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More science than fiction

By in Culture

The large hadron collider is a giant scientific instrument straddling the Switzerland-France border. This fall, the machine will run its first full experiment, recreating energy levels unseen since the big bang.

No one knows for sure what will happen but Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer has a guess.

“There are some physicists who believe there’s a relationship between quantum mechanics and our consciousness and perception of reality,” he said. “Super high energy interaction might in fact affect our perception.”

In his 1999 novel Flash Forward, when the scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) turn the LHC on, the consciousness of the entire world is shown a glimpse of the future. The repercussions of these visions have a far-reaching impact.

Sawyer-CarolineClint

CERN turned the LHC on last year but they did not have it up to the right energy levels. This fall when they try again, Sawyer’s story will be playing on television as a new series.

The series, also called Flash Forward, has been 10 years in the making. Executive producers Jessika and David S. Goyer read the book and loved it but, as with many things in Hollywood, it took a while before things came together.

With executive producer Brannon Braga (Star Trek: Enterprise, 24) and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) on board, the series is set to be one of the most interesting new shows on TV this fall. Sawyer will fill the role of creative consultant for every episode and will guest-write one of the first season episodes.

It’s probably safe to call Sawyer a particle physics junkie. It’s partly his interest in the area that’s bringing him to Saskatoon this summer to hang out with the staff at the synchrotron as a writer-in-residence.

“I know a lot about particle physics, what’s cutting edge,” he said of the Canadian Light Source. But he’s even more interested in the “day-to-day working life of scientists.”

The inspiration to take a residence at the synchrotron lab came from a chance visit in 2005. Saskatoon was one of many stops on his book tour and finding some time to kill, his publicist pointed him in the direction of the CLS.

“I’m so grateful to Canadian Light Source,” he said. “They grabbed the idea and went out and made it happen…. It’s wonderful that they got behind this so vigorously.”

Sawyer says one of the challenges of writing science fiction is the need to be accountable for the facts and figures. It may be fiction but the science in his stories is quite real. Since he is not a scientist, watching scientists at work is the next best thing.

“It’s an enormous amount of research,” he said, adding that he enjoys the learning process. “If I could just be paid to learn this stuff, I would be content.”

His most recent books also have a particle physics connection, however thin.

The trilogy is called WWW, standing for Wake, Watch and Wonder, and tells the story of the World Wide Web gaining consciousness. The web was invented at CERN. Hard at work on the third novel in the series, Sawyer said he thinks it fitting that he’s writing about the future of the Web at the Canadian counterpart of CERN.

photo Caroline Clink

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