Floating in the window of an Ottawa Street storefront is a crocheted pool float in the shape of a pink flamingo. The sign at the top of the store reads “The City & The City Books”(181 Ottawa St. North). Owned by Janet Hoy and Tim Hanna, this independent bookstore opened last spring.
The store is located right next to Cannon Coffee Co., so if you like to study in coffee shops, then just a quick trip from Cannon will let you pick up a book and support this local business.
The City & The City Books gets its name from the 2009 book by author China Miéville.
“[Miéville] writes what’s called the new weird. He defies genre. If you go into a bookshop all of his books could be in a different section. They could be in literature, they could be in science fiction, they could even be in mystery,” said Hanna, “Something we’re interested in is books that defy genre, or not having genre. I always say to people: in an ideal bookshop there wouldn’t be a literature or science fiction section, there would just be stories.
This is clearly evident in the store. The book sections intermingle together. Philosophy and literature rub elbows with science fiction and mystery. New books are located on white shelves at the front and used books on black shelves at the back, making it easy to navigate between the two. Hoy points out that one of the benefits of offering used books is the affordability.
“It’s great seeing someone get excited because they just found War and Peace for $5,” said Hoy.
Hoy jokes that she does have one regret about the name of the store.
“Writing an ampersand is hard,” she said.
Hoy and Hanna are hoping that the store can help make buying school books easier for students.
“When you get your syllabus for the beginning of the year and the list of books that you need, if we know what people are looking for we’ll be out looking for it,” said Hoy.
Come the winter semester, if you’re struggling to afford textbooks, it’s definitely worth a look to see if The City & The City Books has what you’re looking for. Hanna emphasized that, for students, they were going to try and have everything possible from spirituality to philosophy and political science.
The store isn’t limited to just books. There are eclectic socks, cards and most importantly, cat tarot decks. That alone is worth the trip down to Ottawa Street. Not to mention, Ottawa Street has art galleries, a board game cafe, thrift stores and restaurants. If you’re planning a day trip out with your friends, it’s a must-try hotspot. While you’re there, stop by The City & The City Books to have a look around to see where the words can take you.
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.”
In the galaxy of science fiction writers, Robert J. Sawyer is a particularly shining star. Author of 23 novels, Sawyer has received all three of the most prestigious awards for best science fiction novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The Mississauga-based writer is one of only eight people in history to accomplish this feat, and the only Canadian.
Soon, the documents that gave rise to this body of work will reside at McMaster. In November 2011, it was announced that McMaster would be the official repository of Sawyer’s archives. In honour of the donation, this weekend McMaster will host a conference entitled “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre.” In addition to Sawyer, the guest list includes several other heavyweights of Canadian science fiction, such as authors Julie E. Czerneda, Élizabeth Vonarburg, and Robert Charles Wilson, as well as editors John Robert Colombo and David Hartwell.
The Robert J. Sawyer Archives at McMaster will include manuscripts, correspondence, working papers, journals, and other materials. Yet, this massive transfer of documents began with just a single email. In March 2008, Carl Spadoni, former Director of The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster, contacted Sawyer in conjunction with former University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak. “I was delighted to get this letter,” said Sawyer, “[Spadoni] went on to explain why he wanted the archives and he wanted them as part of McMaster’s very extensive holdings in Canadian literature.”
Other institutions, including the University of California, Riverside, the University of South Florida, and the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, had previously sought Sawyer’s papers. Yet, McMaster’s pitch was unique. “When I started thinking about what I wanted my legacy to be and how I wanted to be remembered, I decided I wanted to be remembered for my contributions as a Canadian writer. That McMaster came to me recognizing that I was, in their estimation, an important part of the Canadian literary landscape, swung the balance,” said Sawyer.
Even before various groups began seeking Sawyer’s archives, however, the author was already preparing for such a donation. In fact, this was one of the first lessons he learned when he joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1983. “Frederik Pohl, the great science fiction writer, had written an article in the handbook that said, save your papers, someday they’ll be worth something. You can donate them for a tax break to some institution. At that point, at age 23, I still had a lot of the stuff that I had written as a teenager,” said Sawyer.
He heeded this advice, even though few of his colleagues were so diligent. “So many science fiction writers that I’ve spoken to have said, wow you kept that stuff. And I said yeah, didn’t you read the handbook when you joined the organization?” said the decorated writer.
Five years have passed since McMaster first approached Sawyer. In the interim, however, he claims to have entered a transitional phase that makes his donation particularly timely. “I’m writing my 23rd novel right now,” he explained. “I don’t have any contracts to write any subsequent novels. Not because I can’t get them, but because I haven’t sought them. Right now, I’m vigorously pursuing more film and television work. I’m at a point where I may or may not continue writing lots and lots of novels.” Although he was quick to add that he was not announcing his retirement, the author felt that it was “a good emotional time and career milestone time to box up, and get out of the house all the things related to that phase.”
McMaster is still completing the archival work necessary to make these boxes available to library users. Nevertheless, Sawyer already has certain aspirations for how the contents will be used. “One of the things I want is for scholars to be able to trace the development of an idea,” he said, “and see how, through successive drafts, I’ve honed in on what the work was supposed to say thematically and philosophically, and got it to a degree of clarity that might not have been apparent in the initial drafts.” In this way, Sawyer hopes to demonstrate that, “fundamentally, science fiction is hard work. An enormous amount of effort goes into creating an ambitious work of science fiction.”
Dispelling the myth that science fiction is lightweight or hastily written literature is similarly a goal of this weekend’s conference. According to Sawyer, “When a big university like McMaster says we’re going to do a big, splashy conference about Canadian science fiction, or about science fiction, that sends a signal that its more than just something to be ghettoized.”
Likewise, Sawyer hopes that the conference will demonstrate the considerable breadth of Canada science fiction literature. “I want to remind everybody who studies Canadian literature, and everybody who teaches Canadian literature, that that field includes science fiction by Canadian authors,” he said, “and hopefully remind them to include it in their course syllabi, or in their research papers if they are students.”
Sawyer cites the interdisciplinary nature of science fiction as another important takeaway for conference attendees. “There is no other field of writing that draws on so many disparate areas,” he said. “I was thrilled by the breadth of academic areas from which we had paper submissions. We have philosophers, theologians, game theorists, astronomers, computer scientists, geneticists; the variety of kinds of people who put in paper proposals was absolutely what we were looking to highlight.”
Among the scheduled presenters is Sawyer himself. In addition to delivering an inaugural address on Friday, Sawyer will also be speaking on Martian geology and paleontology in his most recent novel, Red Planet Blues.
This weekend, these insights into science fiction will be available to all comers. Registration for the conference is free and open to the general public, which pleases Sawyer. “McMaster really came to the table and said, let’s make it free,” he added. “I’m absolutely thrilled that McMaster recognized the value of having this be open to the public, and particularly to students.”
For many McMaster students, daily life at the university may seem humdrum, and far removed from the fantastic visions of science fiction. Yet, with its accessibility, diverse paper presentations, and engaging guest of honour, this weekend’s conference promises to be on-campus experience that is out of this world.
By Keely Brown
I wouldn’t claim to be a literal connoisseur of film. I’ve always been more inclined to just casually watch a torrented movie or go out to the movies whenever a group of friends invite me. I don’t know the specific details or finer points of what makes a film high quality, I just happen to know what I like when it comes to film. And more importantly, I also know what I dislike.
I’m sure by now most people have heard that the Walt Disney Company has purchased the Star Wars franchise. I’ve been an avid Star Wars fan since I was very little. I watched the new movies as they came out and I literally obsessed over them. I, like many Star Wars fans, entertained the idea of taking part in imaginary light-saber battles with invisible foes. I had (and still have) a ridiculous collection of Star Wars lego and played a lot of different Star Wars video games. Naturally, you’d expect such a big fan of Star Wars and film in general to be excited by the concept of a new Star Wars trilogy, right? Well, not quite.
See, things have changed and I’m no longer the kid who loved everything under the banner of ‘Star Wars’. I’ve grown fonder of movies with depth and characters that you can actually believe and sympathize with. Which is why I now find the original trilogy to be more enjoyable than the most recent trilogy. Sure there’s some good stuff to be found in the newer trilogy, but I can’t help but wonder, if I were to see the new trilogy for the first time today, would I still enjoy them? Probably not to the same degree in the very least.
Part of the problem in my eyes that made the so-called ‘newer trilogies’ unsatisfactory is the fact that they were made on the premise of being made as a trilogy. In the original series, George Lucas and his team didn’t have any really huge successes under their belts. They really had no guarantee that they were going to be successful enough to even consider the possibility of a sequel. So they made each and every movie count where it needed to: making the characters and story memorable and enjoyable. The visuals were amazing, but that wasn’t what it was about. A younger George Lucas put it best: “Special Effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an ends themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”
So, where did the concept of a new trilogy begin to fall apart? In my eyes at least, it was when they decided to commit to creating an entire trilogy before gauging how well made the first episode was. They’re already jumping to the conclusion that even if the first movie is completely terrible, they’re going to go ahead with the next two movies. And that’s precisely what bothers me about Disney already committing to a trilogy rather than just one episode. Sure, it might end up being as amazing and good as the original trilogy or perhaps even better, but what happens if it ends up being terrible? They’re literally going to plop out another two as long as it’s financially feasible.
So why commit to making three of the movies before even knowing whether it’s going to be good? Well, it seems to be a common problem in Hollywood lately. Even if movies are critically torn apart and their audiences are disappointed, their franchise will continue as long as they make money at the box office. And that’s precisely where my frustration lies with modern filmmakers, especially when they just take old ideas and rehash them. How many sequels to original movies are going to be as amazing as the original? How many sequels are going to blow the minds of movie watchers the way that the original film did? A well made stand-alone movie will, for me, almost always be more satisfying than a series of sequels that just rehash old ideas.
“It’s the dream that makes artists go on.”
With this line from his novel Flashforward, renowned Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer addressed a crowd of faculty, Trekkies, undergraduates and library staff in Faculty Club’s Great Hall on Nov. 25.
Sawyer was recently awarded his twelfth Canadian Science Fiction ‘Aurora’ award for his novel Watch. He is also the only Canadian ever to win all three of the most prestigious awards for science fiction writing – the Hugo, Nebula and Campbell awards.
Yet, he doesn’t even like the term science fiction.
“I actually like to say that I’m writing philosophical fiction,” said Sawyer, adding, to assorted chuckles, that the moniker Phi-Fi doesn’t seem to be catching on.
Describing science fiction as a literature of ideas, Sawyer stressed that his writings and those of his “intellectual grandfathers” Jules Verne and H.G. Wells should not be dismissed as fantasy.
Instead, they are biting social commentaries, distorted by the lens of science and futurism.
Using the 1969 Planet of the Apes movie as an example, he spoke of science fiction’s ability to draw people into considering ideas like colonialism and race relations without preaching or becoming disengaging.
Speaking out against the ease with which the public dismisses science fiction, Sawyer discussed the freedom to grapple with powerful ideas – fate and determinism, the truth of religion and more – that writing science fiction allows.
Part of his love of the genre, he claimed, came from the ease with which one can “ask big questions” and create imaginative, but realistic scenarios to test possible answers.
His book Flashforward, adapted into an ABC television series in 2009, poked at determinism by describing a world where all people momentarily caught a glimpse of themselves twenty years in the future.
Sawyer concluded his lecture with a reading of an excerpt from Flashforward. He described aspiring creative types – artists, writers, actors – who had glimpsed a future in which their dreams for fame were not realized.
Accepting future mediocrity and normality, they gave up their quest to be different. The reading tied together the themes of Sawyer’s lecture.
The “dream” his character refers to, the ideas that keep painters painting and writers writing, match well to the philosophical ideas that science fiction presents and explores, and are meant to provide visions of the future that encourage readers to question their current lives and world.
Sawyer’s own imaginative world will soon take residence at McMaster. His visit to campus was spurred in part by his decision to donate his archives to the University.
“McMaster has a history of collecting the archives of Canada’s great writers – people like Farley Mowat and Pierre Berton,” said Jeffrey Trecziak, McMaster’s University Librarian, when asked why he had approached Sawyer with this request. “It’s only fitting that Canada’s great science fiction writer takes his place among them.”
The archives will be compiled and transported to McMaster in several instalments over the next few months and is expected to be available by March 2012.