On the occasion of Robert J. Sawyer’s donation of his archive to Mills Memorial Library, the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University is hosting an international conference entitled “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre,” a meeting of academics, writers, professionals, amateurs and fans, focusing on Canadian Science Fiction in general and Sawyer’s work in particular.
While the core of the event will be academic papers, we will also feature authors, editors, booksellers, librarians, commentators, and, of course, readers. Special guests are Robert J. Sawyer (author), John Robert Colombo (specialist of Canadian literature), Julie E. Czerneda (author), David G. Hartwell (editor, Tor), Élisabeth Vonarburg (author), Robert Charles Wilson (author), and Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books.
The multimodal or interdisciplinary approach to the creation, reception and study of the SF genre has been a salient characteristic from Hugo Gernsback’s initial conceiving of the term “scientifiction” in 1926. Later, literary theorists such as Darko Suvin insisted on the particular knowledge, competency and frame of mind required in order to decipher the genre’s figurative meaning: SF, according to Suvin,
is an educational literature, […] irreversibly shaped by the pathos of preaching the good word of human curiosity, fear, and hope. […] It demands from the author and reader, teacher and critic, not merely specialized, quantified positivistic knowledge (scientia) but a social imagination whose quality of wisdom (sapienta) testifies to the maturity of his critical and creative thought. [Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979): 40.]
Indeed, Sawyer’s work has garnered the attention of both the literary and scientific communities for its technical accuracy presented through speculative imagination, appealing to both the rational imperative and the sense of wonder inherent in the union of science and fiction. While Sawyer’s stated mandate is foremost to “intrigue,” and not strictly to “educate,” he insists that “[r]esearch is the heart and soul of modern SF writing; scientists are handing us gigantic ideas and mind-boggling stuff” on which to base stories. Through rigorous research initiatives, Sawyer has cultivated and contributed valuably to knowledge in various fields and his expertise is highly sought-after in both popular culture and official circles: for example, he explains that when he was writing “Frameshift, I thought I didn’t know enough genetics, so I dived in to learn all about it… and ended up on Rivera Live on CNBC talking about the Human Genome Project and advising Canada’s Federal Department of Justice about it.” Sawyer’s work and that of other thinkers and writers, past, present and future, have the power, “with words, [to] reach across time, even after death, to influence people.” Human knowledge thus becomes increasingly accessible thanks to the various media through which it is approached and transmitted. Diverse perspectives on knowledge serve to shed new light on traditional thinking and sf clearly represents radically different perspectives:
Multidisciplinary studies are the future: one of the reasons I write so much about the burgeoning science of consciousness […] is that it is so multidisciplinary: neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, AI researchers, anesthesiologists, quantum physicists, philosophers, and even some of us lowly science-fiction writers have made important contributions. [Sawyer quotes taken from an interview conducted by Roger Deforest and posted April 3rd, 2007 on the website Hard SF: “Robert J. Sawyer Confronts Our Damn Life Clocks in Rollback.” <http://www.hardsciencefiction.rogerdeforest.com/?mode=8&id=6>]
It is in the spirit of an interdisciplinarity approach to science, fiction and science fiction that we invite thinkers of varying descriptions to propose talks aimed at enriching the discussion. While the conference is focused on Canadian SF and especially the literary work of Robert J. Sawyer, papers may address the broader issues at stake, notably the scientific and ethical ramifications at the core of the fictional intrigues: machines matching human capabilities (or the singularity), synthetic biology, etc. We would also welcome panel proposals should you feel inclined to organize your talk and those of willing collaborators under a single topic.
The principle language of the event will be English, though we would like to explore the possibility of running certain panels in French, according to the needs of presenters and interest of other participants. Please indicate if you are a native speaker of French or sufficiently fluent and whether or not you would prefer to give your talk in French or if you are in a position to attend talks and panel discussions in French.
Please send proposals (of 300 words max.) by March 31st, 2013 to both C. Annette Grisé <grisec [at] mcmaster [dot] ca> and Nicholas Serruys <serruys [at] mcmaster [dot] ca>.
We will also endeavor to publish a volume of selected articles, ideally within the year following the event.