or less unsexed spirit yearning for freedom, for
new, unknown, dangerous, exciting things. That's when I began
feeling that, after all, I might be able to realize my childhood's
dream: there was definitely a possibility for heroism in
science-fiction, the old-fashioned way. Finding treasures and wisdom,
saving universes, fighting dragons and even better, making friends
That's when I first met Judith Merril. Somehow. Actually, I met a
story "That Only a Mother". Later I would meet other stories,
other women Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton, Catherine Moore,
Katherine MacLean... But this one was the first. And it was
different from everything I'd read before even Ted Sturgeon's
stories, which I loved the best. Oh, there were no fancy space
adventure, no disguised knight in shining astronaut's suit, and the
dragon was almost as metaphorical as they come in any other type of
modern mainstream literature. There was a mother, a father, a
daughter and nuclear energy. It could have been here & then. But it
was different, I didn't know why, or how. Somehow, even though it
was taking place in a world so like our own, it opened other spaces
in my mind. Somehow it had... a different voice. And I began to
listen for that voice in other SF stories, first without knowing what
I was looking for, then with a heightened awareness not so much as
I came upon Judy's other stories (very, very few were translated in
French at the time), but when I read some of the stories she'd helped
get in print.
By then I had a very definite idea of who Judith Merril was. She was
one of the very few women I could look up to in Science Fiction, as a
woman reader and as a fledgling woman writer. At that time Science
Fiction was very much a Man's Land still is, although thanks to
Judy and some others, we don't feel as lonely there as we used to.
But Judy was there. I was proud of her... even though I didn't know
much about her: like all American SF writers, she was a
quasi-mythological being for me. Somehow, she was even more
mythological than the other, male American SF writers: she was a
woman who wrote and published and criticized science-fiction!
You see, by that time, after intensive readings of all the
science-fiction I could find (and there was a lot of it in France,
even then), I was beginning to feel uneasy again, caged again: all
those male voices, all those male stories... More than uneasy: I was
feeling betrayed: To me, science-fiction was the literature which was
not afraid to ask questions, all the questions in the world (and in
other worlds!) but as far as women were concerned, science-fiction
only seemed to have a lot of answers, the same ones I had heard over
and over again in my books and in my life. It was like it was,
like it had always been, like it would always be.
Except for women writers, of course. And that's when I really began
to understand what it was that I heard in Judy's stories, and in the
stories of other women who were writing science-fiction. Science
fiction is about the Other, mostly and there was a lot of that in
it for me, reading all those male stories. Meeting with the Other is
fine, but too much of it can be overwhelming especially when you
begin to feel that there are different sorts of Others, and that you
are one! Judy's voice, and the other women's voices, where the voice
of this other Other, the Other that looked like me and I
desperately needed to hear them.
That's when I left France and Europe, to come to Canada which my
imagination bred on Jack London and Fenimore Cooper saw as the land
of adventure, and also the land of opportunities. Somehow, indeed, a
lot of things seemed possible here. So when I heard that the fabled
Judith Merril was living in Toronto (my God, she was real!), and
since I was organizing a SF convention, I rashly invited her.
And she came.
And we met, face to face.
And that's it. Almost. Even today, I wouldn't presume on saying we
are friends: we don't know each other personally that well, we
haven't even met very often... Sometimes I feel that our essential
link is of a somewhat rarefied nature: being Writers, you know, being
Writers of Science Fiction, and being Women Who Write Science Fiction.
But then, I see Judy as I saw her that first time in Chicoutimi, I
hear her deep, beautiful, echoing voice as I heard it then, I see her
smile, I see her dance, and I know there is something else, something
deeper. What Judy taught me, more than any other female SF writer I
have met, and perhaps more than any woman I have met, period, it's
that you can be the heroine of your own life. And when I say
«heroine», especially in relation to Judith, I know, and you know,
that I am not talking about some sweet pale blond helpless thing
wringing her hands at the top of some tower. But I won't say «female
hero». Be a heroine. That's what Judith taught me. Be all you can
be, yes, and in order to know what that is, always ask questions.
Always be open, but never surrender. Never stop to grow in every
direction, among as many different worlds as possible. And never
stop giving, even when it's hell.
For that, Judy, for being that unwavering, demanding, generous beacon
for my spirit and for my heart, as you are also for so many others,
This tribute was part of a general tribute which was given to Judith
Merril in Toronto, in 1997, while she was still with us in the flesh.