Author Robert J. Sawyer bringing sci fi to Moose Jaw

Lisa Goudy
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Award-winning Canadian author will be a guest at the 20th annual Festival of Words

Author Robert J. Sawyer considers himself an unconventional science fiction author compared to most.

"Think of everything from Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' through to 'The Hunger Games' and you can clearly see that most successful science fiction has the view that things are bad today and they're only going to get worse," he said. "My position has long been things are good today and they're only going to get better."

This position, he added, is justified based on the conditions of today versus the conditions of 100 years ago. For instance, a century ago, in the middle of winter, people would have to go out to the outhouse. Now there is indoor plumbing.

 "So things are clearly better now than they used to be, but that said, I'm not unconscious of the evil in our world. I'm not unaware of the backsliding that's been happening," said Sawyer.

In order to maintain his "street cred as an optimistic upbeat writer," he knew he needed to write a book talking about human evil. After a year solely spent researching different aspects of evil, it formed the foundation of what would become his latest book, 'Quantum Night.'

It is this novel that he'll be supporting when the Canadian author makes his way to Moose Jaw this summer for his third visit this century to the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, set for July 14-17. He was previously at the festival in 2011 and in 2003.

"A writer is always thrilled to be invited to a festival, but to be invited back to one of my favourites is a particular joy. I had an absolutely astonishing time the last time I was at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, not just because the festival itself was spectacular, but I loved the tunnel tours and just the charm of the town," said Sawyer. "So absolutely I'm thrilled and delighted to be returning."

'Quantum Night' is set in the year 2020 and follows experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk who developed a flawless method to identify previously undetected psychopaths. However, while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, he discovers he is missing memories of six months of his life from 20 years ago, a time when he committed heinous acts.

"It is actually largely set in Saskatchewan in Saskatoon at the Canadian Light Source, the synchrotron particle accelerator there. Back in 2009, I was lucky enough to be writer-in-residence at the Canadian Light Source, the first-ever writer-in-residence position at a Canadian science facility and it was a position that had been created especially for me," said Sawyer.

"Part of the deal sort of was ... wouldn't it be nice if at some point I was able to find a way to feature the light source in one of my novels? It took a few years to come up with an appropriate story and an appropriate plot, but this is very much a Saskatchewan novel and I'm particularly delighted that the Festival of Words invited me back so I can talk about it."

His passion for science fiction began more than two decades ago when he wrote his first novel.

"Science fiction is, from its very outset, and always has been when well crafted, a medium for social commentary," said Sawyer. "That's precisely why I gravitated to it."

Twenty-three books later, Sawyer has won 55 awards. According to the U.S. trade journal, 'Locus,' as a novelist, he has won more awards than anyone else in the history of the science fiction and fantasy fields.

"I'm astonished by that to this day," he said. "I'm absolutely thrilled that the work has been taken so seriously by people both within and outside of the science fiction field."

In 2009-10 ABC developed one of his books, 'FlashForward,' into a TV series starring Joseph Fiennes where Sawyer was a scriptwriter. Despite only lasting one season, that experience opened the door. He just finished a commissioned movie screenplay adaptation of his novel, 'Triggers' for Toronto-based production company, Copperheart.

But at the end of the day, his favourite part about writing science fiction is the research.

"If I could find a way to pay me well to just learn things for my own satisfaction, I would be very content," said Saywer. "I have yet to find that miracle job, so instead I write books to fund my research habit ... I could not ask for a better life."

Early bird festival passes are available for $175 and can be purchased at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words office. As of June 1, 2016, the pass is $200. Flex passes for individual sessions are available for $100.

For more information, visit www.festivalofwords or call 306-691-0557.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy

Organizations: Canadian Light Source

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Saskatoon U.S.

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