SF Canada's Steve Stanton: Why I write sci-fi
The president of SF Canada on his sci-fi roots, ray guns, why the geeks have already inherited the earth.
How did you discover sci-fi?
My father was a commercial airline pilot during the early years when jet engines were being developed, and I came of age during the race to get a man on the moon in the sixties, so science fiction was in my blood. I was put ahead in grade school because of high intelligence, and forced into the stereotypic role of geeky weakling among older boys in class, a bit of a bookworm. When I stumbled across Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy from the fifties, I put away my superhero comic books and fell in love with sci-fi novels.
What is it about the genre that compels you as a writer?
I enjoy the lack of boundaries, the complete freedom to let your imagination run wild into uncharted realms of expression. At the same time, the SF genre has an insidious nature as a vehicle of social commentary protected by a gauze of literary innocence (because, you know, it’s "just" science fiction.)
You're the president of SF Canada. How did you get involved with the organization?
I joined SF Canada during the excitement leading up to the World Science Fiction Convention hosted by Toronto in 2003. I had postgraduate training as an accountant, so in 2007 I volunteered to take over the financial administration of the association from the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, and I went on to become president in 2011.
What role does SF Canada play for Canadian SF writers?
SF Canada began as a grassroots movement in 1989 “to foster a sense of community among Canadian writers of speculative fiction.” In the days before digital communication, this was accomplished by mailing newsletters and meeting at SF conventions where fans and authors mingled together to swap books and tell tall tales. SF Canada continues that tradition today by providing support to annual conventions in most major cities across Canada, picking up the tab for wine and cheese, paying the registration fees on book tables or providing speakers, and all activities are still run by local volunteers.
What are the advantages to being part of a writing organization, in your view?
The largest practical benefit of membership in SF Canada is the exclusive social network that has run continuously since the invention of email, a daily online discussion exploring all aspects of the genre and spanning the development of speculative publishing in Canada. This intellectual and emotional support is vital in a solitary profession, and now that the internet is in wide public use, authors have opportunity to connect with fans and promote their work on our website.
What are your golden rules for writing compelling science fiction?
As per definition, good science fiction requires that some element of science or technology be central to the plot and not just a flimsy accoutrement in a detective story with ray guns or porn with aliens. Authors can use elegant sleight of hand, to be sure, but any glaring errors in science will not be well received by aficionados. Secondly, most modern fiction is character driven. Readers must be able to empathize with characters in a co-creative relationship as the story weaves them into difficult or dangerous circumstance. And thirdly, science fiction must incorporate the sense of wonder common to all the speculative genres: sci-fi, horror, fantasy and magic realism. This element is precariously defined as a feeling of awe or awakening triggered by an expansion of consciousness, but pedantics aside, every SF reader knows it in their heart when they see it. So there you have a foundational tripod for good science fiction: strong science, believable characters, and a sense of wonder.
Where does SF stand in Canada now?
Science fiction was first popularized as an American phenomenon with British roots, and English is the de facto language of the genre throughout the world. Many of the early SF stars in Canada were American expatriates finding sanctuary during the student rebellion of the sixties, and most of the early Canadian work was published by American corporations. Now we have homegrown talent and interest from Canadian publishers, so the future looks fabulous.
Name three Canadian SF writers who should be more widely read than they are. Why did you choose these three?
The top three science fiction authors working with SF Canada today are Matthew Hughes, Edward Willett and Hayden Trenholm, who graciously agreed to serve as readers in the upcoming Canada Writes Sci-Fi Twitter Challenge this Wednesday, Oct. 24 along with their female counterparts Alison Sinclair and Lynda Williams. Collectively, these five authors have published 72 books with a dozen more in development stages, but I daresay their names are not widely known outside the SF subculture. It’s my job to try and change that, and I’m grateful for this opportunity.
What role do you think Twitter and other social media play for the SF genre?
SF enthusiasts were early adopters of digital technology two decades ago when the geeks and nerds began to transform our world. The avenues for personal communication have exploded during my lifetime, and a new generation has arisen with less concern for privacy, modesty or the need for periodic isolation. To be connected now is to live and social media is to breathe.