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Robert J. Sawyer: Five myths about science fiction writers

The "dean of Canadian science fiction" and judge for our Sci-Fi Twitter Challenge on Wednesday, Oct. 24 busts the five biggest misconceptions about his people.

1. We’re out there. No, we’re not. Don’t tell us about the UFO you saw, your past life, how this time someone really has found Atlantis, or how you can read minds. Be happy you really can’t, because you wouldn’t be pleased with what we’re thinking when you say that.

2. We just make stuff up. When asked by my great aunt what I was currently doing, I said, “Research for my next science-fiction novel,” to which she replied, “What sort of research could you possibly do for that?” The answer, at that particular juncture, was on whether you can tell by its structure if a signal contains information, on why Japan doesn’t have an army, on the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, and on what it’s like to be a high-functioning autistic (something about which, contrary to another popular stereotype, I have no first-hand knowledge).

3. We predict the future. Heck, if I could do that, I would play the stock market. No, as Ray Bradbury said, our job isn’t predicting the future, it’s preventing it. Or, to put it another way, Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t a failed novel because the real 1984 turned out nothing like it; rather, it’s a success because it helped us avoid that future. So just be happy that the damn dirty apes haven’t taken over yet, okay?

4. We’re all men. Nope: in fact, SF was invented by a woman—Mary Shelley, with her novel of Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment gone awry. Robert Charles Wilson and I congratulated each other a few years ago on being nominated for the Hugo, the top international SF award, until we learned that Connie Willis was also on the short list, at which point we turned to each other and said, “It’s an honour just to be nominated.” Connie won; she always wins. I deny ever shouting “Connnnnie!” the way Kirk shouts “Khannnnn!”

5. We’re all Star Trek or Star Wars fans. Oh, some of us are—and so are some of you. But it’s not required, and many of us can go on at length about how the former is bad SF and the latter isn’t really SF at all. So don’t get us started, or we’ll stun you with our phasers or hit you with our light sabres. Beam me up, Luke! Use the force, Scotty! Or, better yet, do what we do in our spare time: read a frakking book.

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel is Triggers. The ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name. Robert was born in Ottawa and lives in Mississauga with his wife, poet Carolyn Clink.  

Robert is also the judge for our 12-hour Sci-Fi Twitter Challenge on Wednesday, Oct. 24. 

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