Canadian SF writer Phyllis Gotlieb dead at 83

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Canadian SF author Phyllis Gotlieb passed away at age 83 on July 14, 2009. Her career began in the digest magazines with the story "A Grain of Manhood" in 1959, and her last published book was Birthstones in 2007, terminating a productive work life of nearly 50 years.

Manifesting skill in the fields of poetry and playwrighting, Gotlieb devoted the bulk of her talents to her beloved science fiction. Her first novel, Sunburst (1964), has been called, by critic Peter A. Brigg, "one of the most imaginative, humorous, and at the same time socially aware nuclear accident novels ever written." Not only did the book meet with critical and fannish acclaim, it also lent its name to the annual Sunburst Award, begun in 2001 to honor Canadian fantastika.

Gotlieb managed to produce nearly a score of other books in her lifetime, several of which featured her popular catlike aliens, the Ungruwarkh, who debuted in the novella "Son of the Morning." In all these works, she expertly used SF tropes "to investigate human nature ... [and] complexities of kinship and identity," themes she "treated feelingly," according to critic John Clute.

But perhaps of equal importance was Gotlieb's boosterism of Canadian SF, the perpetual little sister to the American branch of that literature, and her attention toward any young writer who sought her out for advice and guidance. Cory Doctorow recalls: "I remember the warmth and wit with which Phyllis engaged with little pipsqueak me, the welcome she made me feel as a freshman writer. I have never, ever forgotten that--the author of O Master Caliban! [1976] deigning to notice me, much less treat me as a colleague."

Perhaps Gotlieb's own words best sum up her open-hearted and open-minded attitude toward life and her writing, and toward the multiplex depths of sentient beings: "I like to work in as broad a range of genres as possible, and in all of them I am primarily interested in people, their emotions, actions, dynamics. After that I am interested in everything else in the universe."