[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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Terence M. Green

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1992 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Abstract: A 1,000-word profile of Canadian SF writer Terence M. Green by Nebula-Award-winning SF writer Robert J. Sawyer. Green is the author of the novels Barking Dogs, Children of the Rainbow, Shadow of Ashland, and Blue Limbo, and is a contributor to Asimov's, F&SF, and the 1994 Tor anthology Northern Stars. Interview conducted February 1992 at Green's home; first published in Aloud, the newsletter of Toronto's Harbourfront International Reading Series. Copyright 1992 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.

Terence M. Green is boldly going where no Canadian Science Fiction Author has gone before. He's the first SF author in this country to cross-over from having his books issued as genre SF in the States to having a novel released as a mainstream work from a major domestic publisher.

True, when Margaret Atwood and Hugh MacLennan wrote their SF novels The Handmaid's Tale and Voices in Time, they were released without the words "science fiction" on the spine. But unlike them, Green comes squarely out of the genre tradition of SF: he's best known for his brilliant short work in the American digests Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Still, McClelland & Stewart has just released Green's latest SF novel, Children of the Rainbow, as a mainstream trade paperback.

"Publishing in the United States is broken into genres such as science fiction and mystery," says Green, 45, a Toronto school teacher. "I think that's unreasonable philosophically. It's a marketing strategy that has nothing to do with reading or writing. To have a genre called science fiction and to include in it everything from Brack the Barbarian to Martin Amis's Time's Arrow is to group the sublime and the ridiculous."

It's the quality of his work that propelled Green into the centre of Canadian literature, of course. Few writers — whether called genre authors or mainstream — have garnered the kind of reviews Green has had. Inside the SF field, Green's short story collection The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind (Pottersfield, 1987) was hailed by Hugo-award-winning SF author Orson Scott Card as "a milestone for all of us" and Locus: The Newspaper of the SF Field said Green's first novel, Barking Dogs (St. Martin's Press, 1988), was "not to be missed."

But the general press was just as laudatory: Of Green's collection, Canadian Materials said, "the writing is captivating" with stories of "serious reflection, wry humour, and devastating irony." And The Globe and Mail declared that Barking Dogs would "keep the reader riveted to the last paragraph."

And now, Children of the Rainbow, a time-travel novel.

"The story," says Green, "is about two people displaced in space and time. You don't have to be a science fiction reader to appreciate that. We're all displaced in one way or another. One of my characters is displaced happily; the other, miserably. In the novel, they're displaced through time by a nuclear blast. Metaphorically, everyone at some point in their life encounters a nuclear blast: the death of a loved one, the breakup of a long-standing relationship, the loss of a job. You're displaced, but you cope somehow. You go on. That's the psychological realism of the book."

It's no surprise that in the acknowledgments for Children of the Rainbow, Green credits "with real fondness" the apartment on Heath Street East in Toronto where he put his own life back together after one of his own personal nuclear blasts: the break-up of his marriage. And his current writing project, an expansion to novel length of his acclaimed short story Ashland, Kentucky, likewise is a way of dealing with another such blast: the death of his mother.

"It wasn't until I started dealing with these sorts of things that my writing hit its power," says Green. "Up until then, I'd been writing stuff. Now I incorporate painful life experience. That turned out to be my voice — the horrors of my life. A writer has to deal with what's really important, with what really moves you."

Perhaps the best assessment to date of Green's work comes from Judith Merril, the principal North American editor during SF's literary "New Wave" movement of the 1960s:

Terry Green wants to know what love is all about — how it happens, why it happens, what it does for/to people who love or are loved. Using the uniquely flexible `special effects' of science fantasy — dislocations in space and time, alien cultures, trick technology, outright magic — he distances / magnifies / highlights / contrasts the mechanisms and meanings of these most familiar and least understood of all human experiences.

In a similar vein, M. T. Kelly, winner of the Governor General's Award for fiction, says that Children of the Rainbow is "written with passion and love. Its great humanity and religious sense are as clear as the Pacific."

All the same, for one so fascinated by love, Green is often characterized as being an angry writer. It's that anger that drove his first novel, Barking Dogs, in which police officer Mitch Helwig of Toronto's finest goes on a vigilante spree, cleaning up the city's streets. He's armed with a hand laser and the Barking Dog of the title, an infallible lie detector that lets him play judge and jury to the scum making the city Green grew up in unsafe. It's no mere coincidence that Green dedicated Barking Dogs to his two sons, Conor and Owen: his anger is that of a father enraged by what's happening to the world his beloved children will grow up in.

Likewise, this passage from Children of the Rainbow is quintessential Green. Here, Major Anderson, the commandant of the Norfolk Island penal colony in 1835, faces a man from the future who has taken the place of one of his prisoners:

Anderson studied the man. "I will tell you this: I am outraged that you are somehow involved in something that has to do with my family. May God help you if you step in where you have absolutely no business. I will forget that I am a soldier, an officer, and will let you know the full measure of my wrath as a husband and father."

Green does write with anger, and with conviction, but it is all driven by the love Judith Merril and M. T. Kelly cite. For Terence M. Green, the limitless vistas of space and time are simply metaphor. More than anything else, he's writing about family.

[1998 bionote] Robert J. Sawyer is the author of the science-fiction novels Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner, End of an Era, The Terminal Experiment, Starplex, Frameshift, Illegal Alien, and Factoring Humanity. He won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year (for The Terminal Experiment) and has been a finalist for the Hugo Award four times.

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Encyclopedia Galactica entry on Terry Green
An older interview with Terry from Books in Canada
Rob's interview with Isaac Asimov
Rob's interview with Donald Kingsbury
Rob's tribute to Judith Merril
Rob's profile of Edo van Belkom

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