Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

35 Years Ago Today: My First SF Publication

by Rob - January 14th, 2016

The second (and most recent) print edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls begins its entry on me thus:

SAWYER, ROBERT J(AMES) (1960-        ) Canadian writer who began publishing sf with “If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent my Luggage” for The Village Voice in 1981 …

And indeed I did. I’d had an earlier fantasy publication (“The Contest,” in the 1980 edition of White Wall Review, the literary annual of my alma mater, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, edited by Ed Greenwood, who created the “Forgotten Realms” for Dungeons & Dragons), and I’d sold a science-fiction story to be produced as a a planetarium starshow), but that was my first science-fiction publication — and it came out exactly 35 years ago today.

That story appeared in the 14-20 January 1981 issued of The Village Voice: The Weekly Newspaper of New York, as a winner in a ten-week contest they were running called “Sci-Fi Scenes,” featured in the “Scenes” column by Howard Smith & Lin Harris.

The rules required a story of exactly 250 words — no more, no less (title words didn’t count, a fact I took full advantage of).

The judges for the contest were Shawna McCarthy, then editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Victoria Schochet, the editor-in-chief of SF at Berkley Publishing, and Robert Sheckley, the fiction editor of Omni. I’d learned about the contest from a poster promoting it that was on display at Bakka, Toronto’s science-fiction specialty bookstore. Each weekly winner won a copy of the first edition of Peter Nicholls’s The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, the forerunner of the work I quote above.

The ten weekly winners, in order of publication, were:

  • Kate Stahl-Clapham (“Just Like a Woman”)
  • Lynn David Goldenberg (“The Complaint”)
  • Susan M. Schwartz (“The Old Man and the C”)
  • Robert J. Sawyer (“If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage”)
  • Dubi Silverstein (“Evolution”)
  • Edward Wellen (“CCLROY”)
  • Sally A. Sellers (“Domesticus”)
  • Paul Proch (“Mondo Typpo (Sic)”)
  • Ted Reynolds (untitled)
  • Laura Bulkin (“Margaret’s Space Journey”)

(The grand-prize winner was the last listed; she won 10 novels of her choice from Gregg Press.)

Of the winners, the only names I recognize as having gone on to further significant publishing in the science-fiction field are Susan Schwartz, Edward Wellen, and Ted Reynolds.

Here’s my 250-word story, as it first appeared 30 years ago today:

If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage

by Robert J. Sawyer

One look at the eyes of that allosaur had been enough: fiery red with anger, darting with hunger, and a deeper glow of … cunning. Those sickle claws may be great for shredding prey, but he can’t run worth a damn on mud.

Come on, Allo-baby, you may have the armament, but I took Paleo 250 with Professor Blackhart!

Damn the professor, anyway. If it weren’t for his class, I’d be on Altair III now, not running for my life across a prehistoric mud flat.

Those idiots at Starport Toronto said teleportation was a safe way to travel. “Just concentrate on your destination and the JumpLink belt will do the rest.”

Hah! I was concentrating, but when I saw that fat broad, I couldn’t help thinking of a brontosaur. So I let my mind wander for half a second: the JumpLink belt still shouldn’t have dumped me here with the dinosaurs. There should be enough juice left for one more Jump, if I can get it to work.

Damn, it’s hard fiddling with your belt buckle while doing a three-minute kilometer. Let’s see: if I re-route those fiber optics through that picoprocessor …

The thwock-thwock of clawed feet sucking out of mud is getting closer. Got to hurry. Thwock-thwock!

There! The timer’s voice counts down: “Four.”

Concentrate on Starport Toronto. Concentrate. Thwock-thwock!

“Three.”

Toronto. The Starport. Concentrate. Thwock-thwock!

“Two.”

Concentrate hard. Starport Toronto. No stray thoughts. Thwock-thwock!

“One.”

Boy, am I going to give them Hell —

  
I love the fact that right off the bat I was showing signs of the hallmarks of my career: an abiding interest in dinosaurs and paleontology and being blatantly Canadian even when writing for a New York market.

For a time, I had this entire story reprinted on the back of my business card. In 1987 it was reprinted by a company called Story Cards in Washington, D.C., as a “Bon Voyage” card. The story also appears in my first collection, Iterations and Other Stories.

Click on the first image below for a PDF scan of the story as it appeared in the The Village Voice and the second one below for a PDF scan of my original handwritten two-page manuscript, dated 16 December 1980 (I didn’t get my first computer until three years later, December 1983).

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Hugo / Nebula / PKDick overlap — and SF’s true Triple Crown

by Rob - January 13th, 2016

On a friend’s wall, there’s a discussion of the lack of overlap between winners of the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo and the Nebula. There was also mention of the Hugo, Nebula, and Dick being “science fiction’s Triple Crown.” My comments:

Speaking as (a) a past Philip K. Dick Award judge, and (b) a past best-novel Hugo Award winner, and (c) a past best-novel Nebula Award winner, there are reasons for this. The Hugo is open to science fiction AND fantasy, in ALL book formats; the Nebula is open to science fiction AND fantasy in ALL book formats; the Philip K. Dick is open ONLY to science fiction ONLY first published in paperback. The POINT of the PKD is to spotlight books that have NOT been given prestige publishing (hardcover original) — just as Dick’s own works were not; it’s a way of spotlighting books that did not get hardcover treatment.

So, to find overlap in the winners you have to look at the years the Hugo or the Nebula went to a science fiction novel, not a fantasy novel, then look at years when that science fiction novel wasn’t published in hardcover.

It’s a rare overlap (it COULD have happened in 2014 with Anne Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the first paperback original to win the Hugo in a long time; ANCILLARY was also a PKD finalist). But that’s the ONLY example of a Hugo winner that could also have been a PKD winner form this century/millennium.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a Dick nominee, but the Dick is not, and was never intended to be, what the Hugo and the Nebulas are: an award for the best science fiction or fantasy novel of the year.

It’s only in the marketing of NEUROMANCER that the Dick/Hugo/Nebula is ever referred to as “science fiction’s Triple Crown.” It CAN’T be, because many/most of the SF books published in a given year are ineligible for the Dick (by virtue of not being paperback originals). NEUROMANCER was first published as a mass-market paperback original in the New Ace Specials line edited by Terry Carr.

If you want to make an analogy to the Triple Crown, the third award, after the Hugo and the Nebula, would be the juried John W. Campbell Memorial Award (not to be confused with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer); it’s the most-significant science-fiction award to be open to all science-fiction books (but, unlike the Hugo and the Nebula, it is only open to SF, not fantasy).

There have only been three winners of this actual Triple Crown (years are years of presentation for the Hugo and the Campbell; the Nebula is dated for the year of publication):

  • RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (1974)
  • GATEWAY by Frederik Pohl (1978)
  • THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

More about the John W. Campbell Memorial Award

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Writers groups call on publishers to offer fair contracts

by Rob - January 8th, 2016

The Authors Guild (US), Society of Authors (UK), and The Writers’ Union of Canada, among other groups, have all just written to traditional publisher demanding fairer, more-modern contract terms. I was asked on Facebook if these initiatives were likely to get any traction. Here’s my response:

Honestly? I think traditional publishers will continue to dig in their heels — and die. When their top authors start leaving for direct engagement with their audiences — and they will since people like Scott Turow (past president of the Authors Guild in the US) and Philip Pullman (current president of the Society of Authors in the UK) are the ones behind these fair-contract initiatives — that will leave traditional publishing with no perceived quality advantage in the mind of the reading public over self-publishing.

Traditional publishers have kept for themselves every single dollar — every one — that new production methods have saved them. Typesetting from authors’ disks instead of manually rekeyboarding? They kept all that money. Economies of shorter print runs? They kept all that money.

For newer distribution methods, they’ve insisted on the lion’s share, offering just 17.5% ebook royalties (25% of 70%) vs. Amazon / Kobo / iBooks offering 70% of ebook royalties for self-publishing. They’ve become more aggressive about trying to take control of valuable rights such as digitial audiobooks. I can’t think of a single bone — again, not one — traditional publishers have thrown to authors in the past decade.

And they’ve been rapacious about holding on to rights, trying to spin the mere hypothetical existence of print-on-demand copies or the mere availability of ebook editions as being “in print” (and then in many cases producing atrocious bad-photocopy-quality print-on-demand editions and typo-ridden OCR-scanned ebook editions of backlist that they quite literally should be ashamed to have their publishing imprints associated with), paying out zero, or ten, or maybe if you’re lucky a few hundred dollars twice a year to keep control of older titles the author could be profitably selling (at reasonable ebook prices, something traditional publishers are incapable of grasping) for thousands.

Meanwhile, while authors are feeling ripped off — and experienced ones are — publishers (Tor, for example) have gone on record claiming that 2014 (the last year we have data for so far) was their best year financially ever. I mean really.

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I finished writing Far-Seer 25 years ago today

by Rob - January 4th, 2016

Twenty-five years ago today, on Friday, January 4, 1991, I finished writing my third novel, Far-Seer (I’d already written Golden Fleece and End of an Era). Far-Seer became the first volume of my Quintaglio Ascension trilogy. I’ll be releasing the whole trilogy as ebooks later this year. Some reviews (the novel was published in June 1992 by Ace):

“The most memorable interstellar dinosaurs of all were introduced in Robert J. Sawyer’s Far-Seer. Collectively, Sawyer’s Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner are the greatest tales ever written about intelligent, space-faring dinosaurs.” — Allen A. Debus in Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction

“A tour de force. Vastly enjoyable, beautifully realized.” —Asimov’s Science Fiction

“Afsan’s world and nature feel quite real. The reader gets involved and cheers him on, and many another writer must say to Sawyer just what one saurian says to a superior: `I cast a shadow in your presence.'” —Analog

“This is a truly great piece of SF.” —Kliatt (starred review “highlighting an exceptional book”)

“A modern parable about the conflict between science and religious faith. Painstakingly researched, lucidly written, meticulously crafted — a vivid depiction of the scientific method and the scientific mind.” —Books in Canada

“Riveting; compelling; thrilling — a real treat. The science in Far-Seeris impeccable, the story-line is refreshingly original, and the world Sawyer’s constructed is audacious. He’s already being compared to Heinlein, Clarke, and Pohl, an illustrious company of SF masters. If he keeps up the high standard set by Far-Seer, this comparison will be well deserved.” —Quill & Quire (starred review “indicating a book of exceptional merit”)

“Without question, Far-Seerwill be remembered as one of the year’s outstanding sf books.” —The Toronto Star

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Book dedicated to Tom Jericho

by Rob - December 25th, 2015

So, this kind of made my year. One of the definitive texts in vertebrate paleontology is The Complete Dinosaur, edited by Michael K. Brett-Surman, Thomas Holtz​, and James O. Farlow. And the second edition is dedicated in part to Thomas Jericho, the fictional paleontologist who is the main character in my 2000 Hugo Award-nominated novel Calculating God. The full dedication reads (all the others named were real paleontologists):

This second edition is dedicated to our colleagues,

Halszka Osmólska
John H. Ostrom
John S. McIntosh
W. A. S. Sarjeant
Edwin Colbert
Tobe Wilkins
Jim Adams
Robin Reid
Donna Engard
Thomas Jericho

You advanced our science. You made a difference.

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Classic Star Trek’s two key episodes

by Rob - December 25th, 2015

There are two episodes key to understanding classic Star Trek. One, of course, is “The Naked Time,” in which we learn everyone’s inner secrets and motivations. But the other, I’d argue, is “The Conscience of the King,” in which we learn that Star Trek is best viewed as theatrical, as a stage play, as a bit over-the-top in terms of performance, a bit under-realized in terms of sets, with stylized dialog that would make Aaron Sorkin and Tom Stoppard proud, and, at its best, as a play within a play wherein we’ll at last catch what’s really being discussed. It’s no accident that Roddenberry hired a Shakespearean actor, William Shatner, to portray his first series star, or another, Patrick Stewart, to play his second.

In the above light, consider such episodes as “Requiem for Methuselah,” with the most Shakespearean dialog of any installment (and clearly a riff on “The Tempest”), “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the most blatant of Trek’s morality plays, “Elaan of Troyius,” which is, of course, “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Is There In Truth No Beauty?,” with its Miranda and Caliban-like Medusan, the minimal staging of “The Empath” and “Spectre of the Gun,” soliloquies such as the “Risk is our business” one from “Return to Tomorrow,” and the frequent Shakespearean references throughout right down to the title of the penultimate episode, “All Our Yesterdays.”

Most of the episodes I cite above are from the third season (although “The Conscience of the King” was the 13th episode produced and the 13th aired): the show became more blatantly Shakespearean under Fred Freiberger, and Shatner’s performances grew more theatrical, playing to the back row, as the series went on. But the Shakespearean influence is there from day one, and the theatrical quality is pervasive through the entire run.

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An interview on marketing and promoting your book

by Rob - December 23rd, 2015

Ten years ago today, Tee Morris interviewed me for his “Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” podcast about the business of marketing and promotion for authors. I think most of it is still quite relevant today, so here it is, a decade on (MP3; runs 35 minutes).

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Three new SF novels coming March 1, 2016

by Rob - December 21st, 2015

Tuesday, March 1, 2016, is the pub date for my next novel, Quantum Night, from Ace — but it’s also the pub date for the new novels by two very good friends of mine (both of which have cover blurbs from me!): Arkwright by Hugo winner Allen Steele from Tor, and The Courier, the debut novel by Gerald Brandt from DAW.

Of Arkwright I said:

Arkwright is both a love-letter to the science-fiction field and a terrific cutting-edge hard-SF novel. Steele’s affection for the Golden Age of Science Fiction shines through on every page, and the narrative rapidly accelerates to interstellar velocity.”
And of The Courier I said:
“Gerald Brandt’s The Courier is a stunning debut: a fast-paced cyberpunky story of a future Los Angeles with a kick-ass heroine you’ll never forget. A terrific book from a distinctive new voice; I’m looking forward to many more books from this author.”
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Mentioned in Tim Wynne-Jones’s latest

by Rob - December 21st, 2015

I’m thrilled to see that the great Canadian young-adult writer Tim Wynne-Jones mentions my 1995 Nebula Award-winning novel The Terminal Experiment in his latest book, The Emperor of Any Place, which came out in October 2015, and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Says one of Tim’s characters:

“If you would like something very entertaining, I have just finished a work of science fiction by Mr. Robert J. Sawyer, The Terminal Experiment. It is a shocker, let me tell you: a murder mystery but also a very interesting treatise on ethical philosophy. Most intriguing.”
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Authoritarians: an existential threat

by Rob - December 18th, 2015

Foresight consultancy Idea Couture publishes a wonderful magazine called MISC. For their Fall 2015 issue, they asked me to contribute a piece on a “looming potential crisis nobody is talking about.” This is what I had to say in MISC; I explore this theme in much greater depth in my upcoming 23rd novel Quantum Night, to be released March 1, 2016:

In all cultures there are a few manipulative authoritarians who wish to lead — and many who are predisposed to follow them blindly. Bob Altemeyer, a professor at the University of Manitoba, demonstrated that whenever authoritarians gain power disaster ensues, as we saw with the invasion of Iraq based on fabricated intelligence. But that fiasco was small potatoes: Altemeyer’s simulations suggest a nuclear holocaust will eventually occur as authoritarian leaders in different parts of the world come into conflict.

His research is still largely ignored even though former Nixon White House counsel John Dean highlighted it in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience. Oh, we panic when Al-Qaeda radicalizes millions, but we’ve paid no attention as the practice has become blatant among political and religious leaders in the West. Indeed, whenever someone tries to draw a parallel to the most obvious historical example — Germany falling under Hitler’s thrall — Godwin’s Law is invoked to falsely insist that no such comparisons are ever apt.

George Orwell said that mind-controlling messages would soon be pumped into our homes — but he would have been astounded that millions voluntarily tune into them in the form of FOX News and conservative talk radio. As Altemeyer has shown, huge numbers have already been radicalized in this way, and they ignore overwhelming evidence that they’ve been lied to. (The failure of blind followers to accept evolution is merely galling; the failure to accept anthropogenic climate change is an existential threat to our species.)

Is there hope? Perhaps. But until we begin to guard against the ways in which whole societies are easily manipulated by charismatic authoritarians, we’re still in enormous danger.


Although a PDF of Bob Altemeyer’s book is available for free here, I recommend the Audible version, which has an updated introduction by John Dean.



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Favorite books in six words

by Rob - December 16th, 2015

Yesterday on my Facebook wall, we played this game:

Describe the plot of your favorite book in exactly six words — but don’t say what it is, let us guess.
I described seven favorite books thusly. Here are the descriptions, along with the books’ titles:


“Computer psychoanalyzes astronaut paralyzed by guilt.”

Gateway, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science-fiction novel by Frederik Pohl; my choice for the best SF novel ever written.


“Hen lays dinosaur egg; chaos ensues.”

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. As The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature says, the book is “largely a satire on modern life in the USA” — and a brilliant one, at that. Plus, it features two paleontologists and is a rigorous science-fiction novel, to boot.


“Law student tries to impress professor.”

The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr. — the novel about Hart, a first-year Harvard law student, and his imperious professor, Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., later played to Academy Award-winning perfection by John Houseman first in the movie then in the subsequent TV series.


“Noble father defends innocent black man.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, my all-time favorite novel.


“Scion of British family is unlovable.”

The Man of Property by John Galsworthy, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature; the first volume of his “The Forsyte Saga.”


“Time traveler meets bifurcated human descendants.”

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, in which he pretty much invents the notion of science fiction as social comment.


“Definitions in alphabetical order; dull, really.”

The dictionary! My favorite is American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, Unabridged.


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R.I.P., Virginia Sawyer

by Rob - December 9th, 2015

My mother, Virginia Sawyer, aged 90, passed away very early yesterday morning (Tuesday, December 8, 2015), at North York General Hospital in Toronto. She was lucid until the end, and made her own decision to have life-sustaining aids removed.

She was able to say goodbye in person to Jack (her husband of sixty-three years), as well as to me, my wife Carolyn, my brother Peter, his wife Jacquie, and our sister-in-law Kim (my brother Alan’s widow), and, by phone, to her brother Quentin Peterson in California and my mother’s niece Sonja Peterson.

My mother’s remains will be cremated tomorrow morning. At her specific request, there will be no memorial service or memorial marker. Brief death notices — as dictated by her to me shortly before her passing — will appear in The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail newspapers on Thursday, December 10 (tomorrow).

My father John A. Sawyer prepared this obituary for my mother:

Sawyer, Virginia Kivley (Peterson)

Virginia was born in Appleton, Minnesota, on February 26, 1925. She was the daughter of George Martin and Nell (Kivley) Peterson and sister of Quentin Kivley Peterson.

She married John A. (Jack) Sawyer in 1952 and was the mother of Peter D. Sawyer (Jacquie), Robert J. Sawyer (Carolyn), and the late Alan B. Sawyer (Kim).

Virginia graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Minnesota (M.A.), and the University of Chicago (M.B.A.).

She taught Statistics at the University at Buffalo (1947-49), and was a part-time lecturer at the University of Chicago School of Business, Carleton University (Ottawa), McMaster University (Hamilton), and the University of Toronto Woodsworth and Scarborough Colleges.

She was a member of the North York University Women’s Club for many years and made donations to establish the Virginia Sawyer Award in the School of Women’s Studies at York University.

In January 2014, she moved into Canterbury Place Retirement Residence in North York. She died on December 8, 2015.

My mother was predeceased by her youngest son, my brother Alan, who passed away thirty months to the day before her. At my mother’s request, there will be no memorial service, but she asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Alan Sawyer Memorial Awardat Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media (my alma mater, but where Alan, an Emmy Award-winning producer, frequently guest-lectured and mentored):

ryerson.ca/supporting/alansawyer

Or: 416-979-5000 ext. 6541 (ask for Karen)

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Quantum Night cover blurb

by Rob - December 1st, 2015

Here’s the cover blurb for Quantum Night, my 23rd novel, being published three months from today, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, simultaneously in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook:

QUANTUM NIGHT

ROBERT J. SAWYER’s novels are “intelligent, literate, and immensely readable explorations of the biggest ideas there are.”* Now the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues, FlashForward, and the WWW trilogy explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing …

Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously — a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible — change human nature — before the entire world descends into darkness.

* The Halifax Chronicle-Herald

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Big-five publishers and lower ebook sales

by Rob - November 9th, 2015

Publishers Weekly reported today:

Lower e-book sales were a big factor in the weak financial performance at HarperCollins and limiting gains at Simon & Schuster in the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2015.
My own take on this is that the big-five publishers have convinced themselves so thoroughly that their product is worth a premium ebook price that they can’t imagine pricing their ebooks at what has clearly turned out to be the much-lower going rate for independently published books.

It seems to me that much of the ebook-reading public has decided, you know what, for what I want out of a reading experience, your product ISN’T worth three or four times as much as other offerings.

Whenever big publishers say ebook sales are declining, they seem to mean ebook sales of their own titles are declining. It wouldn’t hurt publishers to hire fewer English majors and a few more who had studied economics, specifically supply and demand.

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Remembering Michael Coney

by Rob - November 4th, 2015

Ten years ago today, we lost a giant of Canadian SF. Michael G. Coney, whose 1976 novel Brontomek! won the British Science Fiction Association Award, died November 4, 2005, at the age of 73 This year he is being inducted posthumously into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

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On the Best-of-the-Decade Aurora Award

by Rob - November 3rd, 2015

Post TWO OF TWO on this topic, this one about the BEST-OF-DECADE Aurora Award: Members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association may vote now (online) or in-person at SFContario later this month on two new Aurora Awards. I just voted online, and, since the ballot solicited comments to go with votes, here’s what I had to say about the SECOND new Aurora Award (for a discussion of the first new proposed Aurora, a dramatic-presentation award, see here):

Motion to establish a new Aurora Award: The Best in a Decade Aurora Award

This Aurora Award will be given out once per decade to honour novels and multi-volume works (Adult or YA) that have stood the test of time. The award would span a full decade. We also propose that the award for 2001 through 2010 will be given out in 2017. The date that this award will be given out in future years will be chosen by the CSFFA board but will happen in the latter part of each decade..

[X] I do not approve the creation of new Aurora Award: The Best in a Decade Aurora Award.

COMMENTS:

Insufficient information to support this proposal. What of a trilogy that starts in one decade and ends in another (such as Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, each volume of which separately won a best-novel Aurora, and were published in 2009, 2010, and 2011)?

Do we allow books that didn’t make the Aurora ballot in their given year to compete? If so, surely this devalues the Aurora-winning distinction for the novel that DID win the best-novel Aurora in the same year as the best-of-the-decade novel was published, if it’s a standalone.

What if the award goes to a YA novel that was published in a year in which we gave both an adult and a YA Aurora? Doesn’t that devalue the adult-Aurora winner from that year (and conversely devalues the YA winner, should an adult novel win)? Yes, we didn’t give YA awards in the previous decade, but the lack of thought in this proposal (not covering factors that will be relevant the very next time the award is presented) is distressing.

Finally, is seven years’ worth of looking back sufficient? Yeah, we might say that a novel from 2001 that is still well-regarded in 2017 — sixteen years later — has stood the test of time, but has one from 2010 really done that by 2017? Or are we pushing to give this in 2017 because it’s something Hal-Con, the presumptive host of the Auroras that year, wants, rather than because the time is right? Surely the best-of-a-decade needs to have stood the test of AT LEAST a decade’s time, no?

(Pictured: My Aurora Award trophy from 2000, for the novel FlashForward, published in 1999; this work is too old to be considered for the best-of-the-decade Aurora.)

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On the Dramatic-Presentation Aurora Award

by Rob - November 3rd, 2015

Post ONE OF TWO on this topic, this one about the DRAMATIC PRESENTATION Aurora Award: Members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association may vote now (online) or in-person at SFContario later this month on two new Aurora Awards. I just voted online, and, since the ballot solicited comments to go with votes, here’s what I had to say about the FIRST new Aurora Award (for a discussion of the second new proposed Aurora, a best-of-the-decade award, see here):

Motion to establish a new Aurora Award: Best Dramatic Presentation Aurora Award

This new Aurora award would recognize excellence in visual presentations, including but not limited to TV series, TV specials, motion pictures and stage presentations. The Award shall be made on the quality of the overall presentation and so will take into account the acting, direction, cinematography and production as well as the writing. (to be first presented in 2016 for 2015 works.).

[X] I do not approve the creation of new Aurora Award: Best Dramatic Presentation Aurora Award.

Comments:

Although the Hugos have two dramatic categories, they are dominated by blockbuster movies and network TV shows. There are virtually no actually Canadian blockbuster SF&F movies, and with only a couple of exceptions the so-called Canadian SF&F TV shows are simply filmed in Canada but creatively controlled from the US, and although there are fine Canadian stage plays in our genres they are never seen nationally.

Since there’s zero chance of getting screeners for eligible works to be included in the Aurora voters’ packet, and since the truly Canadian works will be minimally seen by potential nominators and voters, this is an ill-advised category.

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Eric Wright, R.I.P.

by Rob - October 26th, 2015

A giant of Canadian literature has left us. My friend Eric Wright, whom I’d known since 1993, and whose Charlie Salter mystery novels, which I began reading in 1984 and which were flagrantly Canadian in setting and tone, were a huge influence on me as a writer, passed away October 9, 2015, at the age of 86.

Eric had been kind enough to blurb my latest novel, Red Planet Blues:

Imagine the plot of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre played out on the planet Mars. Sawyer has, and the result is wonderful in both senses — a terrific noir crime novel that is full of the wonders of Sawyer’s sci-fi world. In Red Planet Blues S Sawyer has imagined, and written, his best book yet.

Eric was always supportive of me, and I had great affection for him. Peter Robinson, Canada’s leading mystery writer, has penned this appreciation of our mutual friend.

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On the fifth anniversary of Ralph Vicinanza’s death

by Rob - September 26th, 2015

Five years ago today, on September 26, 2010, my literary agent, the legendary Ralph Vicinanza, passed away, at the age of 60. Here’s the tribute I wrote to him back then:

Ralph Vicinanza was my agent for the past fifteen years. I remember when I was looking for a new agent calling many of his clients — the biggest names in the business — and asking if they’d recommend him. Every single one sung his praises, and I was thrilled when Ralph took me on as a client — it was very rare for him to take on a new client personally.

I never for one second doubted I’d found the right person — but, of all our interactions, I think nothing made that clearer than a conversation we had one day about the smallest contract he ever negotiated for me.

The worst-selling category of science-fiction books is single-author collections. Because of that, I’d decided I wanted my first collection to be done only in hardcover and only in Canada (so that the poor sales it was doubtless going to get would never show up in Barnes & Noble’s or Borders’ computers). The little Canadian publisher I’d arranged to sell it to (long since defunct) had a boilerplate contract that Ralph didn’t like at all, and he spent days negotiating the various clauses. The advance was piddling (I’ve sold short stories for more than I got for the entire book), meaning Ralph’s commission was minuscule. I kept apologizing to Ralph for all the work he was having to do for such a tiny commission, and finally he said to me, “Don’t ever apologize for making me work, Rob. This is what I do, and I enjoy it. Besides, I never think about the commission on a specific contract; I only think about my client’s overall career.”

He did indeed enjoy negotiating, almost always getting me what I wanted, and doing so without ever ruffling publishers’ feathers. I remember several years ago an author who was with the same publisher I was saying he had a suspicion his agent wasn’t doing as good a job for him as Ralph was for me. He asked me to black out the dollar figures on one of my contracts and let him compare the contractual terms his agent had gotten for him with the ones Ralph had gotten for me. We laid the two contracts side-by-side, and it was clear by the strikeouts and additions that Ralph had worked much, much harder for me than my friend’s agent had for him; in almost every clause of the contract, I had materially better terms, thanks to Ralph.

A decade ago, I worked on the TV series Charlie Jade, and executive producer Robert Wertheimer met with Ralph in New York to hammer out details of my involvement — and for months afterwards, every time I saw Bob, he went on about what a great afternoon of conversation he’d had with Ralph.

Recently, before Ralph had passed on, I had the pleasure of meeting Isaac Asimov’s daughter Robyn; for many years, Ralph had represented the Asimov estate. Robyn and I hit it off immediately — spending the first half-hour we were together trading stories about what a great guy Ralph was. Indeed, in all the years I knew Ralph, I never once — never once — heard anyone say a negative word about him.

Ralph M. Vicinanza was a gentleman of warmth, wit, and compassion, a raconteur, a truly nice guy, and an absolutely terrific agent. I know I’m going to miss him for the rest of my life.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Lost in Space conclusion

by Rob - September 25th, 2015

One of the special features on the 50th-anniversary LOST IN SPACE Blu-ray set is a 2015 table read of the proposed series finale Bill Mumy himself co-wrote in 1980, with Bill Mumy, Mark Goddard, Marta Kirsten, and Angela Cartwright reading their own classic parts, Guy Williams Jr. standing in for his father, and Angela’s sister (and ALIEN star) Veronica Cartwright playing Dr. Maureen Robinson, plus Kevin Burns absolutely nailing an impression of Jonathan Harris.

The script has a tough task: be true to the original beginnings of LOST IN SPACE as a serious drama, and yet be something that could have followed on after the end of the campy third season — and it accomplishes that as well as anything could. With intro and outro, it runs an hour and 33 minutes, and is well worth watching.

Bill Mumy remembers, with what appears to be some bitterness, that Irwin Allen refused to read the script, but, actually, the justification Allen gives is valid: it would open him to a lawsuit from Mumy or his cowriters if Allen ever decided to do anything on his own with the property (which, of course, was his) that even remotely resembled what this script did; as Allen said, there were only, maybe, a half-dozen ways LOST IN SPACE could have ended, and he couldn’t allow any of them to be fenced off because someone else had taken a crack at some of them before he himself had. Still, it’s sad that that’s the last conversation the two of them ever had.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Putting SF characters on the couch

by Rob - September 24th, 2015

One of my favourite schticks as a writer is the psychological counselling of my science-fictional characters. I built the entire novel FOREIGNER around it (with the alien counterpart of Galileo being psychoanalyzed by the alien counterpart of Freud), and it is also the framing device in my Hugo Award-nominated HUMANS (where a Neanderthal shrink, Jurard Selgan [named for my friend Marcel Gerard Gagné] has sessions with a troubled Neanderthal quantum physicist).

I’d long thought I’d lifted that from my favourite SF novel, Frederik Pohl’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning GATEWAY (in which a guilt-ridden man is psychoanalyzed by a computer). I first read GATEWAY in the summer of 1978, when it was freshly out in paperback.

Today, while treadmilling, and in honour of me reading Richard Anderson’s as-told-to-by autobiography, I popped in what is either the best or second-best episode of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, namely “The Seven Million Dollar Man” (the only one that equals it in quality is “The Last Kamikaze,” written by Judy Burns). It’s the best work Richard Anderson ever did in the series, and just about the best Lee Majors ever did, Alan Oppenheimer knocks it out of the park as Rudy Wells, and Monte Markham, as the second cyborg, turns in the performance of his career. It’s a perfect combination of cast, script (by Peter Allan Fields), and direction (Dick Moder).

But, as I noted today, it’s also exactly my schtick, at least at the beginning: the psychological analysis of a science-fiction character. The beginning has Steve undergoing his 12th quarterly psych evaluation since becoming a cyborg, and Rudy’s nurse, at the end of the session, stealing the tape recording of the session to give to Markham’s character, the second — emotionally deranged — cyborg.

I saw “Seven Million” when it first aired, on November 1, 1974, almost four years before I read GATEWAY, and that scene probably informed my later work if not as much as Pohl at least quite significantly.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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A hot dense state

by Rob - September 22nd, 2015

I tuned into the season 9 premiere of The Big Bang Theory because my friend Sherry Peters​ tipped me off that my buddy Jim Meskimen was guest-starring (he played the officiant), but, man, was I disappointed. I haven’t watched TBBT for a few years, and except for one science joke at the end (which was also a dick joke, to satisfy what they apparently have come to believe is their core audience of Two and a Half Men die-hards), there was none of the geeky humor, and precious little of the genuine affection between socially awkward characters, that made the early seasons pleasant.

I was so glad to see Jim Meskimen getting primetime network work — he’s truly one of the funniest guys alive — but he was utterly wasted in a paint-by-numbers part. Ah, well. At least I got to hear Barenaked Ladies sing the theme song again.

Fairest of Them All

by Rob - September 21st, 2015

If you’re not yet watching Star Trek Continues, you should be. They’ve produced four brilliant classic-era Star Trek episodes so far, with the fifth debuting soon. I love them all, but, even though I have a cameo in the fourth episode, “The White Iris,” my favorite is the third one, “Fairest of Them All,” directed (as is the fourth) by my great friend James Kerwin (who also directed the brilliant SF noir film Yesterday was a Lie).

“Fairest of Them All” is my favorite not just because it’s technically brilliant and beautifully acted but also because I’m a morally committed lifelong pacifist — a worldview I got from having two thoughtful academics as parents, from having a Unitarian as a mother, and from watching classic Star Trek.

So many Star Trek fan productions (going right back to the first ASCII-character computer games from the 1970s) seem to utterly forget that Star Trek was about pacifism: about Halkans who were willing to die rather than become accessories to killing; about Spock who would argue for pacifism; about Organians who showed both Kirk and Kor the evils of war; about Kirk sparing the Gorn who doubtless would have killed him; about Surak who turned a whole violent race to peace; about a prophetic woman who knew that one day we’ll take all the money we spend now on war and death and spend it on life instead; about humanitarians and statesmen who had a dream that spread among the stars and made all men brothers.

“Fairest of Them All” nobly explores those high ideals, while still telling a rollicking, enormously entertaining story.

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Hyping the dubious Homo naledi

by Rob - September 20th, 2015

The lede is buried in this excellent article by Ray Hartley from South Africa’s Rand Daily Mail. The meat begins with the tenth paragraph, which starts, “There was only one moment during the press event when the giant bubble of hype was threatened by a sharp question.”

Read from that point down, at least, then come back here; I’ll wait.

I often give keynote addresses at science conferences, and in September 2011, I gave the keynote at the Annual Meeting of the Science Media Centre of Canada, in Ottawa. My theme was that science journalists owe it to the readers, and to the science itself, to not be breathless shills for every person wanting press coverage.

It’s still an issue. All the current headlines about Homo naledi “rewriting human evolution” and “upending everything we thought we knew” are not only premature but feed right into the zealots who want to say that science is on shaky ground.

The case in point I used in 2011 was the then-current claim that the speed of light had been exceeded in a laboratory experiment. As I said to the audience of journalists, it’s got to be a measurement error, every one of you knows that it’s almost certainly that, and yet you peddle it as though it were celebrity gossip, requiring no more basis in reality than, “Someone said Brad and Angelina had a fight last night.”

In the case of Homo naledi, we have a paper that was rejected by peer-review, multiple scientists saying the new taxon is invalid, and no dating info available yet, and science “journalists” reporting the hype instead of the facts. Ugh.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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2nd anniversary of best-ever Canadian academic conference on science fiction

by Rob - September 13th, 2015

Two years ago today, the biggest and best academic conference ever held about science fiction in Canada began at McMaster University. “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre” — three days with multiple tracks — was hosted there in honour of the receipt by McMaster of my professional archives (subsequently certified as being of “outstanding significance and national importance” by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board). The conference was fabulous, the papers — many on my work — uniformly excellent, and the event was a career highlight for me.

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Taschen’s 2001 making-of book

by Rob - September 3rd, 2015

My review of Piers Bizony’s The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (published by Taschen) is up now at SFRevu.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Ask Me Anything transcript

by Rob - September 3rd, 2015

A year ago today – 3 September 2014 — I did an Ask Me Anything session for Reddit. Here’s a transcript:

[–]Drakkenfyre

For Rob Sawyer:

Your books seem very thematically strong to me. What do you try to do with your books, in terms of having a theme and a message?

And do you start out with your theme and build a book around it, or does your theme grow out organically from the story?

[–]RJSawyer

Thanks for the thoughtful question! My writing mentor early on, Terence M. Green, used to speak of creating “thoughtful entertainment” — something that left you pondering for days or weeks after you finished it. I’ve always strived to do work that does the same thing (and, of course, was hugely influenced by the original STAR TREK and the original PLANET OF THE APES, which likewise did that).

I definitely start with a theme — something I want to say — and then work out the plot and characters that will let me say it. Science fiction is often termed “the literature of ideas,” and I think the core of really good SF is a fresh thematic statement, a new idea about something fundamental. For my current novel, THE PHILOSOPHER’S ZOMBIE [since retitled QUANTUM NIGHT], I have a non-printing comment at the very top of the manuscript file spelling out precisely what the theme is, so that I can remind myself to test each scene to see if it’s in service of that theme.

[–]Drakkenfyre

For Rob Sawyer and any other writers on the list with Canadian roots:

Do you think that being Canadian has had either a positive or negative effect on you as a professional writer, both on the business side and on the artistic side? Thanks!

[–]RJSawyer

Hugely, hugely positive effect, Drakkenfyre. I get all the traditional benefits of being a genre-fiction writer in the US plus the sorts of things that rarely happen to my American SF-writing colleagues in the states. I get invited to mainstream literary festivals; my books get taught at just about every Canadian university; I’ve been interviewed over 300 times on Canadian radio and over 300 times on Canadian TV. Canada treats its writers like movie stars (because so few movie stars live here!); I can’t think of a single downside to being Canadian in terms of my writing careers, and oodles of upsides — the biggest of which, of course, was being able to go full-time as a self-employed writer when I was just 23, because I had government-supplied health insurance. ;)

[–]Drakkenfyre

Thank you! Fascinating… especially about health insurance.

[–]gjcbs

For Robert, the final part of the final part of the question trilogy

Favorite Candy Bar?

Since you are a frequent DragonCon attendee, any favorite Atlanta restaurants yet?

Best hangout in Toronto?

Have you ever gotten to tour CERN?

Again, Robert…thanks. I look forward to that Nov 2015 release [QUANTUM NIGHT since moved to March 2016]. Now, how does one arrange a signed first edition in advance/on release?

Continue reading »

Quantum Night cover reveal

by Rob - September 1st, 2015

Six months from today, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, my twenty-third novel, Quantum Night, will be released simultaneously in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. Click the image above for a high-resolution / print-quality version.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Quantum Night cover reveal on September 1

by Rob - August 26th, 2015

On Tuesday morning (Eastern time), September 1, I will unveil the gorgeous cover for my 23rd novel, Quantum Night. That’s six months to the day in advance of publication: the book will be released in hardcover, ebook, and as an audiobook on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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My 23rd novel will be called Quantum Night

by Rob - July 31st, 2015

We still don’t have a cover, but we at last have a final title: my 23rd novel, coming March 1st, 2016, is now officially called:

QUANTUM NIGHT

I’ve never had a title go through so many changes, but with having two different American editors during the creation of this book, a Canadian editor, and separate marketing and sales departments on both sides of the border, there was a lot of back and forth — which was actually nice: it meant everybody was invested in the book.

Here, in chronological order, are the titles this novel has had:

* Thoughtless (but my US editor Ginjer Buchanan thought it was too soft a title, although I liked that it included both “thought” and “ought” (as in ethical behavior), two of the novel’s themes, and also evoked the notion, key to the plot, of beings who were literally thoughtless — with no inner lives)

* The Philosopher’s Zombie (suggested by my friend Nick DiChario and still my favorite title for the book; originally approved by my US editor Ginjer Buchanan, but after she retired, both my new US editor, Jessica Wade, and my Canadian one, Adrienne Kerr, expressed concerns about the z-word, so …)

* Thoughtless (again, as a working title, but my agent thought it was “a terrible title,” so …)

* Quantum Night (my coinage, from a poetic musing by the novel’s main character)

* Psychopath State (my American publisher wanted something that might bring in mainstream readers, so we tried this, then realized it sounded like a scary American university)

* Quantum Psychopath (as I wrote to my editors: “It’s a bit lurid, but it certainly covers both plot elements, and one of my definitions is that ‘science fiction is the literature of intriguing juxtapositions’ — and ‘quantum’ sparking off of ‘psychopath’ certainly is that”)

* Quantum Night (although both my US and Canadian editors, as well as myself, had signed off on Quantum Psychopath, my agent Chris Lotts felt that wasn’t classy enough for this book — a sentiment I secretly shared — and so we reverted to Quantum Night).

And it’s locked — and seven months from tomorrow, it’ll be on bookstore shelves, available in all ebook formats, and also available as an audiobook.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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