Science Fiction Studies

#37 = Volume 12, Part 3 = November 1985


The Frome Finale

The reason I assumed that David Ketterer had not consulted The Immortal Storm about James Blish and Nils H. Frome was a statement of his at the end of his piece in SFS No. 35: "My researches into the Blish Papers in the New Bodleian Library reveal that in at least one instance, a potentially embarrassing questionnaire that Blish filled out towards the end of his life, he used 'Nilsson Frome' as a pseudonym. Frome, then, became for Blish a shield against recognition, a guarantee of nonentityship. The ploy has ultimately failed. Gradually, Frome is emerging from obscurity, and so is Canadian SF and fantasy" (p. 96). Since my The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom (not "a History of Canadian Fandom" as erroneously stated) mentioned an incident other than the foregoing where Blish used Frome as a pen name, I thought it was reasonable to assume that Ketterer had not read the book; otherwise he would have said: "This is the second incident we have discovered of Blish's using Frome as a pseudonym."                

A bit before that (pp. 94ff.), Ketterer says that he can add to the comments by John Robert Colombo in Years of Light on Frome and those references about him made by Leslie Croutch, Harry Warner, and Colombo, and then he goes on to quote Blish's letter about Frome. He fails here, too, to mention that he can also add to the references in The Immortal Storm. My assumption was that since so little was known generally about Frome, I would flesh out the picture for the interest of Canadian fandom, as well as for any use it might be to Ketterer. (I might add that I published a biography based on a personal interview of Blish in the June 1937 issue of Helios.)                

Colombo has kindly supplied me with a photocopy of an article on Frome from the May, 1983 issue of New Canadian Fandom. Researched by Michael Dann and Brenda Yvonne, it answers with certainty what David Ketterer characterizes as the main outstanding question about Frome: what became of him. (Ironically, this information came to hand before I saw Ketterer's response to my note on Frome, but SFS's printing deadlines precluded my answering him in time for the July issue.)               

As well as definitively disposing of this question, Dann and Yvonne's "Nils Helmer Frome Found and Lost" fills in many details of his life after he left fandom. Their research, whose results I am about to condense, was inspired by an article in the fifth issue of New Canadian Fandom, Taral Wayne's "Same as it Ever Was," which referred to Frome with few specifics and many guesses. The authors resided in Vancouver, and instituted a search for Frome. They located a half-brother (Louie) and his wife (Alice), whom they personally interviewed and who permitted them to examine what personal papers of his remained.               

Between the interview and the papers they discovered that Nils Helmer Frome was born July 10, 1918 in Ratansbryn, lamtland, Sweden. His mother died when he was about a year old, and his father placed him with friends of the family. This family later adopted him, and he was known to them as "Helmer."                

They brought him to Canada in 1924 and eventually settled in Fraser Mills, British Columbia, where he attended Millstead school. He showed an early artistic talent and was a student at the vocational arts school in Vancouver. The fact that he had virtually no close companions throughout his entire life was confirmed. The last address he gave in fandom, Camp 5, Bloedel, British Columbia, was not an army camp but a lumber camp. At that camp Frome worked in the cook-house. He resumed drawing, but predominantly scenes of the camp and historical structures. Frome changed jobs frequently. He had psychological problems in dealing with people and never resolved them or related to others. In his early 20s he developed a drinking problem which intensified as he grew older.                

He was able to avoid armed service during World War II because lumbering and lumbering-related work were considered essential to the war effort. He moved to a camp in Tahsis and resumed drawing buildings of the camp, some of which drawings still exist. At that camp a bowel obstruction resulted in major surgery that hospitalized him for 76 days, beginning in rune, 1953. He was never physically the same and was thereafter unable to perform heavy labor.                

While in the hospital Frome began to draw again, and when released made his major bid to earn a living from his drawing. This took the form of salaried work, which included design work on the restoration of the Cariboo Goldrush town of Barkerville, while working for the Department of Recreation and Conservation in British Columbia. His work was used on the cover and interiors of various regional Canadian magazines, including the Quesnel Advertiser and The North West Digest.

Poor health, drinking, and failing interest resulted in his leaving his position and trying to make a living as a freelance commercial artist in southern British Columbia. He secured a motorcycle and toured the province, taking photos which he would later use as models for some illustrations. He was not entirely unsuccessful doing a regular series of drawings for The British Columbian in New Westminster as well as other newspapers. He made an attempt to have some of his illustrations appear on tourist postcards. Dann and Yvonne report that the quality of the drawings they viewed was good, and his line work-outstanding. His animals were drawn with considerable appeal.                

Forced to finally give up his attempts to make a living as a graphic artist in British Columbia, he returned to Sweden to visit his family. (We assume this is the family of his father.) One year later, his adopted family in British Columbia was notified that Nils Helmer Frome, who had been engaged as an oddjob man and part-time boiler operator for the Hydro Hotel in Llandudno, Caernarvonshire, Wales, was found dead there on March 27, 1962. He was not quite 44 years old and a diary indicated that he had been considering suicide for some time. His finances consisted of a three-penny piece, worth about 10 cents at that period.                

All the foregoing represents the research of Dann and Yvonne. To which I can add this comment: that the life of Frome should be viewed as a great tragedy, proceeding with a frightening inevitability to his final death. Had he been able to take up residence in a publishing center like New York City, he might—between magazine illustrating and the rise of the comic magazines in the '40s—have had a better chance of making a living as an illustrator. While as a fan he was an eccentric, in his widespread correspondence he was unquestionably reaching out for comradeship; and his "loner" attitude to people around him seemed more a failure to find people with similar interests than a psychological fault. -- Sam Moskowitz, Newark, NJ 


Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy

May I add three additional details to David Ketterer's discussion of my contribution to what he calls "The Belated Discovery of Canadian Science Fiction (and Fantasy)"?

                (1) While it is intriguingly true, as Ketterer notes, that "the name `Colombo' contains the same number of the name `Wendigo,"' it is equally true (and no less intriguing) that the name "Ketterer" contains the identical number of syllables.
                (2) One title that is germane that Ketterer did not mention is Windigo: An Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction (Saskatoon, Sask.: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1982), 208 pp. It collects prose and poetry about the Algonkian spirit of cannibalism written between the 1630s and the 1970s. The editor is John Robert Wendigo (or Windigo).
                (3) Modesty may have kept Ketterer from mentioning his own contribution to the field—his impressively detailed article "Science Fiction and Fantasy in English and French," which occupies pages 730 to 739 in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (Toronto: Oxford UP, 1983), edited by William Toye. It is "must" reading. -- John Robert Colombo, Toronto, Ontario 


SF in the USSR: A Call for Papers

SFS is planning a special issue on 20th-century SF in Russian and other languages of the Soviet Union. Contributions of all ideological persuasions and from all countries are welcome on condition that they focus on how the fiction in question functions (however it may interact with other fields). Contributors will be expected to know—though not necessarily agree with—basic surveys of the field. For those reading English only: D. Suvin, Metamorphoses of SF (Yale UP, 1979), chap. 11 (with further bibliography). For those knowing also Russian: D. Suvin, Russian SF 1956-74: A Bibliography (Elizabeth/own, NY: Dragon Press); its "Second Supplement," Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 15 (1981):533-44; and the items by Britikov, Liapunov, Nudelman, and Smelkov listed there. For Russian names please use the "general" English transcription as in the first Suvin book above (e.g., Yefremov and Strugatsky, not Efremov and Strugatskii).                

Papers will only be considered after a fitle and two-page outline of the actual argument (not simply thematic identification) is accepted. Please send this submission to: SFS (aft: Prof. D. Suvin, issue editor)/Dept. of English/McGill University/ Montréal, Québec/Canada H3A 2T6, by Feb. 1, 1986; please include phone number and best hours of presence thereat. There are no thematic taboos, but the following themes will be given preference over works on individual authors and single books (with an exception for the leading post-Strugatsky writers—e.g., Shefner, Varshavsky, Tendryakov, or others listed on p. 2 of the Suvin Russian SF book): basic tendencies and periods (sociological bases, ideologies, typologies, structures); position within "mass" culture—readers, mediators (editors, publishers, critics, State institutions); utopian and anti-utopian horizons; sub-genres; leading topoi and other rhetorical devices; SF literature and/or criticism in the emigration; typological parallels with and/or influences by foreign SF (German in the 1920s, English, Lem); same by other literary genres (fantasy, satire, Kaflkaesque parable, "realism" and "socialist realism"; in particular, fairy tale and SF—how far are they compatible?); allegory and Aesopic language. This list is not a limiting one. The full papers (two typed copies double-spaced, suggested length 10-20 pages, maximum 9,000 words; brief contributions up to four pages also solicited) should have arrived at the above SFS/Suvin address by March 31, 1986. The issue is planned for as early as possible in 1987.—DS


Upcoming Conferences

The University of Reggio Calabria, in collaboration with the (North American) Society for Utopian Studies, will be sponsoring the Second International Conference for Utopian Studies, to take place in Reggio Calabria, May 21-25, 1986.               

Under the overall rubric "Utopian Theories and Utopian Praxes in the Modern and Postmodern Ages," the Conference will comprise the following sections: (1) Politics, economics, labor; 2) Philosophy, law, religion; (3) Sociology, education, behavior; (4) Natural sciences, technology, macro/micro structures; (5) Language and literature (including SF); (6) Architecture, the visual arts, craftsmanship; and (7) Feminism.                

Proposals for papers and requests for further information should be addressed to me, c/o Facoltà di Lettere/Istituto di Filosofia/Università degli Studi/Via Nomentana, 118/00161 Roma/Italy. -- Prof. Giuseppa Saccare Battisti


The Eighth J. Lloyd Eaton Conference, to take place on April 11-13, 1986, will be devoted to "Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction." Prospective participants should address themselves to one of the following topics: (1) Extra (or Intra) Terrestrials; (2) The Alien Among Us; (3) Artificial (?) Intelligence; (4) Aliens and Popular Culture. Papers (10-15 typewritten pages long) should be as wide-ranging and speculative as possible, and should be in the mail in time to reach California by December 15th of this year. Address them (or any further inquiries) to Frank McConnell/English Dept./University of California/Santa Barbara, CA 93106, or to me, c/o University Library/PO Box 5900/University of California/Riverside, CA 92517. -- George Slusser                                                                                                                                                                                    


Miscellaneous Notes

The Society for Literature and Science (SLS) has just been formed to encourage the multi-disciplinary study of the relationships among literature, the arts, science, and technology. SLS welcomes colleagues in science, engineering, computer science, medicine, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, and all other disciplines to become members. If you have an interest- in interdisciplinary studies, would like to read and publish in this area, or want to keep abreast of what colleagues are doing, please consider joining.                

All SLS members will receive a quarterly newsletter containing information on meetings, grants, and publications of interest. Once a year, the newsletter will present the annual bibliography on "Relations of Literature and Science." Members will also receive advance notice of SLS meetings and conferences. Our first conference is scheduled for October 1987, in New England. (For information, write to Stephen Weininger/Chemistry/Worcester Polytechnic Institute [WPI]/Worcester, MA 01609.)                

Basic membership is US$15 annually; contributions beyond this amount are gratefully received (and tax deductible). If you wish to join, please write to me, c/o WPI's Division of Interdisciplinary Affairs. -- Lance Schacterle  

Issue No. 29 of Imagine... (August 1985) contains three short stories: by Jean-Pierre April, Esther Rochon, and Marc Sévigny. It also includes the frst episode of a serial story: "Le ressuscité de l'Atlantide" by Jean-Louis Trudel. There is an interview with J.-P. April as well as articles and news on SF in Québec, in the US, and in France. -- Line Maurel    

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