Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Putting SF characters on the couch

by Rob - September 24th, 2015.
Filed under: Pop Culture, Writing.

One of my favourite schticks as a writer is the psychological counselling of my science-fictional characters. I built the entire novel FOREIGNER around it (with the alien counterpart of Galileo being psychoanalyzed by the alien counterpart of Freud), and it is also the framing device in my Hugo Award-nominated HUMANS (where a Neanderthal shrink, Jurard Selgan [named for my friend Marcel Gerard Gagné] has sessions with a troubled Neanderthal quantum physicist).

I’d long thought I’d lifted that from my favourite SF novel, Frederik Pohl’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning GATEWAY (in which a guilt-ridden man is psychoanalyzed by a computer). I first read GATEWAY in the summer of 1978, when it was freshly out in paperback.

Today, while treadmilling, and in honour of me reading Richard Anderson’s as-told-to-by autobiography, I popped in what is either the best or second-best episode of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, namely “The Seven Million Dollar Man” (the only one that equals it in quality is “The Last Kamikaze,” written by Judy Burns). It’s the best work Richard Anderson ever did in the series, and just about the best Lee Majors ever did, Alan Oppenheimer knocks it out of the park as Rudy Wells, and Monte Markham, as the second cyborg, turns in the performance of his career. It’s a perfect combination of cast, script (by Peter Allan Fields), and direction (Dick Moder).

But, as I noted today, it’s also exactly my schtick, at least at the beginning: the psychological analysis of a science-fiction character. The beginning has Steve undergoing his 12th quarterly psych evaluation since becoming a cyborg, and Rudy’s nurse, at the end of the session, stealing the tape recording of the session to give to Markham’s character, the second — emotionally deranged — cyborg.

I saw “Seven Million” when it first aired, on November 1, 1974, almost four years before I read GATEWAY, and that scene probably informed my later work if not as much as Pohl at least quite significantly.

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