SF novels that should be taught in schools
SF Signal asked a bunch of experts for recommendations for science fiction books to be taught in schools. To my delight, Jack McDevitt recommended Wake and Prof. Paul Levinson recommended Rollback.
Library Journal on Wake: "Sawyer's erudition, eclecticism, and masterly storytelling make this a choice selection."
On this tenth anniversary of Y2K, I nominate Peter de Jager, who wrote the seminal article "Doomsday 2000" for ComputerWorld magazine, which first alerted the world to the potential disaster that might have occurred on January 1, 2000, and mobilized the world to take the steps necessary to avoid that fate. The Lifeboat Foundation would do well to honor this man, and this example of how foresight and preparedness can indeed avert catastrophe as technology marches ahead.I am thrilled to report that the Lifeboat Foundation has taken my recommendation and today bestowed the Guardian Award on Peter de Jager of Brampton, Ontario, Canada. You can read the press release here.
Don and Sarah had had another discussion about SETI, a year before the original Sigma Draconis signal had been detected. They'd been in their late forties then, and Sarah, depressed about the failure to detect any message, had been worried that she'd devoted her life to something pointless.The National Post article I referred to is real; I sent in a letter to the editor about it (which was published as the lead letter in the December 26, 2000, edition):
"Maybe they are out there," Don had said, while they went for a walk one evening. He'd gotten religion about his weight a few years before, and they now did a half-hour walk every evening during the good weather, and he used a treadmill in the basement in winter. "But maybe they're just keeping quiet. You know, so as not to contaminate our culture. The Prime Directive, and all that."
Sarah had shaken her head. "No, no. The aliens have an obligation to let us know they're there."
"Because they'd be an existence proof that it's possible to survive technological adolescence you know, the period during which you have tools that could destroy your entire species but no mechanism in place yet to prevent them from ever being used. We developed radio in 1895, and we developed nuclear weapons just fifty years later, in 1945. Is it possible for a civilization to survive for centuries, or millennia, once you know how to make nuclear weapons? And if those don't kill you, rampaging AI or nanotech or genetically engineered weapons might unless you find some way to survive all that. Well, any civilization whose signals we pick up is almost certainly going to be much older than we are; receiving a signal would tell us that it's possible to survive."
"I guess," Don said. They'd come to where Betty Ann Drive crossed Senlac Road, and they turned right. Senlac had sidewalks, but Betty Ann didn't.
"For sure," she replied. "It's the ultimate in Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. Just detecting it, even if we don't understand it, tells us the most important thing ever."
He considered that. "You know, we should have Peter de Jager over sometime soon. I haven't played go in ages; Peter always likes a game."
She sounded irritated. "What's Peter got to do with anything?"
"Well, what's he best remembered for?"
"Y2K," said Sarah.
"Exactly!" he said.
Peter de Jager lived in Brampton, just west of Toronto. He moved in some of the same social circles as the Halifaxes did. Back in 1993, he'd written the seminal article "Doomsday 2000" for ComputerWorld magazine, alerting humanity to the possibility of enormous computer problems when the year 2000 rolled around. Peter spent the next seven years sounding the warning call as loudly as he could. Millions of person-hours and billions of dollars were spent correcting the problem, and when the sun rose on Saturday, January 1, 2000, no disasters occurred: airplanes kept flying, money stored electronically in banks didn't suddenly disappear, and so on.
But did Peter de Jager get thanked? No. Instead, he was excoriated. He was a charlatan, said some, including Canada's National Post, in a year-end summation of the events of 2000 and their proof was that nothing had gone wrong.
Don and Sarah were passing Willowdale Middle School now, where Carl was just finishing grade eight. "But what's Y2K got to do with the aliens not signaling their existence?" she asked.
"Maybe they understand how dangerous it would be for us to know that some races did manage to survive technological adolescence. We got through Y2K because of lots of really hard work by really dedicated people, but once we were through it, we assumed that we would have gotten through it regardless. Surviving into the year 2000 was taken as what was your phrase? `an existence proof' that such survival had been inevitable. Well, detecting alien races who've survived technological adolescence would be taken the same way. Instead of us thinking it was very difficult to survive the stage we're going through, we'd see it as a cakewalk. They survived it, so surely we will, too."
I was appalled by the snotty tone in Christopher Shulgan's profile of computer expert Peter de Jager ("The sky fell on him," Saturday, December 23, 2000). The Y2K computer problem was very, very real, and credit for disaster being averted rightly belongs to de Jager. Instead of cheapjack potshots, Canada -- and the world -- should be honouring this man. He surely deserves the Order of Canada for his tireless, selfless work; indeed, he should be lauded as one of the most important Canadians of the twentieth century -- because without his efforts, there was a real possibility that we wouldn't all be here to enjoy the twenty-first.And now, at last, Peter is getting some of the credit he's due. Congratulations, Peter!
"Above all, the author's characters bear their human strengths and weaknesses with dignity and poise. An elegantly told story for all libraries; highly recommended." --Library Journal (starred review, denoting a work of exceptional merit)
"While Rollback is, on the surface, a book about reaching out to those across the universe, it is at its heart an investigation of our very humanity, and how relationships are a fundamental key to defining who we are. Sawyer's crisp and accessible writing style allows for this interweaving of the personal and the scientific. The characters feel real, and their emotions and responses genuine. Beyond the SF trappings, Rollback is a story about love and commitment, about humanity at its most basic -- a novel to be savoured by science-fiction and mainstream readers alike." -- The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper
Those who’ve read my recent novels have seen that I don’t have much interest in antagonists; I think the idea that all fiction is fundamentally about conflict, and you need a good guy and a bad guy is simply not true; my latest novel Rollback has no antagonist, for instance, and I don’t really think there’s one in my upcoming Wake, either. Well, I wrote “The Shoulders of Giants” in 1999, when I was experimenting with making exciting fiction that only had good guys in it; that was a challenge, but I like to think I pulled it off.You can read the whole interview right here.
As Don stood, looking at Sarah, the moment came back to him, and he shook his head in amazement. It had been front-page news, back when there were front pages, all over the world. On March first, 2009, a radio message had been received from a planet orbiting the star Sigma Draconis.So says Chapter 2 of my 2007 Tor novel Rollback, which was a finalist for the Hugo Award, the Aurora Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, was a main selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, was serialized in Analog, made the American Library Association's list of the top 10 SF novels of the year, and will be read later this year in 25 installments on CBC Radio's Between the Covers.
- Take Hwy 403.
- Past the Brantford exits, you'll come to Hwy 2 Paris Rd exit
- Stay in right lane -- sign will say to Paris
- Follow on Paris Rd until you get to the 2nd set of stop lights. (Tim Hortons on the corner)
- Turn left onto Dundas St. stay in right lane
- Take Willow St. exit towards downtown
- Go to stop sign turn left on William St. stay in left lane
- Go through the main intersection (stop lights) and the library is one block over on your right.
"All right," said the robot. "Have you chosen a name for me yet?"
Sarah lifted her shoulders and looked at Don. "Gunter," he said.
"Is that G-U-N-T-H-E-R?" asked the robot.
"No H," said Don. And then, unable to help himself, "Get the H out."
"My little boy," Sarah said, smiling at Don. She'd said that often enough over the years, but, just now, it seemed to hit a little too close to home. She must have noticed his quickly suppressed wince, because she immediately said, "Sorry."
Still, he thought, she was right. He was a kid at heart, at least when it came to robots. And his absolute favorite when he was growing up, as Sarah well knew, was the robot from Lost in Space. He got miffed whenever people called that robot Robby, although Robby, the robot from the movie Forbidden Planet, did bear a passing resemblance to the one from Lost in Space -- not surprising, given that they were both designed by the same person, Robert Kinoshita. The Jupiter 2's robot was mostly just referred to as "the Robot" (or the "bubble-headed booby" and a hundred other alliterative insults by Dr. Smith). Still, many hardcore Lost in Space fans called it B-9, which was the model number it gave for itself in one episode. But Don had always contended that the barrel-chested automaton with vacuum-cleaner hoses for arms was actually named GUNTER, because another episode contained a flashback, showing the robot in its original packing crate, which was labeled "General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot." Despite pointing this out to people for -- God, for over seventy years now -- Don hadn't won many converts. But at least now there was a robot in the world who indisputably had that name.
Of course, thought Don, Sarah understood all this. She'd grown up watching Lost in Space, too, although what she'd loved most about it were the photos of real nebulas and galaxies used in space scenes ("Astronomical Photographs Copyrighted 1959 by the California Institute of Technology," the card on the ending credits said). But, he realized sadly, none of this would mean anything to Lenore or anyone else who was as young as he felt.
Canadian author Sawyer (Mindscan) once again presents likable characters facing big ethical dilemmas in this smoothly readable near-future SF novel. Sawyer, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards, may well win another major SF award with this superior effort.Go me! :)
The cover for Rollback has been slightly revised. The illustration is the same, but the typography is different, and even nicer). The new version looks like this: