If you want to consider how important When Words Collide has become in one short year, you should probably look to the example of award-winning science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer.
Brought in as a special guest for the inaugural 2011 edition, Sawyer has already laid out the money to come back as a paying customer for year two of the Calgary-based literary festival, which encompasses a multitude of genres: mystery, science fiction and fantasy, romance, literary, historical, western, film scripts and poetry. Sawyer recognizes the festival as a networking opportunity, a chance for established writers to get together and talk shop, and, of course, a celebration of the printed word.
“‘Print’ is kind of a loaded term,” notes Sawyer, whose novel FlashForward made the leap from page to television when it was adapted for one season in 2009-10. “I am definitely a big advocate of printed publications even if I do a lot of reading of electronic publications. It’s interesting that When Words Collide falls on a week when the Olympics are still happening, because that event is about the best of the best getting past gatekeepers to win the gold. With electronic publications there are no gatekeepers; I mean, Amazon...let[s] anybody take their execrable manuscript and sell it on the Kindle with no intervention. There’s often nobody, including the author himself, ever reading it all the way through. I’m fighting for the value of curated, copy-edited publications.”
He’s also fighting for the printed word to have its own space in and amongst various other science fiction and fantasy spinoff events.
“Most conventions are held in conjunction with gaming: D&D, Settlers of Catan, those kinds of things. In this one, the printed word isn’t lost in the shuffle, we’re not the poor stepchild in this case. The big guests of honour are writers and editors, not guys who played security guards on one episode of Star Trek. That’s enough to get me to spend my own money to come out.”
This year’s event will feature writers’ workshops, a merchants table, various free readings around the city, as well as a list of special guests that includes Kevin J. Anderson (The Dune Saga, The Saga of Seven Suns), mystery writer Anthony Bidulka (the Russell Quant series), and Penguin Books commissioning editor Adrienne Kerr. As an added bonus, the festival is hosting this year’s Prix Aurora, Canada’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards, with When Words Collide itself up for “Best Fan Organizational.”
Sawyer’s enthusiasm for the festival is at least partially due to the fact that it fills a crucial role for devotees of the craft, one that he feels has been overlooked in recent years.
“In ’89 and ’91 there were two conventions in Edmonton called ConText that devoted themselves to science fiction and the printed word,” he says. “Out of the first one came On Spec, Canada’s leading science fiction magazine, as well as SF Canada, the professional association of science fiction and fantasy writers. At the time everybody said ‘We should do this every two years,’ but it’s 21 years later and it hasn’t happened. Until now. There are those of us who fondly remember the good things that came out of ConText, people getting together and really talking about the printed word. I think we’re all hoping for great things to come out of When Words Collide.”
Sawyer himself may be coming out to visit old friends and peers like Kerr, who is his editor, and festival founder Randy McCharles, but he’s also got a surprise for fans: he’ll be reading from his newest book, Red Planet Blues, a mystery novel set on Mars, due for release in April 2013.
“It’s a cross-genre novel, so it’s appropriate to the multi-genre theme of When Words Collide.”
As far as free, off-site events go, festival guests will read on August 9 at the University of Calgary beginning at 7 p.m., and the downtown public library on August 10, beginning at noon. See whenwordscollide.org for more info.