Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phyllis Gotlieb

After publishing my novel, I applied for membership with the Canadian speculative fiction organization, SF Canada. One of the things I quickly realized after being accepted was that I really had not read very much Canadian SF. I set about sampling work by various authors, and discovered several great books. But there was one author whose work I absolutely fell in love with: Phyllis Gotlieb.

Phyllis had the gift of writing work that awakened the imagination, the feelings, and the intellect. Her stories were always multidimensional. In Sunburst, she did not merely reverse the notion of psychic powers as evolutionary advancements to create the the 'dumplings,' she then proceeded to show these monstrous children not as villains, but as damaged human beings: the sort of violent youth which society all too often seems unable to help or control. The notion of sentient cats might be little more than a conceit in other hands, but Phyllis' Ungrukh are not only delightfully feline, but a race with its own heritage and challenges to face. They are a wonderful example of how very human issues can sometimes be illuminated by taking a perspective on them that is not quite human.

Birthstones, published in 2007, is about an alien society, the Shar, in which only the men are intelligent, while the women are incapable even of caring for themselves. However, this is not the natural state of things, but the result of progressive mutation, and the novel ends with hope that the Shar women will eventually be restored. It seems very fitting considering what a strong woman's voice Phyllis Gotlieb brought to her work over a period of time when women were very much in need of such voices.

Phyllis was active on the SF Canada listserver, and I felt very privileged to have that contact with her, although I think she only directly replied to me once or twice. I never told her how much I admire her work.

Phyllis passed away this Tuesday, at the age of 83. The reaction among the other SF Canada members has been very heartfelt, and a tribute to Phyllis will be in development over the next few days on the SF Canada website: