On July 20, 1969, I was nine years old, and living in suburban Toronto. My whole family stayed up late to watch Neil and Buzz set foot upon the moon.
I was already a science-fiction fan by that point (my dad had taken me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before; I was the youngest person in the theater). But there was, I knew, a huge difference between fiction and fact, and to see those grainy black-and-white images was a life-altering experience.
That evening was the first time I ever heard the phrase “science fiction becoming science fact” and it set my mental template: SF was about things that plausibly could happen, and right there, on my family’s TV set, was the proof, as men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon.
I remember my mother—a very astute woman—asking how the American flag they’d planted could be flying if there was no air on the moon, and me replying that it had wires in it; my career as a professional infodumper was well on its way even then!
Tor has been good to me over the years, but the best thing they ever did for me was this: they sent Buzz Aldrin to Toronto on book tour for The Return (a novel he co-authored with John Barnes), and Tor’s Canadian distributor called me up and said, “Hey, there’s a Tor author in town, and he’s all alone—take him out somewhere nice for dinner, and send us the bill, okay?” My meal with Buzz was one of the top-ten experiences of my life, so—thank you, Tor! (And, yes, Buzz really did take Communion on the moon.)
In my 2003 Tor novel Hybrids, last of my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, I have the president that succeeded George W. Bush (incidentally, an African American—got that one right!), give his first major speech, in which he says:
So, yes, indeed, now is the time to take longer strides. But it’s not just time for a great new American enterprise. Rather, it’s time, if I may echo another speech, for black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists, and men and women of all faiths, and men and women of none—for individuals from every one of our 191 united nations, for members of every race and religion that make up our unique, varied brand of humanity—to go forward together, in peace and harmony, with mutual respect and friendship, continuing the journey we had briefly interrupted. It is time that we go to Mars.
And it is. Over to you, Barack.
Robert J. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction writer, technology expert, and teacher. His many awards include the 1995 Nebula for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo for Hominids, and the Campbell award for Mindscan. His book Flashforward is currently being adapted for a television series.