I met him a few years ago at a Sask Writers Guild conference at which he was a guest speaker. He showed up at the annual open mic I've been hosting in recent years. "Has to be a three-minute piece," I told him. "I don't have anything that takes only three minutes," he said. "Sorry," I said. "No exceptions."
(Once I witnessed my friend Brenda Schmidt jump up and down, stamping her feet, when I cut her off after three minutes. Until then I hadn't realized stamping one's feet was actually possible.)
Sawyer disappeared upstairs to his hotel room, re-appearing a few minutes later with some sort of hand-held reader. "Ok, ready," he said. And he read from that.
The other night I heard his talk at a conference here. A spectacular performance: a thoughtful, energetic talk on the origins and future of consciousness, delivered without notes. Later, his answers to questions were likewise thoughtful, attentive to the heart of the question, and comprehensive.
He'd spoken of a time 40,000 years ago when homo sapiens became conscious of themselves. (Evidence: archeological findings of bodily adornment, the cave paintings at Lascaux, findings of "grave goods" buried with the dead.) Leaving aside Sawyer's reading of why and how this all happened--he says it's all in his novels--I cut to that first sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I'd just watched again on the plane to Montreal, in which a group of primates whose limited set of behaviours about, say, how to take or defend a watering hole, expanded dramatically and forever once they touched a black monolith that appeared in their midst. Which allows me to name one of my favourite moments in movie history: when the primate, having discovered how to use an animal bone as a weapon and thus achieving an evoloutionary leap for the rest of us primates, tosses it triumphantly into the air, where it spins in slow motion and becomes, at its apogee, a futuristic spacecraft.