Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Yet another Aurora Award?

by Rob - July 30th, 2012

So, the Aurora Awards committee — which has been AWFULLY proactive — has announced its intention to lobby for the creation of YAAA (Yet Another Aurora Award) at this year’s CanVention AGM, which takes place at When Words Collide in Calgary, August 12-14. My take:

They want to create a YA novel award. Note that YA fiction is already eligible for the best-novel Aurora, and has been nominated and won in that category in the past; nothing excludes YA fiction from making the ballot right now. Note, too, that the best-novel award currently comes with a $500 prize courtesy of SF Canada — one wonders if the people behind the YA initiative intend the $500 prize to now be split? Note too that JUST LAST YEAR we added a new category to the Auroras (poetry/song lyrics).

My position is this for ANY award, not just the Auroras: you want to add a new category? Fine. Show me what your likely ballot might have looked like for the last three years if that category existed.

There are five finalists in each Aurora category (unless there’s a tie), so tell me, folks: what five Canadian YA SF&F novels would have been on your ballot last year (works published in 2010), the year before (works published in 2009), and the year before that (works published in 2008).

DON’T just list five Canadian YA SF&F novels — no one disputes that five were likely published each year. List five WORLD-CLASS, AWARD-CALIBRE ONES for each of those years. Maybe they exist, maybe they don’t — but if you want my vote and support at the AGM, it’s up to you to convince me that they do. Because otherwise you’re cheapening the status of being an Aurora finalist. We don’t want to have any more categories in which just about everyone who does any work — regardless of quality — in that area becomes essentially an automatic nominee, because, y’know, we need five works to flesh out the ballot.

I’ve been arguing for years for those proposing new categories to put forth sample ballots from previous years. As I said in 1997:

Periodically, new Aurora categories are suggested. Among those put forth recently include best graphic novel, best TV show or movie, best poem, and best web site — many presumably with separate French and English trophies to be presented. I believe there already are too many Aurora Awards; adding more simply cheapens the value of each one. However, when a new category is proposed, I believe the proposer should be required to put forth mock ballots listing full slates of credible nominees for the previous three years in the suggested category: if five truly award-caliber works cannot be found in each of the preceding three years in a proposed award category, clearly there is insufficient quality work being done in that area in Canada to justify an annual competitive award for it.
Regardless of what sample ballots are put forth, if any, at this year’s AGM, I’m going to introduce a motion that we adopt this bylaw: whenever a new Aurora Awards category is created, a five-year moratorium is imposed on adding any additional categories.
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Should writers shy away from mentioning skin color?

by Rob - July 13th, 2012

An email I recently received said, “I just started your novel Triggers and was wondering why you repeatedly point out that one character is black and another is white. I am not criticizing the book; I only find it unusual and had not seen anything like this before.”

My reply:


I’ve done it in most of my books. It’s my response to the usual technique, which I find racist and offensive, of only mentioning the color of skin when it isn’t white. That is, when you say you’ve never seen anything like this before, what you almost certainly mean is you’ve never seen it mentioned when a character is white before; there are thousands upon thousands of novels that do point out skin color — but only when it isn’t white. And to me, that’s wrong.

To me, it’s silly to describe eye color, hair color, shirt color, and so on, and pretend that no one in the scene would have noticed skin color (indeed, if a police officer asked you to describe a person, and you provided any of those other details but feigned “not to have noticed” the color of the skin, you would not be believed, nor should you be).

In fact, I address the issue directly, in my novel Watch, where I write:

Caitlin’s friend Stacy was black, and Caitlin had often heard people trying to indicate her without mentioning that fact, even when she was the only African-American in the room. They’d say things to people near Caitlin like, “Do you see that girl in the back — the one with the blue shirt? No, no, the other one with the blue shirt.” Caitlin used to love flustering them by saying, “You mean the black girl?” It had tickled both her and Stacy, showing up this “suspect delicacy” as Stacy’s mom put it.

That “suspect delicacy” interests me a great deal. Obviously, no one would suggest that filmmakers or TV producers should wash out the colors on their productions to remove the skin color of people; why should novelists be so coy as to not mention it? Or why should they be forced to use euphemisms, which are often contrived (“she was sporting a nice tan;” “his dreadlocks flew behind him as he ran”), or lapse into often offensively stereotypical dialect to convey race?

Obviously, skin color — and eye color, and hair color, and the color of one’s shirt, and the color of one’s shoes — doesn’t define who one is, but it does in part describe the person, and my job is to describe reality. My characters live in a multicultural world, and my fiction celebrates that diversity. Indeed, as you’ll see later in Triggers, I write:

He looked left and right, recognized left, and headed that way, and — ah! — there it was, a door painted in a pinkish beige that his old pencil-crayon set had called, back in the days of easy racism, “flesh.”

Also, you might find it interesting to google the discussion of the casting of African-Americans in roles for the movie version of The Hunger Games. Novelist Suzanne Collins was not, for many readers, specific enough in her character descriptions, and that allowed demonstrably racist readers to people her story in their heads with an all-white cast, something she never intended, and something those racist readers had a hard time dealing with when the books were brought to the screen. Here’s an example.

I prefer to vividly celebrate all the wonderful variety of humanity. As BookBanter‘s review of Triggers said, “Sawyer should be applauded for a wonderfully diverse cast, as readers are immediately introduced to a powerful female secret service agent, an impressive African-American female doctor who is the president’s primary physician, and the interesting Dr. Singh, who is actually Canadian, which is Sawyer’s own nationality.”

All best wishes.


My original correspondent replied: “Thanks for taking the time to answer my e-mail, truth be told, I didnt expect one. I now see it from your point of view and agree with your approach.”

This fine fellow wasn’t the first to ask about this (although it doesn’t come up often). For those who are curious, here’s the opening scene of Triggers, in which the skin color of four characters is noted in some way, two white, two black; I stand by my contenion that this wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow if I’d only mentioned, as so many other books do, the skin color of the African-American characters.

Susan Dawson — thirty-four, with pale skin and pale blue eyes — was standing behind and to the right of the presidential podium. She spoke into the microphone hidden in her sleeve. “Prospector is moving out.”

“Copy,” said the man’s voice in her ear. Seth Jerrison, white, long-faced, with the hooked nose political cartoonists had such fun with, strode onto the wooden platform that had been hastily erected in the center of the wide steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial.

Susan had been among the many who were unhappy when the president decided yesterday to give his speech here instead of at the White House. He wanted to speak before a crowd, he said, letting the world see that even during such frightening times, Americans could not be cowed. But Susan estimated that fewer than three thousand people were assembled on either side of the reflecting pool. The Washington Monument was visible both at the far end of the pool and upside down in its still water, framed by ice around the edges. In the distance, the domed Capitol was timidly peeking out from behind the stone obelisk.

President Jerrison was wearing a long navy-blue coat, and his breath was visible in the chill November air. “My fellow Americans,” he began, “it has been a full month since the latest terrorist attack on our soil. Our thoughts and prayers today are with the brave people of Chicago, just as they continue to be with the proud citizens of San Francisco, who still reel from the attack there in September, and with the patriots of Philadelphia, devastated by the explosion that shook their city in August.” He briefly looked over his left shoulder, indicating the nineteen-foot-tall marble statue visible between the Doric columns above and behind him. “A century and a half ago, on the plain at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln mused about whether our nation could long endure. But it has endured, and it will continue to do so. The craven acts of terrorists will not deter us; the American spirit is indomitable.”

The audience — such as it was — erupted in applause, and Jerrison turned from looking at the teleprompter on his left to the one on his right. “The citizens of the United States will not be held hostage by terrorists; we will not allow the crazed few to derail our way of life.”

More applause. As she scanned the crowd, Susan thought of the speeches by previous presidents that had made similar claims. But despite the trillions spent on the war on terror, things were getting worse. The weapons used for the last three attacks were a new kind of bomb: they weren’t nukes, but they did generate super-high temperatures and their detonation was accompanied by an electromagnetic pulse, although the pulse was mostly free of the component that could permanently damage electronics. One could conceivably guard against the hijacking of airplanes. But how did one defend against easily hidden, easily carried, hugely powerful bombs?

“Each year, the foes of liberty gain new tools of destruction,” continued Jerrison. “Each year, the enemies of civilization can do more damage. But each year we — the free peoples of the world — gain more power, too.”

Susan was the Secret Service agent-in-charge. She had line-of-sight to seventeen other agents. Some, like her, were standing in front of the colonnade; others were at the sides of the wide marble staircase. A vast pane of bulletproof glass protected Jerrison from the audience, but she still continued to survey the crowd, looking for anyone who seemed out of place or unduly agitated. A tall, thin man in the front row caught her eye; he was reaching into his jacket the way one might go for a holstered gun — but then he brought out a smartphone and started thumb-typing. Tweet this, asshole, she thought.

Jerrison went on: “I say now, to the world, on behalf of all of us who value liberty, that we shall not rest until our planet is free of the scourge of terrorism.”

Another person caught Susan’s attention: a woman who was looking not at the podium, but off in the distance at — ah, at a police officer on horseback, over by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“Before I became your president,” Jerrison said, “I taught American history at Columbia. If my students could take away only a single lesson, I always hoped it would be the famous maxim that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it—”

Ka-blam!

Susan’s heart jumped and she swung her head left and right, trying to spot where the shot had come from; the marble caused the report to echo. She looked over at the podium and saw that Jerrison had slammed forward into it — he’d been shot from behind. She shouted into her sleeve microphone as she ran, her shoulder-length brown hair flying. “Prospector is hit! Phalanx Alpha, shield him! Phalanx Beta, into the memorial — the shot came from there. Gamma, out into the crowd. Go!”

Jerrison slid onto the wooden stage, ending up face down. Even before Susan had spoken, the ten Secret Service agents in Phalanx Alpha had formed two living walls — one behind Jerrison to protect him from further shots from that direction; another in front of the bulletproof glass that had shielded him from the audience, in case there was a second assailant on the Mall. A male agent bent down but immediately stood up and shouted, “He’s alive!”

The rear group briefly opened their ranks, letting Susan rush in to crouch next to the president. Journalists were trying to approach him — or at least get pictures of his fallen form — but other agents prevented them from getting close.

Alyssa Snow, the president’s physician, ran over, accompanied by two paramedics. She gingerly touched Jerrison’s back, finding the entrance wound, and — presumably noting that the bullet had missed the spine — rolled the president over. The president’s eyes fluttered, looking up at the silver-gray November sky. His lips moved slightly, and Susan tried to make out whatever he was saying over the screams and footfalls from the crowd, but his voice was too faint.

Dr. Snow — who was an elegant forty-year-old African American — soon had the president’s long coat open, exposing his suit jacket and blood-soaked white shirt. She unbuttoned the shirt, revealing the exit wound; on this cold morning steam was rising from it. She took a length of gauze from one of the paramedics, wadded it up, and pressed it against the hole to try to stanch the flow of blood. One paramedic was taking the president’s vital signs, and the other now had an oxygen mask over Jerrison’s mouth.

“How long for a medical chopper?” Susan asked into her wrist.

“Eight minutes,” replied a female voice.

“Too long,” Susan said. She rose and shouted, “Where’s Kushnir?”

“Here, ma’am!”

“Into the Beast!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Kushnir was today’s custodian of the nuclear football — the briefcase with the launch procedures; he was wearing a Navy dress uniform. The Beast — the presidential limo — was five hundred feet away on Henry Bacon Drive, the closest it could get to the memorial.

The paramedics transferred Jerrison to a litter. Susan and Snow took up positions on either side and ran with the paramedics and Phalanx Alpha down the broad steps and over to the Beast. Kushnir was already in the front passenger seat, and the paramedics reclined the president’s rear seat until it was almost horizontal, then moved him onto it.

Dr. Snow opened the trunk, which contained a bank of the president’s blood type, and quickly set up a transfusion. The doctor and the two paramedics took the rearward-facing seats, and Susan sat beside the president. Agent Darryl Hudkins — a tall African American with a shaved head — took the remaining forward-facing chair.

Susan pulled her door shut and shouted to the driver, “Lima Tango, go, go, go!”


Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Financial Times loves Triggers

by Rob - May 25th, 2012

Financial Times — The Financial Times of London, one of the most-read newspapers in the world — just reviewed my novel Triggers. It’s a short but sweet review, but wonderfully quotable:

“It’s a national security nightmare — someone has access to the secrets lodged in the brain of the most powerful man in the world. There’s lots of fascinating stuff here about how human memory works, and Sawyer expertly explores the personal as well as political consequences of his high-concept premise.”
Financial Times
The reviewer is the acclaimed British author James Lovegrove.
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Seeing Star Trek: The Motion Picture as it was meant to be seen

by Rob - May 23rd, 2012

Spoiler Alert!

In 1979, before I’d yet seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “So, what did you think when V’Ger turned out to be Voyager 6?” I’ve never had any idea what my reaction to that revelation would have been; I was robbed of that moment. But this week, I finally got to experience ST:TMP as it was meant to be seen …

I think most of the world was robbed of the power of the V’Ger revelation, anyway, because almost all of us who saw ST:TMP had already seen the classic Trek episode “The Changeling,” which involves the very similar revelation that a marauding super-advanced AI is actually an old Earth probe; we immediately dubbed ST:TMP “Where Nomad Has Gone Before.”

But on Sunday I watched the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture with my friend Sherry Peters, who is new to classic Trek (but has now seen about half the episodes), and who hadn’t yet seen “The Changeling.” I got to vicariously share her experience as the big reveal was made in ST:TMP — seeing it as the fresh work that Harold Livingston and Robert Wise and Gene Roddenberry and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner (the writer, director, producer, and studio executives behind the film) had seen it. Sherry liked the film (as do I) and she was surprised and pleased by the revelation. Her eyes went wide and she actually let out a little startled gasp.

The next day, I showed her “The Changeling” on Blu-ray. It took just eleven minutes into the episode (before we even got to the “Jackson Roykirk” bit) for her to say, “Wait a minute — this is the same thing as Star Trek: The Motion Picture!”

And seeing the two of them back-to-back, in that order, really does drive that home: both begin with super-high-powered energy bolts being fired, both have the crew shocked at old-style binary radio messages being sent, both have the Enterprise‘s computer banks being scanned at super-high speed (shorting them out in “The Changeling,” Spock actually smashing the console with interlaced fists to stop the uploading in ST:TMP), both have an AI wandering the Enterprise to learn about its people (Nomad itself; the Ilia probe); both have the visiting AI refer to the crew as “units” (or sometimes, in ST:TMP, as “carbon units”); both have the AI heading back to Earth to meet a “Creator” that it has misconceptions about, both have Spock mind-melding with the AI and from that learning the history of how an encounter with alien AIs led to the modification/enhancement of the original probe.

Of course, the endings of the two versions are very different. In “The Changeling,” Kirk does what he did to M5 and Landru and Mudd’s androids — arguing them to death. In ST:TMP, we get a transhumanist/singulatarian vision that’s quite lovely and much more upbeat.

And, to me, anyway, the real strength of TMP isn’t the V’Ger story: it’s Spock’s response to V’Ger, his character arc going from wanting to purge all his remaining emotions via the Kohlinar ritual, to his crying on the bridge when he realizes via the example of V’Ger how barren such an existence is, to his telling Scotty in the final scene that “My business on Vulcan is concluded.”

I do admire the movie, and enjoy seeing it again every few years (and one of my favorite scenes in my novel WWW: Watch has a character watching the film for the first time). But I got a particular kick out of finally seeing it, albeit vicariously, as its creators had intended it to be seen — thank you, Sherry!

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Texas Public Radio interview

by Rob - May 8th, 2012

A fabulous 18-minute Texas Public Radio interivew with me about Triggers, conducted by the masterful Dan Skinner, is online here. Give it a listen!

Texas Public Radio describes the interview thusly:

When you talk about finding your soul mate, quantum entanglement is probably something you didn’t think about when searching for that individual who would “complete” you. But in the science fiction novel Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer, the notion of quantum entanglement plays a role in the story. President Jerrison is delivering a speech when he is shot.

He’s taken to a hospital where coincidentally a research doctor is experimenting with a medical device that could possibly erase traumatic memories. A terrorist bomb goes off near the hospital scrambling the medical device’s electronic pulses causing several patients to share memories, including the President’s, whose memories include information about a secret military operation. The task then becomes finding out who has shared the President’s memories, but in doing so medical ethics and other issues come into question.

Sawyer also talks with Skinner about the science behind the novel including theories about memories and how an individual recollects them. Robert J. Sawyer is a Hugo and Nebula Science Fiction writer award winner. More about Triggers and Sawyer’s other science fiction novels is online at www.sfwriter.com.

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30 years ago: working at Bakka

by Rob - May 8th, 2012

Pictured: Dune author Frank Herbert and Bakka owner John Rose, outside of Bakka’s old 282 Queen Street West location in Toronto, where Robert J. Sawyer worked in 1982; Bakka was named for “the weeper who mourns for all mankind” from Dune. Photo by Tom Robe from 1981.

Just about exactly thirty years ago, I started the best summer job I ever had. I worked at Bakka, the science-fiction bookstore in Toronto, for four months in the summer of 1982. What an education in bookselling!

Here are some of my memories of that time (from a 10,000-word autobiography of me from 2002 that appears in Contemporary Authors Volume 212):



Many writers have long resumes, listing all the odd jobs they did to support their craft. Not me; I’ve only ever had two jobs since graduating in 1982. Ryerson hired me to return for the following academic year to help teach television studio production techniques to second- and third-year students. I graduated in April 1982, and the job at Ryerson didn’t begin until September — meaning I had four months off with nothing to do. I’d moved away from home after my second year at Ryerson, and had bills to pay.

Enter John Rose, the elfin proprietor of Bakka, Toronto’s science-fiction specialty bookstore. I’d been a regular customer of the store for eight years by this point, and John offered me a summer job. The pay was just $4.25 an hour; I probably could have found something somewhat more lucrative, but the chance to work in a science-fiction store was too appealing to pass up.

I worked the cash desk, shelved books, and counted inventory — but there was one part of the job I managed to avoid. Books go into bookstores on a returnable basis, meaning if they don’t sell, the retailer can return them to the publisher and owe nothing. But for paperback books — the format back then that most science fiction was published in — only the covers of the books are returned. They’re ripped from the body of the book, and the store destroys what’s left. The other clerks, who were long-term employees, all had to do this, but I managed not to have to do it; I said — only half-kidding — that I thought it would scar me for life.

I really didn’t end up making any money at Bakka. As an employee, I was entitled to a 40% discount on everything in the store, and I spent almost my entire earnings buying books.

Still, in June of that year, John Rose did something remarkable. He took me to the annual convention of the Canadian Booksellers Association. It was, in many ways, a crazy thing to do — John had to (a) pay me my wages for the day I attended, and (b) pay a fee to get me in. But John knew I wanted to be a writer, and he thought I should really see how the retailing industry works. The CBA convention — now called BookExpo Canada — is where publishers come to show retailers their upcoming books, and where big-name authors sign copies of their new books for retailers (the comparable American event is, not surprisingly, called BookExpo America).

That summer was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me. Many of my writing colleagues are astonished about how savvy I am about the business of publishing; well, the seeds of that came from that summer working in a bookstore, and that day at the CBA.

I went on to a successful writing career after working at Bakka, but I wasn’t the only one. In the two decades that have followed, several other Bakka employees — all hired long after I’d left — went on to writing careers, including Tanya Huff, Michelle West, Nalo Hopkinson, and Cory Doctorow. In honor of the store’s thirtieth anniversary in 2002, John Rose asked each of us to write an original SF story to be published in a limited-edition anthology. He couldn’t afford to pay us for the stories, but we all agreed — we all owed John far too much to worry about doing some work for free.

[My story for that anthology, "Shed Skin," went on to become a Hugo finalist, after having been reprinted in Analog (where it won the annual AnLab Award for best shorty story of the year) and was the seed from which my novel John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winning novel Mindscan grew; of course, that novel was dedicated to John Rose.]

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Triggers reviews including Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly

by Rob - April 21st, 2012

Reviews for Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer:


“Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer returns with a new hard science fiction novel which pulls together elements of a gripping political thriller with cutting edge psychological insights to create a story that works on many levels. Triggers has the pacing of an episode of 24 and the philosophical sensibilities of an Isaac Asimov novel, so any readers who were introduced to Sawyer through his television series FlashForward will find it particularly interesting.” –Andrew Zimmerman Jones in Black Gate


“Sawyer should be applauded for a wonderfully diverse cast, as readers are immediately introduced to a powerful female secret service agent, an impressive African-American female doctor who is the president’s primary physician, and the interesting Dr. Singh, who is actually Canadian, which is Sawyer’s own nationality. The book juggles an impressive cast of characters, which Sawyer does excellent job of keeping both straight and complex. A powerful novel.” –BookBanter


“A thriller’s pacing and a chilling near-future world. Sawyer’s strength is in the overarching ideas of his stories, and he certainly delivers here.” –Booklist


“Sawyer’s novel not only posits new ideas on the workings on the mind, but also offers a unique viewpoint on the roots of terrorism; not to mention a possible solution.” –FFWD, aka Fast Forward Weekly (Calgary, Alberta)


“Robert Sawyer’s body of work, though it covers a myriad of subjects, is uniformly optimistic in tone. His latest novel, Triggers, slides comfortably into that body of work, optimistic while attempting to address an inordinate number of social and racial issues.” –The Globe and Mail


“The Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Calculating God and The WWW Trilogy delivers a tense, race-against-the-clock adventure with a surprise ending. It should appeal to mainstream thriller readers as well as its target market.” –Library Journal


“First and foremost, Robert J. Sawyer is a rip-roaring good storyteller. Triggers operates on both a global and a personal scale — sometimes simultaneously. By juxtaposing the problems of the entire world with the problems of individuals, Sawyer allows each equal importance. Each of these people deals with their new knowledge in different ways — and each deals with different consequences. It makes for a rich and compelling narrative.

“There are few authors writing today that bring such a strong combination of literate storytelling and complex ideas to the page. Robert J. Sawyer is one of the best in the business right now, and Triggers is him at his finest.” –The Maine Edge (Bangor, Maine)


“No one digs into a sci-fi thought experiment with quite the zest that Robert J. Sawyer does. Sawyer doesn’t stint the thriller framework, but the story’s real joy is the care he takes in exploring the details of the memory-sharing.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Triggers is congruent with the best science-fiction in that it’s not about blasters, but about issues and social commentary. Sawyer’s novel falls right into line with the kinds of things he’s always written about: it’s an exploration of a part of consciousness — in this case, memory — packaged in an entertaining story. His prose is as clear and sharp as ever. But he also uses the book to explore issues such as empathy among humankind (a primary concern of the novel) and the brutal trauma of war. Sawyer is a pacifist at heart, and it’s refreshing to hear a voice advocating peace in a genre that often glorifies war.

Triggers is an action movie with a big science-fiction finish and an optimistic message.” –Mississauga Life


“A turbo-charged techno-thriller. Sawyer offers an escape from the recent run of near-future dystopias in a combination of classic and contemporary science fiction.” –Publishers Weekly


Triggers fully justifies the title of a techno-thriller. There are chases and stand-offs, terrorist threats, bombs and hostage situations. But they are never allowed to dominate the novel, because Triggers is also a medical drama, with many of the legal ramifications of medical accidents discussed. And it’s a love story, as people learn that barriers are sometimes things that we simply create for ourselves. It’s also a treatise on memory, identity, and perception. You come away with a lot of new viewpoints and ideas to think about.

“Verdict: Not to be missed.” –Sci-Fi Bulletin


Triggers is an imaginative and technical tour de force — a fascinating book that makes its bizarre situation seem real and possible and the people linked so strangely and sometimes unhappily to one another quite true. It’s hard to put down.” –Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Triggers has the hard-core military/political insights of Robert A. Heinlein, and the compassion of Theodore Sturgeon.” –Jonathan Vos Post


“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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Triggers a Maclean’s and Globe and Mail Bestseller

by Rob - April 21st, 2012

Triggers debuted at #8 on the Fiction bestsellers list in Maclean’s: Canada’s National Newsmagazine in its first week out (list published April 12), and has moved up to #7 in its second week (list published April 19).

And it debuted at #7 on the Canadian Fiction bestsellers list in The Globe and Mail: Canada’s National Newspaper (list published April 14).

These are the two principal bestsellers lists in Canada; Triggers is a bona fide national top-ten mainstream bestseller in Canada.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Edmonton event is at 7:00 p.m. …

by Rob - April 8th, 2012

… not 7:30 p.m., as incorrectly reported in a few places. The event for TRIGGERS takes place this Wednesday, April 11, at Audreys, 10702 Jasper Ave. NW, Edmonton at 7:00 p.m. Free; everybody welcome.

Triggers now out!

by Rob - April 3rd, 2012

Today is the official publication date of my 21s novel Triggers. The hardcover, ebook, and Audible.com versions are all out now. I begin my book tour tonight!

“Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer returns with a new hard science fiction novel which pulls together elements of a gripping political thriller with cutting edge psychological insights to create a story that works on many levels. Triggers has the pacing of an episode of 24 and the philosophical sensibilities of an Isaac Asimov novel, so any readers who were introduced to Sawyer through his television series FlashForward will find it particularly interesting.” –Andrew Zimmerman Jones in Black Gate

“A thriller’s pacing and a chilling near-future world. Sawyer’s strength is in the overarching ideas of his stories, and he certainly delivers here.” –Booklist

“The Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Calculating God and The WWW Trilogy delivers a tense, race-against-the-clock adventure with a surprise ending. It should appeal to mainstream thriller readers as well as its target market.” –Library Journal

“No one digs into a sci-fi thought experiment with quite the zest that Robert J. Sawyer does. Sawyer doesn’t stint the thriller framework, but the story’s real joy is the care he takes in exploring the details of the memory-sharing.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Triggers is congruent with the best science-fiction in that it’s not about blasters, but about issues and social commentary. Sawyer’s novel falls right into line with the kinds of things he’s always written about: it’s an exploration of a part of consciousness –; in this case, memory –; packaged in an entertaining story. His prose is as clear and sharp as ever. But he also uses the book to explore issues such as empathy among humankind (a primary concern of the novel) and the brutal trauma of war. Sawyer is a pacifist at heart, and it’s refreshing to hear a voice advocating peace in a genre that often glorifies war. Triggers is an action movie with a big science-fiction finish and an optimistic message.” –Mississauga Life

“A turbo-charged techno-thriller. Sawyer offers an escape from the recent run of near-future dystopias in a combination of classic and contemporary science fiction.” –Publishers Weekly

Triggers fully justifies the title of a techno-thriller. There are chases and stand-offs, terrorist threats, bombs and hostage situations. But they are never allowed to dominate the novel, because Triggers is also a medical drama, with many of the legal ramifications of medical accidents discussed. And it’s a love story, as people learn that barriers are sometimes things that we simply create for ourselves. It’s also a treatise on memory, identity, and perception. You come away with a lot of new viewpoints and ideas to think about. Verdict: Not to be missed.” –Sci-Fi Bulletin

Triggers has the hard-core military/political insights of Robert A. Heinlein, and the compassion of Theodore Sturgeon.” –Jonathan Vos Post

“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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Toronto Star ad for Triggers: NYTBR back cover!

by Rob - April 1st, 2012

On Sundays, The Toronto Star — the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada — contains a version of the New York Times Book Review. Today, Sunday, April 1, 2012, the entire back cover of that section was devoted to this terrific ad produced by Penguin Group (Canada) for Triggers. Penguin Canada has been enormously supportive of my work, and I’m very proud to be published by them.

You can see a bigger version of the ad by clicking on the graphic above or this link.

Oh, and here’s the ad Penguin Canada took out in the same place last year for the release of Wonder.

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The Wall Street Journal loves Triggers

by Rob - March 31st, 2012

Tom Shippey — the world’s top Tolkien scholar — reviews my novel Triggers in the March 31, 2012, edition of The Wall Street Journal. The review concludes:

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.

You can read the whole review here.
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Two million words of science fiction

by Rob - March 28th, 2012

Now that I’ve received the first copies of my 21st novel, Triggers, I am delighted to realize that I have published two million words of science fiction in my career.

More than that — and here’s a claim very few authors can make — all two million words of it are still in print.

My early novels were shorter than my more recent ones. My first, Golden Fleece, published in 1990, was under 60,000 words; later books — including my Hugo Award-winning Hominids, my John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winning Mindscan, and my Aurora Award-winning Wake — were each 100,000 words. Rounding me up to the 2,000,000-word mark are the 180,000 words of short fiction I’ve published, which is collected in two beautiful matching volumes, Iterations and Other Stories and Identity Theft and Other Stories.

It astonishes me to think that I’ve even typed that number of words (it’s about 8,000 manuscript pages). But I’m very glad I did, and I’m super-grateful to all my readers who have been with me on this long, wonderful journey.


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Wanted to buy: Easton Press FlashForward

by Rob - March 20th, 2012

Anyone out there with a copy of the Easton Press signed leather-bound edition of my novel FlashForward they’d like to sell me? My authors’ copies went astray in the aftermath of the death of my literary agent, and I’d love to have a copy for my shelf. Send me an email at rob@sfwriter.com if you’d like to sell one. Thanks!

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Mississauga Life interview and review

by Rob - March 20th, 2012

Mississauga Life, a glossy magazine in Mississauga (Canada’s sixth-largest city, and where I live), has a lengthy, meaty interview with me in its March-April 2012 issue, as well as a wonderful review of Triggers, which says in part:

Triggers is congruent with the best science-fiction in that it’s not about blasters, but about issues and social commentary. Sawyer’s new novel falls right into line with the kinds of things he’s always written about: it’s an exploration of a part of consciousness — in this case, memory — packaged in an entertaining story. His prose is as clear and sharp as ever. But he also uses the book to explore issues such as empathy among humankind (a primary concern of the novel) and the brutal trauma of war. Sawyer is a pacifist at heart, and it’s refreshing to hear a voice advocating peace in a genre that often glorifies war.

Triggers is an action movie with a big science-fiction finish and an optimistic message.

Read the full interview and the entire review. Both the interview and the review are by Leo Graziani.

Photo by Leo Graziani

Triggers goes on sale two weeks from today, on April 3, 2012.
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John Demjanjuk, 1920-2012

by Rob - March 17th, 2012


John Demjanjuk passed away today at 91. He was the Cleveland autoworker who had been tried and convicted of being Ivan the Terrible, a horrific guard at the Treblinka death camp, and, when that conviction was overturned, was later convicted of being a different guard at the Sobibor death camp, a conviction that was on appeal at the time of his passing today in a nursing home.

I chronicled John Demjanjuk’s case — using actual trial transcripts — in my 1997 novel Frameshift.

On this day of Demjanjuk’s passing, here’s a scene from Frameshift. The character of Avi Meyer, below, is a fictitious agent with the Office of Special Investigations, the real division of the United States Department of Justice devoted to hunting down Nazi war criminals; the OSI was responsible for the original misidentification of John Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible. During the trial, Avi had been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of African-American Tom Robinson, convicted of a crime he was physically incapable of committing.

Frameshift was a finalist for the Hugo and Aurora Awards, and won Japans’ Seiun Award for best foreign novel.


Avi Meyer sat in his apartment, mouth hanging open.

Demjanjuk had been found guilty, of course, and sentenced to death. The outcome had been obvious from the beginning of the trial. Still, there had to be an appeal: it was mandatory under Israeli law. Avi hadn’t been sent to Israel for the second trial; his bosses at the OSI were confident nothing would change. Surely all the claims filtering into the press were just clever ploys by Demjanjuk’s grandstanding attorneys. Surely the interview aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes with Maria Dudek, a skinny woman now in her seventies, with white hair beneath a kerchief, ragged clothing, and only a few teeth left, a woman who had been a prostitute in the 1940s in Wolga Okralnik near Treblinka, a woman who had had a regular john—a regular ivan—who operated the gas chambers there, a woman who had screamed in bought passion for him—surely this old woman was mistaken when she said her client’s name had not been Ivan Demjanjuk but rather Ivan Marchenko.

But no. Avi Meyer was watching all the OSI’s work unravel on CNN. The Israeli Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Meir Shamgar, had just overturned the conviction of John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk had now been held prisoner in Israel for five and a half years. His appeal had been delayed three years due to a heart attack suffered by Judge Zvi Tal. And during those three years, the Soviet Union had fallen and formerly secret files had been made public.

Just as Maria Dudek had said, the man who had operated the gas chamber at Treblinka had been Ivan Marchenko, a Ukrainian who did bear a resemblance to Demjanjuk. But the resemblance was only passing. Demjanjuk had been born April 3, 1920, while Marchenko had been born February 2, 1911. Demjanjuk had blue eyes while Marchenko’s were brown.

Marchenko had been married before the outbreak of World War II. Demjanjuk’s son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, had gone to Russia and tracked down Marchenko’s family in Seryovka, a village in the district of Dnepropetrovsk. The family had not seen Marchenko since he’d enlisted in the Red Army in July 1941. Marchenko’s abandoned wife had died only a month before Nishnic’s visit, and his daughter broke down and cried upon learning of the horrors her long-missing father had perpetrated at Treblinka. “It’s good,” she was reported to have said between sobs, “that mother died not knowing.”

When those words had been relayed to him, Avi’s heart had jumped. It was the same sentiment he’d felt upon learning that Ivan had forced his own father to rape a little girl.

The KGB files contained a sworn statement from Nikolai Shelaiev, the other gas-chamber operator at Treblinka, the one who had been, quite literally, the lesser of two evils. Shelaiev had been captured by the Soviets in 1950, and tried and executed as a war criminal in 1952. His deposition contained the last recorded sighting by anyone anywhere of Ivan Marchenko, coming out of a brothel in Fiume in March 1945. He had told Nikolai he had no intention of returning home to his family.

Even before Maria Dudek had spoken to Mike Wallace, even before Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship, Avi had known that the last name used by Ivan the Terrible while at Treblinka might indeed have been Marchenko. But that was of no significance, Avi had assured himself: the name Marchenko was intimately linked to Demjanjuk, anyway. In a form Demjanjuk had filled out in 1948 to claim refugee status, he had given it as his mother’s maiden name.

But before the first trial, the marriage license of Demjanjuk’s parents, dated 24 January 1910, had come to light. It proved his mother’s maiden name wasn’t Marchenko at all; rather, it was Tabachuk. When Avi had questioned Demjanjuk about why he’d put “Marchenko” on the form, Demjanjuk had claimed he’d forgotten his mother’s real maiden name and, considering the matter of no consequence, had simply inserted a common Ukrainian surname to complete the paperwork.

Right, Avi had thought. Sure.

But now it seemed it had been the truth. John Demjanjuk was not Ivan …

… and Avi Meyer and the rest of the OSI had come within inches of being responsible for the execution of an innocent man.

Avi needed to relax, to get his mind off all this.

He walked across his living room to the cabinet in which he kept his videotapes. Brighton Beach Memoirs always cheered him up, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and …

Without thinking it through, he pulled out a two-tape set.

Judgment at Nuremberg.

Hardly lightweight but, at three hours, it would keep his mind occupied until it was time to go to bed.

Avi put the first tape in his VCR and, while the stirring overture played, popped some Orville Redenbacher’s in the microwave.

The movie played on. He drank three beers.

The tables had been turned at Nuremberg: Burt Lancaster played Ernst Janning, one of four German judges on trial. It seemed like a small, supporting role, until Janning took the stand in the movie’s final half hour …

The case against Janning hinged on the matter of Feldenstein, a Jew he’d ordered executed on trumped-up indecency charges. Janning demanded the right to speak, over the objections of his own lawyer. When he took the stand, Avi felt his stomach knotting. Janning told of the lies Hitler had sold German society: “`There are devils among us: Communists, liberals, Jews, Gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’” Janning shook his head slightly. “It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb.”

Lancaster spoke forcefully, bringing every bit of his craft to the soliloquy. “It is not easy to tell the truth,” he said, “but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it, whatever the pain and humiliation.” He paused. “I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein the Jew was the helpless victim.”

Avi stopped the tape, deciding not to watch the rest even though it was almost over. He went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth.

But he’d accidentally pushed PAUSE instead of STOP. After five minutes, the tape disengaged and the TV blared at him—more of CNN. He returned to the living room, fumbled for the remote—

—and decided to continue on to the end. Something in him needed to see the finale again.

After the trial, after Janning and the other three Nazi jurists were sentenced to life imprisonment, Spencer Tracy—playing the American judge, Judge Haywood—went at Janning’s request to visit Janning in jail. Janning had been writing up memoirs of the cases he was still proud of, the righteous ones, the ones he wanted to be remembered for. He gave the sheaf of papers to Haywood for safekeeping.

And then, his voice containing just the slightest note of pleading, Lancaster again in full control of his art, he said, “Judge Haywood—the reason I asked you to come. Those people, those millions of people … I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it. You must believe it.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Spencer Tracy said, sadly, softly, “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Avi Meyer turned off the TV and sat in the darkness, slumped on the couch.

“Devils among us.” Hitler’s phrase, according to Janning. Back in his wooden storage cabinet, next to the blank spot for Judgment at Nuremberg was Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story.

Echoes, there. Uncomfortable ones, but echoes still.

Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.

Avi had wanted to believe that. Destroy the misery, let the ghosts rest.

And Demjanjuk—Demjanjuk—

It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb.

No. No, it had been a righteous case, a just case, a—

I had reached my verdict before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual.

Yes, down deep, Avi Meyer had known. Doubtless the Israeli judges—Dov Levin, Zvi Tal, and Dalia Dorner—had known, too.

Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Mar Levin, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Mar Tal, it came to that …

Giveret Dorner, it came to that …

Avi felt his intestines shifting.

Agent Meyer, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Avi got up and stared out his window, looking out on D Street. His vision was blurry. We’d wanted justice. We’d wanted someone to pay. He placed his hand against the cold glass. What had he done? What had he done?

Now the Israeli prosecutors were saying, well, if Demjanjuk wasn’t Ivan the Terrible, maybe he’d been a guard at Sobibor or some other Nazi facility.

Avi thought of Tom Robinson, with his crippled black hand. Shiftless nigger—if he wasn’t guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, well, he was probably guilty of something else.

CNN had shown the theater that had been turned into a courthouse, the same theater Avi had sat in five years previously, watching the case unfold. Demjanjuk, even now not freed, was taken away to the jail cell where he’d spent the last two thousand nights.

Avi walked out of his living room, into the darkness.

Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.

But not even the ghosts stood to mark Avi Meyer’s exit.


 



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Wonder nominated for the CBC Bookie Awards

by Rob - March 14th, 2012

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has unveiled the five finalists for its second annual Bookie Awards, and my Wonder is on the list.

Anyone may vote for the awards, and you’re allowed to cast a ballot every day — you can vote today, tomorrow, the next day, and so on, once a day, until March 31. The ballot is HERE.

Wonder was named “Booksellers’ Pick of the Year” in the Science Fiction category by the Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire, was a Main Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, spent three months on the Locus bestsellers’ list, and is on the “Year’s Best” lists at Barnes and Noble and Audible.com.

Wonder is not only a superb conclusion to a tremendous trilogy, but stands alone as one of the best books that Sawyer has ever written.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“This is Robert J. Sawyer at his very best.” —Analog


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Triggers book tour dates

by Rob - March 14th, 2012

Robert J. Sawyer‘s twenty-first novel, Triggers, comes out in hardcover on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 — and Wonder, the concluding volume of his acclaimed WWW trilogy, comes out in paperback that day.

Join him on his book tour for events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Waterloo, Hamilton, and Ottawa:

  • Official Book Launch Party!
    Dominion on Queen
    500 Queen Street East
    Toronto, Ontario
    (in conjunction with but not at Bakka Phoenix Books)
    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
    Dominion on Queen

  • Signing & Talk
    John M. Harper Branch Library
    500 Fischer-Hallman Road North
    Waterloo, Ontario
    (in conjunction with but not at Words Worth Books)
    Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Signing & Talk
    Fish Creek Library Branch
    11161 Bonaventure Drive SE
    Calgary, Alberta
    (in conjunction with but not at Pages on Kensington Books)
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:00 p.m.
    CPL: Fish Creek Branch

  • Signing & Talk
    Audreys Books
    10702 Jasper Avenue
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
    audreys.ca

  • Signing & Talk
    W2 Media Café
    111 W Hastings Street
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    (in conjunction with but not at White Dwarf Books)
    Thursday, April 12, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
    w2-media-cafe

  • Signing & Talk
    Mysterious Galaxy
    2810 Artesia Blvd.
    Redondo Beach (Los Angeles), California
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
    Mysterious Galaxy

  • Signing & Talk
    McNally Robinson
    1120 Grant Avenue
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 2:00 p.m.
    McNally Robinson

  • Signing & Talk
    Hamilton Public Library
    Central Branch
    55 York Street
    Hamilton, Ontario
    (in conjunction with but not at Bryan Prince Booksellers)
    Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
    Hamilton Public Library

  • Guest Writer
    Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo
    Calgary, Alberta
    April 27-29, 2012
    CalgaryExpo

  • Signing & Talk
    Clock Tower Brew Pub
    575 Bank Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
    (in conjunction with but not at Perfect Books)
    Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
    Clock Tower Brew Pub

  • Reading & Signing
    SF in SF (Science Fiction in San Francisco)
    The Variety Preview Room
    582 Market St. at Montgomery
    (1st floor of The Hobart Building)
    San Francisco, California
    (in conjunction with but not at Borderlands Books)
    Thursday, June 21, 2012, at 7:00 p.m.
    sfinsf.org

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Red Planet Blues

by Rob - March 2nd, 2012

My 22nd novel, formerly known as The Great Martian Fossil Rush, has a new official title: Red Planet Blues.

When I asked for suggestions online, hundreds of possibilities were put forth. Red Planet Blues was separately suggested by Jeff Beeler on Twitter, Nazrat Durand on my Facebook wall, André Peloquin on the forum maintained by Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, and Mike Poole here on my blog. Thanks to them, and to the more than one hundred other people who put forth ideas.

The title “Red Planet Blues” was previously used in 1989 by my wonderful friend, the Hugo Award-winning writer Allen Steele, for a novella that he later incorporated into his terrific 1992 Mars novel Labyrinth of Night. I’m using it for my book with Allen’s kind permission.

Why the change? My US publisher wanted something that played up the book’s noir mystery angle. Noir is a classy genre, and Red Planet Blues does a lovely job of capturing that; many of the other titles suggested — although clever — had a pulp feel that wasn’t quite right for how we’re positioning the book. Again, many thanks to everyone who participated.

Red Planet Blues will be published by Ace Science Fiction in the US and Penguin Canada in April 2013 (next year).

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Need a new title for my next book — help!

by Rob - February 29th, 2012

The Great Martian Fossil Rush is no more. The sales force for my US publisher doesn’t like the title, and I need to have them enthusiastic about the book. I’ve been asked to come up with a new title. It’s a hard-boiled detective novel set on Mars, expanded from my novella “Identity Theft” and my short story “Biding Time.” They want something that conveys a noir feel. Suggestions, O Brain Trust? Thanks!

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Triggers opening chapters

by Rob - February 25th, 2012

The opening chapters of my 21st novel, Triggers, coming April 3 in hardcover, ebook, and Audible editions, are now online. Publishers Weekly says the book is “a turbo-charged techno-thriller” and Booklist says it combines “a thriller’s pacing and a chilling near-future world.”

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Pinning it on William Gibson

by Rob - February 4th, 2012

For the 30th anniversary of the Aurora Awards — Canada’s top honour in science-fiction and fantasy writing — all previous nominees were presented with commemorative pins. Most of the nominees received theirs at ceremonies at SF conventions across Canada held in 2010 (I got mine at Keycon in May of that year). But Vancouver’s William Gibson, who has been nominated for the Aurora numerous time (including for his collaboration with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine), and has won it twice (for Mona Lisa Overdrive and Virtual Light), didn’t make it to any of those conventions.

And so, at the request of the Aurora Awards administrators, when I interviewed Bill on stage at the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library on January 12, 2012, I had the honour of presenting him with his pin. That’s me on the left handing the pin to Bill.

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My favorite sentence

by Rob - February 1st, 2012

I was asked to write a sentence about my favorite sentence from someone else’s science-fiction work. The sentence I chose was from James White’s “Tableau”:

Through them could be seen a tiny, three-dimensional picture in full detail and colour of the original war memorial, placed there to remind viewers that there was nothing great or noble or beautiful about war.
And here’s my sentence commenting about it:
As a pacifist and an idealist whose writing often veers toward Utopian fiction, I’m sometimes embarrassed by the prevalence of military science-fiction books (not to mention SF movies and TV shows with “Wars” or “Battle” in the title) that seem to glorify armed combat, but this lyrical sentence — the concluding one from Belfast writer James White’s “Tableau,” my all-time favorite science-fiction story — proved to me early on that there is also room in this field for hopeful, peaceful, upbeat swords-into-plowshares visions of sunnier tomorrows.
(Illustration: the statue “Swords into Plowshares” on the grounds of United Nations headquarters.)
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For your consideration: WWW: Wonder

by Rob - January 14th, 2012

Nominations are now open for the Hugo, Nebula, and Aurora Awards — the time when writers (cough, cough) respectfully remind you of what they had published in the previous year that’s eligible for these awards.

For me, it’s my twentieth novel, the concluding volume of my WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder.

The title of the final book — the one currently eligible for awards — is styled WWW: Wonder in the United States and just Wonder in Canada and the rest of the world. All of these editions appeared in 2011; feel free to cite any one of them on a nomination form. :)

  • Sawyer, Robert J. WWW: Wonder (Ace Science Fiction [US], April 2011)
  • Sawyer, Robert J. Wonder (Penguin Canada, April 2011)
  • Sawyer, Robert J. Wonder (Gollancz [UK], May 2011)

You can read the opening chapters of Wonder here, and lots more about the book here.

Wonder was named “Booksellers’ Pick of the Year” in the Science Fiction category by the Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire, was a Main Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, spent three months on the Locus bestsellers’ list, and is on the “Year’s Best” lists at Barnes and Noble and Audible.com.

The previous volumes in the series have done well with awards: Wake was nominated for the Hugo Award, both Wake and Watch won the Aurora Award, and Watch won the Hal Clement Award. Wake was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and Watch was also nominated for the Audie Award, the Canadian Authors Association’s Fiction Award, and the Sunburst Award. Volume 3, Wonder, was a finalist for the GoodReads Choice Award.

Below is a summary of the reviews Wonder has received. Thanks for your kind consideration!


“The third and final thriller in the WWW saga is an engaging climax to an intriguing story line. Action-packed; the tale ties up seemingly every thread. Readers will enjoy Robert J. Sawyer’s deep look at the Web age of American power in which leaders believe they need threats like Big Brother is watching you even when none exists.” —Alternative-Worlds.com



“Not just an adventure story, Wonder is also (like its predecessors) a starting point for speculations on ethics and morality, the meaning of consciousness and conscience, and the place of intelligence in the cosmos. This is Robert J. Sawyer at his very best.” —Don Sakers in Analog



“For those of you science fiction fans who have yet to experience Robert J. Sawyer, you’re missing out on one of the most though-provoking writers in the genre. His narrative is a unique fusion of highly intelligent scientific speculation; emotionally-powered, character driven storylines; and offbeat humor mixed with subtle pop culture references. In WWW: Wonder, for example, Sawyer brilliantly references some iconic science fiction images — the Lawgiver from Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man, Erin Gray from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, etc.

“This trilogy doesn’t portray humankind in the best of lights but there is an undeniable sense of optimism at work, an irrepressible hope. These novels will change the way you look at the world — and if the epilogue of WWW: Wonder doesn’t deeply affect you, doesn’t utterly blow you away, chances are good that you aren’t human …

“The title of this novel says it all … readers looking for that glorious sense of wonder missing in much of contemporary science fiction will find that and more in this outstanding trilogy. A literary beacon of light in a genre dominated, at least recently, by doom and gloom.” —Paul Goat Allen‘s official review for Extrapolations, Barnes and Noble‘s Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog



“Bucking the dystopian trend of presenting a world threatened by humanity’s own creations, Sawyer presents scientific advances in a kinder, gentler way. It’s key to his now completed trilogy — Wake, Watch and the newly released Wonder.

“It’s telling that Wonder is the first of the trilogy that has a villain in the form of the Pentagon’s obsessive expert on artificial intelligence, Col. Peyton Hume. The lack of antagonists in much of Sawyer’s work is another area where he strays from doom-and-gloom prophecies of the future.” —Eric Volmers in The Calgary Herald (where Wonder hit #1 on the Fiction Bestsellers list)



“Most notably, Sawyer’s understanding of science and technology help to draw the reader into the story. By simplifying complex theories, Sawyer is able to make the idea of emerging Internet consciousness believable.

Wake, Watch, and Wonder are all must-reads for any fan of science fiction. Pop-culture references, a great sense of wit and humour and shout-outs to the kings of science fiction, coupled with Sawyer’s seamless timeline creates a quick-paced, enjoyable, and refreshing read.” —CanCulture



“Fast-paced and immediately engaging. Drawing from and distilling a vast pool of scientific, mathematical, political and social theories, Sawyer educates readers on such topics as game theory, government conspiracy, scientific responsibility and modern morality, while encouraging them to ask questions.

“Once again, Sawyer shows mastery in his ability to move between complex scientific concepts and genuine and realistic characters … and serves up a healthy dose of social commentary and critique.

“Sawyer manages to not only make each book work individually, but with Wonder, has adroitly drawn together seemingly disparate threads. There are nuances, themes and subtleties that flow beautifully when the trilogy is read as a whole, and the ability to take it as a work in its entirety, to savour the plot and allow the intricacies of the theories and concepts to meld in one’s mind, is definitely the preferred approach.” —The Globe and Mail: Canada’s National Newspaper



Wonder is a worthy third and final chapter to this series. In Webmind, Sawyer has created perhaps the most well-realized artificial intelligence in science-fiction.

“Sawyer is producing some of the most intelligent sci-fi out there. He has a knack for combining lofty, challenging ideas with an exceptional sense of story to create works that manage to be simultaneously deeply compelling and eminently readable. Complex characters and complex ideas are interwoven into a narrative that draws the reader into the world that Sawyer has created. —Allen Adams in The Maine Edge (Bangor, Maine)



“The third volume in Sawyer’s trilogy is a thought-provoking and often humorous look at future technology, calculating both its advantages and its disadvantages with regard to the human response. Entertaining and insightful, with pokes at social media and a clear look at many sides of a timely issue, this story should attract technophiles and general sf fans alike.” —Library Journal



“Canada’s science fiction superstar looks on the bright side of tomorrow. The tension in this third novel is quite sharp. With Webmind’s increasing power and understanding, he begins to exert his influence on individuals and nations. It may or may not have humanity’s best interests at heart, and it may not be stoppable, either way.” —Prairie Dog: Regina’s Independent Voice



“The various plot strands are fully interconnected in this final volume: the teenage Caitlin, the ape Hobo, and the Chinese whistleblower Wai-Jeng find their lives continue to be altered by their involvement with Webmind, while Peyton Hume of the WATCH team tries to find a way to curtail the intelligence’s power.

“The multitude of references to pop culture continue in this novel, with the 1970s Buck Rogers TV version inspiring one of the most striking visual images in the story when Webmind addresses the United Nations (and one of the best gags in the book, which Sawyer gives to Jon Stewart). And equally, fundamental questions are discussed: does human morality really improve with every generation? Will future generations regard our attitude to abortion in the same way we look at those who kept slaves? The vast array of characters Sawyer has created allows him to present different sides of arguments with equal validity without the book suddenly feeling as if it’s become a didactic — and provides some new insight into his characters along the way.

“Verdict: The conclusion to one of the best SF trilogies of modern times.” —Sci-Fi Bulletin



“Sawyer is exploring questions of intelligence, humanity, and technology’s impact on our lives. What happens when we encounter a being with far greater intelligence than we have, but none of our physical limitations?

“With the help of a speaking ape, a planet-wide community of true-believers, and a liberal dose of classic science fictional tropes, Sawyer shows that, in addition to being a very talented and creative writer, he’s also as big a fan of sf as any of us.

“Along the way, nations will fall, people will grow, and even bad guys will learn it’s more fun to be good. WWW: Wonder is a very satisfying conclusion to Sawyer’s trilogy of tomorrow, or possibly just 20 minutes into the future. Read it now, before you’re living through it.” —Ian Randall Strock at SF Site



“Vernor Vinge initially predicted that the Singularity would arrive before 2030. Ray Kurzweil places it in 2045. Those predictions are too conservative for Canadian science fiction juggernaut Robert J. Sawyer: in his WWW trilogy, whose third volume, Wonder, appears in April, the Singularity arrives in the autumn of 2012.

“If anyone is ideally suited to bring this rich vein of sci-fi angst into day-after-tomorrow territory, it’s Sawyer. The Ottawa native is one of the most successful Canadian authors of the past few decades, with twenty novels to his credit, including The Terminal Experiment (which won the 1995 Nebula Award for best novel), Hominids (which won the Hugo Award in 2003), and FlashForward (which in 2009 was turned into a television series on ABC). He’s also a meticulous realist.

“The resulting novels function as extended philosophical thought experiments. The real tension isn’t about Webmind’s advent and evolution; it’s about how humans will (or should) react to it. As Wonder‘s plot twists and weaves, you’re drawn relentlessly toward the finish, eager to find out whether Webmind will turn out to be a blessing or a curse.” —Alex Hutchinson in The Walrus



“Canadian sci-fi master Robert J. Sawyer’s artificial-intelligence trilogy reaches its conclusion in another delightful piece of fiction.

“The sequel to Wake and Watch, Wonder boasts lots of accessible scientific ideas and excellent characterization. Better yet, it’s proudly and even defiantly set in Canada.

Wonder is not only a superb conclusion to a tremendous trilogy, but stands alone as one of the best books that Sawyer has ever written.” —Nick Martin in Winnipeg Free Press

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Four “must-read” science-fiction books

by Rob - January 9th, 2012

Five years ago this month, TORO Magazine asked me to recommend four “must-read” science-fiction books. Half a decade later they’re still great reads:

THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells (Tor): Wells created it all: time travel, space voyages, alien invasions, genetic engineering, antigravity, invisibility — you can’t write SF without riffing on good ole H.G. But he also knew that all those things were mere trappings; SF is really a medium for social commentary — and he rips the British class system a new one here.

GATEWAY by Frederik Pohl (Del Rey): The job of good science fiction is to combine the intimately human and the grandly cosmic, and no one has ever done it better than Pohl in this book. Robinette Broadhead recounts his ill-fated encounter with a black hole in sessions with a computerized shrink, in what I think is the finest novel the field has ever produced. (And for all those MFA-in-creative-writing types who think a book has to have a likable protagonist to be moving and engaging, here’s the proof that you’re wrong.)

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger (Vintage): Sometimes when mainstream authors dabble in SF it goes wrong, like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Other times, it’s a resounding success, such as this brilliant, heart-breaking story of a librarian unstuck in time, a tale that’s both philosophically and scientifically literate.

GRAVITY WELLS by James Alan Gardner (Eos): SF has always shone at short lengths, and there simply is no better writer of short stories in or out of the field than James Alan Gardner of Kitchener, Ontario. This collection contains fourteen of his wry, knowing, mind-bending tales including the Aurora Award-winning “Muffin Explains Teleology to the World at Large” and the Hugo Award-nominated “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Blood Stream.”

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Watch wins Aurora Award!

by Rob - November 20th, 2011

Robert J. Sawyer‘s novel Watch, the second volume of his WWW Trilogy, won the Aurora Award today — Canada’s top honour in science fiction and fantasy — for Best Novel of the Year. The award was presented at the 31st annual Canadian National Science Fiction Convention, SFContario 2, in Toronto. The vote ranking:

1st: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)
2nd: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada)
3rd: Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm (Bundoran)
4th: Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau (Dragon Moon)
5th: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell (Great Plains)

Watch is published in Canada by Penguin Group (Canada). The US edition, under the title WWW: Watch, is from Ace Science Fiction, and the British edition is from Orion.

Earlier this year, Watch won the Hal Clement Award for Best Young-Adult Science Fiction Novel of the Year, presented at the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno.

Watch continues the interwoven coming-of-age stories begun in Wake of formerly blind math genius Caitlin Decter, chimpanzee-bonobo hybrid Hobo, and Webmind, a consciousness that has spontaneously emerged on the World Wide Web. Last year, Wake, the first volume of the WWW trilogy, also won the Aurora Award for Best Novel of the Year.

Of Watch, Analog Science Fiction and Fact — the world’s top-selling English-language science-fiction magazine — says, “Sawyer leads the reader through questions of the nature of consciousness, identity, privacy, morality, and empathy across the gulfs that separate intelligent beings from one another. The book is chock-full of ideas that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. This is science fiction at its best.”

For the first time ever, this year the Best Novel Aurora Award carried a cash prize. The $500 prize was bestowed by SF Canada, the national association of Canadian science fiction and fantasy writers.

The complete list of Aurora Award winners this year:

  • Best Novel: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)
  • Best Short Form: “The Burden of Fire” by Hayden Trenholm (Neo-Opsis #19)
  • Best Poem/Song: “The ABCs of the End of the World” by Carolyn Clink (A Verdant Green) [Clink is Sawyer's wife]
  • Best Graphic Novel: Goblins by Tarol Hunt
  • Best Related Work: The Dragon and the Stars, edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi (DAW)
  • Best Artist: Erik Mohr
  • Best Fan Filk: Dave Clement and Tom Jeffers
  • Best Fan Organizational: Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi, Toronto SpecFic Colloquium
  • Best Fan Other: John Mansfield and Linda Ross Mansfield, Aurora Award pins

A complete list of previous Aurora Award winners in the fiction categories can be found here. This was Sawyer’s twelfth Aurora Award win (he is the all-time record holder for this award), and his forty-sixth award win overall. His other award wins include the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year (for Hominids), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year (for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award — the top juried award in the science-fiction field — for Best Novel of the Year (for Mindscan).

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Sawyer transhumanism lecture Monday night

by Rob - November 15th, 2011

Free transhumanism lecture! Free snacks! Plus you get to be part of the studio audience for TVOntario’s Big Ideas series: it’s all happening this Monday night, November 21, 2011, at 7:00 p.m. at The Gardiner Museum in Toronto, 111 Queen’s Park (just across the screet from the ROM). Sponsor: The Literary Review of Canada, co-producing with TVOntario’s Big Ideas.

Humanity 2.0

Robert J. Sawyer, Canada’s leading science-fiction author and internationally respected futurist, on the tomorrow we imagine — and the one we are creating.

When Marshall McLuhan Published Understanding Media, in 1964, the U of T English professor’s radical arguments about technology’s role in shaping human existence made him a unique media oracle. Now, 100 years after McLuhan’s birth, many simply take as given that our future will be shaped, not by ethical or cultural precepts, but by our fast-changing technological advances.

In fact, we’re approaching the moment — not too far off — at which computer intelligence will exceed that of humans. Today, some already dream of uploading their consciousnesses into artificial bodies or virtual worlds; others wish to radically prolong their lives or enhance their bodies through biotechnology. These changes are feared by some, embraced by others, and point to key questions: What will it mean to be human in the future? Can we look forward to a utopian tomorrow? Might some of us simply become obsolete?

Robert J. Sawyer, another homegrown oracle, promises a few answers. Sawyer is Canada’s leading science fiction writer, winner of over 40 national and international awards for his bestselling fiction, including the Nebula, the Hugo, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His keen insights into the human impact of technological change have led to consulting work for corporate clients such as Google, and Sawyer has also advised bodies from the Canadian Federal Department of Justice to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. On November 21st, he will discuss how to approach our brave new future without (too much) fear and trembling.

IMPORTANT: Seating is limited. Please RSVP to: rsvp@reviewcanada.ca
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Wonder named “booksellers’ pick of the year” in adult SF&F by Quill & Quire

by Rob - November 12th, 2011

Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, has posted its Booksellers’ Picks of the Year: Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The adult choice is Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer; the young-adult choice is Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston.

You can read the article here.

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Triggers serialization begins in Analog

by Rob - November 12th, 2011

The January-February 2012 double issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is on sale now — in print and electronic formats. It contains part one of the four-part complete serialization of my 21st novel, Triggers. The serial will continue in the March, April, and May 2012 issues.

Analog (formerly Astounding Stories) is the oldest English-language science-fiction magazine still being published, and is also the top-selling English-language science-fiction magazine in the world.

This is my sixth novel serialization in Analog — by far the most by any author since editor Stanley Schmidt took over the magazine in 1978. My previous Analog serials were the Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment, the Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated Starplex, the Hugo Award-winning Hominids, and the Hugo Award-nominated Rollback, and the Hugo Award-nominated Wake.

Triggers will be out in book form on April 3, 2012, from Ace Science Fiction in the US; Penguin Canada in Canada; Gollancz in the UK — as well as on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and from Audible.com.

The Analog cover is above; the North American book cover is below.


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November 18-20 in Toronto: the Canadian National Science Fiction Convention

by Rob - November 6th, 2011

If you’re in or near Toronto and have never been to a science-fiction convention, give this one a try: SFContario 2, Friday evening, November 18, through late Saturday afternoon, November 20.

First, it’s got great guests: Aurora Award-winning Canadian hard-SF writer and foresight specialist Karl Schroeder, Hugo and Campbell Award-winning SF writer John Scalzi, and Year’s Best editor Gardner Dozois — plus senior Tor Books editor David G. Hartwell and his coeditor of the other major Year’s Best, Kathryn Cramer, and Canadian editors/publishers Virginia O’Dine (Bundoran Press) and Sandra Kasturi and Brett Alexander Savory (CZP), and Canadian authors galore including Hugo winner Robert J. Sawyer, Aurora winners Julie E. Czerneda, Hayden Trenholm, Randy McCharles, and Douglas Smith, Aurora nominee Marie Bilodeau, and many more.

Second, it’s the Canadian National Science Fiction convention this year (“the CanVention”), and the Aurora Awards will be presented there.

Third, it’s got parties! All convention attendees are welcome at them, so come out and have fun.

It will be fun, informative, and a great networking opportunity. Join us!

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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