Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer ("Flash Forward") Visits Omaha
Flash Forward author Robert J. Sawyer will be appearing in Omaha at the third annual OSFest, sponsored by the Omaha Science Fiction Education Society this weekend, July 23-25.Most recently, Sawyer has been brought into the foreground of popular culture when his book Flash Forward was adapted into a television series that aired on ABC. While the show didn’t manage to garner the following necessary to secure it a second season, it has made Sawyer a household name.
A Canadian native, Robert J. Sawyer has written nineteen novels, and has won numerous awards for his science fiction including the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell memorial awards. His works have the depth that makes good science fiction into truly great, covering topics such as alien life, alternate realities, warps in time and space, and many other strong science fiction basics.
His stories also bring something more to the reader. While portraying an alternate reality where science is stretched to beyond its current boundaries, Sawyer manages to dig into deeper issues that are easily relevant in current times. He’s addressed the ideas of fate versus free will, the existence and rationality of belief in a higher power, and the role of religion in the formation of a truly peaceful society among many others.
My first experience with Sawyer’s work is still my favorite. In Calculating God, the reader meets paleontologist Thomas Jericho.As a staunch atheist, Jericho always believed that rationality and logic clearly indicated that god could not possibly exist. When an alien ship arrives, carrying two different alien races, Jericho feels comfortable that his beliefs will not be challenged by any beings of scientific and mathematical superiority. Soon he finds this is not so, and Jericho is challenged to take a closer look at his own life, and that of his fellow humans, in order to look for the evidence that he had always discounted: perhaps that god does exist.
Sawyer handles many of the most common arguments against the existence of the divine with surprising delicacy and creativity. His story is told with clarity while still leaving the major conclusions in the hands of the reader. The character of Jericho is easy to connect to, and while his aliens my appear anything but human, there is an underlying nature that makes the reader realize that there is some essential essence of intelligent life that could easily belong to others besides those we call Homo-sapiens.The story is well presented and the ending left this particular reader with a sense of contentment that only the best books can muster. In the end, the reader is left contemplating what it means to have a creator of the universe and whether or not god must be omnipotent and omniscient to fulfill that title. It is not surprising that this book was a Hugo finalist and the winner of an Audie.
The first of the Neanderthal trilogy, Hominids, was a Hugo award winning novel that told the story of two separate realities that collide when a being from one reality is transported into the other. Hidden in the tale of Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal scientist of another reality who gets transported into a parallel reality much like ours, are the questions of what it means to be human and to be civilized.
Ponter is a Neanderthal in a world where Homo sapiens died out at around the same time that Neanderthals died out in ours. The technology Ponter’s reality has reached a point similar to ours where quantum computing is closer and closer to being a reality; one experiment with a quantum computer sends Ponter into another reality where he is thrown into a society that from his perspective is wasteful, barbaric, and violent.As the reader watches Ponter’s struggles and the events going on in his absence in the other reality, it is clear that human society in our reality is far from a utopia (though there are definite advantages to the world we have created for ourselves). Once again, Sawyer pushes his reader to think critically and view the world from another perspective.
When Flash Forward came out on television, it presented the first opportunity to show Sawyer’s work in a dramatic format. The premise of this show was simple: What if everyone in the world blacked out and saw a brief glimpse of their lives six months in the future? The ideas of fate and freewill and the question of fate are integral to the story that plays out in the lives of the characters. The normal human struggles are almost augmented by the knowledge of what might come in the days ahead.
In the series, problems with pacing ended up costing the show viewers as the producers struggled to create a story that would fill out multiple seasons from a book that was an excellent stand-alone entity. Still, the mystery that folded out on screen left many viewers hanging and extremely disappointed when the show wasn’t renewed and the questions of the great blackout remained unanswered.
These are just a couple of examples of how prolific author Robert J. Sawyer has left his mark on the science fiction genre. One great example of the complexity of good science fiction, Sawyer certainly has some interesting stories and ideas to share. If you can’t make it out to OSFest this weekend, make sure to pick up one of his many books at your favorite Omaha library or bookstore.