By Corina Milic
Sunday evening’s round table, From Science to Fiction, had little to nothing to do with the way authors blur science and fantasy.
It barely resembled the program description, as at least one annoyed audience member pointed out. That same member asked one of the few questions related to the discussion title, namely, how science relates to each author’s fiction. So let’s get that over with, shall we?
Robert J. Sawyer is out with his new novel, Triggers, in which characters have access to a sort of groupthink. Sawyer said he writes “hard science fiction” where research (in this case on memory science) is integral to the plot.
Ned Beauman’s novel is The Teleportation Accident. Of the night’s topic he said, “As soon as I knew I’d be writing about teleportation in the 1930s, I knew I’d have to forget any kind of science. In historical fiction you have to make sure that nothing is accidentally wrong, but it’s perfectly acceptable to get something wrong on purpose.”
Hiromi Goto’s novel, Darkest Light, revolves around a boy’s discovery of his monstrous past. Goto said she is inspired by science’s often-poetic language and the non-scientific meanings she can render from its vocabulary.
Got that out of your system? Good, because the real awkward moments, literary jabs and interesting points came when moderator Lorna Toolis, of the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, asked, “Do you read your own reviews?”
Sawyer and Goto butted heads on the value of reading reviews, particularly those online. Beauman bowed out early, saying “I have my Amazon pages blocked on my computer, and I have Goodreads.com blocked entirely.”
Goto said she reads reviews because she is “curious to know how a text is read” and that on the Internet, “you have a large number of people decoding your book in a certain way over there when your intentions were over here.”
Sawyer, on the other hand, said he prefers “professional reviews.” “The ideal review, from the author’s point of view, is when the reader gets it, gets what you were trying to do.”
If books are conversations, Goto said, she is more interested in learning how readers interpret her words. Her goal is to open the text up to a wider audience, not, she suggested, narrow the discussion to those who already get it, like Sawyer.
Sawyer argued he goes to great lengths to break the “glass ceiling of genre fiction.” “I’ve written more books than the two of you combined,” he said, pointing out that he began shedding the traditional sci-fi tropes (such as spaceships) with his very first novels.
He added that he attracted new fans to the genre when his 1999 novel Flashforward was turned into a series of the same name for ABC in 2009. “A thinking person’s thriller on primetime television,” as he calls it.
Sawyer admitted Amazon.com was good for one thing. The site doesn’t label books like stores; isolating genre authors from potential readers who might never think to enter the science fiction section.