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That’s right, an epiphany!

I participated in a wonderful conference on science fiction this past weekend. It was to celebrate Robert J. Sawyer donating his papers into the archives at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. From this day on, Rob’s papers will be available for scholarly study, sitting in the stacks next to the likes of HG Well, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat and John Robert Colombo.

The conference was from Friday night to Sunday late afternoon, and was filled with the presentations of nearly fifty lectures, discussions, and scholarly papers, all about science fiction as an interdisciplinary genre. As well, between sessions, at meals and in the hallways, I had many interesting discussions with scholars, writers and fans from all over North America.

As for the “man of the hour”, Robert J. Sawyer, and his wife, Carolyn Clink, they were wonderfully open, generous, available, modest and fun. Rob is a fantastic orator, as well as writer, and his numerous talks and discussions over the weekend both informed and entertained.

A full itinerary of the events would be too long, so I’ll list a few of the highlights and then let you in on my epiphany.

Firstly, I sat with author Robert Charles Wilson and heard about his next time travel book, Burning Paradise. As a time travel writer myself, it was gratifying to discuss the subject with someone who can so handily weave a story around the paradoxes that the genre naturally brings up. In fact, with Burning Paradise, Bob has found a way to eliminate them. Another treat was to have several conversations with John Robert Colombo, quote collector, anthologist and author. He’s a gentleman who everyone wants as their favorite uncle. I also sat next to his wife, poet Ruth Colombo, at supper. She really made me laugh and called me out on several things I said . . . and how I said them. But can it get any better than sitting around and sipping on a glass of scotch while talking sci-fi with Senior Tor Editor David G. Hartwell and Sunburst Awards organizer Paul Halasz. Those guys know EVERYBODY!

As to my epiphany. First let me say that I am a cranky, old businessman whose interest in writing science fiction is to be part of a discussion about the future, with the expressed dream that human culture can find a way to reach and maintain some sort of near-Utopia. So, the highlight of the conference for me occurred while listening to a paper by Cameron Ellis, a PhD candidate from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. The title of his piece was, “Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy: A Jungian Eupsychia?”

Buried within his dense text was a simple phrase that made my ears prick up. So, during the Q&A I asked Cameron who had penned the phrase. He said shyly that he had written it. Here is the quote.

“Utopia is an advanced economic system.”

Before publishing this blog, I sent Mr. Ellis a copy, explaining how I thought his phrase could be a very useable quote, since it encapsulates a simple truth and clarifies something that should have been obvious. As well, it breaks down the assumption that a peaceful human civilization, one that can last ten thousand years and more, is not just some airy-fairy fantasy. Mr. Ellis wrote back clarifying that, while he agreed the idea does have social-economic aspects, he also thinks about Utopias as private, subjective, and more of an inner-life phenomena of the psyche. I can appreciate this and understand how the aspect I am honing in on is just part of a larger theme he is working on. But I believe my interpretation can also be valid. After all, once a serious writer or artist releases his ideas into the world, they take on new life of their own and can inspire the work and thinking of others in unexpected ways. This it has definitely done for me.

I must I have an ear for quotes. About a decade ago, I was the one who, while looking for a David Suzuki quote to put on a Green Party T-shirt, gleaned from the middle of one of his radio talks, “We all live downstream”. Doing a recent internet search showed that the phrase has taken on a life of its own. I hope this happens to Mr. Cameron’s citation.


Finally, I presented a paper at the conference entitled, “What is the social worth of the science fiction writer?” I shall post the text to it on next month’s blog, plus put up a link to a video of it.

  • September 23rd, 2013
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