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Playing it Forward with a Sci-Fi Author

By Angie Littlefield

Robert J. SawyerThe yodas and Darth Vaders were worse for wear after a first night of revelry at the Ad Astra Sci-Fi and Fantasy conference in Toronto 1996. They gulped quickly accessioned coffee and proceeded at less than warp speed to panels and readings where the deans and newbies of their specialized world were about to strut their stuff. I did not read a great deal of Sci-fi, but, I followed along to the presentation my husband selected.

We always went to the room early and headed to the front. My husband liked to see the sweat and spittle if there were ‘deer in the headlights’ moments. I looked around as the seats filled with science nerds, fantasy queens, tech wizards and aficionados of alternative realities. We awaited Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer to whom the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America had given the Nebula Award for Terminal Man in 1995. Even I knew that was a big deal.

Sci-fi groupies flexed multiple appendages as they rushed Mr. Sawyer at the end of the presentation. I waited. Mr. Sawyer patiently heard me out when my turn came. I was incredulous. He agreed to speak at the school where I was the principal, a school in a low income area where students frequently lost hope of becoming anything, if they graduated at all.

I had recently instituted a Speakers’ Program that encouraged teachers to nominate students to attend special presentations by authors, scientists and the school’s graduates who’d done well. In my own small way, I wanted to present ‘alternate universes’. Students could self-nominate by seeing me. I applauded each daring young person who came forward to advocate as to why he or she should attend a particular session.

Nebula Award winner Robert J. Sawyer, made his own way to the school which was a considerable distance from his home; he received no honorarium. He did receive a great deal of appreciation from the audience, most of whom had never heard an author speak or read, let alone an award winner. His imprint was visible.

Sawyer won the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award in 2003 for Hominids and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan in 2006. The U.S. trade journal Locus at one point called him the #1 all-time worldwide leader in the number of award wins as a science fiction or fantasy novelist. When Robert J. Sawyer won the first Humanism in the Arts Award in 2012. The citation read in part:

His respectful treatment of both religious-minded and secular-minded characters and his articulate and often moving depictions of their struggles with their respective worldviews are in keeping with Humanist principles and represent a conversation we would like to continue.

Twenty-four years after meeting Mr. Sawyer, he is about to launch his 24th novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative. He will appear with itat the City of Pickering’s Indies at Artfest on May 23, 2020—once again because he was asked nicely. On the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, Sawyer will talk about a book that revisits that history, with a twist. Mr. Sawyer’s appearance in “Author Alley” will be a huge gift to Pickering, not unlike another he gave a group of students in Oshawa in 1996.
I confess I’ve only read three Robert J. Sawyer books. I also confess to a fantasy that centers on a special moment played forward from 1996. I see men and women, now in their 40s: a forklift operator reads on his break; a grandmother props a book on the handle bars of a stroller; a stockbroker argues with a colleague about a book review; a husband and wife discuss the television adaptation of FlashForward over morning tea.

And yes, I see one more woman. She patiently queues up at Robert J. Sawyer’s tent on the Pickering Mall in the spring of 2020. She waits for an autograph from the author she heard in Oshawa 24 years before. She has two teenage daughters with her, shifting from foot to foot, wondering what possesses their mother—until they hear the kindly author talk to her about his book as if she was an old friend. Then, they too start to wonder about the dropping of the atomic bomb. One reaches for the book …

I know it’s only a fantasy, but goodness played forward can have many wonderful outcomes. | #scifibooks #orderofcanada #hugoaward #orderofontario #fiction #novels



Since 1989 PineRidge Arts Council Inc., a not-for-profit volunteer organization has been dedicated to enhance the quality of life within the community by developing widespread appreciation, support and involvement in the arts.

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Pickering, Ontario L1V 1A0

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