Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

30 years of using WordStar; Canadian SF 30 years ago

by Rob - December 16th, 2013

Thirty years ago today, on Friday, December 16, 1983, I started learning the word-processing program WordStar.

I’d bought my first computer, an Osborne 1 CP/M luggable (24 pounds, the most portable computer in the world back then — see picture below), for the princely sum of Canadian$1,495, in large measure because it came bundled with WordStar, which was then the reigning champ of word-processing programs.

Three decades on, I still use WordStar. I started with WordStar for CP/M 2.26, and today use the final release, WordStar for DOS 7.0 Rev. D (the datestamp on the files for that version is 21 December 1992, twenty-one years ago now).

WordStar is still, in my humble opinion, the best program ever written for the efficient and creative manipulation of text, for all the reasons I outline here, and I’m not going to switch.

For my very first writing project involving WordStar, I decided to write an article about Canadian achievements in Science Fiction over the past year.

I choose this project in part because I had become aware that a lot of stuff was starting to happen in Canadian SF, and also because, with all the boldfacing and underlining/italics, it would be a good exercise for learning how to format with WordStar.

The previous year (1982), I’d worked at Bakka, Toronto’s SF specialty bookstore, and, back then, they did an occasional newsletter called The Bakka Bookie Sheet. My article was published in The Bakka Bookie Sheet — and here it is, a thirty years after it was written, an intriguing snapshot of what the field was like here all those years ago …


1983 in Review: Canadian Achievements in SF&F

by Robert J. Sawyer

In September 1983, Bakka Books published an amusing chapbook entitled Toronto’s Fantastic Street Names by John Robert Colombo.

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Triggers movie and my next novel

by Rob - November 19th, 2013

First, the bad news: there won’t be a new Robert J. Sawyer novel in 2014.

My younger brother Alan was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in September 2012, and he passed away in June 2013. His illness and his death have taken a significant toll on me, and, even before Alan’s passing, I’d asked my Canadian and American publishers for a deadline extension on my 23rd novel, The Philosopher’s Zombie.

April has been my traditional publication month for many years, and we ultimately decided rather than have my new book appear in some other month to simply delay it a year. Instead of coming out in April 2014 (which would have required me to deliver the manuscript in May of this year), The Philosopher’s Zombie will be published in April 2015. I will deliver the manuscript to my publishers in the spring of next year.

This was the right decision for me; I’m still struggling daily with Alan’s passing. My thanks to my editors Adrienne Kerr at Penguin in Toronto and Ginjer Buchanan at Ace in New York for their support and understanding — and I hope my readers will consider The Philosopher’s Zombie, which is a very ambitious book, to ultimately be worth the wait.

And now the good news: I’m thrilled to announce that film rights to my 2012 novel Triggers have been optioned and that I’ve been commissioned to write the screenplay based on the book.

The book has been optioned by Copperheart Entertainment of Toronto, a company best known for the Ginger Snaps series of horror films and the science-fiction thriller Splice.

Copperheart is the same company that currently has Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern in development. Copperheart is also currently in post-production on Debug, an spaceship-based science-fiction movie directed by David Hewlett, and on Darknet, a horror TV series premiering in January 2014 on Canada’s Super Channel.

I’m working directly with Steven Hoban, the head of the company (who approached me about adapting my own novel), and Brian Morey, Copperheart’s head of development — and I’m having a blast.

Of course, we’re a long way away from having a movie made, and any number of things can derail a project like this. But I have my fingers crossed: last week, we agreed on the beat-sheet treatment for the screenplay (an outline of the scenes that will appear in the script). Projected budget for Triggers is sixty million dollars — which, if it actually gets done, will make it the most expensive Canadian independent feature film ever produced.

Matt Kennedy of Vince Gerardis’s Created By in Los Angeles negotiated the very handsome deal for me, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of this project.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Starplex ebook available for one month only

by Rob - October 31st, 2013

The first BookBale.com ebook bundle has gone on sale! The basic bundle includes my Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated Starplex, available for the first time ever as an ebook. Also included are five other books by major, award-winning writers.

The bundle is on sale for one month only, until the end of November. Until then you can get the Basic Bundle for any price you’d like to pay (minimum $2.99), and if you pay $10.00 or more, you get two bonus books — by Heinlein and Haldeman!

All books are in both Mobi (Kindle) and ePub (Kobo, Nook, Sony, etc.) formats, and are DRM-free:

Basic Bundle (six ebooks; $2.99 minimum):

  • Climbing Olympus by Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert & Bill Ranson
  • Future Perfect by Nancy Kress
  • The Elvenbane by Mercedes Lackey & Andre Norton
  • Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick
  • Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer

Bonus Books (two more ebooks for a total of eight; $10.00 minimum):

  • The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman
  • Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

This is my first personal venture into novel-length ebook territory (I used to have short stories at Fictionwise), and I’m very excited about it!

Get the bundle at BookBale.com!

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Helen Keller paper

by Rob - October 30th, 2013

The 1996 paper “Helen Keller as Cognitive Scientist” was one of my inspirations for writing my WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder, about a formerly blind girl gaining sight via a post-retinal implant — while a nascent consciousness evolving on the World Wide Web learns to see the world through her.

The paper’s author is philosopher Justin Leiber, the son of famed science-fiction writer Fritz Leiber.

The linked PDF is an OCR scan of the paper, provided by Prof. Leiber; here’s the abstract:

Nature’s experiments in isolation — the wild boy of Aveyron, Genie, their name is hardly legion — are by their nature illusive. Helen Keller, blind and deaf from her 18th month and isolated from language until well into her sixth year, presents a unique case in that every stage in her development was carefully recorded and she herself, graduate of Radcliffe College and author of 14 books, gave several careful and insightful accounts of her linguistic development and her cognitive and sensory situation. Perhaps because she is masked, and enshrined, in William Gibson’s mythic and false _Miracle Worker_, cognitive scientists have yet to come to terms with this richly enlightening, albeit anecdotal, resource.

[The William Gibson mentioned above is, of course, the playwright, not the author of Neuromancer.]

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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On killing characters

by Rob - October 27th, 2013

For this article in Canada’s National Post newspaper, Books editor Mark Medley asked me about killing my characters. Here’s what I had to say:

My brother Alan died this past summer. I got a call from my sister-in-law telling me he was slipping away, and I grabbed the first plane back to Toronto from Montreal, but he was gone before my flight took off. I’ll always regret not being with him in his final moments, but at least in the ordered world of fiction, I can — and do — make a point of letting my readers see my characters die; the reader should always get to say goodbye. In my novels I’ve sometimes jumped ahead decades — and in one case millennia — so that I could properly show the reader, quite literally, the final chapter of a character’s life. I think you owe it to the reader to do that; Sophocles had it right in the last line of Oedipus Rex: you can’t assess the quality of anyone’s life until it has reached its end.

One thing you won’t see me do, though, is bring a character back to life; it’s become a cliché in science fiction to do so, and I hate it. Sorry, Mr. Spock, but you should have stayed dead; you lived long, you prospered — enough already! That said, I do often write about uploading consciousness — including in my most-recent novel Red Planet Blues (Penguin Canada) — and I do actually think that will be possible this century. I also like to write about profound life prolongation, as in Rollback. Death is indeed final … but it doesn’t have to come anytime soon.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: Has there been one death in particular that seemed to resonate more strongly with readers, or got you in trouble?

See, that’s a tricky question; the answer, of course, is yes — but you’re asking an author to give away the ending of one of his books, and I’m loath to do that. Still, I vividly remember working on the concluding volume of a trilogy when the first one had just arrived in stores. A reader said to me, “I love your main character!” I replied, “Thank you — I just wrote his death scene.” The reader was angry, and I realized that although death is the true end of any character’s story, readers prefer not to know in advance that you’re going to tell the character’s whole story; they equate being alive at the end with a happy ending, which is what everyone wants. But there’s no tragedy in a long life well lived coming to its inevitable close.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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30th anniversary of my involvement with Vision TV

by Rob - October 12th, 2013

After my keynote address at Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre, the academic conference held in my honour in September 2013 at McMaster University, I was asked by an audience member about where my interest in, and sympathetic treatment of, religion — which is clearly evident in many of my works, including Calculating God and Hominids — came from.

I replied that I’d spent my teenage years a typical arrogant atheist, thinking that those benighted fools who believed in gods or an afterlife clearly weren’t intelligent or well-read. But thirty years ago today, on Wednesday, October 12, 1983, when I was 23, I began a job — the first really big assignment of my nascent freelance-writing career — that changed that perception.

I’d graduated in April 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, and had spent the 1982-1983 academic year working at Ryerson as an instructor/demonstrator for TV studio production techniques — and, by that point, I’d already published some fiction and a few articles.

At the beginning of October 1983, Rev. Des McCalmont, the United Church of Canada’s head of TV production, called up his friend Ryerson professor Syd Perlmutter. Des was looking for a recent grad who was up on all the ins and outs of Canadian broadcasting policy to write portions of and supporting materials for an interfaith TV license application. Syd recommended me, and I got the freelance contract (although it was for full-time work).

I moved into an an office at the United Church’s Berkeley Studio, becoming the fifth member (and only full-timer) of The Rosewell Group, a consultancy specifically created to spearhead this license applicaton. The Rosewell Group consisted of Des McCalmont, documentary filmmaker Peter Flemington, lawyer Douglas Barrett, Rev. David MacDonald, who was formerly Canada’s Secretary of State and Minister of Communications — and now me.

I was was with Rosewell for for nine months (moving on at the end of June 1984 to pursue my freelance-writing career), although I continued to do freelance consulting for them for a few years thereafter.

During those nine months, I met and worked closely with people from a wide range of faith groups, and discovered that many, indeed most, were bright, questioning, thoughtful individuals; that experience changed my own perceptions enormously. I remain an atheist, but I learned to respect and appreciate those who have a different perspective.

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Accepting Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award

by Rob - October 6th, 2013

This morning at Can-Con 2013 in Ottawa, this year’s Canadian National Science Fiction Convention, I received a Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award — the first one given to an author in 30 years — from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association; the award was presented to by Hayden Trenholm. This was my acceptance speech:


Thank you all very much.

Since it was announced that I was getting this award, some people have said to me, “Well, I guess you can stop now” — although they usually leave it unsaid as to precisely what I should stop.

Do they mean I should stop writing? Well, perhaps. I’ve published twenty-two novels and forty-four short stories — over two million words of fiction, all of which is currently in print.

Earlier this year, I shipped my manuscript archives off to McMaster University, and, looking back over that body of work, I’m content. If the vicissitudes either of life or of publishing mean that the novel I’m writing now turns out to be my last, so be it.

But perhaps when people suggested I should stop, they meant I should stop winning Aurora Awards.

Well, I gave up writing short fiction eight years ago, and I have no new novel coming in 2014, so for the Auroras being given out in 2015, at least, there’s no way I’ll be on the ballot; as in every year, may the finest novel win, and I wish all the writers here the best of luck. Believe me, I know what it’s like to lose Auroras — I’ve lost them twenty-seven times to date.

But you know what? I was happy to lose all those Auroras. That these awards have been won by such a diverse and talented range of people — including my great friends James Alan Gardner, Edo van Belkom, and Robert Charles Wilson — makes the ones I did win have value.

Of course, I’ve been particularly delighted when Auroras have gone to my own writing students. No one was happier than me when Eileen Bell, Derwin Mak, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden, Douglas Smith, Isaac Szpindel, Hayden Trenholm, and Edward Willett took home their trophies; teaching and mentoring have always been as important to me as my writing.

Still, far more common than people saying to me “I guess you can stop now” has been people suggesting “you’re too young to win a lifetime achievement award.” No one meant this insensitively, of course, but in June I lost my younger brother Alan Sawyer to lung cancer; he was 51 when he passed away, two years younger than I am now.

Alan was a multimedia producer, and the year before he died he won an Emmy award — an honest-to-God Emmy from the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Fortunately, no one said he was too young when he got it, and that honour, which turned out to be the culmination of his career, awarded just months before his terminal prognosis, has ensured his place in the history of his field.

As it happens, I’m part of the committee that chooses another lifetime achievement honour, the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master trophy given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America — that organization’s highest distinction, presented at the Nebula Award banquet.

Choosing the recipient is a process another SFWA past president has referred to as “actuarial.” Or, as I explained it to my brother-in-law David Clink — himself an Aurora nominee this year — the sad reality is that when the Grand Master trophy shows up in your home, it means somebody thinks you’re about to die. To which Dave replied, “Ah, I get it — it’s the Horsehead Nebula Award.”

In 1996, SFWA’s Grand Master Award went to A.E. van Vogt. By coincidence, that same night, I won the best novel Nebula for The Terminal Experiment. At the end of the banquet aboard the Queen Mary, I sought out van Vogt. We’d never met, I explained to him, but he had been an inspiration to me: this guy from Manitoba who’d published 600,000 words of science fiction with major US publishers while still living in Canada had been proof that the goal I intended to devote my life to — being a Canadian science fiction writer — was possible.

A.E. van Vogt looked warmly at me, then his face grew sad. “You know,” he said, “I remember having been a science-fiction writer — but I can’t remember a single thing that I wrote.” By this point, van Vogt, whose 84th birthday had been the day before, was in the grips of the Alzheimer’s disease that would kill him.

But fortunately for all of us, the founders of the Aurora Awards weren’t actuaries; they didn’t wait until it was almost too late to honour van Vogt. Rather, he received his lifetime achievement Aurora Award — the very first Aurora ever given — in 1980, when he was 67 years old, with another two decades of life ahead of him.

So when is the right time to give a lifetime award? Hugo-award winning fan writer Susan Wood got the second Lifetime Achievement Aurora ever given, in 1981. She was just 32 when the award was presented — or she would have been had she lived to see it; her trophy was bestowed posthumously.

And so, at this point in my career, however close to its end it might be, and at this date in my life, however far off the final chapter still is, I am pleased, proud, and deeply touched to be receiving this trophy.

This award is for a lot of people. It’s for my own mentors, John Robert Colombo, Terence M. Green, and Andrew Weiner. It’s for the editors who have worked so closely with me over the years, including Peter Heck, Susan Allison, Stanley Schmidt, David G. Hartwell, Ginjer Buchanan, and Adrienne Kerr. It’s for my wife, Aurora Award-winning poet Carolyn Clink, who has been along for this whole crazy ride. But most of all, as I look back over a lifetime, it’s for my brother Alan. It ain’t no Emmy, broski, but it truly does mean the world to me.

Thank you all very, very much.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Fifteen years of Crossing the Line

by Rob - October 1st, 2013

I’m being honoured this weekend with a lifetime achievement Aurora Award, which isn’t just for my writing — it’s also, I’m told, for my work as an editor, teacher, and advocate.

And one of the things I’m proudest of as editor is the anthology Crossing the Line: Canadian Mysteries with a Fantastic Twist, which I co-edited with David Skene-Melvin. Our anthology was published 15 years ago today by Lesley Choyce‘s Pottersfield Press in Nova Scotia.

When the book came out, I was president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; David, the king of Canadian crime-fiction anthologists, had recently retired from long service as administrator of the Crime Writers of Canada.

The anthology included stories by Robertson Davies, Charles de Lint, James Alan Gardner, William Gibson, Terence M. Green, Tanya Huff, James Powell, Spider Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Edo Van Belkom, and Andrew Weiner.

Here’s the introduction I wrote to Crossing the Line: Canadian Mysteries with a Fantastic Twist:


Whenever they travel to the United States, Canadian writers get asked a question they’re not used to hearing: what kind of stories do you write? By that, the American questioner means, do you write mystery or horror, western or science fiction, fantasy or romance?

Americans are natural categorizers of literature, and I suppose that’s not surprising: tens of thousands of books are published in the United States by presses big and small each year. That prodigious output has to be organized somehow.

The problem, of course, is that not just the books but also the authors end up being categorized. Stephen King? He’s a horror writer. Tom Clancy? Technothrillers. John Grisham? Courtroom dramas. Lines have been drawn around categories, and writers end up, by market necessity, staying within them.

Not so in Canada. Here, writers tend to produce whatever it is that strikes their fancy at a given moment, and so we’re not surprised to learn that Margaret Atwood wrote a very good science-fiction novel (The Handmaid’s Tale) or that Eric Wright, best known for his Charlie Salter mystery novels, has also written a biting satire of academic life (Moodie’s Tale).

Still, there are three genres that have a long history of blurring the lines between them: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Many authors — even in the States — work in all three forms, and often the reader who enjoys the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles de Lint will also enjoy the SF of Isaac Asimov and William Gibson or the horror of Clive Barker and Edo van Belkom. Because of this, SF, fantasy, and horror are often referred to under a single umbrella: speculative fiction.

But even that giant playground isn’t enough for many writers, and so they often cross the line into crime fiction. There, the fantasists see a natural arena for the struggle between good and evil; the SF writers recognize that forensics and physics are sibling disciplines; and the horror writers realize that fictional Paul Bernardos are as terrifying as any supernatural demon.

And, of course, to a crime-fiction author dealing with death, detection, and the dear departed, what could be more natural than occasional forays into the worlds of horror, science fiction, and fantasy?

The stories in this book all involve crimes — mostly murder, but also suicide and theft. But the venues include a Toronto that never was, alien vistas, impossible courtrooms, and the glowing matrix of cyberspace. And the villains and heroes number among them ghosts, vampires, computer hackers . . . and, of course, cops (some of whom have laser pistols instead of revolvers) and private eyes (one or two of whom just happen to be working in outer space).

Sit back and enjoy these eleven speculative-fiction crime tales . . . but remember that danger may lurk in the most unexpected places. After all, you’re crossing the line.


More about CROSSING THE LINE: CANADIAN MYSTERIES WITH A FANTASTIC TWIST:

Table of Contents

Notes on the Contributors

Rob’s Hugo Award-nominated story from this anthology


Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award

by Rob - September 20th, 2013

A press release from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association:

For the first time in 30 years — and only the fourth time ever — the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) is bestowing a Lifetime Achievement award on an author.

The award will be presented in Ottawa on Sunday, October 6, 2013, to Ottawa-born author Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year:

He’s also won more Prix Aurora Awards, given by CSFFA, than anyone else in history, with thirteen wins to date (seven for best novel, five for best short story, and one for best related book).

Sawyer’s other honours include winning Japan’s top SF award three times, Spain’s top SF award three times, France’s top SF award, the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University, the Alumni Award of Distinction from Ryerson University, Humanist Canada’s inaugural Humanism in the Arts Award, and an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

Sawyer is being honoured not just for his writing but also his decades of support for other writers. David G. Hartwell, senior editor at Tor Books in New York, was quoted in Publishers Weekly as saying, “Sawyer is very generous to young writers.”

And in naming Sawyer one of the “thirty most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing” (one of only three authors to make the list), the publishing trade journal Quill & Quire called him “a generous mentor to other writers.”

In 2009, The Ottawa Citizen observed, “It seems like everywhere I go, people are talking about what an incredible friend Sawyer is to young SF writers, how much he gives back to the community.” And Manitoba author Craig Russell has said, “Robert J. Sawyer is one truly amazing gentleman — a mentor to the entire Canadian SF/F world.”

But Sawyer’s contributions were perhaps best summed up by TV personality Liana K, when she hosted the 2010 Prix Aurora Award ceremony, where many of Sawyer’s writing students and mentorees were on the ballot: “At the Oscars, the winners thank God. At the Auroras, they thank Robert J. Sawyer.”

Rob Sawyer was born in Ottawa in 1960. He has taught science-fiction writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and the Banff Centre. And he has been writer in residence at Berton House in Dawson City; the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy; the Richmond Hill Public Library; the Kitchener Public Library; and the Canadian Light Source, Canada’s national synchrotron facility, a position created especially for him.

His latest novel — his 22nd — is Red Planet Blues, published by Penguin Canada; the book reached #3 on the Maclean’s bestsellers’ list, and the mass-market edition of his previous title, Triggers, which is a current nominee for the best-novel Aurora, recently hit #1 on the bestsellers’ list of the US trade journal Locus. The 2009 ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name.

The Prix Aurora Awards were founded in 1980. Authors previously awarded lifetime achievement Auroras, now all deceased, are A.E. van Vogt in 1980; Phyllis Gotlieb in 1982; and Judith Merril in 1983. At 53, Sawyer is the youngest author ever to receive a lifetime-achievement Aurora.

The award will be bestowed as part of the 2013 Prix Aurora Awards breakfast banquet Sunday, October 6, at the Minto Suites, Ottawa, during Can-Con 2013, this year’s Canadian National Science Fiction Convention. Ottawa author Hayden Trenholm, one of Sawyer’s former writing students and himself a multiple Aurora Award winner, will make the presentation.

For more information, see Rob’s website at sfwriter.com and the official Prix Aurora Awards site.

(Photo by Christina Frost of Argent Dawn Photography.)

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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McMaster conference absolutely wonderful

by Rob - September 17th, 2013

Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life. Over one hundred scholars from all over North America joined us for this amazing conference in honour of the donation of my archives to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The conference was sponsored by the McMaster Faculty of Humanities, Library, and Office of University Advancement, and chaired by Dr. Catherine Grisé and Dr. Nicholas Serruys.

Before the conference began, The Silhouette (the McMaster campus paper) did great interviews with me and with Catherine Grisé, The Hamilton Spectator did an absolutely terrific article, and the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections unveiled its description of the archival donation.

Friday night, September 13, 2013, began with a wonderful reception at the University Club, which included my keynote address and a lovely display of items from my archives ranging from a short story I wrote in pencil when I was eight years old to the final manuscript for my Hugo Award-winning Hominids. (Here are McMaster’s official photos from the reception.)

On Saturday, Spetember 14, I introduced three speakers, all of whom were among our Special Guests for the conference:

  • John Robert Colombo started us off with a plenary talk called “400 Years of Rob Sawyer,” a fascinating look at my career against the backdrop of the history of fantastic literature in Canada.

  • Tor Books senior editor Dr. David G. Hartwell then gave an excellent talk on the history of science-fiction anthologies (and announced that Tor Books had just had its best year ever financially!).

  • And Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books, the world’s oldest extant science-fiction bookstore gave an insightful talk about the retail side of the science-fiction industry.

There were three programming tracks at the conference, so I couldn’t attend everything, not even all the papers on my own work. I had to miss David DeGraff‘s presentation on using my novels and those of Julie Czerneda in the classroom, and Danielle Gagne‘s presentation on using my novel Rollback in a course about ethics and aging.

But I got to see Herb Kauderer‘s fascinating presentation on my use of pop-culture references; Rebecca McNulty‘s excellent paper on predictions in my novel FlashForward, and my stories “The Hand You’re Dealt” and “The Abdication of Pope Mary III”; Nick Matthews wonderful paper on ethics in my fiction; and Andrew Kidd‘s truly fascinating “Factoring Unity: E.O. Wilson’s Consilience and the Science Fiction of Sawyer and Van Vogt.”

(Andrew brought me a most thoughtful gift: two old collectible paperbacks of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass scripts.)

Carrie J. Cole — who had been on the Not End of the World Cruise with us in the Caribbean last December — gave an excellent talk entitled “Science and the Staging of the Speculative Imagination: Interdisciplinary and Intertextual Performance Strategies.” Nothing like a theatre person to knock the presentation out of the park!

The Saturday night banquet was incredible: I heard many people say it was the best university and/or the best conference food they’d ever had. Although I had lots of old friends in the room, I made a point of sitting with a table of undergrads — and called Robert Charles Wilson over to join us. I think it’s fair to say the students were pleased to dine with us.

Julie Czerneda had to bow out at the last minute, leaving a slot open on Sunday morning, September 15, and so Robert Charles Wilson and I mounted the Rob and Bob Reunion Tour. We’re both working on books on a similar theme, and we each gave very well received readings from them in a plenary session: Bob read from his forthcoming Burning Paradise and I read from my forthcoming The Philosopher’s Zombie. The readings were introduced by Chris Szego.

Then John Robert Colombo, Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre joined us on stage for a writers’ panel discussion.

Then began the day’s three tracks of programming. I really wanted to hear a trio of papers touching on the theological and psychological themes in my work (including one by David Corman, who had just finished his master’s thesis on my novel Mindscan), but I was busy in a different session, listening to great papers by Rev. Paul Fayter and Kobo’s Mark Leslie Lefebvre, then giving my own talk on “Martian Geology and Paleontology in Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues. Nick Serruys moderated this session.

After a wonderful lunch, chatting with Edo Van Belkom and others, it was time for the first of the two afternoon programming blocks. I moderated the “Philosophy” session, in which Joseph A. Novak of the University of Waterloo presented a lengthy, fascinating paper on “Consciousness in the works of Robert J. Sawyer” and game theorist David Robinson from Laurentian University did a wonderfully lively presentation on “Games, Minds, and Sci-Fi.”

For the final session, I sat in on a trio of papers on the theme of Disability and Queer Studies, and then the conference chairs and I made a few closing remarks — and Cathy and Nick shared the news that the proceedings of Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre will indeed be published; they have already been approached by one publisher and are evaluating options, but a printed book of the papers is forthcoming.

This was doubtless the biggest and best academic conference about Canadian science fiction ever held anywhere, and it exceeded my hopes in every way. Cathy and Nick did a fabulous job pulling it together, and McMaster got 100% behind the event. I could not be more pleased or more honoured.

Final program book / Website / Twitter coverage / Facebook event page

Some photos (first six by Carolyn Clink; last one by David G. Hartwell):

A few choice items from the 52 bankers’ boxes of materials comprising the initial donation, including a story Robert J. Sawyer wrote when he was eight, and the final manuscript for his Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids

Conference co-chair Cathy Grisé, Guest of Honour Robert J. Sawyer, Conference co-chair Nicholas Serruys

Special Guests John Robert Colombo, David G. Hartwell, Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Guest of Honour Robert J. Sawyer

Presenters Herb Kauderer of Hilbert College, Rebecca McNulty of the University of Florida, and Carrie J. Cole of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Tor Books senior editor David G. Hartwell, who holds a Ph.D. in comparative medieval literature

Presenters David Robinson from Laurentian University; Mark Lefebvre from Kobo; and Isabelle Fournier from the University of Buffalo

Last year’s World Fantasy Convention chair Peter Halasz and Dr. Carrie Cole

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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McMaster conference begins on Friday!

by Rob - September 9th, 2013

Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre will surely be the biggest and best academic conference on Canadian science fiction. It will be held this weekend (Friday, September 13, through Sunday, September 15, 2013) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

The conference is in honour of the donation of my archives to that institution. Special guests are Robert J. Sawyer, John Robert Colombo, Julie E. Czerneda, David G. Hartwell, Chris Szego, Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Robert Charles Wilson — plus academics attending from all over North America.

We’ve got multiple tracks, author readings, keynote addresses, and 30 academic papers — including several in French — in such disciplines as anthropology, astronomy, philosophy, theology, and English literature.

Admission is free, but please send an email to conference co-chair Cathy Grisé at grisec@mcmaster.ca to let her know you’re coming.

The conference Facebook page is here and the conference website is here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Cover boy in Shanghai!

by Rob - August 24th, 2013

Cover boy! On the occasion of the release of the Chinese editions of my novels Triggers and Factoring Humanity, I was featured on the cover of the Shanghai Review of Books on 18 August 2013, which comes with the Sunday edition of the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post newspaper. My Chinese publisher, Guokr, organized a fabulous book tour in China; I was there from August 15 to August 23, 2013.

Here’s the cover in high resolution and the accompanying article (in Chinese) as a PDF file.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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The Stanley Cup Caper

by Rob - August 24th, 2013

Ten years ago today — Sunday, August 24, 2003 — the following short story, entitled “The Stanley Cup Caper,” was first published, in, of all places, The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper.

The Star had commissioned this story from me in honour of the fact that the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, was about to begin in Toronto. Since it had been thirty years since the Worldcon had last been in Toronto, the editor asked me to predict what Toronto might be like thirty-odd years in the future (in the early 2030s).

When I received the commission, I’d just finished reading Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code (which I had rather enjoyed), and so puzzles and mysteries were very much on my mind. I’m not a hockey fan — sacrilege for a Canadian, I know — but somehow hit on this premise.

To my delight, the four opening words — a riff on famed Canadian sportscaster Foster Hewitt‘s trademark “He shoots! He scores!” — are included (along with twenty-two other quotes from me) in The Penguin Dictionary of Popular Canadian Quotations, edited by John Robert Colombo.

Here’s the story:


The Stanley Cup Caper

by Robert J. Sawyer

“She shoots! She scores! For the first time in sixty-seven years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup! Captain Karen Lopez and her team have skated to victory as the 2031 NHL champions. The hometown crowd here is going wild, and — wait! Wait! Ladies and gentlemen, this is incredible … we’ve just received word that the Stanley Cup trophy is missing!”


Detectives Joginder Singh and Trista Chong let their car drive them east along the Gardiner Expressway. At Bathurst, the vehicle headed down into the tunnel. Jo shuddered; he hated the underground portion of the Gardiner. Sadly, his fear of tunnels also kept him from using the subway, even though it now ran all the way from Pearson Airport to the Pickering Solar Power Plant.

Continue reading »

Triggers #1 on Locus bestsellers list!

by Rob - July 24th, 2013

Triggers byr Robert J. Sawyer is #1 on the paperback bestsellers list in the July 2013 issue of Locus, the US trade journal of the science fiction and fantasy field. The list covers the data period of April 2013. In second place: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Meanwhile, Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer is #3 on the hardcover bestseller list, making it the highest-ranked science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) title for the month.

The complete bestsellers lists are here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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SF Conference Sept 13-15 in honour of donation of my archives

by Rob - July 24th, 2013


McMaster University Presents
Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre
A conference in honour of Robert J. Sawyer‘s
archival donation to the University Library Collections

with special guests:

  • Robert J. Sawyer
  • John Robert Colombo
  • Julie E. Czerneda
  • David G. Hartwell
  • Élisabeth Vonarburg
  • Robert Charles Wilson
  • Chris Szego

Multiple paper tracks!
Banquet!
Author Readings!

Everyone is welcome. Free admission! (Optional Saturday night banquet: $50.)

Web page for the conference is bit.ly/mcmaster-sf.

The tentative program schedule is here.

The Facebook event page is here.

More about the conference is here.

And the original Call for Papers for this academic conference on Canadian science fiction is here (plus a flyer announcing the conference is here).

Accommodations for the conference are available at Staybridge Suites in downtown Hamilton, approximately 10 minutes from McMaster University by taxi or 15 minutes by bus. Please call the hotel as soon as possible to book your suite (905-527-1001). All rooms will be held for the “Science Fiction Interdisciplinary Genre” group until August 23rd, which is three weeks prior to arrival. Those of you who know one another may opt to save on expenses by sharing a suite, each of which is equipped with a queen-sized bed as well as a pull-out, in addition to a kitchenette.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Why was FlashForward canceled?

by Rob - June 23rd, 2013

Over on Quora, someone asked why FlashForward was canceled, and someone else replied with an answer that was partially right but significantly wrong. That answer:

The Lost curse. In the 6 years that Lost was on the air, ABC failed at using that monster hit to launch any new shows. The term “Flash Forward” was first used in the third season finale of Lost, and the show featured Lost alumni Dominic Monaghan and Sonya Walger.

ABC launched FlashForward as well as a remake of V (with Lost‘s Elizabeth Mitchell) as shows that would take on Lost‘s audience after it ended. At the end, it was reported a choice between FlashForward and V over which one would continue, and ABC went with V, which only lasted one more season.

My response:

Despite XXXX’s comment (he asserts “the term ‘Flash Forward’ was first used in the third season finale of Lost” — as if that’s where the idea came from), that’s just not true.

FlashForward the TV series was an adaptation of my 1999 novel of the same name, published five years before the first season of Lost debuted.

More: as announced in Variety on 26 September 2002 — two years before Lost debuted — David Goyer was attached then to write, direct, and produce an adaptation of my novel FlashForward … which is precisely what Dave eventually went on to do (co-authoring the pilot with Brannon Braga).

Also, the pilot script for FlashForward was developed at HBO (which is why HBO is credited on each episode); HBO was not looking to imitate anything on broadcast TV. The casting of Sonya Walger (who appeared in only 14 of the 121 episodes of Lost) as FlashForward‘s female lead was in no way an attempt at Lost-related stunt casting.

FlashForward was cancelled for two reasons. The first was scheduling: the series was not suitable viewing for 8:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. Central (the traditional TV “family hour”), but that’s when ABC slotted it (and kept it for its entire run): the intensity, violence, gun use, and presence of a major lesbian character, brilliantly played by Christine Woods, is not what America wanted in that timeslot. So, by the end of the first season, the ratings were low.

The second reason was budgetary: Stephen McPherson, then president of ABC, did only want to keep one science-fiction show. In the end, we were delivering the same ratings each week as V, also on ABC, but we were produced in Los Angeles and had an expensive cast; V was produced in Vancouver and had a much less expensive cast. So, V was (sort of) renewed and we were not.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Lifeboat to the Stars winners

by Rob - June 19th, 2013

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release:

  • Anderson and Savile win New $1,000 Science-Fiction Award
  • New $1,000 cash award for science fiction writing
  • Theme: interstellar fiction
  • Finalists: Anderson & Savile, Benford & Niven, Bishop, Bova, McDevitt, Reynolds, and Santos.
  • Coordinating judge: Robert J. Sawyer
  • Presented at the 2013 Campbell Conference

LIFEBOAT TO THE STARS AWARD

On Friday, June 14, 2013, the Lifeboat Foundation presented the “Lifeboat to the Stars” award to Kevin J. Anderson and Steven Savile for their collaborative book Tau Ceti. The authors split the $1,000 prize, and each received a handsome trophy in an hourglass design.

Anderson was in attendance at the ceremony, and received the award from SFWA Grand Master James Gunn; Savile, who lives in Sweden was not able to join us at the event.

The “Lifeboat to the Stars” award honors the best work of science fiction of any length published in 2011 or 2012 contributing to an understanding of the benefits, means, and difficulties of interstellar travel.

Editors and readers were invited to nominate eligible works and a judging panel drawn from Lifeboat Foundation advisory boards winnowed that 50-plus-item longlist down to a final seven-item ballot:

  • Anderson, Kevin J. and Steve Savile. Tau Ceti. Arc Manor, 2011.

  • Benford, Gregory and Larry Niven. Bowl of Heaven. Tor, 2012.

  • Bishop, Michael. “Twenty Lights to `The Land of Snow’” from the anthology Going Interstellar, Baen, 2012.

  • Bova, Ben. “A Country for Old Men” from the anthology Going Interstellar, Baen, 2012.

  • McDevitt, Jack. “Lucy” from the anthology Going Interstellar, Baen, 2012.

  • Reynolds, Alastair. Blue Remembered Earth. Ace, 2012.

  • Santos, Domingo (translated by Stanley Schmidt). “The First Day of Eternity.” Analog, January-February 2011.

Coordinating judge was Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award-winning science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, and the other judges were Catherine Asaro; Jason Batt; Kevin Berry; James Blodgett; Brenda Cooper; Niklas Jarvstrat; Jim Karkanias; Rouslan Krechetnikov; Eva-Jane Lark; Mike McCulloch; George Perry; John Strickland, Jr.; and Allen Taylor.

The award was suggested by Frederik Pohl and James Gunn, and named by Gunn.

Tau Ceti was the first volume in Phoenix Pick’s “Stellar Guild” series, which pairs an established writers — in this case, New York Times bestseller Anderson — with his or her handpicked protege to write a pair of connected works. Mike Resnick is the series editor. Phoenix Pick is the science-fiction imprint of Arc Manor Publishers, Rockville, Maryland.

Says coordinating judge Sawyer: “Tau Ceti tells of a generation ship approaching that nearby sun-like star of the title, and it does so in an unusual manner, combing a novella by Kevin J. Anderson and a sequel novelette by Steven Savile into one fast-paced, character-rich, technologically accurate adventure story.

“In the capable hands of both authors, interstellar travel doesn’t just seem possible but inevitable, and they bring real depth to the issues of generation ships, the politics surrounding such voyages, and the danger A.E. van Vogt first alerted us to in the classic ‘Far Centaurus,’ namely that just because you head out first doesn’t mean you’ll arrive first.

Tau Ceti is a terrific work of hard science fiction, and the Lifeboat Foundation congratulations the authors and their editor, Mike Resnick.”

####

About The Lifeboat Foundation

The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards the Singularity.

Lifeboat.com

Photo of Kevin J. Anderson (holding trophy) and presenter James Gunn by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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R.I.P., Alan Sawyer

by Rob - June 10th, 2013

My younger brother Alan Bruce Sawyer passed away Saturday night. He was born September 12, 1961, in Toronto, and died in that city June 8, 2013, at the age of 51.

Alan was diagnosed with lung cancer last September, and by the time it was diagnosed, it had already metastasized to his brain, abdomen, and sternum. He passed away Saturday, June 8, at 10:00 p.m., at home, after a very rapid decline. He had been well enough to attend a play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, on Thursday night, and really only went into steep decline three hours before he passed away.

Alan was 16 months younger than me. A digital-content producer, he won an International Emmy Award for his work on the webisode companions for the TV series Endgame. He had no children, but is survived by his wife Kim. His website: twosolitudes.com

This death notice appeared in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail on Monday, June 9; it has details about visitation and the celebration of life:

SAWYER, Alan Bruce – 51, passed away at home June 8. Beloved husband of Kim Sawyer (Piekarz), dear son of John and Virginia. Fondly missed by Peter (Jacquie) and Rob (Carolyn) and Piekarz family.

Visitation Wednesday, June 12, 2-4 p.m. and Thursday, June 13, 6-8 p.m. Celebration of Life Saturday, June 15, 10:30 a.m., all at GIFFEN-MACK, 2570 Danforth Ave., 416-698-3121.

Due to allergies, please no flowers. If so desired, donations to the Hospital for Sick Children.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Yay for theme anthologies!

by Rob - May 16th, 2013

Back in 2006, when my novella “Identity Theft” — which makes up the first ten chapters of my new novel Red Planet Blues — was a Nebula Award finalist, I was asked to comment about the story’s origin for the SFWA Bulletin. Here’s what I had to say (“Identity Theft” first appeared in Mike Resnick‘s Science Fiction Book Club anthology Down These Dark Spaceways):


There’s a tendency in our industry to pooh-pooh theme anthologies. Somehow, the notion of writing a story to order strikes people as inherently wrong, and the idea that a story might be commissioned, as opposed to written on spec, seems outrageous to some. I disagree. For me, many of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a writer came from anthology commissions, and they’ve resulted in me successfully going in directions I simply never would have otherwise.

When I sit down to do a new novel contract, my publisher is, quite rightly, looking for me to propose something that plays to my strengths and builds on my existing audience (and all those who complain about commissioned stories never seem to discuss novel commissions, the engine that drives our industry — but I digress). But when a short-fiction editor approaches me for a theme anthology, very often it’s in an area that is new to me, and those commissions have inspired me to produce some of the work I’m most proud of.

A few years ago an anthologist asked me to do libertarian SF — me, the bleeding-heart big-government Canadian liberal — and the result was the Hugo Award finalist “The Hand You’re Dealt.”

The same editor came to me later looking for horror — me, the hard-SF quantum-computers-and-aliens guy — and the result was the Bram Stoker Award finalist “Fallen Angel.”

My Hugo finalist last year, “Shed Skin,” likewise was commissioned for an anthology, one that also contained work by such other hacks as Nalo Hopkinson and Cory Doctorow, produced in honor of Bakka, the SF bookstore we all used to work at.

And this year, “Identity Theft” isn’t just a Nebula finalist, it’s also a Hugo finalist and has already won the world’s largest cash prize for SF writing, the 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción — in blind judging, I might add. And yet, I never would have written it — or even once thought about creating an SF hard-boiled-detective story — if Mike Resnick hadn’t come knocking.

If it weren’t for theme anthologies, and commissioned works, if it weren’t for creative and versatile editors like Mike Resnick and Marty Greenberg and Julie E. Czerneda and John Helfers, and for publishers like DAW and now the Science Fiction Book Club that have vigorously supported the original-anthology market, quality stories like these by myself and dozens of other authors simply wouldn’t exist. My hat is off to those editors and publishers, and I am honored and thrilled to be the first-ever Nebula nominee for an original Science Fiction Book Club publication.

2006 Bio:

Robert J. Sawyer is the author of 17 science-fiction novels including the Nebula Award winner The Terminal Experiment (serialized in Analog as Hobson’s Choice), the Hugo Award winner Hominids, the Nebula and Hugo Award finalist Starplex, and the Seiun Award winners End of an Era, Frameshift, and Illegal Alien.

Three of his ten Hugo nominations and four of his nine Aurora Award wins have been for short fiction, and he’s won the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, Analog magazine’s Analytical Laboratory Award, and Science Fiction Chronicle‘s Readers’ Award, all for best short story of the year, as well as France’s Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for Best Foreign Short Story of the Year.

Rob’s latest novel is Mindscan from Tor, and his next, Rollback, will be serialized in Analog starting in the October 2006 issue, with the hardcover to follow from Tor in April 2007. His novels have earned starred reviews in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kliatt, and Quill & Quire, have hit the top-ten national mainstream bestsellers’ lists in Canada, and have reached number one on the Locus bestsellers’ list. He runs an intensive week-long SF writing workshop in Banff, Alberta, each year, will be writer-in-residence at Odyssey this summer, and edits the Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint for Fitzhenry & Whiteside, one of Canada’s leading publishers. His million-plus-word website is at sfwriter.com.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Academic conference about Canadian science fiction

by Rob - May 16th, 2013


The conference “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre” at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, September 13-15, 2013, is shaping up to be the biggest and best academic conference ever focusing on Canadian Science Fiction:

Three Days!
Multiple Tracks!
Banquet!

Authors? We got ‘em: Aurora Award-winner Julie E. Czerneda, Hugo Award-winner Robert J. Sawyer, Aurora Award-winner Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Hugo Award-winner Robert Charles Wilson.

Editors? The most important ones in the history of Canadian SF: Order of Canada member John Robert Colombo and Hugo Award-winner David Hartwell.

Academics? Of course! From all over North America! In all areas of academic study! Just a small sampling of the speakers:

  • James Christie, Faculty of Theology, University of Winnipeg, on “Remembering the Future: Science Fiction and the Emerging Art of Dialogue Theology”

  • Carrie J. Cole, Department of Theater and Dance, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, on “Science and the Staging of the Speculative Imagination: Interdisciplinary and Intertextual Performance Strategies”

  • Herb Kauderer from Hilbert College, Hamburg, New York, on “Fedora Hats and the Great Gazoo: Pop Culture References in Robert J. Sawyer’s novels Triggers and Red Planet Blues

  • Wendy Gay Pearson from Western University, London, Ontario, on “Queer Time, Postcoloniality, and Canadian SF”

  • Amy J. Ransom from Central Michigan University on “Hockey & Science Fiction in Canada: A Combination Seen Rarely But in Québec”

  • Sherryl Vint from University of California Riverside, on “To Corrupt and Control the Present in Order to Win the Future: Continuum as Post 9/11 Television”

Of course, as befitting an academic conference about Canadian science fiction, we’ll have papers presented in both English and French.

In total, 35 papers have been accepted so far for the academic conference, and there will be readings by all the attending authors and speeches by the attending editors.

A website dedicated to this amazing academic conference about Canadian science fiction is coming soon. For now, more details are here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Expanding Identity Theft into Red Planet Blues

by Rob - May 15th, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by John DeNardo of Kirkus for an article about expanding short works into novels, which is what I’d done with my latest book, Red Planet Blues.

The full by-email interview is below, and here is the finished article, with a couple of my quotes used and quotes from other authors, as well.


1. Why did you choose to extend the shorter story to novel length?

In February 2004, Hugo Award-winning author Mike Resnick approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: write a “science-fictional hard-boiled private-eye novella” for an original anthology he was editing for the Science Fiction Book Club called Down These Dark Spaceways.

That story, “Identity Theft,” went on to win Spain’s Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción, which, at 6,000 euros, is the world’s largest cash prize for science-fiction writing. It was also a finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (“the Aurora”), as well as for the top two awards in the science-fiction field: the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award (SF’s “People’s Choice Award”) and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award (SF’s “Academy Award”) — making “Identity Theft” the first (and so far only) original publication of the SFBC ever to be nominated for either of those awards.

Over the years, I’d gotten so much fan mail for this novella, it seemed there’d be an appetite for further adventures of the character.

Also, frankly, following on the success of FlashForward, I want to sell another TV series, and Hollywood is way more likely to develop a best-selling novel than it is any short work, no matter how lauded that work might be.

2. Where does the original story fit into the novel? (Is it the first X chapters? Does the novel begin and end the same but is stuffed with new story components to make it meatier?)

In a slightly modified form, “Identity Theft” makes up the first ten chapters of the novel Red Planet Blues. The remaining thirty-seven chapters are all new (of the 105,000 words in the novel, 82,000 appear in Red Planet Blues for the first time).

I actually added about ten percent new material to those first ten chapters, but it was all description or bits of business that had occurred to me over the years. I didn’t change anything though; I wanted people who had read and remembered the original to not feel I was cheating just to make the rest of the novel work better. I was true to what I’d already established about the characters and settings; I didn’t change any of the in-story facts. Here’s an example of the new material:

When I’d first come here, I’d quipped that New Klondike wasn’t a hellhole — it wasn’t far enough gone for that. “More of a heckhole,” I’d said. But that had been ten years ago, just after what had happened with Wanda, and if something in the middle of a vast plain could be said to be going downhill, New Klondike was it. The fused-regolith streets were cracked, buildings — and not just the ones in the old shantytown — were in disrepair, and the seedy bars and brothels were full of thugs and con artists, the destitute and the dejected. As a character in one of the old movies I like had said of a town, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” New Klondike should have a sign by one of the airlocks that proclaims, “Twinned with Mos Eisley, Tatooine.”
3. What were some of the challenges you faced in extending the story to novel length?

The biggest was to recapture the tone. I’d immersed myself in noir mystery fiction when writing “Identity Theft” back in 2004, and really do think I got the voice right then. But it had slipped away in the eight ensuing years, and I had to really struggle to make sure that the whole book had the same narrative voice.

Also, I learned a lesson: I thought it would be easier to create a novel this way; it turned out to be much harder. The word novel means “new,” and the best way to write one is by starting fresh.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Reading is in Kitchener, not Waterloo

by Rob - April 29th, 2013

Some early publicity for my Red Planet Blues book tour had my event on Tuesday, April 30, listed as being at the Waterloo Public Library. That’s not correct. The event actually takes place Tuesday, April 30, at 7:00 p.m. at the Kitchener Public Library, Country Hills Community Branch, 1500 Block Line Road, Kitchener.

The library recommends advance registration; you can register here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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30th anniversary as a full-time writer

by Rob - April 29th, 2013

Today is my 30th anniversary of being a full-time self-employed freelance writer.

On Friday, April 29, 1983, I finished the last job I ever had — being a teaching assistant in the School of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson in Toronto. I’ve never had a boss since then.

I spent most of the rest of the 1980s doing freelance newspaper and magazine journalism, plus writing projects for corporate and government clients; I didn’t transition to full-time science-fiction writing until the early 1990s.

It’s been an amazing thirty years. I’m a lucky guy.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Terence M. Green interview from 1988

by Rob - April 28th, 2013

Twenty-five years ago this month, the April 1988 issue of the late, lamented magazine Books in Canada published this interview by me (Robert J. Sawyer) with Toronto science-fiction writer Terence M. Green, then a high-school English teacher and now a lecturer in creative writing at Western University in London, Ontario.

Green writes wonderful novels, two of which were World Fantasy Award finalists. I reprinted his Children of the Rainbow, referenced below, in a slightly updated form as Sailing Times Ocean under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint from Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Sailing Times Ocean is still in print, and other books by Terry have been reissued by Arc Manor’s Phoenix Pick line and from Richard Curtis’s E-Reads. You can find out more about those editions and what Terry is up to today on his blog.

And here’s that interview again, a quarter of a century later — an intriguing piece of Canadian science-fiction history:


Terence M. Green is quietly becoming Canada’s best science fiction writer. His first book, The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind (Pottersfield Press, 1987) collected his angst-filled short stories from Aurora: New Canadian Writings, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. St. Martin’s Press has just released his first novel in hardcover. Barking Dogs is a police thriller set in a near-future Toronto where infallible lie detectors — Barking Dogs — are everywhere. He recently completed another novel, Children of the Rainbow, a time-travel tale juxtaposing an Incan religious revival, Mutiny on the Bounty, and the anti-nuclear efforts of Greenpeace.

Terry Green was born in Toronto in 1947. He has a B.A. and a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. in Anglo-Irish Studies from University College, Dublin. He teaches high-school English at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto and is the father of two boys. Green spoke about his life and work with journalist Robert J. Sawyer:

Robert J. Sawyer: Your first novel, Barking Dogs, is a violent work in the popular-fiction mold. Your second, Children of the Rainbow, is a more cerebral, literary book. It’s almost as if they were written by two different people.

Terence M. Green: For Barking Dogs, I studied what makes popular commercial fiction work and I consciously set out to include those elements. Since it was a first novel, I wanted to be sure it would sell. I wrote the second novel without those constraints. Each book satisfies different things in me, and I think they will satisfy different audiences. Am I two different people? I think everybody is many people. When I do my third novel, you will meet yet another Terry Green.

Sawyer: The main character of Barking Dogs, Police Officer Helwig, takes the law into his own hands. Is this book a call for urban vigilantism?

Green: No, but unfortunately a lot of people will read it that way and I’ll take a lot of criticism for it. If people read the book the way I intended it, they will see that it’s not a call for anything. Rather, it presents a new situation — a world in which the cop on the beat can know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether the person he is arresting is guilty. All I’m asking is for people to think about that.

Sawyer: So the theme of Barking Dogs is truth?

Green: Yes. I’ve always been intrigued by the degree to which we need to or should tell the truth. The job of the fiction writer is to tell the truth, but the job of so many people in the world — politicians, for instance — is not to. As a writer, I’ve always been interested in how you find the truth, how you deal with it. Truth is the crux of personal relationships; it’s what we all want to discover.

Sawyer: How did you go from that abstract philosophy to the concrete vision of a world full of hand-held lie detectors?

Green: I realized that legal truth — as distinct from moral or personal truth — is what our society revolves around. I read an article in the newspaper several years ago about the voice-stress detectors that are used to see if a job applicant is lying. I was astonished that such things existed and are used. I got some sales literature and read more articles about them. I just pushed the idea of absolute truth to its bitter end, to the point where it became a personal tragedy.

Sawyer: How did you develop your vision of Toronto at the turn of the next century?

Green: I looked backward 15 years. The world of 1973 had minor but significant differences from our world of today. Back then, I bought an electric typewriter which was regarded as the ultimate achievement in writer’s tools. Today, we have a computerized world. The video tape has revolutionized home entertainment. Now there’s an outlet for them every six blocks. A person from 15 years ago reading today’s Toronto Star would be astonished at the things that are for sale. And yet, our lives haven’t significantly changed. We still worry about and care about our children, our careers. It’s the peripherals to our lives that change. Fifteen years hence there will be similar changes. The Barking Dog might be one such: a sensing device that can correlate information about body functions, voice inflection, and so on and come up with an absolutely correct determination of whether a person is lying or telling the truth. And yet, despite such devices, people will still be worrying about the same things, having the same anxieties, trying to build the same kinds of personal relationships.

Sawyer: Science Fiction gives you a huge canvass: all of space, all of time, all forms of life. Yet you limit your stories almost exclusively to Earth, to human characters, and to the present, the recent past, or the near future. Why choose science fiction as your field and yet not take advantage of its scope?

Green: There hasn’t been a lot of good science fiction. Most of it is just outrageous fairy tales for adults. But I’ve always thought the genre could produce literature. This may sound presumptuous, but I like to think one of the reasons I set myself the task of using this field is so that I can help elevate it to the level of literature. To do that, you can’t divorce it from all the literature around it. So I move very slowly from standard literature, rather than taking a quantum leap and writing about the year 1,000,000. I’m not aiming my fiction at a hard-core science-fiction audience. I’m aiming at a wider audience and to get that wider audience you have to welcome them into the world of the fantastic a little bit more slowly. I don’t regard myself as a science-fiction writer; I regard myself as a writer who gives a fantastic twist to his stories.

Sawyer: You’re a full-time English teacher. Is writing going to replace that as your career?

Green: I don’t see writing as a career, nor as an avocation. I see it as a passion and as a life. I see it as something I have to do because I can do it. I have no idea where it will lead. It’s like being able to play the piano and not playing it. There’s a sense of waste. I have to write these books. It’s not easy to keep both teaching and writing going. I’ve put in many years teaching. I have commitments and a future in it, so I’m not prepared to toss that aside for the wild fantasy of being a writer. But I do try to make time for writing. I have taken four years’ salary spread over five so that I could have a year off to write. If, by wild happenstance, the writing takes off, I may be able to more evenly balance my time between writing and teaching. Teaching, like writing, is a great thing, but to ignore the writing would make me one-dimensional.

Sawyer: You’ve got a short story collection in print as well as your first novel. Which form do you prefer?

Green: The short story is a home I’m comfortable with. If you had read only my short stories, I think you’d probably call me a sensitive writer. A novel has to be more dramatic. You have to take at least three plots and weave them. It’s very much a plotting job. I think one form is a break from the other. You have to do novels, you have to stretch your wings, try to reach a large audience. But I will go back to short stories.

Sawyer: Barking Dogs started out as a short story in the May 1984 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Why did you decide to expand it into a novel?

Green: I wanted to write a novel. It’s the greatest commitment a writer can make, representing the greatest amount of pain, the greatest fear. But I needed a place to start. Somebody said to me, `I put down your short story and I was just getting into it. I wanted more.’ I realized I had more to say. Doing a novel version is a completely different experience, both esthetically and from a marketing point of view. Both the short story and the book have lives of their own and may find wholly different audiences.

Sawyer: Your short story collection was published in Canada. Your novels are published in the United States. What are the differences between the two marketplaces?

Green: If you want to sell in this genre, you have to go for the U.S. market — it’s ten times the size. To be published means to be read, to be appreciated, to be considered. You need numbers to do that. Something that’s just published in Canada never seems to make it. My short story collection is a case in point. Pottersfield Press produced a book that was lovely in conception, in achievement, in physical product. It’s getting excellent reviews [see Books in Canada, June-July 1987, p. 18]. But that book is history already. The publisher doesn’t have the money to promote it and there’s just not enough readership here to keep it alive. If The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind had been published as a mass-market paperback south of the border, I’d have 60,000 readers instead of 1,000.

Sawyer: Barking Dogs is set entirely in Toronto; the main character in Children of the Rainbow is Canadian; there are no American characters in either book. Despite your interest in the numbers of readers in the States, aren’t you rebelling against that country?

Green: Rebellion is a strong word, but it is a conscious decision. I may lose as a result of it. I’d like to think there’s a place for Canadians on the world stage. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find no negative reaction to the Canadian settings and characters from my U.S. publishers. Canada is an interesting place. The rest of the world thinks so, even if Canadians themselves don’t.


Toronto writer Robert J. Sawyer is The Canadian Encyclopedia‘s authority on Science Fiction.

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Red Planet Blues book tour

by Rob - March 5th, 2013

Join me in celebrating the launch of my 22nd novel, Red Planet Blues. The book tour begins with a gala launch party Monday, March 25, in Toronto, and continues with events in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, and Montreal, and Quebec City. All except the Montreal and Quebec City events are free; all the events are open to the public.

  • Book-launch party
    for Red Planet Blues
    Dominion on Queen Pub
    500 Queen Street East
    Toronto, Ontario
    Held in conjunction with (but not at) Bakka Phoenix Books
    Monday, March 25, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    Dominion on Queen

  • McNally Robinson Booksellers
    1120 Grant Avenue
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. in the Atrium
    McNally Robinson Winnipeg

  • McNally Robinson Booksellers
    3130 8th Street East
    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
    Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. in the Alcove
    McNally Robinson Saskatoon

  • Sentry Box
    1835 10 Ave SW
    Calgary, Alberta
    Thursday, March 28, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    Sentry Box

  • Audreys Books
    10702 Jasper Avenue
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    Audreys

  • Vancouver Central Library
    350 West Georgia, in the combined Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye Rooms on the lower level of Library Square
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    Held in conjunction with (but not at) White Dwarf Books
    Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    White Dwarf Books

  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Clocktower Brew Pub at Westboro Village
    418 Richmond Road
    (Note: this is a different location of the Clocktower chain than we’ve used in previous years)
    Held in conjunction with (but not at) Perfect Books
    Monday, April 8, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.
    Clocktower Brew Pub Westboro

  • Salon international du livre de Québec
    Québec City, Québec
    Wednesday, April 10, 2013, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.
    SILQ.ca

  • imagiNation Festival
    Québec City, Québec
    Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at 8:00 p.m. in the Morrin Centre
    $10 ($5 for students)
    imagiNation Festival

  • Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore Redondo Beach
    2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90278; phone 310-542-6000
    Los Angeles, California
    Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.
    Mysterious Galaxy

    Paragraphe Bookstore
    “Breakfast and Books” (this is a multi-author ticketed event and includes breakfast; details TBA)
    Venue TBA
    Montréal, Québec
    Sunday, April 21, 2013, at 10:00 a.m.
    Paragraphe Bookstore

  • Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario
    Tuesday, April 30, at 7:00 p.m.
    Kitchener Public Library, Country Hills Community Branch
    1500 Block Line Road
    Kitchener, Ontario
    NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE!
    Held in conjunction with (but not at Words Worth Books)
    Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    Words Worth Books

  • North York Central Library
    at Mel Lastman Square / North York Centre subway station
    Part of “The Eh List” Reading Series
    Toronto, Ontario
    Wednesday, May 1, at 7:00 p.m.
    The Eh List

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Remembering the 1993 Books in Canada SF issue

by Rob - February 21st, 2013

Twenty years ago, the March 1993 issue of Books in Canada — at the time, an influential book-review magazine, although long defunct now — devoted a special issue to science fiction. It was a watershed moment in Canadian SF&F — some of the first serious consideration the field got by the mainstream press here. For that issue, two decades past, Andrew Weiner — journalist and then-frequent F&SF and Asimov’s contributor — profiled me. Here’s what he had to say: Books in Canada.

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Five year’s-best lists for Triggers

by Rob - February 12th, 2013

My novel Triggers — first published by Ace after serialization in Analog, and currently eligible for nomination for the Hugo, Nebula, and Aurora Awards — had a very good showing on year’s best lists, and has just been nominated for one of Canada’s top literary awards.

The award is the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award for Best Canadian Adult Book of the Year. Note that that’s best book, not best novel — the shortlist of ten books makes no distinction between fiction and nonfiction. The Evergreen Award is a big deal, with the nominees chosen by librarians and Ontario residents voting in a year-long promotional campaign for their choice of winner.

As for year’s best lists, I was thrilled that Triggers came in at #3 on Barnes and Noble’s official year’s best science-fiction list, was named #1 science-fiction book of the year (by authors of any nationality) in Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, and also made the general year’s best fiction/nonfiction list in The Maine Edge, and the SF&F year’s best lists in January Magazine and The Christian Century.

Triggers comes out in paperback at the end of March 2013, after this very successful run in hardcover.

Mr. Sawyer works through the permutations with one surprise after another, including the president’s deep, dark secret — now in somebody else’s possession — that would make him a one-termer for sure. The positive side is that the president can appreciate firsthand the cost of the orders he’s given. He now shares the memories of a returned Iraq veteran, called for him up by the trigger phrase “crying babies … and the smell of smashed concrete.”

Techno-future, telepathy: The third ingredient is a consideration of terrorism itself. Mr. Sawyer, a Canadian, remembers what Pierre Trudeau did back in 1970, when he took such drastic action following the murder of one of his ministers that terrorist cells have never surfaced in Canada again. What might an American president do? Get away with doing? Be justified in doing? And is there another way out? Triggers is constantly gripping on the surface and seriously provocative deep down. — Tom Shippey in The Wall Street Journal

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The Abdication of Pope Mary III

by Rob - February 12th, 2013

Apropos of nothing at all …

Scientists dream of having their work published in either Science (the leading American scientific journal) or Nature (the great British one).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a commission from Dr. Henry Gee, the Senior Editor of Nature, to write an original 800-word science-fiction story for that magazine (a commission that concluded, in delightful British fashion, by proffering “apologies for this intrusion”). Nature was publishing a series of short stories, beginning with a contribution from my favorite SF writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, in celebration of the dawn of the new millennium.

I was thrilled to contribute the following. I deliberately touched on the theme of my twelfth novel Calculating God, since that book would be hitting the bookstore shelves just as this story saw print in the summer of 2000.

The Abdication of Pope Mary III

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer

First published in Nature, July 6, 2000.

Darth Vader’s booming voice, still the network’s trademark 600 years after its founding: “This is CNN.”

And then the news anchor: “Our top story: Pope Mary III abdicated this morning. Giancarlo DiMarco, our correspondent in Vatican City, has the details. Giancarlo?”

“Thanks, Lisa. The unprecedented has indeed happened: after 312 years of service, Pope Mary III stepped down today. Traditionally, the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals waits 18 days after the death of a pope before beginning deliberations to choose a successor, but Mary — who has returned to her birth name of Sharon Cheung — is alive and well, and so the members of the conclave have already been sealed inside the Vatican Palace, where they will remain until they’ve chosen Mary’s replacement. Although no new pope has been elected for over 300 years, the traditional voting method will be used. We are now watching the Sistine Chapel for the smoke that indicates the ballots have been burned following a round of voting. And — Lisa, Lisa, it’s happening right now! There’s smoke coming out, and — no, you can hear the disappointment of the crowd. It’s black smoke; that means no candidate has yet received the required majority of two-thirds plus one. But we’ll keep watching.”

“Thank you, Giancarlo. Let’s take a look at Pope Mary’s press conference, given earlier today.”

Tight shot on Mary, looking only a tenth of her four hundred years: “Since Vatican IV reaffirmed the principle of papal infallibility,” she said, “and since I now believe that I was indeed in error 216 years ago when I issued a bull instructing Catholics to reject the evidence of the two Benmergui experiments, I feel compelled to step down …”

#

“We’re joined now in studio by Joginder Singh, professor of physics at the University of Toronto. Dr. Singh, can you explain the Benmergui experiments for our viewers?”

“Certainly, Lisa,” said Singh. “The first proved that John Cramer’s transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics, proposed in the late 20th century, is in fact correct.”

“And that means …?”

“It means that the many-worlds interpretation is flat-out wrong: new parallel universes are not spawned each time a quantum event could go multiple ways. This is the one and only extant iteration of reality.”

“And Dr. Benmergui’s second experiment?”

“It proved the current cycle of creation was only the seventh such ever; just six other big-bang / big-crunch oscillations preceded our current universe. The combined effect of these two facts led directly to Pope Mary’s crisis of faith, specifically because they proved the existence of — one might as well use the word — God.”

“How? I’m sure our viewers are scratching their heads …”

“Well, you see, the observation, dating back to the 20th century, that the fundamental parameters of the universe seem fine-tuned to an almost infinite degree specifically to give rise to life, could previously be dismissed as a statistical artifact caused by the existence of many contemporaneous parallel universes or a multitude of previous ones. In all of that, every possible combination would crop up by chance, and so it wouldn’t be remarkable that there was a universe like this one — one in which the force of gravity is just strong enough to allow stars and planets to coalesce but not just a little bit stronger, causing the universe to collapse long before life could have developed. Likewise the value of the strong nuclear force, which holds atoms together, seems finely tuned, as do the thermal properties of water, and on and on.”

“So our universe is a very special place?”

“Exactly. And since, as Kathryn Benmergui proved, this is the only current universe, and one of just a handful that have ever existed, then the life-generating properties of the very specific fundamental constants that define reality are virtually impossible to explain except as the results of deliberate design.”

“But then why would Pope Mary resign? Surely if science has proven the existence of a creator …?”

Singh smiled. “Ah, but that creator is clearly not the God of the Bible or the Torah or the Qur’an. Rather, the creator is a physicist, and we are one of his or her experiments. Science hasn’t reconciled itself with religion; it has superseded it, and —”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Dr. Singh, but our reporter in Vatican City has some breaking news. Giancarlo, over to you …”

“Lisa, Lisa — the incredible is happening. At first I thought they were just tourists coming out of the Sistine Chapel, but they’re not — I recognize Fontecchio and Leopardi and several of the others. But none of them are wearing robes; they’re in street clothes. I haven’t taken my eyes off the chapel: there’s been no plume of white smoke, meaning they haven’t elected a new leader of the church. But the cardinals are coming out. They’re coming outside, heading into St. Peter’s Square. The crowd is stunned, Lisa — it can only mean one thing …”

# # # # #

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Come see me in England!

by Rob - January 26th, 2013

I have two public appearances coming up very soon in the United Kingdom. Both are free and open to the public:

  • Public Lecture
    “Foresight in Fiction”
    Darwin College Lecture Series
    Cambridge University, UK
    Friday, February 1, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.
    darwin.cam.ac.uk/lectures

  • Reading and Signing
    Big Green Bookshop
    Unit 1, Brampton Park Road
    Wood Green
    London, England
    Monday, February 4, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
    Big Green Bookshop

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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New $1,000 science-fiction award

by Rob - January 25th, 2013

For Immediate Release: New $1,000 Science-Fiction Award

  • New $1,000 cash award for science fiction writing
  • Theme: interstellar fiction
  • Readers and editors are invited to nominate works
  • Coordinating judge: Robert J. Sawyer
  • To be presented at the 2013 Campbell Conference

LIFEBOAT TO THE STARS AWARD

The Lifeboat Foundation will present the “Lifeboat to the Stars” award along with $1,000 to the winner at the 2013 Campbell Conference.

The “Lifeboat to the Stars” award will be for the best work of science fiction of any length published in 2011 or 2012 contributing to an understanding of the benefits, means, and difficulties of interstellar travel.

Coordinating judge is Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award-winning science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. Editors and readers are invited to nominate eligible works — novels, novellas, novelettes, or short stories — by emailing Sawyer at sawyer@sfwriter.com.

Sawyer will present the award — and the $1,000 prize — at this year’s Campbell Conference, June 13-16, 2013, at the Oread Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas.

Working with coordinating judge Sawyer will be consulting judge Greg Bear. Also consulting on the choice of winner will be Catherine Asaro, Jason Batt, Sherry E. Bell, Kevin M. Berry, Don V. Black, Stephan Vladimir Bugaj, Brenda Cooper, David Gerrold, Niklas Jdrvstret, Jim Karkanias, Rouslan Krechetnikov, Wes Kretzschmar, Eva-Jane Lark, Mike E. McCulloch, George Perry, Allen Steele, John K. Strickland Jr, and Allen G. Taylor.

The award was suggested by Frederik Pohl and James Gunn, and named by Gunn.

About Lifeboat Foundation

The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards the Singularity.

Contact:

Robert J. Sawyer
sawyer@sfwriter.com