Interview with Alison Sinclair

An interview with Alison Sinclair by Derek Newman-Stille

I consider myself very fortunate to have both done research on Alison Sinclair’s work, publishing a paper on the representation of disability in her Darkborn series and now to have had a chance to speak with her directly about her work and share her insights here on Speculating Canada. I hope that you enjoy this opportunity to delve into her creative process and to explore the power that good SF has to question the status quo.legacies_cover_h200

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Alison Sinclair: I was born in the UK, but after that if you ask me where I come from you get an itinerary. Went pretty much from the cradle to science, was a bench scientist for a number of years, gave up the bench for medicine, then medicine for clinical research. Currently I work in health technology assessment. Wrote almost from the time I could put sentences together – got my first rejection when I was nine, having sent my first ‘novel’ to a New York publisher. I wish I still had that letter, or the opus itself, for that matter, but it got lost in one of our moves (there’s always that one box). It only took me twenty-five years to get published, which was Legacies, followed by Blueheart and Cavalcade. Followed by moves and market shifts, which led to a publishing gap until Darkborn, though two of the novels I wrote during the gap are now coming out from Bundoran Press.

Spec Can: What are some of the questions you hope that your speculative fiction writing will evoke?

Alison Sinclair: I have to admit I don’t think about audience while I’m writing. Part of it is that it’s such a challenge to make coherent such a complex structure as a story to myself, never mind anyone else. I’ve made people laugh by complaining that I’m not a verbal writer, but it’s true: once a piece of writing is advanced, I get characters speaking in my head – sometimes they won’t be quiet – but what I’m trying to capture in words is something best described as a shape and a tone, a set of tensions and balances, something entirely non verbal.

And to be honest, thinking about audience means that I run the risk of the inner censor being activated, and my inner censor is scary.

Spec Can: In what ways does your interest in science and medicine complement your interest in writing Speculative Fiction?

Alison Sinclair: The two of them grew up together, side by side. Science fiction gave me ideas (realistic or otherwise) of what being a scientist was and was like, long before I met my first working scientist, never mind set foot in a lab. (I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.) Fantasy – particularly portal fantasy – appealed to the explorer in me. Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories. At the time I wanted to be a geologist, so I built from the geology up.

Spec Can: One of the things I really enjoy about your Darkborn Trilogy is that you illustrate the fact that if half of our society were blind, we would have to accommodate blindness. It is only because the blind population is smaller that we are able to ignore them. In what ways do you hope that your work will question the social construction of disability and help readers to ask why we aren’t accommodating blindness and other disabilities?

Alison Sinclair: One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it. I want the alternate frame to be completely convincing: of course that’s the way it is. The influence of too much physics, I suspect, when one way of simplifying the equation to the point you could get on with solving it is find a suitable reference frame!

Spec Can: What inspired you to examine the topic of blindness and disability in the Darkborn Trilogy?

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's "Darkborn" courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s “Darkborn” courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Alison Sinclair: I got the seeds for the Darkborn/Lightborn division while I was reading a fantasy novel where the whole light/dark imagery and good/evil division was overt. So the two seeds were making the division literal, and making the ‘dark’ side the heroes. Since the Darkborn were nocturnal, vision didn’t seem useful to them – although having grown up in the UK, I did allow them fire. (Barbara Hambly can have her characters shiver through entire novels, but I’ve shivered through enough winters without wanting to relive it.) Then I tried to work myself into Darkborn perspective where blindness was their norm. However, I knew that many successful nocturnal species had specific adaptations to let them function in poor light or darkness – exceptional low light vision, sonar (bats), electroreception (fish in murky waters). Hence, the Darkborn got sonn, although I took considerable liberties with its original model.

Spec Can: What were some of the challenges that came up when you were creating a world where half of the population was blind? How were you able to explore this notion? What sort of world-building techniques did you use? 

Alison Sinclair: To the Darkborn, their limits are problems to be solved by technology and social organization. I wrote them as highly inventive and willing to take considerable risks to extend their reach. Hence, distance travel by train, which does not require steering, and the use of a system of bells for inshore navigation—though having kayaked in fog, I share Telmaine’s opinion of Darkborn in boats. Since they own their world, and are technologically more advanced than the Lightborn, they can engineer it according to their needs. The most challenging aspect of their lives is not directly that they are blind but that direct sunlight is lethal to them; sonn is no protection there. They have very accurate clocks and a complex system of social, legal and technological responses to that danger that have developed over centuries, and that they now take for granted.

When I was writing from the point of view of Darkborn, I found I had to explore a different vocabulary, one of shapes and textures. I have a fairly good spatial sense, so I was able to imagine myself into the spaces my characters were moving around in, and write from that perspective. When writing interactions between characters, I had to lose the language of eye contact, and to a certain extent, facial expression. Passive observation is difficult for Darkborn – it can be done, but it’s a skill – and most Darkborn have to use sonn, so that the object of their observation is aware of them. Sneaking around is difficult, too, as I found when Ishmael was trying to get to speak to Tercelle.

Spec Can: In the Darkborn Trilogy, you explore the topic of stigma, particularly the stigma attached to being able to perform magic. What inspired your interest in stigma? Was there a particular social stigma that informed your perspective on stigma?

Alison Sinclair: I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it. I suspect it’s also because my background is Scots Presbyterian, with an ingrained assumption everything in life must be paid for, usually in suffering.

Since with the Darkborn I was drawing in broad strokes from the Victorians, I included their emphasis on propriety and social order. Everything about magic threatens that social order – it is unregulated power, independent of wealth, social class, or gender. Very awkwardly, mages crop up in the best of families, and even weak magic, like Ish’s, reveals what lies underneath the social facade. Stronger mages can use their magic to coerce others into acting contrary to their wishes and interests – which is where they find an enemy in the otherwise fair Archduke. The usual forms of might and authority cannot defend against it. Mages like the Broomes’ commune have been partially protected by polite society’s choosing to ignore their existence, a tacit agreement that if they don’t trespass or threaten the power structure, they’ll be let alone – And stigmatized groups, as we know from history, have many uses to the larger society. By the end of Shadowborn, of course, that compact is thoroughly broken. One of these years, I’ll have to write the fallout on both sides of the Shadowborn insurrection. What I need to do is think about the plot, beyond and then there were consequences.

Spec Can: Gender features strongly as a topic in your work, particularly the relationship between women and men and the roles that society forces on them. What inspired you to explore gender and why is it so significant in your work?

Alison Sinclair: In my three earlier SF novels, and in my earlier writing life generally, my attitude was best summarized as, ‘I moved here to get away from all that.’ As a reader, I enjoyed the exploration of gender roles, even grim ones, like Charnas’ A Walk to the End of the World – I went straight from Wyndham, Clarke and Asimov to the social and feminist SF of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties – but I lived with it in every day life and had no desire to live with it in my novels. When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable. And then along came the Darkborn. I suspect it betrays my underlying attitudes and assumptions about fantasy, that one cannot escape the historical models. For the Darkborn, property, propriety and inheritance are paramount, and at least at the top of society, they have strict ideas of male and female roles and responsibilities. Rather than going the route of having a woman who rebels, I made Telmaine one who would not have questioned her place (which is, after all, near the top of the social pecking order), except that she has magic, and it forces her to an awareness and a series of choices she would not otherwise willingly make.

Spec Can: What can fantasy and science fiction novels do to bring attention to social issues and critique the status quos that we perpetuate in our society?

Alison Sinclair: My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable. Critiquing implies accepting the constraints of the present day. For that, there is mainstream literature, which has a superb tradition of it (though I have the sense that the novel as social critique has fallen out of favour in mainstream literature. Maybe SF/F is being asked to make up the deficit …). In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it. And even if fantasy looks to historical models, those cover several millennia of human experience in finding solutions to the problem of how to get along with each other (or not), and building families, societies, civilizations and great works of art or atrocity.

I also think the exploration of alternatives is particularly important, given its appeal to young adults, who are still developing the intellectual tools for critique, but who respond strongly to the aspirational aspect. You can see that in the number of people who work in space exploration, or in science in general, who trace the origin of their ambitions to Star Trek or early SF, and by readers’ responses to Jo Walton’s Among Others, in which the protagonist envisions and constructs a different life for herself through reading, primarily of SF.

Spec Can: Is there something particularly Canadian about the way that you explore identity in your work? What aspects of your Canadian identity do you see showing up in your writing?

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's Lightborn courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s Lightborn courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Alison Sinclair: The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations. I entered Canadian society at an age when I was just learning the customs of the world outside my family, and re-entered it in my teens, when I was starting to learn to negotiate the adult world. I came from a society where accent and vocabulary were basic markers of origin and class, which more than anything else determined inclusion/exclusion. As a newcomer to Canada, I had an accent that set me apart, and a different vocabulary. As a small, memorable example, I spent my first morning at a new school in near agony because I did not know the proper way to ask to be excused to go to the washroom – and at eight, that could make or break you socially. Words had different meanings, the tiny taboos of school society were different – though the punishments for breaking them were as cruel – boundaries were different, manners were different … The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds. That’s Lian in Legacies, Rache in Blueheart, everybody in Cavalcade, Erien in Throne Price, Ish and to a lesser extent, Balthasar in the Darkborn novels, and Teo in my upcoming novel, Breakpoint: Nereis.

Spec Can: What is the appeal of magic? Why do you think readers keep being fascinated by the idea of magic?

Alison Sinclair: Well, there is the pure power fantasy, but I think there’s also the fascination with the idea of working one’s will on the real world, of escaping physical boundaries. And for the imagination, there’s the opportunity to come up with an entire magical system, all its rules, properties and symbols, from scratch, and be able to unify it thematically with the rest of the book. How often do SF writers get to rewrite the rules of the universe to suit themselves? I admit I spent a certain amount of time staggering around punch-drunk with I can do anything, before writerly discipline set in and I had to start thinking about logic and consequences.

I want to thank Alison Sinclair for this fantastic interview and for all of her insights, as well as for writing enlightening fiction that questions social norms. You can explore her work at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .

 

Advertisements

Upcoming interview with Alison Sinclair on Friday February 21st

Scientist involved in medical research and Science Fiction and Fantasy author, Alison Sinclair is an author with diverse interests. I was lucky enough to encounter her work when it was recommended to me by a colleague, Cathy Schoel, because of my research on disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction. Sinclair’s Darkborn series features a world where half of the population is blind, and as someone who is interested in representations of disability, I found this absolutely fascinating. She was able to challenge a lot of the assumptions about disability in our world, posing questions to readers about the treatment of people with disabilities. I consider myself very fortunate to have now had the opportunity to talk to Alison Sinclair after looking at her work through a disability studies lens.

In our  upcoming interview on Friday February 21st, Alison Sinclair talks about silencing the inner censor that can prevent creative explorations, the relationship between science and science fiction, the power of good fiction to alter people’s assumptions and frame of reference, developing a complete fantasy world by exploring a different environment and different people’s norms, effectively writing a blind culture and considering the social relationships of disability, the dramatic and character development potential inherent in stigma, and the uses and abuses of stigmatised people by those in control. Sinclair discusses the power of Speculative Fiction to question taken for granted social norms and propose alternatives to the way we view the work.

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's "Darkborn" courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s “Darkborn” courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Alison Sinclair: “I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.”

Alison Sinclair: “Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories.”

Alison Sinclair: “One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it.”

Alison Sinclair: “I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable.”

Alison Sinclair: “My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable.”

Alison Sinclair: “In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations.”

Alison Sinclair: “The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds.”

I hope that you enjoy our upcoming interview and all of the questions that Sinclair raises about the relationship between speculative fiction and society.

If you have not had a chance to read Alison Sinclair’s work yet, you can explore her website at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .

You can check out a review of her novel Darkborn at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/blind-magic/

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? 

Upcoming Interview with Robert J. Sawyer On Friday, April 12.

I recently met Robert J. Sawyer at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts and had the opportunity to invite him to do an interview here on Speculating Canada. For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Sawyer’s work, he has been, at various points in his career, the recipient of all three of the world’s top awards for science fiction writing: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award as well as the Canadian Aurora awards, the Humanism in the Arts Award, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

Author photo courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer

On April 12, Robert J. Sawyer and I will be talking about the separation between life and SF writing, extraterrestrial intelligence and astrobiology, the distinct nature of Canadian SF, the interdisciplinarity of SF, and SF’s ability to ask complex questions. He is a science fiction writer who has as much interest in the past as he does in the future and lets that interest speak to his SF work. Mr. Sawyer experiments with the SF genre, infusing it with elements from courtroom dramas, detective fiction, romance, and thrillers.

Here are some teasers from our upcoming interview

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.’”

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “I’ve often said that science fiction is the literature of intriguing juxtapositions.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.”

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.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “SF is a subversive genre, and always has been.”

Robert J. Sawyer: “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.”

Explore our full interview on Friday April 12 and hear more about the power of SF to subvert the norms and question social trends and ideas.

Science and Speculative Fiction

An editorial on Science and Speculative Fiction By Derek Newman-StilleCanada Day

Although as a society, we often create an impenetrable barrier between the arts and sciences, seeing each as separate and distinct from one another, these barriers are historically created and are social inventions. The origin of science is through philosophy, remember. Science Fiction (or more widely, Speculative Fiction) is one of the arenas where there are still obvious bridges between the arts and sciences – being a production of artistic endeavor, but also dealing with ideas coming out of technology and sciences.

Several Canadian SF authors including Julie Czerneda, Scott Fotheringham, and Nina Munteanu have operated in the field of science, noticing the opportunity that SF provides to explore critical questions around science. Czerneda has even used science fiction as a mechanism for teaching students about science, allowing them to play out scientific ideas in a science fictional setting.

SF allows authors to explore the social implications of science, the social contexts and ideological underpinnings that accompany scientific endeavors. SF explores the social ramifications of scientific ideas and developments, exploring what could happen, where things could go, what social issues could develop in correspondence with technological invention, seeing the sociocultural aspect of science rather than viewing scientific ideology as separate from the social sphere and divorced from its ideological implications. SF can provide a critical lens to scientific pursuits, providing writers and readers the opportunity to insert the deeper questions into scientific explorations: asking “Why?”, “What happens if…?”, and “What could come from this?”.

So often, scientists are wrapped up in the act of invention, in the process of discovery, that they ignore what the implications of their research could be, how it could be used (and for whom), and how it could be made to serve purposes for which it was not intended. The research for research’s sake mentality sometimes cultivates an ideology that ignores social implications. SF can provide social warnings about where things could go, bringing ideas back into the world and seeing how they could play out within a political, societal sphere.

SF often displays scientific ideas magnified, extremified, exaggerated to illustrate possible implications, highlighting the dangers as well as the potentialities that could be embodied in the process of discovery, and the hazardous places that society could take scientific invention to. SF can be a place to explore moral issues in relation to technology – what are the implications of invention? How will inventions shift our consciousness and the way we view the world? Will we still capture what is fundamentally human if we switch our basic behaviours, our patterns of thought, or even our bodies themselves?

Writers can use SF as a medium for exploring whether the social or the technological will be a greater mechanism of change. Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence explores whether social change or technological change will be the thing that will deter the destruction of our natural environment and deal with the development of pollutants. Will we be able to shift our way of thinking about the world to be more ecologically safe, or will we once again try to rely on a technological invention to solve our problems?

SF can illustrate the limits of science to repair our social problems. We tend, as a society, to put a lot of faith in the idea that science will solve our problems, whether they be environmental (as illustrated by our trend to introduce new species into ecosystems as an attempt to control those ecosystems) or medical (believing that the medical profession can solve our bodily ills).We often take science as a given solution, as an ideology founded in concepts of “Truth”, rather than a set of theories that is open to challenge and is historically contingent (formed from a specific line of thought that has developed over time). SF provides a space to question the unquestioned authority of science and our social belief that science can solve our world’s ills.

One of the fora of scientific exploration that SF has been doing a great job of critiquing is the field of medicine, and, particularly, the ideologies that are created from viewing the body mechanically (as something that can be fixed through forced normalisation). One of the areas that is most affected by the medicalised ‘normalcy’ forced on bodies is the area of diverse bodies, and people with disabilities, who are often subjected to painful procedures in an attempt to normalise their bodies rather than shifting social ideologies to allow for more diversity and more accessible spaces for diverse bodies. Leah Bobet does a great job of critiquing the medicalised body in her YA novel Above, where she presents readers with a group of individuals who are mutated or bodily different in certain ways (either with crab arms, the ability to transform into a bee, lion feet, or the ability to speak to ghosts) who have escaped from medical facilities that broke their feet, cut off their arms, and subjected them to harsh medical drugs in order to force their bodies to resemble the human ‘norms’. These people created a community called “Safe”, a place of safety away from the “Whitecoats” (doctors, scientists, psychiatrists, and other medical practitioners). The ideas of healing used by the Whitecoats were shaped by the idea that only certain bodies are normal, and any others are threatening and would be changed (even in painful and destructive ways) to represent that norm.

Camille Alexa, in her short story “All Them Pretty Babies” (from OnSpec Vol 24, No 3) takes this idea even further, presenting a future in which the population is limited, and yet, the society that is fighting for its own survival is still willing to cast out those who are bodily different, those mutations that threaten ideas of the normal. Scientists cast bodies out into areas of intense radiation while they try to preserve their ideas of what is and should be human, allowing anyone who deviates from that idea of humanity to rot in radioactive woods.

In Sparkle Hayter’s naked brunch, a doctor tries to medicalise the werewolf. Rather than accepting it as a figure of legend, he ascribes a disease to this different body: “Lycanthropoic Metamorphic Disorder”. He treats these medically diverse bodies as threatening, trying to force the werewolves to pass as human, subjecting them to harsh treatments that lead to chemical addictions and often death in an attempt to have them be more like ‘normal’, ‘regular’ human beings. He and his society deny the possibility that diverse bodies are useful and even necessary in a social system, that this diversity can be healthy.

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake illustrates the extremes of danger that could be involved in the economicisation of medical technology. Her future is one in which pharmaceutical companies have solved all of the medical problems, but periodically release viral epidemics to spur the social need to buy more advanced cures and spend more money on medical advances to fuel the pharmaceutical industry. She shadows the issues we see in our society now where a great deal is medically possible, but the access to that medical technology is often restricted by wealth, and where often research is focussed on treatment (which is a greater long term investment) than on cures.

Canadian SF can also point out our reliance on technology. Joseph Macchiusi’s The Betelgeuse Oracle shows a world after the release of a massive EM pulse and the challenges of a world without technology. Urban spaces become deserts cut off from the modes of production, and characters have to adapt to a world that is different from the one that suffused their existence since birth. One character is so dependent on his connection to technology and particularly to communications technology and the need to be connected that he carries his dead cell phone everywhere with him and spends precious moments alternating batteries to try to re-activate it. Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence illustrates the world’s reliance on plastic and the social breakdowns that occur when plastic is removed from our society.

One of the issues with science is that it often limits things into easy (and uncritical) categories (such as binary notions of gender), and good Canadian SF complicates these theories, disrupts this boundaries and categories and shows the complexity of the issues involved. It questions the foundations of categorization altogether.

SF doesn’t just critique scientific endeavours, SF also provides the opportunity for creative thought. So often people become limited in their outlook, navel-gazing within their own field and looking only at what is currently possible instead of what is impossible. Often it is in the sphere of the impossible where new ideas are found, new visions of things, and new ways of considering things outside of what is ‘normal’. Reading and writing SF allows for the development of insights into the impossible, the places of new innovation and new ways of thinking about the world.

SF explores the “what ifs” that are the foundation of scientific hypothesis building.

Science and SF can provide a powerful conversation with each other, changing, questioning, and challenging each other.

Here are some points that SF authors have raised about Science in their Interviews on Speculating Canada:

SCOTT FOTHERINGHAM

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/interview-with-scott-fotheringham/ )

Scott Fotheringham: I wanted to use what I had learned of biology to perform a thought experiment: What would happen if plastic began to disappear? Because

Author photo courtesy of Scott Fotheringham

Author photo courtesy of Scott Fotheringham

that probably won’t happen because we choose to make it happen, I wondered if organisms could digest plastic.

Scott Fotheringham: “much of science is goal-driven or product-driven. Scientists create things that are worth a lot of money but have little social value or actually harm us.”

Scott Fothertingham: “The questions I’d like to see asked – particularly by the scientists themselves – are, What value does the work I’m doing have to society? How will this be used and, if it has potential for harm, should we pursue the research at all? So often scientists shrug their shoulders and say it’s not up to them how their inventions and discoveries are employed. This is a grievous abdication of their responsibility.”

Scott Fotheringham: “Right now our intention is to use technology to make money. Only if that changes will we able to work to heal what we’ve wrought.”

Scott Fotheringham: “Reading gives us insight into how other people view the world. If all I had was my experience, and that didn’t include reading, my view of how the world works would be narrower than it is.“

JULIE CZERNEDA

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/interview-with-julie-czerneda/ )

Julie Czerneda: “From the beginning, to me, biology and science fiction differed in degree, not substance. Biology filled me with wonder and curiosity.  All science

Photo of Julie Czerneda by Roger Czerneda

Photo of Julie Czerneda by Roger Czerneda

does. The universe does. Reading science fiction did that. Writing it? Ah, there was the legal, moral, and fun way to answer my own questions.”

Julie Czerneda: “what I write, the stories I tell, come from what interests me. So there are cool real bits of biology everywhere in my stuff. I couldn’t make up the weirdness of real life.”

Julie Czerneda: “Because nothing lives in isolation, an ecological approach gives a writer the opportunity to fit the puzzle together. To have alternative points of view and unintended consequences. All the intricate and messy ways things happen.”

Julie Czerneda: “The more the merrier! Or, in the case of living things, the more stable and resilient the community. It’s interactions that interest me. The interface between any two or more creatures is full of change and adaptation and lovely icky bits. In storytelling — and real life — I’d rather toss a problem at a group of people (or whatever I have in mind at the moment) who’ll each have a different approach to a solution, if they see it as a problem at all.”

Julie Czerneda: “I believe, passionately, that science fictional thinking is a crucial survival skill. We all need to ask questions, to speculate about possible consequences in an imaginative, yet as close to real fashion as possible, and to become able to assess incoming  information in a critical, not cynical manner. Imagination is of immense use, too often undervalued. We who live and breath SF rarely appreciate what a strong and active muscle our minds have developed. I’d like everyone to have the same advantage. To ride society’s changes, rather than be swept away. To decide where and how technology best fits our needs, before it’s in our homes.”

Julie Czerneda: “I’ve had success using science fiction with students to get them “talking science.” SF provides useful vocabulary, presented in context.  Story dialogue gives examples of conversations centred about science as something immediately important to the characters.“

Julie Czerneda: “I’ve also worked with a professor who, for many years now, has used science fiction as an integral part of his first year astronomy course. Students take what they’ve learned about the science and apply it to alien world-building as an SF writer would do it. I’m proud to say this class has been using Beholder’s Eye (my second novel) as part of this process.”

Julie Czerneda: “We need people who can bring science to life, who can clearly express complex ideas in meaningful ways to a varied audience. SF? Does it all the time.”

Julie Czerneda: “What we can’t imagine, we can’t create, so there’s one. What we can’t imagine, we can’t prepare against or for, so that’s another. Imagination is essential to our survival, as individuals and as a species, and has been for eons. The sad thing is that it can atrophy from lack of use or be stunted by those who’ve lost their own. The best? The more it’s used, the stronger it becomes.”

Julie Czerneda: “What technology is to science, I suspect curiosity is to imagination.”

Julie Czerneda: “I take pleasure and pride in what makes science fiction a speculation about the real world, by asking that one “what if …” then building a story framework that lets me play with an answer, while keeping as much of what we know factual and true to life. I’ve no problem inviting a reader to play along with FTL and aliens, but I won’t mess with anything more and there’s always a science question at the heart of my plot. What if life evolved this way or that? How might biological imperatives affect technological civilizations? Who might we become in the future? What cost is too high or risk too great, when manipulating genetics? I love how science fiction gives me insight into these and any other questions I might have.

KARL SCHROEDER

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/interview-with-karl-schroeder/ )

Karl Schroeder: “We spend much of our lives programming ourselves to react automatically rather than to think. It’s faster, costs less energy. Part of that process involves the ossification of our basic categories: man/woman, human/nonhuman. SF deliberately blurs these categories in order to almost literally wake us up. It’s strangemaking, which is a very valuable capacity, especially in the present situation when the world needs innovative new solutions to some pretty dire problems. It’s not that SF presents, or even can present, the solutions to big issues like global warming or global poverty; it’s that it helps educate us in the kind of thinking that can lead to them.”

Karl Schroeder: “Realism, in literature, painting, and science, is just the rule of the lowest common denominator.  It’s not actually a successful stance in science, for instance; strictly realist approaches to quantum mechanics fall into paradox pretty quickly. Realism achieves some stability in understanding the world by simply discarding 99% of all the available data (whether that be measurements, opinions, or political stances). That’s what the muggles do in the Harry Potter stories… They only think about, and therefore can only see, those things they’ve decided are ‘real.’ What’s that saying? “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s muggle thinking.”

Karl Schroeder:  “There’s lots of technologies that are flashy, or might have this or that big effect on the world. Nuclear fusion, augmented reality, nanotech… yeah, they’re all great. But we don’t need them. There’s only one development that we need at this point in our history: better methods and systems for decision-making, both individual and collective.”

Karl Schroeder: “We have all the technologies—all the tools and capabilities and understandings—to create a Utopia on Earth now. We can absolutely solve the problem of global warming, for instance; we even know how to reverse it with technologies we currently possess. What’s become abundantly clear in the past couple of decades is that the only thing we lack is the ability to make, and follow-through on, the right decisions. So much of my work right now is dedicated to asking what we need to do to get to such capabilities.”

Karl Schroeder: “Do you imagine or write a future where anything is possible except the invention of prostheses to compensate for the inadequacies of human decision-making? Does your worldbuilding encompass universes with star flight, robots and nanotech—yet accept royalty, corporations and bureaucracies as inevitable?”

NINA MUNTEANU

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-with-nina-munteanu/ )

Nina Munteanu: “The literature of the fantastic: speculative literature, science fiction, fantasy… explore—nay—celebrate and bridge the gap between logic and

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

imagination, the mundane and the extraordinary, the known and the strange, order and infinite possibility.”

Nina Munteanu: “Speculative fiction predicts consequence to current conditions. It projects into the future or alternate reality from current paradigms in science, technology and society. Speculative fiction uses the premise, “What if?”:  “What if this continued?” “What if we used that this way?”; “What if this caused that?”. It provides the proverbial “canary in the mine” on society. Where realist fiction makes commentary on our current society, speculative fiction takes that commentary into the realm of consequence by showing it to us in living colour. It is the ghost of future, present and past to our Scrooge. The arm of speculative fiction reaches far. This is its power over realist fiction and why, I think, mainstream realist authors like Margaret Atwood have discovered and embraced this genre (her latest three books are all speculative fiction). Speculative fiction doesn’t just “tell us”; it can “show us”.”

Nina Munteanu: “Both ecology and science fiction explore consequence in a big way.”

Nina Munteanu: “My ecological interests and experiences have influenced my writing in every way: in providing me with ideas, in world-building, and in the interactive fractal nature of plot, theme, character and premise. For me, the two are intertwined. Writing science fiction has opened the doors of creative problem solving in my scientific pursuits; and my science has opened windows of possibilities in my writing. It’s a win-win situation, really.”

Nina Munteanu: “Most science and technology presents itself in literature through premise or plot, which influence various characters in their life journeys. Ecology—like setting—manifests and integrates itself more in theme. This is because, while most of the hard sciences study the nature and behavior of “phenomena”, ecology studies the consequences of the relationship of these phenomena and the impact of their behaviors on each other and the rest of the “world”.”

Nina Munteanu: “Environmental issues are largely a global phenomenon—concerns like water quality and quantity, air pollution, resource acquisition, allocation and sharing, wildlife extinction, etc. Science fiction is the literature of consequence that explores large issues faced by humankind; it can provide an important vehicle in raising environmental awareness. Literature in general has always served as a cultural reporter on themes important to humanity….The science fiction genre—and speculative fiction particularly—explores premise based on current scientific and technological paradigms. What if we kept doing this?…What if that went on unchecked?… What if we decided to end this?… These are conveyed through the various predictive visions from cautionary tales (e.g., Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake”) to dystopias (e.g., Huxley’s “Brave New World”).

JEROME STUEART

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/interview-with-jerome-stueart/ )

Jerome Stueart: “Speculation is about seeing natural consequences, about thinking about choices and figuring out where they will lead, and about large-scale

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

societal consequences.  I think speculative fiction is the reason we don’t condone cloning, or have nuclear war—science fiction showed us that there are no good ways of having those, and we believed them.”

Jerome Stueart: ““I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom…. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like.  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely. “

Jerome Stueart: “I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it.  LOL.  But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.

Jerome Stueart: “Maybe that’s the greatest strength of SF—it has a wide angled lens.  SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.  Maybe that’s why the characters can be more universal, and sometimes flatter, because SF is interested in the “what if” of the story—the what if of the society.  It can handle a universal character because the society is what we want to examine in SF, and the choices a society makes.”

Jerome Stueart: “I think the current problems with getting the world to understand climate change is directly related to an inability to speculate—or see the future from the evidence you have.  Society has equipped scientists to extrapolate from their research, but we don’t take their recommendations because we don’t trust science anymore, or intelligence.  Unless the majority of the population respects knowledge, has a healthy speculative mind, they can’t see consequences.”

DOUGLAS SMITH

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/interview-with-douglas-smith/ )

Douglas Smith: “That’s the power of SF and fantasy (and I’d put SF as a specific subset of fantasy)–there are fewer (no?) limitations to the types of stories that I Douglas Smith with Impossibiliacan tell.”

Douglas Smith: “If there is a social issue that a writer wishes to explore and bring attention to, speculative fiction provides the freedom through its “distorted mirror” to let a writer bring whatever focus they desire to that issue.”

Upcoming Interview with Corey Redekop on Thursday, March 14

Even though I research the use of monstrous protagonists in Canadian SF to express ideas of the outsider and socially oppressed groups, for some reason I haven’t done much work on the figure of the zombie…. largely because they just creep me out too much. I had been hearing so many amazing things about this book Husk by Canadian SF author Corey Redekop, so I knew I had to check it out even though it was about the dreadful, rotting, cannibalistic undead. I picked up a copy, read through it and ended up with a book full of notes and knew that I had to interview Corey Redekop and talk in more detail with him about his take on the zombie.

I hope that you enjoy our upcoming chat about zombies, myths, Canadian horror, the ability of characters to express themselves to their author, the visceral feel of body horror, and the power of horror for giving voice to the oppressed. I hope you are able to check out our interview on Thursday, March 14 and enjoy Mr. Redekop’s incredible insights and great sense of humour!!

Here are some teasers from our upcoming interview:

Corey Redekop: “It’s well known that people flock to monsters and horror in times of stress, which explains the popularity of giant radioactive monsters during the beginnings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zombies in particular have taken off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ultimate monsters in our world.”

Corey Redekop: “I like stories about outsiders and loners, which all monsters are to some extent.”

Corey Redekop: “All horror is about coming across some form of evil; Canadian horror is about confronting such evil with unfailing politeness.”

Corey Redekop: “Horror authors are all of a similar breed, a sect of damaged individuals who yearn to explore the darker corners of the world. Some are darker than others, but all appreciate what confronting our demons can achieve.

Corey Redekop: “In our society, homosexuality is one of the last personal characteristics that some people feel very comfortable discriminating against because of their blatant fears and willful misreading of age-old texts that have very little bearing on the world of today (although this is lessening, thank God).”

Corey Redekop: “Like the best of any fiction, horror allows us to turn the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, as monsters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the monstrous acts of others, of course, but is it right to condemn the monster (or the outsider) as evil simply for following its own instincts? A zombie isn’t intrinsically evil; it is simply following an impulse we do not share.”

Corey Redekop: “Storytelling can always be empowering, and using elements of horror in the medium is no different. Look at how many authors are imprisoned for their stories; there is great power in words and tales, which explains why some governments are so wary and distrustful of their artists.”

Corey Redekop: “When our body rebels, however, we have no one to blame, no one to confront, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you never escape from.”

Corey Redekop: “Speculative fiction can also act as a warning by providing glimpses at what may happen should science go awry.”

Like his fiction writing, you can expect the upcoming interview with Corey Redekop to be a mixture of serious pondering and hilarity. Check it out on Thursday, March 14.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can explore my review of Husk at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/five-stages-of-grieving-yourself/