Does the future belong to Canada? It does the way Robert J. Sawyer writes it.
The Ottawa native, who now lives in Mississauga, has been called the godfather of science fiction in this country. There’s a reason: His books bleed Canadian red and white.
A recent novel was set in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, drawing on everything from a Jets playoff game to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the imagined election of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as Canada’s next prime minister.
Speaking to Postmedia after being named to the Order of Ontario — the latest in what has become a litany of honours for the bestselling author — Sawyer was quick to wave the Maple Leaf, as he discussed the significance of being a sci-fi writer north of the border. It’s simple, really, he says. “I really do think Canada represents the future of the planet.” Sawyer has just finished watching an old episode of the original Star Trek television series, it should probably be noted. “The interesting thing about Canada is we are the bridge of the Enterprise, writ large,” he says, a nod to the classic TV show and its alien science officer, Scottish engineer, black communications officer, Russian ensign and Asian helmsman. “We have always been about inclusion and diversity in this country,” he said. “We’re only (36) million people, but that’s still a statistically relevant sampling to do an experiment to see if people from all cultures, from all faith groups, and lack of faiths as well, all gender orientations, can come together and collectively make something better than the sum of the parts.”
Sawyer doesn’t just talk a good game. He’s made a career of writing it. But surely at some point in the early days, some American exclaimed, “Enough with the Timmies and maple syrup?”
“Never once did an American editor, agent, publisher, book seller, reviewer or reader ever push back against the Canadian content in my book,” Sawyer says. “But constantly Canadians tell me, ‘You know you would sell better if you set yourself in Chicago or San Francisco.’
“It’s that classic Canadian inferiority complex.”
His career to date has validated his approach. He’s won the Hugo and Nebula awards, the industry ’s big prizes. He’s published 23 books, probing such themes as the nature of evil and the existence of divinity, along with the odd alien dinosaur. Before this latest provincial honour, he was already a member of the Order of Canada.
For someone who makes his living looking into the future during these days of global uncertainty, Donald Trump’s America, Brexit and more, Sawyer is an unabashed optimist.
But that doesn’t mean he’s without critique of the present, including the state of his beloved science fiction, a term he suggests has been hijacked by blockbusters.