Fancast Spotlight: Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection

It’s time for the next entry in my Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.

Today, I’m pleased to feature the Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection, a podcast focussed on the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library.

Therefore, I’m happy to welcome Oliver Brackenbury of Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection to my blog.

Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection logo

Tell us about your podcast or channel.

Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection is a podcast where host Oliver Brackenbury (that’s me!) interviews special guests about notable history and new frontiers in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy and horror as found in Toronto’s Merril Collection, the Western Hemisphere’s largest publicly accessible archive of genre materials.

Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?

I host, screenwriter Chris Dickie is the producer, and ultimately the Friends of Merril volunteer group are behind the show. The Friends of Merril are dedicated to spreading awareness of, and otherwise supporting, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy – located on the 3rd floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library system. With over 80,000 spec fic texts going back over two hundred years, it’s a tremendous asset for writers, scholars, and readers, one I’ve benefited from greatly.

Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?

Well, Chris had just joined the Friends and when I asked him if he had anything specific he’d like to try in promoting the Merril, he said he’d been wanting to try podcasting. I’d been wanting to create some kind of shareable promotional content for the Merril, and had plenty of experience with hosting from my old Youtuber days. So, we figured we’d give it a whirl and see if it helped spread awareness of the Merril!

As far as I can tell, it’s certainly helped spread the good word. But we can always do more!

What format do you use for your podcast or channel and why did you choose this format?

We kept it pretty straightforward; Opening music, then I do a little intro of first the show and our guest, then we dive straight into the interview. There I usually ask around ten questions or so and when it feels right, I’ll wrap things up  with a little outro blurb, then there’s music to ride us out. We figured it was best to keep it simple, as it was our first time making a podcast, and to focus on the guest, as each episode is really about the subject in which they’re knowledgeable, not me being in love with the sound of my own voice.

For distribution, we’ve decided to do a seasonal format, in that we’ll record a block of episodes – eight for season one – and only release them once they’re all ready to go. Then it’s once a week, early Monday morning, every week until the season is done.

The reason for this is twofold. First, we’re volunteers who have to negotiate both our own busy lives and the schedules of our guests in order to make the show. A regular, weekly format would be truly difficult unless somebody wanted to pay us to make it our jobs.

Secondly, having them all edited before release also takes the stress off Chris, and releasing them weekly gives the show room to build a little momentum. Think about your streaming habits. How deeply have you gotten into shows that dump everything all at once, versus the weekly model? It’s fun to binge, but the conversation around the show can end in less than a week and I’ll be damned if I don’t have more trouble remembering what happens in shows with that release model than the weekly variety.

Anyway, season two will happen when it happens, but I can safely say that as of this writing we’ve recorded two episodes, have the next recording scheduled, and are aiming for a minimum of eight more episodes. Ideally it’ll start coming out before year’s end.

Lilian H. Smith Toronto Library

The Lilian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library, home of the Merril collection

The fan categories at the Hugos were there at the very beginning, but they are also the categories which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines, fancasts and other fan projects are important?

Well, where the heck are creators (and the multi-media conglomerates that feed off them) without fans? Going all the way back to things like Amra and beyond – wasn’t there a Sherlock Holmes fan group or fifty back in the Victorian age? They must have made some things. – fans have wanted to create works inspired by what they love, and connect with each other. Hell, I’m sure there were some papyrus fanzines going around Ancient Egypt.

Point being that I think fan culture can be unfairly tagged as being ephemeral, but really it’s not and it is important if only for the long history it has, as much as the vital role in supporting creative works and nurturing various social scenes for people to connect with one another.

It’s funny, I have a few friends that voraciously post about their fav bands. I am not into these bands, but I am into how into these bands they are, if that makes sense? As long as it’s expressed in a non-toxic way, passion is inspiring and life-affirming! Ultimately it’s that raw energy that makes fanzines, fancasts, and other fan projects important, I reckon.

In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online and fancasts have sprung up. What do you think the future of fan media looks like?

I’m a terribly unskilled prognosticator, I’m afraid. Funny enough there’s a soon-to-be-retired employee of the Merril Collection who is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of fandom. We’ve all been encouraging her to write a book on the subject, one which I’m sure would look to the future as well. Fingers crossed she does it!

The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?

I’m a big fan of Ngo Vinh-Hoi (@NgoVinhHoi on Twitter), who co-hosts The Appendix N Book Club podcast with Jeff Goad, but also frequently writes columns on the history of Appendix N / Sword & Sorcery works of yesteryear for the blog on

Where can people find you?

Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

Friends of the Merril Collection

Friends of the Merril Collection on Twitter

Oliver Brackenbury’s website

Oliver Brackenbury on Twitter

Thank you, Oliver, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Do check out Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection, cause it’s a great podcast.


Do you have a Hugo eligible fanzine/-site or fancast and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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