What If...?


A Film about Judith Merril
Produced by Imageries P.B. Ltd., Helen Klodawsky, director, Richard Elson, producer
52 minutes
Released 2001
Filmakers Library

Science fiction writer Judith Merril, who died shortly after the filming, rocketed to success with her first story "That Only A Mother" in 1948. In those years science fiction was considered "junk." Until the50s, space travel had "only macho interest." When women entered the field—and Merril was one of the first—they introduced concepts of interplanetary communication rather than conquest. Merril reminds viewers that the concept of the space program grew out of science fiction—that the wanderings of man's (and woman's) imagination leads to unknown worlds. Today, she says, the gap between imagination and implementation has become very short.

Sociologist Barry Wellman joins with futurist Stanford Beer, author Dennis Lee, and science fiction writer Elisabeth Vonarburg to evaluate Merril's contribution. Judith Merril was in the illustrious company of Arthur Clarke and Carl Sagan in the formation of the Planetary Society, a group to contemplate the universe with science, imagination, and philosophy.

With disheveled gray hair and a mischievous glint in her eye, the first lady of science fiction discloses what brought her to distant galaxies to contemplate the possibilities of space. Even those who are not afficionados of science fiction may want to take another look at the genre after being in the company of this passionate, politically committed, and daringly inventive feminist, a pace setter in her field.