October Books 5) Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril

5) Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary

Then some of my (male) friends and compeers began publishing politely laundered autobiographies of their successes and I was snowblinded by the detergent. Here were lists of stories sold, banquets attended, speeches given, editors lunched, even wives married and divorced, with never a shriek of tear or tremor or orgasm, and hardly a belly laugh anywhere… Somebody, I thought, should tell it like it was.

Well, she certainly did. I remember as a teenager reading with fascination Fred Pohl’s memoir, The Way the Future Was, and thinking that at last I had a real insight into the life of a real science fiction writer. I now know that he wasn’t telling us the half of it; he, Walter M. Miller, Theodore Sturgeon and Fritz Leiber, as well as being giants in the field, had something more intimate in common too.

But this is not a kiss and tell book; it’s a passionate account of a passionate woman, pulled together from drafts and essays by her granddaughter, several years after her death. I’m afraid I skipped some bits – the correspondence between writers about writing and the weather and how much they liked each other, whether from the 1940s or the 1990s, didn’t really grab me, and I also didn’t appreciate the format of shifting typefaces.

There were three chapters though that really came alive: her account of her intense but platonic friendship with Cyril Kornbluth, which coincided with her affair with Leiber (while she was still just about married to Pohl) was a gripping piece of introspective writing; a bit later on, the dramatic account of the shotgun confrontation during a custody dispute between Pohl and Miller, which apparently she could only bring herself to talk about on the record a few days before her death; and, more positively, her account of settling in to Toronto on the wings of resistance to the Vietnam War, which made the city sound recognisably like the one described in ‘s livejournal, if at a rawer stage of its development.

I also really wish I knew more about her mini-documentaries which filled in the rest of the half-hour for CBC’s broadcasts of Doctor Who. The dates aren’t given, but it must have been in the mid-1970s glory days of the series, either late Pertwee or early Tom Baker. I wonder if they will ever be seen again?

One thought on “October Books 5) Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril

  1. What a sad essay. But I guess she’s 82 this year, and at some point everyone has to start telling the kids to get off their lawn.

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