Colombo at Worldcon

The highlight of the Summer of 2009 was the opportunity to deliver one of the keynote addresses at Worldcon. What a weighty honour! Background: This year’s Worldcon was held in Montreal, August 6-10, 2009. The full title of the event was “Anticipation: The 67th World Science Fiction Convention.” The Palais des congrès de Montréal served as the venue.

For readers unfamiliar with the world of fandom, Worldcons are annual conferences run by fans for fans who, in turn, invite professional, semi-professional, and non-professional science-fiction personalities to be their guests and to participate – to speak, to read, to moderate panels, etc. The total enrollment for this year’s event was said to be about 3,500 fans.

Quebec (oops, Québec!) was well represented; Elisabeth Vonarburg served as guest of honour, and Julie Czerneda served as master of ceremonies. English Canadians who attended in one capacity or another include (to name a handful at random) Lorna Toolis, Guy Gavriel Kay, Candas Jane Dorsey, Cory Doctorow, Glenn Grant, Peter Halasz, Candas Jane Dorsey, Taral Wayne (fan guest of honour), Carolyn Clink, and Robert J. Sawyer.

There were four keynote addresses. I was asked to deliver the one for the academic track of programming, and did so. The event took place between eleven o’clock and noon, Sunday, August 9, 2009. By my estimate, it was attended by 1% of the total attendance at Worldcon. I spoke without notes, though I did make use of a script when I had occasion to quote – for instance, from the diary of Mackenzie King (if you can imagine!).

“Up, Up, and About” was the title of the talk. First, it alludes to Superman’s “Up, up, and away!” Second, it mimics “out and about” (which Americans hear as “oot and aboot”). Third, it suggests “being up and about,” i.e., doing things. For fifty minutes I reminisced about my introduction to fantastic literature in the late 1940s and early 50s, and recalled my youthful paranoia (Cold War, Atom Bombs, etc.) that the country was being invaded by foreign armies.

In light of civic and national disintegration, I discussed the genesis of Other Canadas and Years of Light and other books that I wrote or compiled. I probed the psychology of the anthologist (completist vs. theorist). I ended with an informal quiz based a work-in-progress (modelled on my “dictionaries of quotations”) that amounted to identifying the speakers of “characteristic remarks of superbeings.”

Rob & JR at the Worldcon
[Photo: Christine Mak]

For the invitation to speak, I must thank the organizers and especially Rob Sawyer. I will long remain grateful for him for recommending me and encouraging me to accept. He introduced me with gusto in terms that may only be described as “extravagant.” I know Rob to be an author of fantastic fiction; I now know him as a writer of fantastic non-fiction as well!

Rob observed that the present year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of my book Other Canadas, “the world’s first anthology of Canadian fantastic literature.” That collection has pride of place in my affections, as my love of fantastic literature predates my affection for Canadian lore and literature.

Rob’s introduction was delivered with great gusto. From where I was sitting, I could see he was sight-reading the text from his BlackBerry. Afterword I asked him if I could publish the text on my personal website. He graciously consented, so here it is.

RJS’s Introduction to JRC

It is my staggering privilege and honour to introduced to you John Robert Colombo, the keynote speaker here at the Montreal World Science Fiction Convention’s academic track.

John is a towering presence in Canadian letters, a member of the Order of Canada – Canada’s equivalent of knighthood – and is Canada’s premiere folklorist and collector and compiler of Canadiana, as well as a significant poet, broadcaster, editor, and publisher.

Although he has 200 books to his credit, it is his six pioneering works in the field of Canadian speculative fiction that we celebrate this weekend, most significantly his massive historical retrospective Other Canadas, published in 1979 – thirty years ago – the first-ever anthology of Canadian science fiction and fantasy, a beautiful hardcover gathering 21 fiction pieces and 28 poems drawn from 400 years of Canadian history.

Prior to that book, no one had made the case that there was such a thing as Canadian science fiction and fantasy: It was John who proved to Canada’s publishers, editors, academics, writers, and readers that the field actually existed.

When my wife and I edited Tesseracts 6, we dedicated the book thus: “To John Robert Colombo, whose pioneering Other Canadas blazed the trail for the all the Canadian science fiction and fantasy anthologists who followed.”

Colombo’s other significant genre books include: Mostly Monsters (1977), a collection of “found poetry” – prose text that Colombo has rearranged as verse, gathered mostly from SF sources; Friendly Aliens (1981), a collection of thirteen SF stories by foreign authors set in Canada; Years of Light: A Celebration of Leslie A. Croutch (1982), a biography of Canadian fanzine publisher Croutch (1915-1969), as well as a general look at SF fandom in Canada; and Worlds in Small (1992), an anthology of stories of fifty words or less, most of which are SF. He has also published two significant genre bibliographies.

And on a personal note, he was the first member of the Canadian literary establishment to take my own contributions to science fiction seriously; in 1982, he published new stories by myself and two other emerging writers: Andrew Weiner and Terence M. Green in Leisure Ways, the magazine of the Canadian Automobile Association.

John is my friend, my mentor, and my hero, and it is with great joy that I present him today to you, Canada’s master gatherer – and Canada’s master catalyst for the fields of fantastic literature.

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