Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Following Ghomeshigate

by Rob - October 31st, 2014.
Filed under: CBC.

Why am I so interested in the Jian Ghomeshi case? It has nothing to do with Jian personally, whom I liked those times I’ve encountered him; as everybody, even his alleged victims, has noted, he’s charming and charismatic. When he interviewed me on Q, he did a good, insightful job, and I enjoyed the experience.

And, honestly, I’d completely forgotten the following fact, which I uncovered only a couple of days ago when searching for when I’d been on Q:

On March 13, 2007, I received an email from a producer at the CBC that said, “I know you’re really busy these days but I figure there’s no harm in asking. I’m working on a new national arts and culture show, as yet unnamed, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. We’re currently checking out possible regular contributors and we’re keen on having someone do a regular ‘Tomorrow in History’ segment. Of course, your name was at the top of my list and the Executive Producer Mark O’Neill is a fan of your work.”

I had an interview about the job, but nothing came of it — which happens all the time; I do lots of interviews, pitch sessions, and so on.

But I am fascinated by the CBC. Going back to my initial association with them, when they very kindly commissioned me to write and narrate three one-hour radio documentaries about the history of science fiction for CBC Radio One’s Ideas series (I was commissioned in 1983, when I was just 23, and did the work in 1985), through to the present day, the CBC has been enormously supportive of my work.

I’ve been interviewed by most of the greats there, including the legendary Peter Gzowski at Morningside, Brent Bambury, Andy Barrie, Ralph Benmergui, Mary Ito, Peter Kavanagh, Sook-Yin Lee, Bob McDonald, Alan Neal, Carol Off, Anne Petrie, Valerie Pringle, Shelagh Rogers, Tina Srebotnjak, Pamela Wallin, and, yes, Jian Ghomeshi.

I owe a great deal of the fact that I’m a national mainstream bestselling author in Canada to the constant, unflagging support of the CBC. In addition to all the interviews, I’ve sold them radio drama, my novel Rollback was serialized on their Between the Covers program, they’ve read short fiction by me on air, and so on.

More: as my fellow Ryerson Radio and Television Arts grad Tanya Huff will tell you, she and I graduated in 1982, just after the CBC had its first-ever round of massive layoffs. We’d both had our eyes set on working for the Corporation, and, had there actually been jobs to be had, we might have ended up there, instead of going off to write novels. And many of our classmates and friends did eventually end up there.

Also, I worked very hard over a period of years with producers Joe Mahoney and Fergus Heywood to sell the CBC a radio and/or new-media series about science fiction; we produced four different pilots. None of them sold, which is fine — I’ve no ax to grind; my professional life has been full and rewarding.

But I am fascinated by the notion of parallel universes (a mainstay of science fiction and recently much in the press because of some discoveries that suggest they might actually exist).

In addition to exploring that notion on the grand scale in my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, I’ve been making notes for years for a novel on this theme for a more intimate one-life look (expanding on the theme of my short story “Lost in the Mail”); the novel has the working title The Many Lives of Toby Willis (a play on the 1959-1963 TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), although that will surely change if I ever write it.

Besides being a frequent visitor to the CBC’s headquarters at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre (where Jian Ghomeshi’s Q is produced), and besides working on various CBC projects, there are many plausible alternative realities in which my own life would have involved an even bigger connection with the CBC.

And so just as I follow the machinations, drama, and politics of the Royal Ontario Museum (which is where I had my heart set on working up until I turned 18 and abandoned my plans to become a vertebrate paleontologist), I’m likewise fascinated by what goes on at the Corporation.

Non-Canadians may never quite get the Canadian affection / obsession / love-hate relationship with the CBC, and even those Canadians who live in big cities might not really appreciate how much the CBC is the glue that holds this country together (a fact driven vividly home to me when I lived in Dawson City in the Yukon), but it’s an important part of our national life — and of my life, and might have been an even bigger part.

So, in addition to the very important contribution the Ghomeshi affair has made to our ongoing and crucial conversation about the treatment of women, the insights into the inner workings of the CBC revealed this past week have, to me, been absolutely gripping.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Leave a Reply