Books·The First Page

Engineer 294 by Anna Ryde

Engineer 294 by Anna Ryde is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Anna Ryde, 14, is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge 2022. (Submitted by Anna Ryde)

Engineer 294 by Anna Ryde is one of 13 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category for 2022.

Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. More than 1,800 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley and be announced on May 31.

Ryde, 14, a student from Northern Secondary School in Toronto, writes about tensions between USA and Russia, as well as the increase in automation and robots..


I've forgotten the last time that I designed something that couldn't kill.

I weave my way through rows of identical desks. Computer batteries hum like a hive of bees, the sound rivaled only by the clicking of computer mouses. I find my space and run my fingers over the engraved numbers, 294. The once lustrous copper has dulled over the years, no longer catching the light.

Exhaling softly, I press my finger to the sensor on my computer and it springs to life. Digital pen in hand and computer space activated, I begin to sketch. Reports of the war run across the top of my screen in small font, noting new developments that could help us create increasingly deadly machines.

Suddenly the entrance doors open, hitting the wall with a thud. A singular robot walks in, and my body goes rigid.

Oh, please no. Not today.

"Attention all. Today, Engineer 156 has attempted to leave the premises," its mechanical voice rasps. "You are here for the good of the United Countries and all of its citizens. Trying to escape your responsibilities is treason, an offense punishable by death."

I've forgotten the last time that I designed something that couldn't kill.

An older man is marched in by two armed guards. He protests, pleading for his life, but the robotic guards keep their red unblinking eyes fixed ahead.

"Let this serve as a reminder to anyone who may have been thinking of running away," the first robot continues, "There is no avoiding your duty."

The man continues to protest, taking gasping breaths of air. Meanwhile, the robot lifts its arm toward him, the room shaking as a bullet flies out of its fingertips.

I know the exact way the mechanism of the firing works; after all, I was the one who designed it. Years ago, looking at these robots would fill me with pride. All of my hard work had finally come together, and the senior officers were pleased with the result.

They weren't supposed to be used like this.

The man slumps down, bathing in a scarlet pool of blood. His eyes glaze over, body twitching for a few moments before becoming deathly still. The robots leave the room, dragging the body with them.

I turn in my chair and stare blankly at the computer screen, trembling like there is an earthquake only I can feel.


About The First Page student writing challenge

The First Page student writing challenge asks students in Grades 7 to 12 to write the first page of a novel from 150 years in the future. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2172. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling author Sarah Raughley. 

A writer and lecturer from Southern Ontario, Raughley is the author of the YA Effigies series — which includes Fate of FlamesSiege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy historical novel The Bones of Ruinfor ages 14 and up.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2022.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books. Special thanks to Penguin Random House, Raincoast Books, Scholastic Canada, Annick Press, KidsCan Press, Groundwood Books, Orca Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.

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