Everett Bleiler, compiler of the monumental Checklist of Fantastic Literature, died June 13 at the age of 90.
Occasionally the death announcement of a major historical figure in the sf community brings with it the implicit surprise that the person has been alive all along despite having made no news for years. At least, that’s how I reacted to reading that Bleiler passed away. I never met him, however, I heard his name in many fannish conversations over the years, brought up by “completist” collectors who found his Checklist invaluable and aspired to own everything it listed.
The full title was: The Checklist of Fantastic Literature: A Bibliography of Fantasy, Weird and Science Fiction Books Published in the English Language. Shasta Publishers issued it in 1948 with a dramatic cover by artist Hannes Bok. Harry Warner Jr. said in his fanhistory All Our Yesterdays that in the eyes of his contemporaries,
…[T]his was found to be a first-rate accomplishment: a listing of more than 5,000 titles, well-indexed, with essays by Korshak and Bleiler on relevant subjects. Ackerman called it “the single greatest contribution ever made to the field of fantasy enjoyment.”
Seventy people helped assemble the information, beginning by listing the holdings of major collections and later consulting the Library of Congress and the British Museum. Shasta printed 2,000 copies and charged $6.00 — a princely sum in 1948.
If 1940s fans were the people best-equipped to appreciate the magnitude of this project, they also were the people most likely to nitpick the result. Warner himself wrote that the 5,000-title figure included some “books of whimsy or way-out humor rather than genuine fantasy.”
He had some major credits as an editor before going into a corporate publishing career. With T.E. Ditky he edited the first annual Year’s Best anthology series. The Best Science Fiction Stories appeared annually from 1949-54. Later in his career, he produced two massive reference books: SF: The Early Years (1990) and SF: The Gernsback Years (1998).
Then, Bleiler worked at Dover Publications from 1955 to 1977, becoming executive vice president, and after that at Charles Scribner’s Sons until 1986.
Michael Dirda in a post on Washingtonpost.com compared Bleiler to the late Martin Gardner and called him a polymath. Dirda writes:
I myself worked with him once, when he was overseeing reference volumes devoted to supernatural fiction for Scribners. For one, I wrote essays about Balzac, Merimee, Maupassant and the great Jack Vance. When I was going over them with Ev, he was kind and attentive as an editor, but I soon recognized hat he could have done much better pieces right off the top of his head. He was a phenomenon.