Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

R.I.P., J. Brian Clarke

by Rob - January 17th, 2022.
Filed under: Canadian SF, R.I.P..

One of the greats of Canadian science fiction has left us. Calgary’s own J. Brian Clarke, born May 23, 1928, who used to often appear in Analog, passed away on December 17, 2021, at the age of 93; his son James just wrote me with the news.

Brian was the inaugural winner of the A.E. Van Vogt Award for his novel Alphanauts, and I wrote this introduction to that book:

Introduction: Science Fiction’s Other Clarke

by Robert J. Sawyer

I know what it’s like.

My last name is Sawyer, and so people are forever asking me if I’m any relation to Tom. If I’m in a good mood, I just politely answer no; if my mood is more foul, I point out that Tom was a fictional character, and so there’s no possible way I could be related to him since, last time I checked, this was the real world.

J. Brian Clarke has it equally tough — maybe more so, in his chosen field of science-fiction writing. People ask all the time whether he’s any relation to 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke.

And, actually, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as in my own case.

Is Brian a member of Sir Arthur’s immediate family. No.

But as a writer …

As a writer, Brian has a lot in common with Sri Lanka’s most-famous resident.

Arthur C. Clarke’s long-time association with the British Interplanetary Society is well known. J. Brian Clarke is a Fellow of that organization — as well as a past president of the Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Arthur C. Clarke is famous for his ties with the magazine that was once called Astounding Stories and now goes by the moniker Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

J. Brian Clarke is a regular in that publication’s pages, with sixteen stories, including five cover stories, to his credit.

And, of course, Arthur C. Clarke is known for somehow turning a bunch of scientists sitting around talking into some of the most scintillating, unputdownable prose around.

Ditto our Brian. He writes about scientists and engineers, about people who think and do, about problems that have to be solved and the men and women who roll up their sleeves and get the work done. His characters are the kinds of scientists-as-heroes that our real world inexplicably lacks but that were the mainstay of the Golden Age of science fiction.

Most of Brian’s Analog stories are in his “Expediters” universe — including his best-known tale, “Earthgate,” which appeared as the lead story in Donald A. Wollheim’s The 1986 Annual World’s Best SF. These stories were combined into a wonderful gem of a novel called The Expediter that came out from DAW in 1990. I remember reading that book with great fondness, years before I first had the pleasure of meeting Brian.

This current novel started in the pages of Analog, too, with the novelette “Return of the Alphanauts” in the August 1990 issue, and the sequel “Adoption” from the May 1992 issue. Alphanauts is an even better tale than The Expediter — the work of a writer who has the easy confidence of experience, not to mention one of the biggest hearts in science fiction.

Brian is unflaggingly supportive of new writers. He gave me excellent feedback on a draft of my own early novel Starplex, and he’s often seen in classrooms helping young people learn how to tell their own stories.

He’s also seen frequently at SF conventions — indeed, he recently made quite a stir in Canadian SF circles with his rousing defense of SF conventions in The Calgary Herald newspaper.

SF could ask for no better ambassador. So sit back, relax, and enjoy: the alphanauts have come home.

Here’s a profile Brian himself wrote anonymously for the March 1993 issue of Alouette, the newsletter for Canadian members of SFWA that I used to produce.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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