[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Typical Passage


by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

When giving readings at bookstores, I often don't read the opening of a novel; rather, I look for a typical passage that embodies the flavor and theme of the book. I find that in a book superstore, where the acoustics are usually quite lousy, a six- or seven-minute reading is ideal. This is the passage I often read from FlashForward, my novel that is the basis for the hit ABC TV series of the same name.

[FlashForward Paperback]

       Theo's younger brother, Dimitrios, lived with three other young men in suburban Athens, but when Theo came calling, late in the evening, Dimitrios was home alone.

       Dim was studying European literature at the National Capodistrian University of Athens; ever since childhood, Dim had wanted to be a writer. He'd mastered his alpha-beta-gammas before he'd entered school, and was constantly typing up stories on the family computer. Theo had promised years ago to transfer all of Dim's stories from three-and-a-half-inch diskettes onto optical wafers; no home computers came with diskette readers anymore, but CERN's computing facility had some legacy systems that still used them. He thought about making the offer again, but didn't know whether it was better that Dim think he'd simply forgotten, or that he realize that years — years! — had gone by without his big brother having managed three minutes to request that simple favor from someone in the computing department.

       Dim had answered the door wearing blue jeans — how retro! — and a yellow T-shirt imprinted with the logo of Anaheim, a popular American TV series; even a European Literature major apparently couldn't help falling under the thrall of American pop culture.

       "Hello, Dim," said Theo. He had never hugged his younger brother before, but had an urge to do so now; facing the fact of one's own mortality fostered such feelings. But Dim would doubtless not know what to make of such an embrace; their father, Constantin, was not an affectionate man. Even when the ouzo was flowing more than it should have, he might pinch a waitress's behind but he'd never even tousled the hair of his boys.

       "Hey, Theo," said Dimitrios, as if he had seen him just yesterday. He stepped aside to let his brother enter.

       The house looked like you'd expect the home of four guys in their early twenties to look — a pig sty, with items of clothing draped over furniture, take-out food boxes piled on the dining-room table, and all sorts of gadgets, including high-end stereo and virtual-reality decks.

       It felt good to be speaking Greek again; he'd gotten sick of French and English, the former with its excess verbiage and the latter with its harsh, unpleasant sounds. "How are you doing?" Theo asked. "How's school?"

       "How's university, you mean," said Dim.

       Theo nodded. He'd always referred to his own post-secondary studies as university, but his brother, pursuing the arts, was just in school. Perhaps the slight had been intended; there were eight years between them, a long time, but still not enough of a buffer to insure the absence of sibling rivalry. "Sorry. How's university?"

       "It's okay." He met Theo's eyes. "One of my professors died during the FlashForward, and one of my best friends had to leave to look after his family after his parents were injured."

       There was nothing to say. "Sorry," said Theo. "It was unforeseen."

       Dim nodded and looked away. "Have you seen Mama and Poppa yet?"

       "Not yet. Later."

       "It's been hard on them, you know. All their neighbors know you work at CERN — `my son the scientist,' Poppa used to say. `My boy, the new Einstein.'" Dimitrios paused. "He doesn't say that anymore. They've had to take a lot of heat from those who lost people."

       "Sorry," said Theo again. He looked around the messy room, trying to find anything on to which he could shift the conversation.

       "You want a drink?" asked Dimitrios. "Beer? Mineral water?"

       "No, thanks."

       Dimitrios was quiet for a few moments. He walked into the living room; Theo followed. Dim sat on the couch, pushing some papers and clothes onto the floor to make room. Theo found a chair that was reasonably free of clutter and sat on it.

       "You've ruined my life," said Dimitrios, his eyes meeting then avoiding his brother's. "I want you to know that."

       Theo felt his heart jump. "How?"

       "These — these visions. Dammit, Theo, don't you know how hard it is to face the keyboard each day? Don't you know how easy it is to become discouraged?"

       "But you're a terrific writer, Dim. I've read your work. The way you handle the language is beautiful. That piece you did about the summer you spent on Crete — you captured Knossos perfectly."

       "It doesn't matter; none of that matters. Don't you see? Twenty-one years hence, I won't be famous. I won't have made it. Twenty-one years hence, I'll be working in a restaurant, serving souvlaki and tzatziki to tourists."

       "Maybe it was a dream — maybe you're dreaming in the year 2030."

       Dim shook his head. "I found the restaurant; it's over by the Tower of the Winds. I met the manager; he's the same guy who'll be running it twenty-one years from now. He recognized me from his vision and I recognized him from mine."

       Theo tried to be gentle. "Many writers don't make their living writing. You know that."

       "But how many would go on, year after year, if they didn't think that someday — maybe not today, maybe not next year, but eventually — that they would break out? That they'd make it?"

       "I don't know. I've never thought about it."

       "It's the dream that makes artists go on. How many struggling actors are giving up today — right now — because their visions proved to them that they'll never make it? How many painters on the streets of Paris threw away their palettes this past week because they know that even decades hence they'll never be recognized? How many rock bands, practicing in their parents' garages, have broken up? You've taken away the dream from millions of us. Some people were lucky — they were sleeping in the future. Because they were dreaming then, their real dreams haven't been shattered."

       "I — I hadn't thought about it that way."

       "Of course you hadn't. You're so obsessed with finding out who killed you that you can't see straight. But I've got news for you, Theo. You're not the only one who's dead in the year 2030. I'm dead, too — a waiter in an overpriced tourist joint! I'm dead, and so, I'm sure, are millions of others. And you killed them: you killed their hopes, their dreams, their futures."

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