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John Robert Colombo

by Robert J. Sawyer

This appreciation was written on June 20, 2006.

John Robert Colombo (born Kitchener, Ontario, 1936, and long resident in Toronto) is Canada's most-significant editor of fantastic literature. His 1979 anthology Other Canadas (McGraw Hill-Ryerson) was the first retrospective collection ever published of Canada's fantasy and science fiction. His 1981 Friendly Aliens (Hounslow Press) was, as the subtitled had it, "Thirteen stories of the fantastic set in Canada by foreign authors." He wrote the first-ever study of Canadian fandom in Years of Light: A Celebration of Leslie A. Croutch (Hounslow, 1982), the seminal Canadian fanzine publisher.

Critical works include the annotated bibliographies CDN SF&F (1979) and Blackwood's Books (devoted to Algernon Blackwood, 1981); he also edited a collection of Blackwood's writings: Algernon Blackwood's Canadian Tales of Terror (2004).

Colombo's other works of fantasy and mystery include: Not to Be Taken at Night (Lester & Orpen Denys, 1981) with Michael Richardson; Mostly Monsters (Hounslow, 1977, reissued 1995); Ghost Stories of Canada (Hounslow, 2000), Close Encounters of the Canadian Kind (C&C, 1994), and Dark Visions (Hounslow, 1992).

It's little wonder that Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink dedicated the anthology Tesseracts 6 to him: "For John Robert Colombo, whose pioneering Other Canadas blazed the trail for all the Canadian SF anthologists who followed." Spider Robinson put it more succinctly: "John Robert Colombo is a national treasure." And of JRC, Ray Bradbury has said: "We are twins."

Colombo is famous coast-to-coast in Canada. He has been called the "Master Gatherer" for his popular compilations of Canadiana; "John 'Bartlett' Colombo" for his dictionaries of Canadian quotations (including Colombo's Canadian Quotations, Famous Lasting Words, and, in 2006, The Penguin Dictionary of Canadian Quotations). He's known as "Mr. Mystery" for his books on the supernatural and the paranormal, and as "Superfan" for his ground-breaking compilations and studies in the field of Canada's fantastic literature. He is co-founder of the Friends of the Merril Collection, the world-class research library of fantastic literature, a special collection of the Toronto Public Library, and he organized the first literary readings at Toronto's Harbourfront, from which the world-famous International Festival of Authors grew.

JRC is renowned a man-of-letters. He has written, compiled, and translated more books than any other serious Canadian author, with more than 190 titles published between 1960 and 2006. He was managing editor of The Tamarack Review during the twenty years in which it was Canada's only ranking literary quarterly. Still vigorous, active, and highly visible at 70, Colombo just finished hosting the six-part TV series Unexplained Canada for Space: The Imagination Station, Canada's counterpart of the Sci-Fi Channel. He is also a widely published poet (with work in such places as The Atlantic Monthly), and has lectured the world over on "Four Hundred Years of Canadian Fantastic Literature."

JRC holds an honorary doctorate from Toronto's York University, and in 2004 he received his country's highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada.

For more information see his website at www.colombo.ca

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