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Phyllis Fay Gotlieb Biography

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Phyllis Fay Bloom in Toronto, Canada, 1926. Education: University of Toronto, B.A. 1948, M.A. 1950. Address: 29 Ridgevale Drive, Toronto, Ontario M6A 1K9, Canada.



Sunburst. Greenwich, Connecticut, Fawcett Publications, 1964; with a new introduction by Elizabeth A. Lynn, Boston, Gregg Press, 1978.

Why Should I Have All the Grief? Toronto, Macmillan, 1969.

O Master Caliban! New York, Harper, 1976.

A Judgment of Dragons. New York, Berkley Publishing, 1980.

Emperor, Swords, Pentacles. New York, Ace Books, 1981.

The Kingdom of the Cats. New York, Ace, 1983.

Heart of Red Iron. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Blue Apes. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Tesseract Books, 1995.

Flesh and Gold. New York, Tor, 1998.

Violent Stars. New York, Tor, 1999.

Short Stories

Son of the Morning and Other Stories. New York, Ace, 1983.


Within the Zodiac. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1964.

Ordinary, Moving. Oxford University Press, 1969.

Doctor Umlaut's Earthly Kingdom. Toronto, Calliope Press, 1978.

The Works: Collected Poems. Toronto, Calliope Press, 1978.


Radio Plays:

Dr. Umlaut's Earthly Kingdom, Anthology, CanadianBroadcasting Corporation, 1970; The Military Hospital, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1971; Silent Movie Days, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1971; The Contract, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1972; Garden Varieties, Tuesday Night, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1973; God on Trial before Rabbi Ovadia, Best Seat in the House, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1976.


Contributor, Poems for Voices, edited by Robert Weaver. Toronto, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1970.

Contributor, Visions 2020, edited by Stephen Clarkson. Edmonton, Canada, Hurtig, 1970.

Contributor, To the Stars: Eight Stories of Science Fiction, edited byRobert Silverberg. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1971.

Contributor, The A.M. Klein Symposium, edited by Seymour Mayne. Ottawa, Canada, University of Ottawa Press, 1975.

Contributor (The King's Dogs), The Edge of Space: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg. New York, Elsevier/Nelson Books, 1979.

Editor, with Douglas Barbour, Tesseracts2. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Press Porcépic, 1987.

* * *

When most of us approach a text, we expect that it will give us something concrete and that we will be able to uncover that offering through a process that has a distinct beginning and end, as well as a logical progression between the two. In the work of Toronto-born author Phyllis Gotlieb, however, we find an incessant refusal to conform to this established hierarchical structure of discourse. She is a writer who does not depend on binary logic, but instead, spreads out, crisscrosses, makes connections, not just between things that we expect should be connected, but between anything and everything. Her writing, like her career, which spans several decades and numerous genres, is a spinning spiral of juxtaposed pieces that can be layered, stacked, and/or joined in an infinite number of ways.

Gotlieb, the science fiction genre's universally recognized grande dame, has been a significant figure in Canadian science fiction for more than forty years and has been, in more recent years, ranked among the best science fiction writers of the century. Her best known science fiction novels include Sunburst, O Master Caliban!, Emperor, Sword, Pentacles, A Judgment of Dragons, Heart of Red Iron, Flesh and Gold, and Violent Stars. Gotlieb won the Canadian Science Fiction Award for Judgment of Dragons in 1981. In 1987 she co-edited Tesseracts2 with Douglas Barbour.

Her novel Sunburst takes place entirely on Earth, but it hints at what is to come in future works through its whisperings of space travel and introduction to Impers—beings whose minds cannot be penetrated by telepathy. Although there are critics who speak of this novel as unrelated to those that follow, most agree that there are traces of it throughout Gotlieb's work, and her most recent novel, Violent Stars, brings the reader full circle as it traces the beginnings of a galaxy-wide gambling and prostitution ring to Sol-Three—our Earth. From beginning to end, it is obvious that this author has continually centered her work around the idea of planets constantly in turmoil and of the characters of those planets who are set into motion as much to probe the future's potential as to chart the past.

Her poetry, short stories, and novels all look at beings struggling through situations in which the powers that surround them are constantly beating them down, where the hostile environment often wins, an environment in which the reader finds not a happy ending but an ending where the major characters are no better off, and sometimes worse off, at the end of the story than at the beginning. Her work seeks astonishment, terror, ecstasy, speed, power, and dread—all of the elements of real, complex social and metaphysical problems—in a rich, gritty, poetic style.

Her novel Flesh and Gold, considered one of her best, contains a bewildering array of these characters and situations. In this non-linear text, where words such as center, repeat, bubble, curl, swarm, encircle, loop, and cluster resurface continually, the author uses lyrical images, beautifully written, to create various human hybrids and clones that are variations and combinations of things that have existed or do exist in our world and in the world of this author's writings. Here, genres are intertwined, seamlessly weaving the perceived notions of undisciplined, popular science fiction with those of polished, highbrow poetry and thought. Past characters are brought back to life, in a realm where there is no such thing as closure—only circular movement, and prehistoric/futuristic/cyborg beings dip into the minds of those around them in a world of centuries-old mines and ore refineries, guarded ESP, and galactic federation security.

The "streamlined baby allosauruses" known as Khagodi, and the Lyhhrt, fleshy beings, wanting nothing more than to be "lying in a layer with pseudopods entwined under the wet and grey-green skies," were born many worlds (and stories) before we meet them in Flesh and Gold, and again in her latest novel, Violent Stars. They are born and begin their evolutionary process in A Judgment of Dragons, a "novel" comprised of short stories where the later sections, although they each contain a set up, conflict, and denouement, could not coherently stand alone. And they continue to evolve across time and genre because of this author's desire to explore meaning, not in respect to things in a mimetic system of one-to-one correspondence, but relational meaning—meaning built and dissolved through the similarities and differences from other people and worlds.

The Lyhhrt are alive and well in Gotlieb's latest novel as well. Violent Stars is, as all that has come from Gotlieb before, a novel fluid in style, frank in depictions, and adroit in social observations; it is a textual realm where personal and political are symbolically intertwined, where people and worlds continue to be both the same and ever-changing, where we are all always winning and loosing, exploiting and being exploited. It is a novel of intellectually sophisticated interweaving of unresolved stories, stories that are an intricate examination of fate and free will, where past, present, and future all exist simultaneously.

The Lyhhrt, here, as before, stand as an example of Gotlieb's need to slip in and out of time, space, bodies, and scenes, to explore and examine the effects of the past on the future and the future on the past. Her sensitive attention to dialogue, attitude, and poignant realizations in this and all of her work, pulls Gotlieb's readers further and further into a world where themes are subtly drawn, vast technological resources are mobilized to satisfy age-old urges, and science and social problems collide. Her circular movements of the words within the texts, as well as from text to text, lead us through pasts and futures that are palpably real, with continuing concerns, continuing conflicts, and continuing, evolving civilizations. These texts lead us to endings without closure in a vividly imagined universe that we don't want to know but have to work our way through just the same.

—Tammy Bird

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