Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Conversion can sneak up on you too.

As a young boy I loved science fiction, but as I got older I lost my fascination for fantasies. I took learning about the "real" world seriously. I had an interest in sports, history, self improvement, psychology, philosophy, biographies of successful people.  I enjoyed fiction, but avoided anything that seemed too unrealistic..

I have known Barry Finn, mostly as my employer at The Rider and Orange aPEEL for over fifteen years. He always struck me as an intelligent and very reasonable person, but had one fault. He was obsessed with science fiction and fantasy.  Everyone is entitled to a fault.  However as I developed interests in different directions I knew where I could turn if there was a science fiction angle and from time to time it would enter our conversations.  I came to think of it as science speculation and a whimsical extension of philosophy.

Through Barry I stumbled on Robert J Sawyer, a Canadian science fiction writer. One of the first books I read was "Calculating God" which interested me having heard about it on the radio and taking an interest in the philosophical perspective.  It had Canadian locations that I was familiar with and so my identification was reinforced.

Later following radio references to Neanderthals I picked up on a Robert J Sawyer trilogy, the Neandertahl Parallax. This time I found the narrative very compelling and again an identification of some of the scenes. The author gave me a different perspective on humanity. We humans are very vain and can't help thinking we are the centre of the universe, and of all meaning. Sawyer pictured an alternative universe with many features that seemed very logical. It seems obvious Sawyer is using science fiction as a vehicle to make philosophical points and different models for living.  As someone once said a fish is not conscious it is living in water, just as we are not conscious that we live in the air and have a worldview that seems natural to us.

More recently I took up an interest in Robert Sawyer's www trilogy. The first two books were the first two books I read on Kobo and the third I decided I couldn't wait for the electronic version.  In this series I was more conscious of Sawyer's use of a science fiction platform to make political, social and more importantly philosophical views.   Because I tended to agree with his philosophy I ate them up, but they opened up more thinking.

One of his contentions was that science fiction is still literature and good science fiction should be taken as seriously as any good literature and it has relevance to our "real" life. He makes some reference to Margaret Atwood (someone I have read sporadically, but admire). Margaret was on a recent radio program, On Point where she suggested the category of science fiction could be expanded and include her.   I look forward to reading her latest, "In Other Worlds: SF and the human imagination."

The bottom line of any book is the story. Does it entertain you? Does it stretch your thinking?  For me I admit if it seems so far fetched it has nothing I can link to in my own life I lose interest.  It is not that I have to believe the science is imminent, but the human reactions have to be believable.

Robert J. Sawyer has done a great deal of research, meaning his speculation has a solid base.  I recognize science is critical for our future, yet I have only a superficial understanding. Science fiction can help a reader to better understand science, but of course you have to be able to separate what is workable today and what might be workable in the future. The fiction part is what allows the author a vehicle to offer alternative models and sometimes to make profound observations.

The www triology is a compelling story to possible scientific progress. Geo political possibilities (cf to earlier reviews of The Great Disruption and 2030). The main heroine is a girl relocated to Waterloo Ontario. She starts the story as a blind person who is offered a chance to get sight by a doctor in Japan. He accomplishes this with some unexpected side effects. The young girl has an autistic father who is very gifted scientifically and a mother who is a liberal with a feminist perspective. Along the way you encounter a variety of people in power and in the margins, that are eventually linked up as in reality we all are.

"2030" (2011) by Albert Brooks is one of the best books on the future of a generation conflict: 

"The Great Disruption" (2011) by Paul Gilding is not science fiction but tries to project what will happen to our environment in the future.

I don't want to give away any of the stories, but feel confident if you are reasonably intelligent and reasonably open minded you will find Robert J. Sawyer hard to put down.

Barry never tried to persuade me to re-visit science fiction, just made me aware that it was one of his passions. When I expressed an interest he offered to lend me a book. I guess you could call it quiet persuasion and and I have bought into it. When you are open to different possibilities your life becomes richer.

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