SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Canada Council
Sci-Fi: Taken For Granted
by Robert J. Sawyer
First published in The Ottawa Citizen, the largest-circulation
newspaper in Canada's capital city, Monday, April 8, 2013; this is
the definitive version of the text.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Twenty years ago, when my
novel came out, Books in Canada magazine
profiled me. The
Andrew Weiner, quoted
me as saying, "Maybe it's a grass-is-always-greener thing. But I
can't help thinking that writers working in almost any other area
are getting more respect. It's really very frustrating."
To which Weiner added: "No respect. At times Sawyer
seems about to slip into a Rodney Dangerfield routine. I
can't get no respect."
Well, of course, in the two decades since, I've gotten
a lot of respect.
Just last month I received the
Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor
General's office. And on March 18,
McMaster University picked
up 52 boxes of my papers to add to their
archives surely a sign that SF is now part of the
And yet that same week, the
Canada Council for the
Arts turned me down for the tenth time for a grant to
write a novel. The Council's
for Professional Writers - Creative Writing" are valued at up
to $25,000. One might argue that I don't need the money anymore
(although I certainly did when I first started applying). But
economic need is not a granting criterion, and bestselling
writers of other types routinely receive grants.
(Back in 1993, a churlish fellow claimed I wasn't "grant-worthy."
I shut him up by applying for and receiving an Ontario Arts
There are those who say (although being so is nowhere in the
Canada Council's rules) that science fiction can't really be
about Canada. They're wrong: my books are mostly set in
this country, have Canadian protagonists, revel in our diversity,
and deal with Canadian themes. As The Globe and Mail
has said, "Sawyer sells
so well in Canada because of his celebration of our culture;
citizens seek him out for both a good story and affirmation of
Then again, maybe the particular projects I've proposed to the
Canada Council weren't significant. Judge for yourself: here are
some of the novels I went on to write after the Council declined
to support them:
- The Terminal
Experiment, which won both the Science Fiction and
Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula
Award and the
(Canada's highest honour in SF) for best novel of the year, and
was a finalist for the
Hugo Award, the top international prize in
which received a
review in Publishers Weekly ("denoting a book of
exceptional merit"), won the
won in blind judging Europe's top SF award
Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción),
and was adapted by ABC into a
which also received a
review from Publishers Weekly, was named one of the ten
best SF novels of the year by the
American Library Association,
was the 2009 "One Book, One Brant"
community-wide reading choice,
and was a finalist for both the
Hugo and the top juried prize in
the SF field, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
(which I applied for three times), which won the
was a Hugo and
Campbell finalist and a Globe and Mail
bestseller, and also received a starred
which won the American juried
Hal Clement Award for year's best
young-adult novel, won the Aurora,
was one of three finalists for
the Canadian Authors Association's
("honouring writing that achieves excellence without sacrificing popular
appeal"), was a finalist for the Audio Publishers Association's
and was a Globe bestseller.
- And Triggers,
which made five year's best lists,
was the publishing trade journal Quill & Quire's
for SF or fantasy novel of the year by authors of any
nationality, was a Globe and Maclean's bestseller,
and is a current finalist for the Ontario Library Association's
and CBC Radio's Bookie Award.
Yes, from time to time, writers of "speculative fiction"
the obfuscatory term used to hide what's really being produced
do receive Canada Council grants, but for most of us whose
work is widely read, crumbs may be had but not plums:
In the former category, five years ago, Toronto libraries hosted
Canada Council-sponsored public readings under the title
"Foresight: Speculative Fiction in Canada," with authors paid
$150 fees less than 1% of the maximum value of a
creative-writing grant (I declined to participate).
But in 2007, after I arrived in the Klondike at
Berton House, the famed writing retreat, I discovered the
Canada Council had, for the first and only time, overruled the
unanimous choice of the selection committee in Dawson City,
denying funding for my stay.
Nonetheless, I did what one is supposed to do: I wrote a novel
inspired by my time in the Yukon.
Blues, set in the Mars colony of New Klondike against
the backdrop of the Great Martian Fossil Rush, has just been
published under Penguin Canada's mainstream Viking imprint,
hitting #3 on the Maclean's fiction bestsellers' list. It,
too, had its grant application denied by the Canada Council
as did the new book I'm starting to write now.
Andrew Weiner ended that 20-year-old Books in Canada
profile with these words: "Robert J. Sawyer may indeed go boldly
where almost no science-fiction writer has gone before, into the
strange alien galaxy of the Canadian literary mainstream. And he
may, in the end, get some respect."
And I guess I did, from
the Canada Council for the Arts. I suppose we can
check again on that score in another 20 years. I'm sure I'll
still be around then but if the Canada Council isn't, I
hope you'll forgive me if I don't shed a tear.
Robert J. Sawyer's 22nd novel,
Blues, is just out, no thanks to the Canada
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