Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Accepting Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award

by Rob - October 6th, 2013.
Filed under: Auroras, Awards, Milestones.

This morning at Can-Con 2013 in Ottawa, this year’s Canadian National Science Fiction Convention, I received a Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award — the first one given to an author in 30 years — from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association; the award was presented to by Hayden Trenholm. This was my acceptance speech:

Thank you all very much.

Since it was announced that I was getting this award, some people have said to me, “Well, I guess you can stop now” — although they usually leave it unsaid as to precisely what I should stop.

Do they mean I should stop writing? Well, perhaps. I’ve published twenty-two novels and forty-four short stories — over two million words of fiction, all of which is currently in print.

Earlier this year, I shipped my manuscript archives off to McMaster University, and, looking back over that body of work, I’m content. If the vicissitudes either of life or of publishing mean that the novel I’m writing now turns out to be my last, so be it.

But perhaps when people suggested I should stop, they meant I should stop winning Aurora Awards.

Well, I gave up writing short fiction eight years ago, and I have no new novel coming in 2014, so for the Auroras being given out in 2015, at least, there’s no way I’ll be on the ballot; as in every year, may the finest novel win, and I wish all the writers here the best of luck. Believe me, I know what it’s like to lose Auroras — I’ve lost them twenty-seven times to date.

But you know what? I was happy to lose all those Auroras. That these awards have been won by such a diverse and talented range of people — including my great friends James Alan Gardner, Edo van Belkom, and Robert Charles Wilson — makes the ones I did win have value.

Of course, I’ve been particularly delighted when Auroras have gone to my own writing students. No one was happier than me when Eileen Bell, Derwin Mak, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden, Douglas Smith, Isaac Szpindel, Hayden Trenholm, and Edward Willett took home their trophies; teaching and mentoring have always been as important to me as my writing.

Still, far more common than people saying to me “I guess you can stop now” has been people suggesting “you’re too young to win a lifetime achievement award.” No one meant this insensitively, of course, but in June I lost my younger brother Alan Sawyer to lung cancer; he was 51 when he passed away, two years younger than I am now.

Alan was a multimedia producer, and the year before he died he won an Emmy award — an honest-to-God Emmy from the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Fortunately, no one said he was too young when he got it, and that honour, which turned out to be the culmination of his career, awarded just months before his terminal prognosis, has ensured his place in the history of his field.

As it happens, I’m part of the committee that chooses another lifetime achievement honour, the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master trophy given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America — that organization’s highest distinction, presented at the Nebula Award banquet.

Choosing the recipient is a process another SFWA past president has referred to as “actuarial.” Or, as I explained it to my brother-in-law David Clink — himself an Aurora nominee this year — the sad reality is that when the Grand Master trophy shows up in your home, it means somebody thinks you’re about to die. To which Dave replied, “Ah, I get it — it’s the Horsehead Nebula Award.”

In 1996, SFWA’s Grand Master Award went to A.E. van Vogt. By coincidence, that same night, I won the best novel Nebula for The Terminal Experiment. At the end of the banquet aboard the Queen Mary, I sought out van Vogt. We’d never met, I explained to him, but he had been an inspiration to me: this guy from Manitoba who’d published 600,000 words of science fiction with major US publishers while still living in Canada had been proof that the goal I intended to devote my life to — being a Canadian science fiction writer — was possible.

A.E. van Vogt looked warmly at me, then his face grew sad. “You know,” he said, “I remember having been a science-fiction writer — but I can’t remember a single thing that I wrote.” By this point, van Vogt, whose 84th birthday had been the day before, was in the grips of the Alzheimer’s disease that would kill him.

But fortunately for all of us, the founders of the Aurora Awards weren’t actuaries; they didn’t wait until it was almost too late to honour van Vogt. Rather, he received his lifetime achievement Aurora Award — the very first Aurora ever given — in 1980, when he was 67 years old, with another two decades of life ahead of him.

So when is the right time to give a lifetime award? Hugo-award winning fan writer Susan Wood got the second Lifetime Achievement Aurora ever given, in 1981. She was just 32 when the award was presented — or she would have been had she lived to see it; her trophy was bestowed posthumously.

And so, at this point in my career, however close to its end it might be, and at this date in my life, however far off the final chapter still is, I am pleased, proud, and deeply touched to be receiving this trophy.

This award is for a lot of people. It’s for my own mentors, John Robert Colombo, Terence M. Green, and Andrew Weiner. It’s for the editors who have worked so closely with me over the years, including Peter Heck, Susan Allison, Stanley Schmidt, David G. Hartwell, Ginjer Buchanan, and Adrienne Kerr. It’s for my wife, Aurora Award-winning poet Carolyn Clink, who has been along for this whole crazy ride. But most of all, as I look back over a lifetime, it’s for my brother Alan. It ain’t no Emmy, broski, but it truly does mean the world to me.

Thank you all very, very much.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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