Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

The Stanley Cup Caper

by Rob - August 24th, 2013

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

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

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

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

Here’s the story:

The Stanley Cup Caper

by Robert J. Sawyer

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

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

Continue reading »

Triggers #1 on Locus bestsellers list!

by Rob - July 24th, 2013

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

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

The complete bestsellers lists are here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

SF Conference Sept 13-15 in honour of donation of my archives

by Rob - July 24th, 2013

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

with special guests:

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

Multiple paper tracks!
Author Readings!

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

Web page for the conference is

The tentative program schedule is here.

The Facebook event page is here.

More about the conference is here.

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Why was FlashForward canceled?

by Rob - June 23rd, 2013

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

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

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

My response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Lifeboat to the Stars winners

by Rob - June 19th, 2013


For Immediate Release:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About The Lifeboat Foundation

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

R.I.P., Alan Sawyer

by Rob - June 10th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Yay for theme anthologies!

by Rob - May 16th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2006 Bio:

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Academic conference about Canadian science fiction

by Rob - May 16th, 2013

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

Three Days!
Multiple Tracks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Expanding Identity Theft into Red Planet Blues

by Rob - May 15th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Reading is in Kitchener, not Waterloo

by Rob - April 29th, 2013

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

The library recommends advance registration; you can register here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

30th anniversary as a full-time writer

by Rob - April 29th, 2013

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Terence M. Green interview from 1988

by Rob - April 28th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sawyer: So the theme of Barking Dogs is truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Red Planet Blues book tour

by Rob - March 5th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Remembering the 1993 Books in Canada SF issue

by Rob - February 21st, 2013

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Five year’s-best lists for Triggers

by Rob - February 12th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

The Abdication of Pope Mary III

by Rob - February 12th, 2013

Apropos of nothing at all …

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

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

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

The Abdication of Pope Mary III

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer

First published in Nature, July 6, 2000.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“And that means …?”

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

“And Dr. Benmergui’s second experiment?”

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

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

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

“So our universe is a very special place?”

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

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

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

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

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

# # # # #

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Come see me in England!

by Rob - January 26th, 2013

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

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

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

Robert J. Sawyer online:

New $1,000 science-fiction award

by Rob - January 25th, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

About Lifeboat Foundation

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


Robert J. Sawyer

For your Hugo consideration: Triggers

by Rob - January 12th, 2013

Now that Hugo Award nominations are officially open, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that my novel Triggers, published in the US by Ace Science Fiction following serialization in the January-February, March, April, and May 2012 issues of Analog (and Audio version from Audible), is eligible for nomination in the Best Novel category.

Some review excerpts:

Triggers has the pacing of an episode of 24 and the philosophical sensibilities of an Isaac Asimov novel.” — 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

“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

Triggers is a meditation on memory, as well as dealing with contemporary issues such as technology, science and race. An out-and-out thriller, with multiple characters, fast-paced chapters and a core mystery that needs solving — fast.” — Fresh Air (CBC Radio One)

“Sawyer is at the height of his powers here. A mature storyteller, sharing his worlds with us at his own easy stride. I couldn’t put it down.” — January Magazine (a “Best of the Year” pick)

“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

“Sawyer delivers another high-concept thriller built on intriguing SFnal ideas.” — Locus (a “New & Notable Books” pick)

“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)

“Engaging and full of fascinating ideas. Triggers uses a techno-thriller plot but the approach is more that of a philosophical inquiry.” — Morning Star (UK)

“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

“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

“Robert J. Sawyer’s greatest gift has always been his ability to incorporate the human element into stories about complex scientific ideas, and Triggers is one of his most emotional and successful to date. Despite the near-dystopian setting, Triggers is haunting in its optimism. It was a joy to read.” [Five stars out of five.] — San Francisco Book Review

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

“Intriguing, with plenty of suspense — Triggers was fast-paced and exciting. This science fiction thriller was completely riveting from beginning to its climactic end.” —

Triggers is an imaginative and technical tour de force.” — Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Triggers is constantly gripping on the surface and seriously provocative deep down.” — Tom Shippey in The Wall Street Journal

More reviews are here.

The Canadian edition of Triggers is from Penguin Canada, and the British one is from Orion Gollancz.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Call for papers

by Rob - January 5th, 2013

In honour of the donation of Robert J. Sawyer‘s papers and archives to McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, that institution is hosting an academic conference entitled “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre” Friday, September 13, through Sunday, September 15, 2013.

The call for papers (CFP) is here.

Special guests at the conference are Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, Order of Canada member John Robert Colombo, Aurora Award-winning author Julie E. Czerneda, Hugo Award-winning editor David G. Hartwell, Aurora Award-winning author Élisabeth Vonarburg, Hugo Award-winning author Robert Charles Wilson, and Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books.

This is sure to be the largest academic conference about science fiction in Canada in 2013, and the biggest academic conference on Canadian science fiction ever held. The conference will be open to the general public.

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer has called science fiction “the literature of intriguing juxtapositions,” and so it is, combining a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, astronomy, computer science, evolutionary biology, gender studies, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, and sociology.

We’re interested in papers from all academic areas, with a focus on Canadian science fiction in general and Sawyer’s oeuvre in particular.

The call for papers is here. The conference is being chaired by McMaster professors Nicholas Serruys and C. Annette Grisé. For more information, contact Prof. Serruys at or 905-525-9140, ext. 23756.

Sawyer’s archives will be housed and displayed alongside McMaster’s massive collection of Bertrand Russell material, its large H.G. Wells collection, and its extensive archival holdings in Canadian literature, including the papers of Pierre Berton, John Robert Colombo, Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, and publisher Jack McClelland.

Photo by Christina Frost

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Three For The Future

by Rob - October 28th, 2012

Thirty years ago, the November 1982 issue of Leisure Ways (the members’ magazine for the Canadian Automobile Association) published “Three For the Future” — three short-short science-fiction stories by Terence M. Green, Robert J. Sawyer, and Andrew Weiner, collected and introduced by John Robert Colombo. Last night, at John’s house, we all got together for a 30th anniversary reunion party — complete with readings of the stories. I’ve put up a web page with the text of all three stories and John’s introduction HERE

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Unveiling the Red Planet Blues cover

by Rob - October 16th, 2012

I’m thrilled to unveil the cover for my twenty-second novel, Red Planet Blues, and to announce a new, earlier publication date. To accommodate my Canadian book tour, Red Planet Blues will now come out in both the US and Canada one week earlier than originally planned. The new date is Tuesday, March 26, 2013 (with the Toronto launch party on Monday night, March 25). The US publisher is Ace Science Fiction; the Canadian publisher is Penguin Canada (which will release the book under its Viking imprint).

The cover art is by Tony Mauro; art director was Rita Frangie. And, yes, those are fossils in the lower right …

Click here or on the image above to see the cover full-size (a four-megabyte JPEG).

Robert J. Sawyer online:

RTA School of Media Wall of Fame

by Rob - September 22nd, 2012

On Saturday, September 22, 2012, the RTA School of Media Wall of Fame was unveiled at my alma mater, Ryerson University in Toronto; I am thrilled to be one of the initial twelve inductees.

The Wall of Fame is sponsored by the RTA School of Media (formerly the School of Radio and Television Arts, the top-rated broadcasting school in Canada, established 1953) and the RTA Alumni Association.

The initial twelve honorees are:

  • Dave Devall, Guinness World Record holder for “longest career as a weather forecaster’”
  • Jocelyn Hamilton, Vice President, Original Programming, Kids, Comedy, Drama, at Corus Entertainment.
  • Bill Lawrence, CBC weather forecaster, host of Tiny Talent Time
  • Terry O’Reilly, co-founder Pirate Radio, author, CBC Radio host
  • Keith Pelley, President, Rogers Media Inc.
  • Valerie Pringle, television host and journalist
  • Robert J. Sawyer, science-fiction writer
  • Doug Sellars (deceased), former executive producer of CBC Sports, and former executive vice-president of Fox Sports in Los Angeles
  • Arthur Smith, Executive Producer of the reality show Hell’s Kitchen
  • Steven H. Stern, film director, producer, and writer
  • Virginia Thompson, owner of Vérité Films and producer of Corner Gas
  • Kim Wilson, Creative Head, Children’s and Youth Programming at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The citation beneath my photo on the Wall of Fame reads:

Robert J. Sawyer (class of 1982) is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won for Hominids), the Nebula (for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for Mindscan). According to the U.S. trade journal Locus, he has won more awards for his novels than anyone else in the history of the science-fiction and fantasy fields.

The 2009-2010 ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name, and he was one of the scriptwriters for that show. He is a member of both the Writers Guild of Canada and the Writers Guild of America, and has almost 700 radio and TV appearances to his credit.

Click above for larger photo

At the induction ceremony (left to right): Virginia Thompson, Jocelyn Hamilton, Kim Wilson, Robert J. Sawyer, Valerie Pringle, Terry O’Reilly, Arthur Smith, Keith Pelley, Dave Devall

Ten years prior, in September 2002, I received Ryerson’s Alumni Award of Distinction; I am one of only eighty people so honoured in Ryerson’s history. Of the initial twelve RTA Wall of Fame inductees, only Dave Devall, Valerie Pringle, and myself are also Alumni Award of Distinction recipients.

I very much enjoyed my time as a student at Ryerson — graduating 30 years ago, in 1982, with a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Radio and Television Arts. I also spent a year on staff in the School of Radio and Television Arts (the 1982-83 academic year), and returned to Ryerson in the 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 academic years to teach continuing-education courses in science-fiction writing. In 2008, for Ryerson’s sixtieth anniversary, I was commissioned by the university to write this piece about the university’s future.

Photo by Christina Molendyk

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Sparkling Mike Resnick

by Rob - August 25th, 2012

My great friend and mentor Mike Resnick is Guest of Honor at Chicon 7, the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, which begins next week in Chicago. To commemorate that, here’s the introduction I wrote for Mike’s 2003 collection Resnick at Large: Resnick Speaks His Mind on Everything.

Here’s something most people don’t know about Mike Resnick. His middle name — I kid you not — is Diamond.

Now, as a writer myself (one of the legions who have learned much of their craft by reading Resnick and being mentored by him), I know how important the symbolism of names is, but my wife always balks when I use one that’s too obviously appropriate. And yet, Diamond really is a perfect name for Mike.

First, of course, the guy’s brilliant. All you have to do is read any of his dozens of books to know that.

Second, he’s multifaceted. Mike writes some of the most socially relevant fiction in the history of SF (see the “Kirinyaga” stories, for instance), but he also writes lots of laugh-out-loud funny stuff. And, of course, he’s not just an award-winning novelist and an award-winning short-story writer, but also a screenwriter, a magnificent essayist, a wonderful fan writer, and an indefatigable anthology editor.

Third, he’s transparent. There is absolutely no guile in our Mr. Resnick. He speaks plainly — even bluntly; writes with Asimovian clarity; and makes no secret of his ambitions.

Fourth, as the Diamond Merchants Association’s slogan has it, “a diamond is forever.” Most twentieth and twenty-first century SF writers will be quickly forgotten. Not Mike. Because his work is often parable, it goes beyond being mere entertainment (although it most assuredly is entertaining); Mike writes passionately about things that matter to him and will matter to us, as a species, far into the future.

Fifth, like a diamond, our man Mike is known by his statistics: he’s won four Hugo awards, a Nebula award, a Locus award, the Prix Eiffel, two Ignotus awards, the Seiun award, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya’s SF award, six Science Fiction Chronicle awards, four Asimov’s readers’ polls, a Hayakawa SF Magazine readers’ poll, and ten — count ‘em, ten — HOMer Awards voted on by the members of the SF Literature forums on CompuServe.

Sixth, Michael Diamond Resnick is the very symbol of generosity. No writer in recent history has done more to encourage beginning talent. He’s bought lots of first stories for his anthologies (and gotten jaded fools like me back into writing short fiction after having given it up), he freely dispenses advice on all aspects of the writing game, and he’s constantly taking time to promote other writers.

(I’ll give you an example: every year at the SF convention Eeriecon in Niagara Falls, New York, I do a panel on Friday evening called “The Late Night Talk Show,” where I pretend to be Jay Leno, and interview the other convention guests about whatever they want to promote. Mike was Guest of Honor at Eeriecon one year, and when it came time for me to interview him, he said, “You’ll all hear enough about me over the weekend. I’d rather talk about another writer who excites me,” and he spent his whole time in the spotlight promoting William Sanders instead. That’s class.)

Seventh, as the saying goes, a diamond is a girl’s best friend. There is no better marriage in the SF industry than that between Mike and his lovely, charming, witty wife Carol. Mike always refers to Carol as his “uncredited collaborator,” and he dedicates every single book to her first, and then, secondarily, to somebody else.

Eighth, diamonds are associated with Africa, the continent with the world’s best mines. Mike’s affinity with Africa is well known, and his nickname throughout the SF world is Bwana. Not only does he edit the Resnick Library of African Adventure, and frequently visits that continent, but his African-tinged tales — from short works like “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” and “The Manamouki” to novels like Ivory, Paradise, Inferno, and Purgatory — are the sort of thoughtful, important writing that let the rest of us hold our heads high when we say we’re science-fiction writers.

But, enough from me. It’s time to hear from Mike. Turn the page, and say hello to a true gem of a man.

Photo by Laura Domitz

Robert J. Sawyer online:

History-making Aurora Award win

by Rob - August 15th, 2012

To my absolute astonishment and delight, my twenty-first novel, Wonder, has just won the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (“the Aurora”) for Best Novel of the Year.

An excerpt from the official Aurora Awards press release:

Mississauga, Ontario, author Robert J. Sawyer has done it again. Not only is this his third consecutive Aurora Award for Best English Novel, it gives him an Aurora for all three novels in his celebrated “WWW” science-fiction series.

On Saturday night, August 11, 2012, in Calgary, at the Aurora Awards Banquet, Mr. Sawyer won the coveted award for his novel Wonder, the third volume of his “WWW” trilogy. Last year, he won for Watch (the second volume), and in 2010 he won for Wake (the first volume). All three books are published by Penguin Group (Canada); Mr. Sawyer’s editor, Adrienne Kerr (pictured with Sawyer above), was present along with him at the ceremony in Calgary.

Along with the trophy, Mr. Sawyer was presented with a cheque for $500 from SF Canada, Canada’s Science Fiction and Fantasy writers association.

For over 30 years, members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) have chosen exceptional Canadian works for these trophies. This year the awards ceremony was held in Calgary in conjunction with the When Words Collide festival.

Wonder completes the story of Caitlin Decter, the formerly blind 16-year-old girl who discovers that a vast consciousness has spontaneously emerged in the background of the World Wide Web. She becomes Webmind’s mentor, protector, and public face. The WWW trilogy is published in the US by Ace Science Fiction and in the UK by Gollancz. The audio books are available from (downloadable) and Blackstone (physical media), and all three novels were main selections of the Science Fiction Book Club.

Wonder hit #1 on the science-fiction bestsellers’ list, was the #1 bestselling hardcover for the entire year of 2011 at Toronto’s Bakka-Phoenix Books, was named “Bookseller’s Pick of the Year” for adult science fiction or fantasy by the Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire, and was a finalist for the CBC Bookie Awards. Some reviews of the book:

“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)

“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

“Verdict: The conclusion to one of the best SF trilogies of modern times.”

Sci-Fi Bulletin

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

Kerr and Sawyer photo by Tim Reynolds. Trophy photo by Robert J. Sawyer. Click on photos for high-resolution publication-quality versions.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

The movie Contact

by Rob - August 7th, 2012

I got asked yesterday what my favorite parts of the movie Contact were — the questioner took it as a given that I must love the film. Well, I know we’re all supposed to like it because it was based on a book by Carl Sagan, and because, y’know, it’s about a kick-ass female scientist, but I actually have real problems with it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love SETI, and I was the only novelist invited to speak at the SETI Institute’s first SETIcon in 2010 — and was the only novelist invited to speak at the second SETIcon, held this year. But in Rollback, my own novel about SETI, my character of Sarah Halifax, herself a SETI astronomer, reflects on the movie’s problems:

Like most astronomers, Sarah fondly remembered the movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel of the same name. Indeed, she argued it was one of the few cases where the movie was actually better than the overlong book. She hadn’t seen it for decades, but a reference to it in one of the news stories about the attempts to decrypt the response from Sigma Draconis had brought it to mind. With pleasant anticipation, she sat down next to Don on the couch to watch it on Wednesday night. Slowly but surely she was getting used to his newly youthful appearance, but one of the reasons she felt like watching a movie was that she’d be doing something with Don in which they’d be sitting side by side and not really looking at each other.

Jodie Foster did a great job portraying a passionate scientist, but Sarah found herself smiling in amusement when Foster said, “There are 400 billion stars out there, just in our galaxy alone,” which was true. But then she went on to say, “If only one out of a million of those had planets, and if just one out of a million of those had life, and if just one out of a million of those had intelligent life, there would be literally millions of civilizations out there.” Nope, a million-million-millionth of 400 billion is so close to zero as to practically be zero.

Sarah looked at Don to see if he’d caught it, but he gave no sign. She knew he didn’t like being interrupted by asides during movies — you couldn’t memorize trivia the way he did if you weren’t able to concentrate — and so she let the screenwriter’s minor flub pass. And, besides, despite its inaccuracy, what Foster had said rang true, in a way. For decades, people had been plugging numbers made up out of whole cloth into the Drake equation, which purported to estimate how many intelligent civilizations existed in the galaxy. Foster’s wildly inaccurate figure, pulled out of the air, was actually quite typical of these debates.

But Sarah’s amusement soon turned to downright cringing. Foster went to see a large corporation to get funding for SETI, and, when it initially turned her down, she went ballistic, exclaiming that contacting an extraterrestrial civilization would be the biggest moment in human history, more significant than anything anyone had ever done or could possibly imagine doing, a species-altering moment that would be worth any cost to attain.

Sarah cringed because she remembered giving such patently ridiculous speeches herself. Granted, the detection of the original signal from Sigma Draconis had been page-one news. But until the second message had been received, it had been over thirty years since a mention of aliens had appeared on the front page or main screen of any newspaper that didn’t have the words “National” and “Enquirer” in its title.

It wasn’t just SETI researchers who had overhyped the impact of such things. Sarah had forgotten that then-president Bill Clinton appeared in Contact, but there he was, talking about how this breakthrough was going to change the world. Unlike the cameos by Jay Leno and Larry King, though, which had been specifically staged for the movie, she immediately recognized the Clinton speech as archival footage — not about the detection of alien radio messages, but about the unveiling of ALH84001, the Martian meteorite that supposedly contained microscopic fossils. But despite the presidential hyperbole, that hunk of rock hadn’t changed the world, and, indeed, when it was ultimately discredited several years later, there was almost no press coverage, not because the story was being buried, but rather because no one in the public even really cared. The existence of alien life was a curiosity to most people, nothing more. It didn’t change the way they treated their spouses and kids; it didn’t make stocks rise or fall; it just didn’t matter. Earth went on spinning, unperturbed, and its denizens continued to make love, and war, with the same frequency.

As the film continued, Sarah found herself getting increasingly pissed off. The movie had its extraterrestrials beaming blueprints to Earth so humans could build a ship that could tunnel through hyperspace, taking Jodie Foster off to meet the aliens face-to-face. SETI, the movie hinted, wasn’t really about radio communication with the stars. Rather, like every other cheapjack Hollywood space opera, it was just a stepping stone to actually going to other worlds. From the beginning with Jodie Foster’s cockeyed math, through the middle with the stirring speeches about how this would completely transform humanity, to the end with the totally baseless promise that SETI would lead to ways to travel across the galaxy and maybe even reunite us with dead loved ones, Contact portrayed the hype, not the reality. If Frank Capra had made a propaganda series called “Why We Listen,” Contact could have been the first installment.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Curiosity and the Olympics

by Rob - August 6th, 2012

Of course, I’m thrilled that Curiosity is now safe on the surface of Mars. And I’m by no means a sports fan. But I’ve been a bit dismayed by all the comments — almost de rigueur it seems among those who self-identify as geeks — to the effect that Curiosity‘s triumph is more important than, or better than, or our version of, the Olympics.

The Olympics are an example of the best, most-positive things that can come out of international competition. And when we had international competition in space exploration, we went in twelve years from the first satellite in orbit to the first footprints on the Moon.

Today, in the non-competitive but still nationally directed business of NASA space probes, we’re celebrating the fact that after thirty-six years — more than a third of a century — we’ve gone from landing the first probe on Mars to, well, doing that again … and we’re still likely decades from seeing footprints on the red planet.

Rather than trumpet that this human achievement is better than that human achievement, how about instead celebrating the fact that, in both individual and collective endeavors, in both competitive and cooperative undertakings, there are so many ways in which our species strives for and, in its best moments, achieves greatness?

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Humanism in the Arts Award

by Rob - August 5th, 2012

On Saturday, August 4, 2012, at the annual conference of Humanist Canada, held this year in Montreal in conjunction with the General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, bestselling science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer was presented with Humanist Canada’s first-ever Humanism in the Arts award (click the photo above for a high-resolution version).

Humanist Canada was founded in 1968 as Humanist Association of Canada. Its founding patron was Bertrand Russell and its first president was Henry Morgentaler.

Comments made by the award’s presenter at the award banquet at the Hilton Bonaventure:

Good evening, I am Laura-Lee Balkwill, Vice-President of Humanist Canada. It is my honour to present our very first Humanism in the Arts Award.

The idea for this award was sparked by a conversation with a young artist who talked about the importance of the arts in symbolizing the values of a culture and telling its story. Look at all of the art that has been celebrated for its depictions of religion, of war, and of important historical figures. And I thought, who will tell our story? Where can we find the symbols of our values, our aspirations, our tragedies, and our triumphs?

Much of our focus as Humanists, as secularists, is devoted to science — usually defending the value of science over ideology as a basis for law, for policy, even, as Chris DiCarlo argued last night, for morality. As important as this focus is, it is not the sum of Humanism, just as it is not the sum of the human experience. Art inspires, it communicates, it reaches people; often more effectively than the most erudite scientific paper or philosophical treatise. Art reflects the Zeitgeist of its times and can often inspire us to do better.

I did a little research on Humanism and the arts. The term first crops up in the European Renaissance, which signified a shift from the glorification of religious figures to the celebration of humans. During the middle ages, humans were depicted as tiny penitent creatures — dwarfed by angels, gods, and demons. In the Renaissance, painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights, and composers made humans the heroes of their art. This laid the foundation for the emergence of secular art, of the representation of the everyday lives of people, of art that offered social commentary, criticism and idealism.

The Board of Humanist Canada agreed that we needed to seek out representations of Humanist values and ideals in all forms of art — to celebrate their exploration of humanity, their depiction of our capacity for greatness as well as our failures.

The recipient of our first Humanism in the Arts Award is Robert J. Sawyer — a best-selling Canadian author who has published twenty-one novels and been published in the journals Science and Nature. He has won every major award for science fiction that you can think of, including the Hugo and the Nebula as well as the crime-fiction Arthur Ellis Award. The people in his novels, such as Calculating God, Factoring Humanity, Rollback, Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, Wake, Watch, and Wonder — and that’s just a small sample — wrestle with fundamental questions of existence and morality; they talk about faith in god and atheism, they confront ethical dilemmas, and sometimes they do the right thing and sometimes they don’t. Each point of view is presented genuinely, without condescension.

One of the pleasures of reading Rob’s books is that it is difficult to predict who is going to win — the good guys and the bad guys are not always obvious. Reasonable people can disagree — sometimes passionately — sometimes violently — sometimes peacefully. His writing reflects the kind of discourse we are no longer accustomed to — where more than one side of the story is presented and considered.

It is because we find Humanist values and ideals so thoroughly represented in his work, that we are pleased to present this Humanism in the Arts Award to Robert J. Sawyer.

The glass trophy is etched with these words:

This Award is presented to

for his thoughtful exploration of the secular point of view (most notably in “Calculating God” and the “Neanderthal Parallax” trilogy), and for his stirring descriptions of the wonder inherent in scientific exploration throughout his novels and essays.

His respectful treatment of both religious-minded and secular-minded characters and his articulate and often moving depictions of their struggles with their respective worldviews are in keeping with Humanist principles and represent a conversation we would like to continue.

Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel is Triggers, published by Penguin in Canada, Ace in the US, and Gollancz in the UK. It features a Republican US president attempting to guard the secret that he’s an atheist.

(Click photo for high-resolution version.)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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—”


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: