Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

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).

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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!

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WWW: Wonder nominated for Goodread’s Choice Award

by Rob - November 2nd, 2011


My twentieth novel, Wonder, is one of fifteen nominees for the Best Science Fiction Book of the Year in the Goodreads Choice Awards. You can see the full list of nominees here.


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The Doranna Durgin blog post

by Rob - October 18th, 2011

For those following Doranna Durgin’s posting — on her own blog and at the Writer Beware blog — about her dealings with Fitzhenry & Whiteside in relation to her novel Dun Lady’s Jess, my comments:

Doranna contends that the book is out of print, and so the rights should be reverted to her. Fitzhenry & Whiteside says, no, in fact the book is in print, and so the reversion clause doesn’t pertain.

Who’s right? There’s no question: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Fitzhenry & Whiteside isn’t just a publisher, it’s also one of Canada’s largest book distributors (they used to distribute Ace Science Fiction, and they do distribute EDGE, Canada’s largest SF line). A quick call to Bakka-Phoenix, Canada’s oldest SF specialty store, revealed that Dun Lady’s Jess is indeed available via the distributor Fitzhenry & Whiteside to any bookseller that wants it; the title is listed in the distributor’s catalog.

The contract language in question is this: “in print through normal trade channels.” Doranna’s own blog post makes it clear that the book is certainly in print — there are 1,600 physical copies available for shipment (and, checking, I find that they are traditional web-offset copies from the first and only printing — not print-on-demand or ebook editions; the book is in-print not just in some nebulous new-paradigm sense, but in the classic, normal, traditional sense of the term).

As for “normal trade channels,” Fitzhenry & Whiteside is a Canadian publisher. What constitutes “normal trade channels” in Canada?

Well, how ’bout via Chapters.Indigo.ca, Canada’s largest bookstore chain? Dun Lady’s Jess is available for purchase there: Chapters.Indigo.ca

Or maybe you prefer to shop at McNally Robinson, Canada’s major independent? They’ll sell you a copy, too: McNallyRobinson.com

Or Amazon.ca? They show the book as In Stock — that is, it’s in their own warehouse, not just the publisher’s: amazon.ca

Or perhaps you want to pick it up in a physical brick-and-mortar bookstore? It’s in stock and on the shelf at World’s Biggest Bookstore (the Chapters/Indigo store in downtown Toronto) (verifiable via the “Find It In Store” feature at the Chapters.Indigo.ca link above).

Oh! And the book is also in stock and on the shelf at Sentry Box in Calgary, a bricks-and-mortar science-fiction and fantasy bookstore.

On October 21, 2011, bookseller Andrew S. Balfour added this comment: I work for one of the booksellers on Rob’s list up there. I can say, with absolute certainty, that this book is just as available as any other in-print book. The fact that it’s not on our shelves has nothing to do with availability, and everything to do with the fact that, when we did stock the book, it didn’t sell.

That says nothing about the publisher, any more than it says anything about the quality of the book. They can’t force us to order something we don’t want, and no one can control the interests of the reading public.

In conclusion: Not selling ≠ Not available

There certainly are such things as reversion-of-rights clauses that require the publisher to meet a threshold number of actual physical copies sold or a threshold number of dollars earned to keep a book in print. But this contract doesn’t have any such language. The book is in print — copies exist — and it is available through “normal trade channels” in the country in which it was published.

ETA: Okay, so what’s all the online bouhaha about? Well, the book is clearly in print, but Doranna wanted the publisher to revert the rights anyway. Fitzhenry’s response was not an uncooperative “sure, you can force it out of print — by buying up all the existing copies at your normal author discount [typically 40% off cover price].” No, they went the extra mile for Doranna and said if she really wanted to force this title out of print, she could buy the existing copies at cost. [Source: direct quote from Fitzhenry's Richard Dionne as posted by Doranna herself in her timeline of events; Richard is publisher of Red Deer Press, the division of Fitzhenry & Whiteside that produced Doranna's book.]

Dun Lady’s Jess has a Canadian list price of Cdn$21.95; 40% off that would be Cdn$13.75 a copy; that’s what Doranna’s contract said she should have paid if she wanted to buy copies. But even though the book wasn’t out of print, Fitzhenry offered her a chance to buy the books at cost. I’ve bought books at cost from Fitzhenry myself — trade paperbacks similar to the one in question; cost, in my case, ranged from $1.66 to $3.19 a copy, depending on the title.

There’s no contractual reason in Doranna’s case that Fitz should offer copies at such a low price, but they did. That was more than fair, since an “at cost” sale means the publisher makes not one cent in profit — Fitzhenry bent over backward to let the author accomplish what she wanted to accomplish, namely forcing this clearly in-print title out of print.

For those unfamiliar with Fitzhenry & Whiteside, this is a publisher that has published Pierre Berton, Alice Munro, Northrop Frye, Charlotte Gray, and David Suzuki — some of the top names in Canadian writing.

This is a publisher whose books have won multiple Governor-General’s Awards, Canada’s top literary prize.

This is a publisher whose Fifth House division was recently named Alberta Publisher of the Year by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

This is a publisher that, over forty years in the business, has published many hundreds of titles to critical acclaim and commercial success.

This is not a publisher that abuses authors.

Note: there’s a lengthy comment thread attached to this blog post, with comments by Doranna Durgin, her agent Lucienne Diver, Victoria Strauss of the Writer Beware blog that Doranna originally posted in, booksellers, and others — and replies from me, covering a lot of ground about the business of publishing and distributing books. Click HERE to read the comments.

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On Canadian science fiction

by Rob - October 5th, 2011


I stumbled today across this by-email interview I did in March 2007 for an American librarian preparing an article about Canadian science fiction, and I thought I’d share it here.

(1) Do you believe that there is a significant difference between Canadian and American SF? If so, how would you describe that difference?

I like to quip that American SF has happy endings, Canadian SF has sad endings — and British SF has no endings at all. Seriously, I do think we Canadians are much more interested in writing realistic emotional denouements — which often are ambiguous and sometimes downbeat — rather than heroic triumphs.

(2) What would you say is particularly Canadian about your writing?

The easy answer is the setting: most of my books are set in Canada. But beyond that, there’s a Canadian sensibility to my books, perhaps best displayed in my Hugo Award-winning Hominids and its sequels. As compared to Americans, Canadians are more secular, more environmentally conscious, more willing to trade individual liberty for collective security, and more open to alternative lifestyles — and those are precisely the traits I gave my modern-day Neanderthal characters in those books.

(3) Is there any significant conversation between Anglophone and Francophone science fiction in Canada, or are these really two separate literatures with little in common?

We all know each other, and like each other, but the sad truth is that although Canada is an officially bilingual country, what that really means is that most French Canadians can also read and speak English; very few English Canadians are comfortable in French. It’s a national embarrassment and a failure of our otherwise quite good public-education system. So the Francophone writers certainly know the major English-language SF books, but the reverse just isn’t true.

The only French-Canadian writer widely translated into English is Elisabeth Vonarburg, who writes in a sort of Ursula K. LeGuin voice.

(4) Can you give me a brief description of your most recent (or, if you prefer, your most significant) book?

My seventeenth novel Rollback comes out in April 2007, and I think it’s probably the best example yet of what I try to do as an SF writer. My mission statement, if you will, is to combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic.

Rollback‘s plot involves communicating with aliens via radio about what morals and ethics might transcend species boundaries — that’s the grandly cosmic part. The novel tells the story of Sarah Halifax, an 87-year-old radio astronomer who is involved with this project is offered a “rollback,” an experimental procedural that will make her young again — so that she can keep up the dialog with the aliens, which, because of the slowness of the speed-of-light, takes almost 40 years between messages.

She refuses to have the rollback unless her husband of 60 years gets one, too — and the procedure succeeds for him, and fails for her. That’s the intimately human part: the impact the suddenly huge disparity in physical ages has on her husband’s relationship with her, with their children, and so on.

To my delight, Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, and Quill & Quire — the Canadian counterpart of PW said exactly what I was hoping reviewers would say, which is: “Sawyer handles the demands of the heart and the cosmos with equal skill” — which is precisely what good science fiction should do, in my opinion.

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Triggers cover

by Rob - October 5th, 2011

Here’s the US cover for Triggers, my 21st novel, coming April 3, 2012, from Ace Science Fiction in the US, Penguin Canada (under the Viking imprint) in Canada, and about the same time from Orion (under the Gollancz imprint) in the UK — with simultaneous audiobook (from Audible) and ebook editions.

Click the little version above for a full-size 300-dpi version (if your browser sizes that one down to fit your window, click the image to see full size).

Cover art is by Stephan Martiniere (who also di the cover for my novel Rollback. Jacket design by Diana Kolsky.

The jacket will also feature the photo of me below. You can click it for a large 300-dpi version, too.


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In FlashForward, I predicted this year’s Nobel Prize winners in Physics

by Rob - October 4th, 2011


My novel FlashForward (published by Tor and the basis for the ABC TV series of the same name) was published in 1999 but is set today. In it, as many hundreds of people have mentioned to me over the years, I correctly predicted that the current Pope would take the name Benedict XVI.

Well, here’s another prediction from that novel that just came true: I predicted that Saul Perlmutter and Brian P. Schmidt would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work showing that the universe will expand forever. Today, they — along with Adam G. Riess — were named this year’s Nobel Laureates in that category. Congratulations to them!

Here’s the relevant passage from FlashForward (the opening paragraphs of Chapter 26):

Like every physicist, Theo waited with interest each year to see who would be honored with the Nobel Prize — who would join the ranks of Bohr, Einstein, Feynman, Gell-Mann, and Pauli. CERN researchers had earned more than twenty Nobels over the years. Of course, when he saw the subject header in his E-mail box, he didn’t have to open the letter to know that his name wasn’t on this year’s list of honorees. Still, he did like to see which of his friends and colleagues were getting the nod. He clicked the OPEN button

The laureates were Perlmutter and Schmidt for their work, mostly done a decade ago, that showed that the universe was going to expand forever, rather than eventually collapsing down in a big crunch. It was typical that the award was for work completed years previously; there had to be time for results to be replicated and for the ramifications of the research to be considered.

Well, thought Theo, they were both good choices. There’d doubtless be some bitterness here at CERN; rumor had it that McRainey was already planning his celebratory party, although that was doubtless just scurrilous gossip. Still, Theo wondered, as he did every year at this time, whether he’d someday see his own name on the list.


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Finished with the WWW books

by Rob - October 3rd, 2011


Just sent corrections for the paperback of Wonder to Ace and Penguin Canada — the very last work I’ll ever do on the WWW trilogy books. It’s the end of an era that began getting on to nine years ago, on Friday, January 10, 2003, when I wrote this in my journal:
Wrote 300 words explaining how I was going to expand “Shed Skin” into a novel to be called Skins, and, after wracking my brain for a couple of hours, came up with an idea that I liked for a second novel: consciousness emerges on the World Wide Web. Admittedly, not completely original (Clarke’s short story “Dial F for Frankenstein” comes to mind), but I checked on Amazon.com and Google, and couldn’t find any book that had actually done this. (I had been thinking of outlining a novel about humans adopting alien children, but I have yet to figure out how to develop that plot enough.)
“Shed Skin” was a short story I wrote that went on to be a Hugo finalist; Skins became Mindscan, and the alien children idea eventually became Rollback. By “second novel,” I meant I was looking for a two-book contract; originally, the story of Webmind was only going to be a single novel, and the two-book contract would have been for Mindscan and that book. Wake, Watch, and Wonder ended up being my 18th, 19th, and 20th novels.
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Calgary’s Con-Version SF convention cancelled for 2011 and 2012

by Rob - September 29th, 2011

On the Facebook page for Con-Version XXVII, Calgary’s long-running science-fiction convention, con-com member Amilee Hagon posted the following on September 18:

Good evening everyone.

It is with deepest regret that I inform you all that until further notice Con-Version will not be going ahead as planned next year.

I am truly sorry for this and would ask that anyone who has pre-purchased tickets for the next Con-Version get in touch with Laurie Lalonde for a full refund. If you are unable to reach her for the refund please get in touch with Derek France who should be able to issue the refund on behalf of Con-Version.

Again we are sorry for the delay and more information is soon to follow.

Please get in touch with either Laurie Lalonde or Derek France for refunds.

Thanks you for your support.

Fortunately, Calgary’s terrific new literary convention When Words Collide will be coming back next year.
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Free Sawyer talk in Ottawa on Monday, October 17

by Rob - September 28th, 2011

A Glimpse into the Future on “Faster-than-Light Neutrinos”: Hope, Hype and Magic

World-renowned science-fiction writer and futurist comes to Canada Science and Technology Museum

Robert J. Sawyer was been called “a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation” by the New York Times, and declared “one of the most-successful Canadian authors ever” by Maclean’s. Sawyer has published 21 bestselling novels, one of which became the basis for the ABC television series, FlashForward.

Sawyer’s vision and perspective on the future of science has been called upon by organizations ranging from the Canadian Department of Justice to DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Sawyer will bring his vision of the future to the Canada Science and Technology Museum Monday, October 17, 2011, between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. as part of the museum’s programming for National Science and Technology Week., October 14-21.

A dynamic speaker, Sawyer can engage an audience with his science-fiction stories while inserting scientific principles in an understandable way. Scientifically rigorous and highly entertaining, Robert J. Sawyer is not to be missed.

This event is sponsored by the Science Media Centre of Canada in partnership with the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

FREE admission and parking!

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The truth behind FlashForward’s Oxide Super stadium

by Rob - September 26th, 2011

I don’t think it was ever explained on air, but the Oxide Super stadium, where Suspect Zero is first spotted in the FlashForward TV series, is named that because it’s an anagram of Oedipus Rex, and alludes to this scene from my novel FlashForward, in which Theo (the character who became Simon on the show) reflects on Sophocles’s great tragedy:


Theo hadn’t been home for four years now, and he regretted it. Christ, he might be dead in twenty-one years — and he’d let a span of one-fifth that length slip by without hugging his mother or tasting her cooking, without seeing his brother, without enjoying the incredible beauty of his homeland. Yes, the Alps were breathtaking, but there was a sterile, barren quality about them. In Athens, you could always look up, always see the Acropolis looming above the city, the midday sun flaring off the restored, polished marble of the Parthenon. Thousands of years of human habitation; millennia of thought, of culture, of art.

Of course, as a youth, he had visited many of the famous archeological sites. He remembered being seventeen: a school bus had taken his class to Delphi, home of the ancient oracle. It had been pouring rain, and he hadn’t wanted to get off the bus. But his teacher, Mrs. Megas, had insisted. They had clambered over slippery dark rocks through lush forest, until they came to where the oracle had once supposedly sat, dispensing cryptic visions of the future.

That kind of oracle had been better, thought Theo: futures that were subject to interpretation and debate, instead of the cold, harsh realities the world had recently seen.

They’d also gone to Epidaurus, a great bowl out of the landscape, with concentric rings of seats. They’d seen Oedipus Tyrannos performed there — Theo refused to join the tourists in calling it Oedipus Rex; “Rex” was a Latin word, not Greek, and represented an irritating bastardization of the play’s title.

The play was performed in ancient Greek; it might as well have been in Chinese for all the sense Theo could make of the dialog. But they’d studied the story in class; he knew what was happening. Oedipus’s future had been spelled out for him, too: you will marry your mother and murder your father. And Oedipus, like Theo, had thought he could circumvent destiny. Forearmed with the knowledge of what he was supposed to do, why, he’d simply avoid the issue altogether, and live a long, happy life with his queen, Iocasta.

Except …

Except that, as it turned out, Iocasta was his mother, and the man Oedipus had slain years before during a quarrel on the road to Thebes had indeed been his father.

Sophocles had written his version of the Oedipus story twenty-four hundred years ago, but students still studied it as the greatest example of dramatic irony in western literature. And what could be more ironic than a modern Greek man faced with the dilemmas of the ancients — a future prophesied, a tragic end foretold, a fate inevitable? Of course, the heroes of ancient Greek tragedies each had a hamartia — a fatal flaw — that made their downfall unavoidable. For some, the hamartia was obvious: greed, or lust, or an inability to follow the law.

But what had been Oedipus’s fatal flaw? What in his character had brought him to ruin?

They’d discussed it at length in class; the narrative form employed by the ancient Greek tragedians was inviolate — there was always a hamartia.

And Oedipus’s was — what?

Not greed, not stupidity, not cowardice.

No, no, if it were anything, it was his arrogance, his belief that he could defeat the will of the gods.

But, Theo had protested, that’s a circular argument; Theo was always the logician, never much for the humanities. Oedipus’s arrogance, he said, was only evidenced in his trying to avoid his fate; had his fate been less severe, he’d never have rebelled against it, and therefore never would have been seen as arrogant.

No, his teacher, had said, it was there, in a thousand little things he does in the play. Indeed, she quipped, although Oedipus meant “Swollen Foot” — an allusion to the injury sustained when his royal father had bound his feet as a child and left him to die — he could just as easily be called “Swollen Head.”

But Theo couldn’t see it — couldn’t see the arrogance, couldn’t see the condescension. To him, Oedipus, who solved the vexing riddle of the Sphinx, was a towering intellect, a great thinker — exactly what Theo felt himself to be.

The riddle of the Sphinx: what walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? Why, a man, of course, who crawls at the beginning of life, walks erect in adulthood, and requires a cane in old age. What an incisive bit of reasoning on Oedipus’s part!

But now Theo would never live to need that third leg, would never see the natural sunset of his span. Instead, he’d be murdered in middle-age … just as Oedipus’s real father, King Laius, was left dead at the side of a well-worn road.

Unless, of course, he could change the future; unless he could outwit the gods and avoid his destiny.

Arrogance? thought Theo. Arrogance? It is to laugh.

The plane started its descent into nighttime Athens.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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Lightwedge Flex Neck ebook light

by Rob - September 17th, 2011

Just under a year ago, I reviewed the Lightwedge Verso ebook light. I thought it wasn’t bad, but could use some improvements. Now, Lightwedge has brought out a new ebook light called the Lightwedge Flex Neck Tech Light — and this one I don’t like at all.

I’m unhappy for four reasons:

(1) The clear plastic covering the LEDs isn’t flush with the cowling around the head; instead, it protrudes about a quarter of an inch — meaning light sprays all around, including directly into your eyes; I couldn’t find a comfortable angle for lighting the screen without having light pouring at me, too.

(2) When closed — so that the head is tucked into the clamp — the on/off button is exposed through a round hole and almost flush with the surface, making it very easy for the thing to accidentally get turned on while in your briefcase, or wherever, draining the batteries. Also, another round hole exposes the entire acrylic cover for the LEDs, so that it can easily be scratched in transit. Whoever thought putting the holes in the clamp was a good idea perhaps has a few too many holes in his head. :)

(3) There are only four tiny little dots of silicone on the clamp (two on each side, each about a quarter-inch in diameter) to prevent scuffing/marking whatever you attach the clamp to — and if you have a soft leather case for your ereader, these will leave indentations. It should have had a large silicone patch on each side of the clamp.

(4) The on/off switch makes an audible click when you press it. These sorts of lamps are often used for reading in bed without disturbing a partner; the switch should be silent (yes, this one is quieter than the switch on the Lightwedge Verso ebook light — but it’s still much noisier than it needs to be).

On the plus side, the neck is longer than on most ebook lights, and the clamp opens much wider.

If you are going to get one of these, get the all-black model. It’s the only one with a black neck; the other models have silver necks that will reflect light into your eyes.

Robert J. Sawyer online:
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