This weekend, McMaster is going to be invaded. The infiltrators will take over classrooms, lecture halls, and council chambers, all for their own purposes. Yet, these invaders are not malevolent extra-terrestrials or androids. Rather, they are enthusiastic writers, editors, professors, and fans of science fiction.
Starting on Friday, the university will host “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre,” a conference in honour of renowned Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer recently spoke with ANDY about his archival donation to McMaster. The weekend’s conference will focus on his oeuvre, but will also include appearances from a long list of other important figures in the Canadian science fiction community. Scheduled guests include authors Julie E. Czerneda, Élizabeth Vonarburg, and Robert Charles Wilson, as well as editors John Robert Colombo and David Hartwell.
According to conference co-organizer Dr. Catherine Grisé, Sawyer’s papers should give scholars “a better sense of how the science fiction community in Canada works and how people worked together.” Grisé also noted that this community is surprisingly active. Her co-organizer, Dr. Nicholas Serruys, teaches and researches French Canadian science fiction at McMaster.
In Sawyer’s archives, scholars are also likely to find voluminous research notes. “One of the hallmarks of what [Robert J. Sawyer] does,” she said, “is to take on a topic and then do all the science reading and research behind that particular topic as he is preparing his novel or series.” For example, his most recent novel, Red Planet Blues, discusses fossilization and paleontology on the planet Mars.
To Grisé, another distinctive quality of Sawyer’s writing is his strong interest in ideas of interdisciplinarity. “What he is interested in is the way that science connects with ideas of humanity, religion, and philosophy, so that you get a richness,” she said.
As the title of the conference suggests, the opportunity to combine different disciplines can be seen as a strength of science fiction literature in general. In Grisé’s experience, undergraduate electives on science fiction always attract students from a wide range of departments.
Yet, despite its popular appeal, science fiction has not always been similarly embraced by academics. In Grisé’s opinion, however, attitudes are changing.
“We’re hoping to add to that momentum of dispelling that myth and seeing science fiction as very much something that is worthy of being studied,” Grisé said.
The organizers also hope that the conference will inspire discussion and community engagement. In keeping with this goal, admission to the conference will be free and open to the general public. “Academics might have more jargon or more specific ways of talking about [science fiction],” Grisé added, ”but there are also lots of ways we can celebrate those kinds of works together.”