Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phyllis Gotlieb died this week

I got off the phone with her son Leo - and that was one thing he was very clear about: don't say Phyllis passed away, or passed on. She wouldn't have tolerated that kind of imprecise, beating-'round-the-bush talk about something as straightforward as death.

So Phyllis died, at 83, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto after what had been a successful surgery to deal with a burst appendix.

Phyllis was a friend and a colleague, and in an important way, an ancestor. She was a science fiction writer who managed a 50-year career selling stories of space travel and aliens and mutant children from her hometown - something that was until the past couple of decades very unusual, to the point you might call her a pioneer. Or, if you do this kind of thing yourself, an ancestor.

Her first novel, Sunburst, was honored by the naming of the Sunburst Award. She wrote many more - the last of which was published in Rob Sawyer's imprint just two years ago. She was also a poet of some reknown.

I work as a reporter for a chain of Toronto community newspapers. So when I heard about Phyllis' passing, I called my editor and told him I'd like to write an obituary in her local paper. And that's what I spent part of today doing. I got in touch with Leo, and also with Calvin, Phyllis' husband of 60 years. I will be honest and say I knew the two of them only a little. But when I saw them together, at conventions or get-togethers such as we in this community have, I was always moved by the love and care they took with one another. Calvin told me, "she was the love of my life," and I believe that he was the love of hers.

It was a pretty tight deadline. I couldn't get as much into the story as I'd have liked. I'd hoped to have gotten a comment in from Rob Sawyer, her last editor, but he was out of town and didn't get my email until the deadline was past. He sent me some quotes anyway, to redact any way I wished. They got redacted right out of the story.

So here they are, unredacted:

Phyllis Gotlieb was the mother of Canadian science fiction, and a great inspiration to me. She was a founding member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- the only Canadian in that group when it started in 1965. She was proof of concept that you could live in Toronto and still be a science-fiction writer for major American publishing houses; if I hadn't had her as a role model, I'm not sure I ever would have embarked on the career path I took.

We'd been friends for 30 years -- I met her in 1979 when my high-school science-fiction club had her as guest of honour at a little convention we put on at Northview Heights Secondary School. She was feisty and opinionated and passionate then, and she was still all those things the last time I saw her, not that long ago. One of my greatest professional thrills was getting to publish her final novel, Birthstones, in 2007, under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint for Markham's Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Phyllis Gotlieb. I would say 'rest in peace.' But that might be too fussy for her taste as well.

So I'll just say it simple: she's missed.

2 comments:

Peter Watts said...

She's no longer around to nitpick, so I'll do it her behalf.

You referred to her "passing". You know she wouldn't have liked that.

David Nickle said...

So I did. Damn.