The Speculating Canada Website and the Speculating Canada Radio Show on Trent Radio BOTH Won Aurora Awards

Thanks to the support and encouragement of fans, followers, friends, and interviewees, BOTH the Speculating Canada website and the radio show Speculating Canada on Trent Radio won Aurora Awards. These awards wouldn’t have been possible if all of you weren’t willing to go on this adventure into speculation with me, creating a space where we can all ask powerful questions, explore the deep ideas that SF literature evokes, and imagine possibilities. 

Speculating Canada (whether in its web form or over the airwaves) is ultimately a teaching forum. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean that it is sharing facts (as some people assume teaching is), but instead that it recognizes that fans and authors are brilliant people, more than capable of thinking of the deeper ideas and messages in their literature and interrogating those deeper ideas. We as fans and authors know that little secrets – that even though we say our literature is “just a fun read”, it is always so much more because we understand ourselves and our world through stories, and speculative literature always has deeper questions in it. After all, the term Speculative Fiction says it all – it tells us that we are reading a literature of speculation, of questions, and we all know that we learn best by ASKING questions, not by just giving answers to them (because no answer covers everything). So, Speculating Canada is a forum for questions, for pondering, and for learning TOGETHER. I am honoured to be on that journey with each of you.

Many of you already know this, but the Speculating Canada website originated from a couple of factors that tied together. The first of this factors was my experience of my own disability. I have always had learning disabilities relating to memory, but a few years ago, an unrelated health disability began to create further memory issues and in order to keep up with my own research, I started to write larger notes for myself about each of the works I was reading. I have always made notes about what I read to remind myself of ideas I have had while reading fiction, but I started to take more detailled and longer notes… and it occurred to me that these were very much like reviews (well, reviews with a bit of analysis). When I realized that I was essentially already writing reviews, I allied this with my consistent desire to make teaching accessible to those outside of the university classroom. I am able to discuss issues and ideas in literature with the university students in my classroom, but I am also aware that not everyone has the privilege to be in university AND many people want to carry on the types of questions they explored in university long after they graduate. So, Speculating Canada became a place for me to put ideas out there for all of you brilliant people who read this website to participate in. 

When friends of mine and fans of the Speculating Canada website started asking me about different formats for my editorials and interviews, I finally took up Alissa Paxton’s suggestion that I turn Sepculating Canada into a radio show. Alissa was already a long-time participant in Trent Radio and she convinced me to create the show over time by gradulally interviewing me on the air for different special topics and through that she convinced me that the radio wasn’t too scary. The people who run and have shows on Trent Radio 92.7 FM made the experience of having a radio show one that was consistently filled with excitement. 
I went with a “coffee shop chat” style for the radio show because I was tired of hearing interviews of authors that were highly edited to the point that their ideas were reduced to robotic sound clips. I wanted my show to be one where the audience feels like they are right at the table with myself and the authors I interviewed – to let the listener feel like they are part of the conversation, because, dear listeners, you are always in the studio with us conceptionally even if you are listening from a distance. I don’t edit out the “ums”, “wait whats” and “likes” because they allow us to experience the author as an actual human being and allows us to realise that autors say brilliant things even when they are having to think on the fly. The fabulous people I have interviewed have been wonderful at going along with the “coffee shop chat” style of the show, letting themselves have a natural conversation… and, of course, for letting their inner geeks loose and allowing us to be fans together. I want to thank the interviewees for letting me push the interview boundaries by asking them deep questions and inviting them to interrogate and explore the deep questions of their work.

Speculating Canada has always been an opportunity to share my love of Canadian speculative fiction with others but it became so much more than that. It became another forum to teach outside of academia (and when I say “teach” I mean share questions and ideas with other brilliant people and let them know that they are able to interrogate what they are reading). It was a forum for reviews (my little love letters to the authors I adore). It provided me with a space to interview authors and share their brilliance with others – the incredible insights that go into speculative fiction writing. But the most important thing that Speculating Canada became was a community. It allowed me to meet others who are passionate about their SF, who love it and love to think about it. I met some of my most treasured friends through Speculating Canada and I want to thank everyone who has supported it. We are lucky to be part of such an amazing fan community and I feel fortunate that I have found a community to connect with and share with. Thank you to all of you who supported speculating Canada in diverse ways. 

 
 

Photo of the 2015 Aurora Award Winnder courtesy of Do-Ming Lum

 
For those unaware of the Prix Aurora Awards, these awards are Canada’s equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They honour all of the top voted creators of Canadian Speculative Fiction. To find out more about the Aurora Awards, visit their website at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca .

Here is the full list of 2015 Prix Aurora Award winners. I am so pleased to be part of such a distinguished list of brilliant people. 

Best English Novel: A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books

Best English YA Novel: TIE:

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder, Tor Books

Out of This World by Charles de Lint, Razorbill Canada

Best English Short Fiction: “Crimson Sky” by Eric Choi, Analog, July/August

Best English Poem/Song: “A Hex, With Bees” by Tony Pi, Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen, EDGE

Best English Graphic Novel: It Never Rains by Kari Maaren, Webcomic

Best English Related Work: On Spec published by the Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Best Artist: Dan O’ Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and On Spec magazine

Best Fan Publication: Speculating Canada edited by Derek Newman-Stille

Best Fan Music: Kari Maaren, YouTube Channel

Best Fan Organizational: Sandra Kasturi, Chair, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Toronto

Best Fan Related Work: Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating, Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 FM

Prix Aurora Award Winning Website Speculating Canada

Yesterday, much to my excitement, Speculating Canada won the Prix Aurora Award. In the extreme of excitement at the Award Ceremony, I was only able to give part of my acceptance speech, so I wanted to place it here in a format that all of you could read and see so that you can know how much you, the readers, have meant to me, and how much Speculating Canada has come from a collaborative effort on the part of you, the fans and readers, the authors who were willing to push their boundaries during interviews, Dwayne Collins for being willing to be a second reader on my posts, Trent Radio for being willing to facilitate On Air radio interviews with authors, Alissa Paxton for encouraging me to do more radio interviews and for operating the complicated tech that terrifies me, all of the authors and publishers who have sent books for me to review, and all of you friends, family, and loved ones who have been supports throughout this process. Fans, without your excitement and engagement with materials, Speculating Canada would not have come to the attention of the Prix Aurora Awards.

Derek Newman-Stille with the Prix Aurora Award, October 6, 2013. Photo credit Dwayne Collins.

Derek Newman-Stille with the Prix Aurora Award, October 6, 2013. Photo credit Dwayne Collins.

My Acceptance Speech for the Aurora Award, October 6, 2013:

“As a scholar of Canadian Spec Fic as well as a fan, I am really pleased and honoured to be included in the Prix Aurora Awards. Speculating Canada came out of a unique set of experiences and fit with so many things that I value strongly. I designed the site because I was having memory difficulties due to disability and since I was writing synopses on the books I was reading for my own purposes, I thought I would share these in order to fulfill my personal goal of sharing the notion that SF literature can be  pedagogical. It can open questions in the minds of readers and help them to challenge status quos.

“I recognised the incredible vision of SF authors, their ability to see things from a different angle that evokes the need and ability in readers to similarly see things differently and question what they see in the world around them. Speculating Canada purposely mixes reviews with a little bit of lit crit to empower readers with the notion that they can all critically read texts, question and interrogate them and find out more than a surface reading might reveal. I want readers to know that they are intelligent, deeply mindful people who have value and can really contribute something to the experience of reading. I also wanted to acknowledge the incredible ability of our SF authors to see the depths of the world around them, which is why I ask more critical questions of authors, asking them to interrogate not just their writing process, but what it reflects of their inner and outer worlds.

“I owe a lot to the fans of Speculating Canada and the SF authors that I have spoken to for helping to shape Speculating Canada and for making it into a space where everyone can enter into a conversation about Canadian Spec Fic. I want to thank everyone who has participated in Speculating Canada and those who will participate in the future and help to continue to shape this intertextual and interpersonal conversation.”

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille giving his acceptance speech at the Prix Aurora Award Ceremony. Photo credit Kelsi Morris (thank you Kelsi)

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille giving his acceptance speech at the Prix Aurora Award Ceremony. Photo credit Kelsi Morris (thank you Kelsi)

Thank you to all of you, and thank you particularly to those of you who were able to attend the Prix Aurora Award ceremony and who made it such an incredible experience through your cheers and your excitement. I was far too excited after hearing your cheers to be able to say my whole acceptance speech, but you made sure that this will be an experience I will never forget and one that I will treasure throughout my life. I am honoured to call you friends.

I had the incredible opportunity of sharing the stage with incredible authors… people who I often become a fan boy around. Here is a list of the winners of this year’s Prix Aurora Awards:

Novel: The Silvered – Tanya Huff

Accepting the Aurora Award. Photo Credit - Dwayne Collins

Accepting the Aurora Award. Photo Credit – Dwayne Collins

YA Fiction: Under my Skin, The Wildlings – Charles de Lint

Short Fiction: The Walker of the Shifting Borderland – Douglas Smith

Poem / Song: A Sea Monster Tells His Story – David Clink

Graphic Novel: Weregeek – Alina Pete

Related Work: Hayden Trenholm – Blood and Water

Artist: Erik Mohr – Cover Art for ChiZine Publications

Fan Publication: Speculating Canada Blog – Derek Newman-Stille

Fan Filk: Kari Maaren – Body of Work

Fan Organizational: Randy McCharles – When Worlds Collide

Fan Related Work: Ron Friedman – Aurora Awards Voter Package

Thank you to all of you who were involved in the Prix Aurora Awards for all of your hard work and dedication to Canadian Speculative Fiction.

Can Con October 4-6th in Ottawa

As many of you know, Speculating Canada has made the short list for a Prix Aurora Award. The awards will be announced this year at Can Con http://www.can-con.org/ in Ottawa on the weekend of October 4-6th. So, if there is any way that you can get out to Ottawa, you will have a great time and it would be great to meet those of you that I haven’t met yet and have a chance to talk again to those of you that I have met at other conferences and conventions. This will also be a great place for you to meet some of the award winning authors from this year’s Prix Aurora Awards.

If you haven’t been to Can Con before, it is a Conference On Canadian Content In Speculative Arts And Literature. It is a blend of a fan convention, a meeting of authors, and an academic conference. It has something of interest to everyone and is a great opportunity for people to engage in a wide variety of different ways with the SF community.

There will be discussion panels, author readings, book launch parties, and general fun (and of course, opportunities to really express your love of Speculative Fiction with like-minded people).

I am fortunate enough to be on 4 different panels this year:

Spirit Possession in Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction Poetry

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability in Canadian SF

Let’s Get Fantastic: LGBTQ and Queer Speculative Fiction

(The latter two were proposed by me).

I hope that many of you are able to attend the conference and have a chance to talk about Canadian Speculative Fiction in person. Check out Can Con at http://www.can-con.org/ .

Check out how many of your favourite authors and academics will be around for you to talk to!

Malicious Math

A review of Matt Moore’s “Delta Pi” (from Torn Realities, Post Mortem Press: 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Matt Moore’s “Delta Pi” is an Aurora-nominated short story that plays with the idea that math can be a spell as powerful as any invocation. Math is a language, a coded system, and reality imposes strict rules upon it, but math is also something that is seen to govern reality, a system that provides guidelines for interpreting the world. What happens when those guidelines shift? What happens when technology changes the basics of math? Does reality itself shift? “Delta Pi” explores technology that fundamentally questions and alters the nature of Pi, the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of every circle’s circumference to its diameter. When that number shifts, when technology alters it, the world, a fundamentally circular space changes and shifts. Our universe is left in a state of question when things that are structured as constants begin to change – the altered Pi is a gateway to the unknown.

Matt Moore sets his story at a research lab where new technology is being tested. His protagonist is a teacher for the children of the lab techs and researchers in the experimental lab attached to the school. Gradually, through an experiment with the children, he finds out that Pi is shifting, the number ramping up from 3.14159 to 3.26, and then to 3.71… the coding underlying the universe’s constants is changing and this could have meaning for the entirety of reality. Moore explores the danger of experimentation and the power of math as a coded system, a language that has the capability for describing the nature of reality.

In particular, Matt Moore’s protagonist fascinated me because of his disability, since few SF narratives deal in depth with disability. His disability is not revealed until later in the story unlike many narratives about disabled people that generally reveal disability early on and structure the entire person and their personality around their body. The significance of his protagonist’s disability is revealed most prevalently when the plot makes it relevant – when the nature of the circle, and thus the wheels on his wheelchair, are fundamentally shifted.

To find out more about Matt Moore, you can visit his site at www.mattmoorewrites.com . To find out more about the Prix Aurora Awards, visit their website at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/

Final Voting for Speculating Canada for the Prix Aurora Awards

Dear Readers,

As many of you know, Speculating Canada made it to the short list for the Prix Aurora Awards. This is a huge accomplishment that is largely due to the work of fans and readers of the site and the brilliant authors that I have had the incredible opportunity to interview. I have been honoured to be able to facilitate incredible discussions about Canadian Speculative Fiction here on Speculating Canada.

If you have enjoyed Speculating Canada so far, and you would like it to win a Prix Aurora Award, please consider voting for it now that it has made the finalist list. You can vote for the final nominees of the Prix Aurora Awards at this link http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/Membership/ .

Original Art By Derek Newman-Stille  http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca/

Original Art By Derek Newman-Stille
http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca/

There is a $10 membership fee to sign up to vote for the awards, but this fee is used to continue the awards and the amazing work that they do and gives you access as a member of the CSFFA for a calendar year.

Readers and participants in Speculating Canada, thank you again for all of your support.

Spec Can made the short list for a Prix Aurora Award

Dear Readers,

I have exciting news – Speculating Canada has made the short list for the Prix Aurora Awards. I am excited to see that Speculating Canada has made such an impact and that people are excited about the unique way that Spec Can explores Canadian SF.

I want to thank everyone who has participated in various ways in shaping Speculating Canada into what it is today. Speculating Canada has been very collaborative, growing out of the support, encouragement, and suggestions of readers. I have been very lucky to have very incredible Canadian SF authors and publishers take interest in Spec Can and am fortunate that so many of them have sent me books to review that I would not have otherwise encountered. I also want to thank all of those who I have interviewed for their incredible insights, general brilliance, and for giving me the exciting experience of chatting with them about things that I am really passionate about.

Here is the Short List for the Prix Aurora Awards:
http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/2013-aurora-award-ballot/

 

I am excited to say that a few of the authors on the short list are people that I consider to be friends and that there are several works that Speculating Canada has reviewed this year that have made the short list. Here are a few links to reviews of items on the Prix Aurora Awards short list:

Karen Dudley’s Food For The Gods

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/xena-meets-iron-chef/

Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/true-norse-strong-and-free/

Leah Bobet’s Above

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/empowering-the-freak/

Douglas Smith’s The Walker of the Shifting Borderland

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-speculative/

Sandra Kasturi and Halli Villegas’ Imaginarium 2012

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/imagining-canadian-speculative-fiction/

Helen Marhsall’s Hair Side, Flesh Side

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/textual-bodies/

On Spec

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/transformative-art/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-speculative/

 

Thank you all for your continued support. I am so pleased that Speculating Canada has allowed me to connect with so many amazing and brilliant people.

Derek Newman-Stille

Interview with Robert J. Sawyer

An Interview with Robert J. Sawyer
By Derek Newman-Stille

I recently had the opportunity to meet Robert J. Sawyer at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. We only had time for a short chat since both of us had a great deal of events on our plates, so I wanted to have the chance to do a full interview with Mr. Sawyer here on Speculating Canada and give him the chance to provide some of his insights to readers.

Author photo courtesy of Robert Sawyer

Author photo courtesy of Robert Sawyer

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Robert J. Sawyer: My friend David Gerrold and I had a discussion a few years ago, when we were both giving talks in Istanbul, about how one should answer that question. My answer is, “I’m a Canadian science-fiction writer.” David contends that’s what I do, not who I am—but I don’t agree. Over the last few years, I’ve given up using the very nice office in my home and moved to writing in my living room, because I simply don’t make a distinction between work and the rest of my life. Besides, being a science-fiction writer is too much fun to actually be termed “work.”

I was born in Ottawa in 1960, grew up in Toronto, and now live in Mississauga. I write a novel a year, and have been doing so consistently since my first, Golden Fleece, came out in 1990. I’m fortunate enough to be one of only eight writers ever to have won all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which I won for Hominids), the Nebula (which I won for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which I won for Mindscan). Oh, and the ABC TV series FlashForward was based on my novel of the same name, and I was one of the scriptwriters for that show.

Most recently—and of interest to Canadians—I was lucky enough to win three consecutive Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (“Auroras”), one for each volume of my WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder. Humanist Canada just gave me their first-ever Humanism in the Arts Award, the Governor-General’s office just awarded me a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the RTA School of Media at my alma mater, Ryerson University, just named me one of the 12 initial inductees to their Wall of Fame. They say a prophet—if a science-fiction writer may be termed that—is never honoured at home, but that certainly hasn’t been my experience.

Spec Can: A lot of your written work shows an interest in anthropology and paleontology (such as Hominids, Humans, Hybrids, and Red Planet Blues). What inspired your interest in these fields? Why do they speak to you?

Cover photo for Red Planet Blues courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Cover photo for Red Planet Blues courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer: Ever since I was a pre-schooler, I’ve been fascinated by paleontology, and especially dinosaurian paleontology—so much so, that right up until halfway through my last year of high school, I intended to make a career out of being a paleontologist, and was accepted to study that field at the University of Toronto.

I love studying ancient life for the same reason I love the notion of extraterrestrial life: they’re alien beings. Not only is that cool in and of itself, but both are highly speculative areas: in paleontology, we try to puzzle out what dinosaurs might have looked like, and extrapolate from elusive clues what their reproductive strategies, diets, and social structures might have been like. In astrobiology, we go even further, trying to figure out what extraterrestrial intelligences might be like from first principles, without a single actual specimen to study.

My focus on these issues has led me to have a wonderful relationship with the SETI Institute, by the way; I’m the only science-fiction novelist who was invited to their two public SETICon symposia, and their chief astronomer, Seth Shostak, often has me as a guest on the SETI Institute’s radio program “Big Picture Science.” In turn, I named a genus of Martian fossil Shostakia in Red Planet Blues.

The foremost Canadian paleontologist is the dinosaur specialist Philip Currie, currently at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and the CBC, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, and others have been kind enough to call me the foremost Canadian science-fiction writer. But Phil always wanted to be a science-fiction writer, and I always wanted to be a dinosaur expert. It tickles us both that in some alternate timeline, he’s me, and I’m him.

As for my fascination with anthropology, and especially paleoanthropology, again, it mirrors my interest in extraterrestrial intelligence. A Neanderthal or an individual of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster is fundamentally much more alien than, say, a Vulcan or a Bajoran. Figuring out what the cognitive processes and lifestyles of our cousins or ancestors might have been like is as thrilling as any detective story.

Spec Can: There is an upcoming conference in your honour called “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre”. What makes SF so interdisciplinary? How does it extend beyond traditional genre boundaries?

Robert J. Sawyer: Yes, indeed. This September, McMaster University is hosting this conference, which will surely be the largest academic conference ever held devoted to Canadian science fiction and fantasy, in honour of the donation of my archives to that institution. I am totally thrilled about that. The paper proposals that have come in are amazing.

I’ve often said that science fiction is the literature of intriguing juxtapositions. Where else will you find, say, quantum computing and paleoanthropology sparking off each other, as they do in my Hominids, or information theory, primate communication, and Chinese politics jointly driving the plot, as they do in my novels Wake, Watch, and Wonder?

Cover photo for Watch courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Cover photo for Watch courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

For a large number of my books, I’ve focused on consciousness studies, which is the most interdisciplinary area of all: neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, artificial-intelligence researchers, evolutionary biologists, philosophers, theologians, and so on, all have places at the table in debates about the nature of consciousness, and those clashing perspectives have fueled my novels The Terminal Experiment, Factoring Humanity, Hominids and its sequels, Mindscan, Wake and its sequels, Triggers, and the novel I’m writing now, tentatively titled The Philosopher’s Zombie.

Most other genre fiction is plot-driven; at its best, science fiction is thematically driven, and the high-level exploration of a theme—does God exist, do we have free will, what are our ethical responsibilities to other intelligences that already exist or that we might create?—demands an interdisciplinary approach.

Spec Can: Many of your novels blend or bend genres. What are some of the genre-bending novels you have most enjoyed writing? Why were you interested in pushing genre boundaries?

Robert J. Sawyer: People who don’t read science fiction tend to think of it as a very narrow category: space opera, and not much more. But it provides the widest possible canvas: all of space, all of time, all forms of life. And beyond that, it let’s you tell any kind of story, including courtroom drama (as I did in Illegal Alien), romance (Rollback), thriller (Triggers), and noir detective fiction (Red Planet Blues). Calgary critic Hugh Graham observed recently that it’s almost impossible to believe that Triggers and Red Planet Blues—so different from each other in style and voice—were written by the same person; that pleased me immensely.

I push genre boundaries for three reasons. First, because I don’t actually believe in the boundaries; our genre distinctions come out of American bookselling, and the attempt to organize the shelves in a store—it’s entirely artificial, and of little artistic interest.

Second, because it keeps me fresh. If I’d been a mystery-fiction writer, I’d very likely be doing my twenty-third novel about my ongoing series detective character; instead, I’ve gotten to write twenty-three very different novels, and that’s very artistically satisfying. I enjoy stretching different muscles with each new work.

And third, because it makes sound business sense. It’s a way to grow my audience, bringing in people who don’t think they’d like science fiction. I love that Penguin Canada publishes my books under their mainstream Viking imprint, and I’m so proud that first Waterloo Region and then the County of Brant chose books by me for their community-wide reading programs (Hominids in Waterloo; Rollback in Brant—which includes Paris, Ontario, and environs), and that I’m currently a finalist for the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award for best Canadian-authored fiction or nonfiction book of 2012 (for Triggers). That’s a reach way beyond what an author who stayed comfortably within the SF box would ever normally get.

Spec Can: What is distinctly Canadian about the characters and/or worlds you create? How does your Canadian identity influence your writing?

Robert J. Sawyer: My novels are mostly set in Canada, have Canadian protagonists, revel in Canada’s diversity, and deal with Canadian themes. I’m a pacifist, and Canada is a country of peacekeepers, not aggressors—and you see that very much in my books. I’m firmly committed to diversity, and I reflect Canada’s multiculturalism in everything I write—and I’m so proud to twice have been nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, which honours works that positively portray gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered lifestyles. As the Globe and Mail has said, “Sawyer sells so well in Canada because of his celebration of our culture; citizens seek him out for both a good story and affirmation of our identity. By writing about us, he has pried himself loose from the SF purgatory and onto the bestseller lists.”

Spec Can: What distinguishes Canadian SF from that of other nationalities?

Robert J. Sawyer: How’s this for an answer: its quality.

On April 29, 2013, which happens to be my 53rd birthday, I’ll be celebrating my 30th anniversary as a full-time professional writer, something that’s only been possible because of Canada’s wonderful socialized healthcare. Malcolm Gladwell—himself a Canadian—wrote the great nonfiction book Outliers, in which he documents at length how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world-class at something. We Canadian writers, because we don’t have to be shackled to a nine-to-five to get health insurance, often get those hours under our belts decades before our American colleagues do, and you see that reflected in how many Canadians show up on the Hugo ballot year after year—in numbers all out of proportion to Canada’s population size.

Spec Can: Where do you think Canadian SF is heading for here? What does the future of Canadian SF look like?

Robert J. Sawyer: We’ve long had a vigorous tradition of small-press SF publishing in Canada, and that’s going to continue. But I also think the big presses are going to start doing more and more honest-to-goodness science fiction. Penguin Canada was a trendsetter when it acquired me back in 2007, prompting the Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire to opine, “When Penguin Canada snatched up domestic rights to science fiction giant Robert J. Sawyer, it felt like the Canuck industry was finally waking up to an entire genre.” And it has. You no longer have to go to US publishers to make real money writing science fiction in this country, and that’s all to the good.

Spec Can: What new questions or ideas can SF open in the minds of readers? How can SF challenge the status quo?

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer: SF is a subversive genre, and always has been. Sometimes it’s done with metaphors and disguises; I certainly did that in Hominids, which is as much about contrasting Canadian and American values as it is about contrasting those of Homo sapiens sapiens and Neanderthals. And sometimes it just stands up and does that. Page one of my novel Calculating God, published in 2000, says this:

The alien’s shuttle landed out front of what used to be the McLaughlin Planetarium, which is right next door to the Royal Ontario Museum, where I work. I say it used to be the planetarium because Mike Harris, Ontario’s tightfisted premier, cut the funding to the planetarium. He figured Canadian kids didn’t have to know about space—a real forward-thinking type, Harris. After he closed the planetarium, the building was rented out for a commercial Star Trek exhibit, with a mockup of the classic bridge set inside what had been the star theater. As much as I like Star Trek, I can’t think of a sadder comment on Canadian educational priorities.

A few Canadians objected to that, saying political commentary doesn’t belong in science fiction. They’re dead wrong, in my view. Going right back to H.G. Wells, it’s always been a vehicle for political comment.

Spec Can: What can SF do that “realist” fiction can’t?

Robert J. Sawyer: First, it’s important to stress that SF can do everything that mimetic fiction can: it can move you to tears, it can make you laugh out loud, it can explore character psychology in exquisite detail, it can dazzle you with stylistic experimentation and beautiful prose.

But on top of that, it can also get you to think about issues you haven’t thought about since late-night dorm-room bull sessions decades ago. All the topics we’re told to avoid in day-to-day life—politics, religion, sex, and alternative approaches to those things—are the core subject matter of speculative writing, whereas they are ignored in much mainstream fiction.

Spec Can: Your work often deals with the interconnection and collision of ideas of past, present, and future. What inspires your interest in the interrelationship between past, present, and future?

Robert J. Sawyer: I don’t write in a linear fashion—I never start at page one and go to page last; rather, I bop back and forth throughout the narrative as I’m constructing it. That reflects my belief that time itself isn’t really linear.  Now is now solely because you and I happen to—for the moment—agree on that point.  But here, a few seconds later, is the new now, oh, and look—here comes another now! Time is endlessly fascinating to me simply because it’s so often not thought about at all by most people, and because we know so little about its nature.

Spec Can: What inspired you to write SF?

Robert J. Sawyer: A confluence of things: seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in a theatre in 1968 when I was eight years old; seeing a bit of the original Star Trek on TV; the Supermarionation TV shows of Gerry Anderson; growing up as the Apollo space program was happening; and reading the first few science-fiction books I encountered: Oliver P. Butterworth’s The Enormous Egg; The Runaway Robot, putatively by Lester del Rey but actually ghostwritten by Paul W. Fairman; Trouble on Titan by Alan E. Nourse; Space Skimmer by the same David Gerrold I mentioned in the answer to your first question; and the Asimov collection The Rest of the Robots —which, at twelve years old, I thought was about robots taking a break, not realizing that it was the leftover stories that weren’t in I, Robot.

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

I enjoyed all of those books enormously, and wanted to try my hand at creating my own stories. Ironically, of them all, the one that’s mostly not thought of as an SF book—The Enormous Egg—is the one that probably influenced me most, with its contemporary setting, its focus on paleontology, and its satiric bent.

Spec Can: Do your characters ever take you to places you didn’t intend to go? Do they take on personalities of their own?

Robert J. Sawyer: No, not really. They have the personalities I give them; I’m a craftsperson, and they’re carefully constructed pieces of my craft. I think they’re highly realistic, but they’re not voices in my head; heck, if I did start hearing voices, I hope I’d have the good sense to go see a psychiatrist.

Spec Can: What new technological advances most interest and excite (or frighten) you as an author of Speculative Fiction?

Robert J. Sawyer: The digitizing, copying, uploading, and modifying of human consciousness—which is one of the core topics I explore in my latest novel, Red Planet Blues.

I want to thank Mr. Sawyer for his incredible insights, particularly about the subversive nature of Canadian SF. If you haven’t had the chance yet, check out Robert J. Sawyer’s website at http://www.sfwriter.com/ .

Also, Mr. Sawyer mentioned above the conference Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre. If you are interested, you can explore it at http://www.sfwriter.com/cfp.htm . A conference on Canadian SF, could there be anything more fun?