Books

Mission Genesis by Clayton Burrows

Clayton Burrows, 17, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2020 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Clayton Burrows, 17, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Clayton Burrows)

Mission Genesis by Clayton Burrows is one of 10 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category.

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 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Burrows, 17, a student at Chatelech Secondary in Sechelt, B.C., writes about nuclear war. 


The mass of expanding gases shook the cabin. Chunks of human history floated through inky blackness. He gazed through the tiny round window, eyes alight with the end times. How should one react when witnessing the end of the world? He didn't know. Humans weren't supposed to see such things. So he just stared.

Even though his eyes were locked on the window, he could hear the sound of panic going on inside the cabin. That wailing alarm had started again, followed by a furious clicking of switches and hissing of hydraulics.

"Ryan, I need you here at the controls now! This is not the time for gawking, you can do that later," his sister screamed at him as she grabbed his collar and wrenched him beside her.

What did she mean by later? Surely the mission was obsolete now. No command centre meant no communication, which meant no mission.

"Set course bearing two 20, thrust power delta. I'll stabilize," barked his sister. She had no intention of becoming just another chunk of debris, but he had trouble turning her words into movement. His hands shook uncontrollably and the control panel was slick with sweat.

Now it was her turn to gaze out the window. A portal into nothingness. A nothingness only interrupted by that scene of destruction.

"Two, two, zero," his voice wavered as he punched in the numbers. The cabin lurched and his stomach tightened. Fragments of rock hammered against the outside of the capsule, sending them into a spin. Ryan's vision began to fade, tunneling into black.

"Thrust goddammit! Thrust!" He fought with all his might against the forces wrenching on his body. Through the darkness, his fingers managed to grasp the round knob of the lever, nearly slipping off. One final effort brought the lever into the correct position. The spinning slowed and the sound of the alarm was replaced by heavy breathing.

"I thought you were gonna stabilize," huffed Ryan.

His sister said nothing. Now it was her turn to gaze out the window. A portal into nothingness. A nothingness only interrupted by that scene of destruction. Everything that had ever been, every dream about tomorrow, every song and every sorrow. Dust. Maybe that's all it ever had been.

"Two 20, are we really going there?" Ryan spoke softly.


About The First Page student writing challenge

David A. Robertson is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning author and judge of the 2020 First Page student writing challenge. (Amber Green)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2170. 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 award-winning author David A. Robertson

Robertson is a Cree writer from Winnipeg who writes books for readers of all ages — including the Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book, When We Were Alone and the Reckoner Rises graphic novel series.

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on April 16, 2021.

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.

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