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THREE FOR THE FUTURE
Three Science Fiction Short Stories Set In Ontario
Selected by John Robert Colombo
The November 1982 edition of Leisure Ways, then the members' magazine for the Ontario Motor League, and later the members' magazine for the Canadian Automobile Association, contained three short-short science fiction stories by Toronto authors Terence M. Green, Robert J. Sawyer, and Andrew Weiner. The stories were selected by John Robert Colombo, and the editor of Leisure Ways was Jerry Tutunjian.
I was having lunch with the editor of Leisure Ways. "Why don't you publish some science fiction stories?" I asked.
"The magazine doesn't publish fiction," the editor answered.
"Our surveys show that our readers prefer non-fiction to fiction. In fact, one of the most popular sections of the magazine are the travel features."
"But science fiction is concerned with travel travel into the future."
"Our readers want short articles, not long stories."
"But there is a tradition within science fiction for the short-short," I explained. "Stories of about 600 words."
"What I think you should do is commission, say, three local writers to travel imaginatively into Ontario's future and to tell us what they find there through the medium of fiction."
"Who are these writers?"
"I think you should approach Terence M. Green. He's a high school teacher in Toronto whose stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine. He could write knowledgeably about education in the 21st century."
"There's Andrew Weiner. He's "
"Oh, we've published him in Leisure Ways. He's a fine writer "
"Certainly he is, and he has a story in Harlan Ellison's collection Again, Dangerous Visions. You might suggest he consider the problem of housing and overcrowding in the future. He has a nice light touch."
"Who's the third writer?"
"I'm quite impressed with Robert J. Sawyer, a recent graduate in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. One of his short-shorts placed in a Village Voice contest."
"What would Sawyer write about?"
"That's a problem. Give him some leeway ... I think he will come up with something unusual."
"What makes you think our readers would enjoy reading stories set in the future?"
"Everyone is curious about what lies ahead. Now, many of your readers may be unfamiliar with science fiction, so to make it less confusing for them, we might ask our three writers to set their stories in Ontario, and we can request them to keep the word-count down to 600 or 700 words. I think it's worth a gamble. Why not risk it?"
"You're on!" said the editor of Leisure Ways.
And here they are. We hope you enjoy this futuristic foray into the imagination.
Nationally known as the "Master Gatherer" for his collection of Canadiana, John Robert Colombo's best known books are Colombo's Canadian Quotations and Colombo's Canadian Reference. His latest book, Windigo, is an anthology on the Algonquin demon of the woods.
THE HOUSING PROBLEM
by Andrew Weiner
Copyright © 1982 by Andrew Weiner
After signing a standard cohabitation contract, he for the second time and she for the third, Melvin Quax and Myra Spelman honeymooned on the Costa Antarctica, where for eight glorious days they bathed in the solar warmth beamed down from UN Power Station One.
Returning to Toronto-Buffalo they continued their desperate search for a place to live. Temporarily they were crammed into Melvin's tiny studio apartment in the north end of town, just inside the perimeter of the Godfrey Dome. They needed more space, but space was impossible to find. The vacancy rate was a slim 0.02 per cent that year, well below the 0.05 per cent recommended by housing specialists. New building was at an all-time low in this year of 2080, there being hardly anywhere left to build.
After three months in Melvin's cramped little apartment, tempers were beginning to fray. Melvin could hardly move without bumping into Myra, and vice versa. Perhaps other people could have lived more peaceably in such close contact. But Melvin, a tree surgeon by profession, had grown accustomed to the vast open spaces of the city's parks (some as large as a hundred metres square) while Myra needed space for her hobby, which was weaving. Unable to set up her loom and give vent to her creative energies, she found herself picking on Melvin.
Then Melvin came across an enticing ad on the telidon:
The price was steep, but no steeper than the extra rent on a larger apartment for just one year, if such could be found. Melvin picked up the vidphone to call for a free, no-obligation trial.
Myra had never seen such an enormous room. "But how does it work?" she asked.
"Revolutionary quantum mechanical principles," Melvin told her. "Expands interior spaces by a factor of 4.7."
He surveyed the room proudly.
"I thought we'd put your loom over there," he said, gesturing into the distance. "And over here we can build a partition to make a proper bedroom ..."
The next morning Melvin got out of bed and walked across his greatly extended floor towards the bathroom and ... vanished. Melted into thin air, which seemed briefly to shimmer around him.
"Dimension Warp," said the maintenance man from KV Space Extendors, when he arrived in response to Myra's frantic call. "We were afraid this would happen sooner or later. You see, the extendor field exerts a lot of pressure on the fabric of space and time. And in this case, it seems to have blown a hole through to the other side. That's where your spousal equivalent has gone."
"But what's on the other side?"
"Good question," said the maintenance man. "Another dimension, presumably. But I wouldn't worry about it. I'm sure he'll come back eventually."
And that same night, a somewhat bewildered and harried looking Melvin did come back, materializing in the very spot in which he had vanished that morning. He was followed, promptly, by a procession of little blue men, who spread themselves out across the room, jabbering frantically to each other.
"Who are these people?" Myra asked.
"From the other side," Melvin said. He shuddered. "It was awful, Myra. It's just full of them. We may think it's crowded here ..."
"But what do they want?" Myra asked.
As if in answer, one of the little blue men turned to Myra and said (telepathically, of course): "What an enormous room!"
OURS TO DISCOVER
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1982 by Robert J. Sawyer
Old man Withers was crazy. Everybody said so, everybody but that boy Eric. "Mr. Withers is an archeologist," Eric would say whatever an archeologist might be. Remember that funny blue-and-white sweater Withers found? He claimed he could look at the markings on it and hear the words "Toronto Maple Leafs" in his head. Toronto was the name of our steel-domed city, of course, so I believed that much, but I'd never heard of a maple leaf before. The same maple leaf symbol was in the centre of all those old flags people kept finding in the ruins. Some thought a maple leaf must have been a horrendous beast like a moose or a beaver or a trudeau. Others thought it was a kind of crystal. But crystals make people think of rocks and uranium and bombs and, well, those are hardly topics for polite conversation.
Eric wanted to know for sure. He came around to the museum and said, "Please, Mr. Curator, help me find out what a maple leaf is."
Truth to tell, I wasn't the real curator. I'd moved into the museum, or rom (as some called it), because it was such a nice building. No one ever used it, after all, and with so few of us under the Dome you could live just about anywhere you chose. Well, we looked, but Eric and I didn't have any luck finding a real maple leaf among the few intact exhibits. "It must have been something very special," Eric said. "It must have meant something to our ancestors, back When Times Were Good." He looked up at me with innocent eyes. "If we could find out what a maple leaf was, maybe times would be good again."
Who was I to tell him he was dreaming? "You've looked everywhere there is to look."
"We haven't looked outside of the Dome."
"Outside? There's nothing outside, lad."
"There has to be."
"Why?" I'd never heard such nonsense.
"There just has to be, that's all."
Well, you can't argue with that kind of logic. "Even if there is," I said, "there's no way to go outside, so that's that."
"Yes there is," said Eric. "Mr. Withers found a door, way up in North York. It's all rusted shut. If we took some of the tools from here we might be able to open it."
Well, the boy insisted on going, and I couldn't let him hike all that way alone, could I? We set out the next day. It'd been years since I'd been to Dome's edge. They called it Steels Avenue up there, which seemed an appropriate name for where the iron Dome touched the ground. Sure enough, there was a door. I felt sure somebody would have had the good sense to jam it closed, so I didn't worry when I gave it a healthy pry with a crowbar. Damned if the thing didn't pop right open. We stepped cautiously through.
There was magic out there. A huge ball of light hung up over our heads. Tall and proud brown columns stretched as far as the eye could see. On top they were like frozen fire: orange and red and yellow. Little things were flying to and fro and they were singing! Suddenly Eric fell to his knees. "Look, Mr. Curator! Maple leafs!" There were millions of them, covering the ground. More fluttered down from above, thin and veined and beautiful. Eric looked up at me. "This must have been what it was like When Times Were Good: people living outside with the maple leafs. I think we should live out here, Mr. Curator." I laughed and cried and hugged the boy. We turned our backs on the dome and marched forward.
When it came time to fly a flag over our new town everyone agreed it should be the maple leaf, forever.
by Terence M. Green
Copyright © 1982 by Terence M. Green
Peter Zendahl was excited. He had been Selected. God, it felt good. It felt really good.
It had been 15 months since his last Selection. He could live with that. Everybody else did. But, as everyone knew, one needed these occasional rewards, these intermittent and meaningful bouquets of recognition. Not token gestures. Real gestures. Gestures with the guts left intact, with the challenge unspoiled.
It was the thing that he really liked about his teaching job this chance to be Selected.
Every morning for four years, 300 days a year since buying his condo in Pickering in 2052 he boarded the Transit, and with appropriate via-transfers arrived at the William Davis Metro Toronto Educational Centre. The hawk-like concrete structure guarded the Toronto waterfront. Rising in the elevator to the 17th floor, he strode out into the Communications Division: row upon row of metal desks, computer consoles, videotape facilities, surrounded by studio rooms, vast tape-filled wall units, illumined by soft recessed lighting which brightened the industrial tan broadloom.
This was where he prepared his lessons, along with the other 150 Communications Educators hired by the Division. This was where the tapes were conceived, written, produced, and annually modified; they were broadcast to the Domestic Educational Consoles in every home in Metro. On the 16th floor, below him, the Pure Sciences Division was similarly engaged, and below them Occupational Trades, Business Practices, then Social Sciences and so on down to the Main Floor Pre-School Division.
Peter Zendahl had slipped neatly into the cogs.
In every North American city children gathered, 300 days a year, in front of their DECs to view their lessons. The DECs in turn processed responses through the Ed Centre's central Macrovac. All grades and diplomas were computer stored for easy recall.
But today, instead of preparing his lessons as the other teachers around him were doing, Peter Zendahl had been Selected. Today was special.
The effectiveness-level of his last month's lessons had been in the top 5 per cent. Peter would be rewarded. He would be challenged.
Language as a Function of Time. It was his script and production of the lesson that had turned the trick. Students quickly absorbed the initial concept and were able to complete his Time-Space-Language coordinate charts in response. There had been a 30 per cent request for more work in the area. Nothing like this went unnoticed by the Macrovac.
Peter strode through the other teachers, heading to the far end of the room, to Room 1786.
"Way to go, Peter."
"Lucky guy." His back was slapped.
He had been Selected.
He paused at the door to Room 1786, composed himself, breathed deeply and turned the silently rolling handle. When he opened it, 20 pairs of eyes turned and gazed at him with overt curiosity.
He had been rewarded. He would be challenged.
Peter Zendahl had been selected to teach the Live Class this week all week before returning to his videotapes, computer consoles, studio rooms. There was only one such class per floor, only 18 such classes in the whole city. Twenty real live children as a class. This week they were his.
His chest filled with pride.
The children beamed.
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