[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


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Rob's Blog: October to December 2000


25 December 2000

For those who might be interested, a list of my science fiction
published for the first time in 2000:

       NOVEL

       Sawyer, Robert J.  Calculating God.  Tor Books, 
       New York, June 2000.

       SHORT STORIES

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "The Abdication of Pope Mary 
       III."  In Nature: International Weekly Journal of 
       Science, July 6, 2000.

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "Fallen Angel."  In Strange 
       Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer, 
       ShadowLands Press, Centreville, Virginia, August 
       2000.

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "Iterations."  The lead story in 
       TransVersions: An Anthology of New Fantastic 
       Literature, edited by Marcel Gagne and Sally 
       Tomasevic, Paper Orchid Press, November 2000. 

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "Last But Not Least."  In Be 
       Afraid!: Tales of Horror, edited by Edo van 
       Belkom, Tundra Books, Toronto, September 2000.

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "The Shoulders of Giants."  The 
       lead story in Star Colonies edited by Martin H. 
       Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW Books, New York, 
       June 2000.

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "Star Light, Star Bright."  In 
       Far Frontiers, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and 
       Larry Segriff, DAW Books, New York, September 2000.

       Sawyer, Robert J.  "Wiping Out."  In Guardsmen of 
       Tomorrow, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry 
       Segriff, DAW Books, New York, November 2000.

=================================================================

17 December 2000

Carolyn and I do one of those annoying Christmas letters that
some people tuck in with their Christmas cards.  I thought I'd
share the text of our year-2000 one here, for anyone who might
be interested ...

Hello, everyone!

In September, our long search for a new home ended.  We bought a 
2,200-square-foot penthouse condominium in downtown Mississauga 
(a city of 570,000 that abuts the west border of Toronto).  We 
moved there in November, and are very, very happy.  

The year 2000 began on a high note for us, with Discovery Channel 
Canada airing Inventing the Future: 2000 Years of Discovery, a 
two-hour documentary co-hosted by Rob.  And on January 7, Rob 
had the chance to address the sales conference for H. B. Fenn and 
Company, the Canadian distributor of Tor Books, at the White 
Oaks Conference Centre and Spa, near St. Catharines, Ontario.

Carolyn and Rob left directly from the sales conference for a 
25-day writing retreat at Rob's father's vacation home on 
Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York.  On January 27, Carolyn and 
Rob were treated to a fabulous dinner by the staff and gifted 
students of Canandaigua Middle School, where Rob's books are very 
popular.

In March, we spent eleven days in Florida, staying with friend 
Mary Stanton in West Palm Beach and attending the International 
Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

On April 1, Rob began a three-month stint as Writer-in-Residence 
at the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Public Library.  He spent 14 hours 
a week helping beginning writers.

In April, we went to Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the 
Paleoanthropology Society; Rob is currently writing a trilogy 
about Neandertals for Tor.  Later in April, Rob taught 
science-fiction writing for a week at the Banff Centre for the 
Arts in Alberta, and Carolyn spent time working on her poetry 
back in Toronto.

This was a big year for Rob at mainstream writing festivals:  he 
read at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal; the 
Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, B.C.; and 
the Ottawa International Writers Festival.  And he was keynote 
speaker at the North Country Writers' Festival in Watertown, New 
York; the Writers Circle of Durham Region annual general meeting 
in Oshawa, Ontario; Authors in August in Collingwood, Ontario; 
and the Writers Guild of Alberta annual conference in Edmonton.  

Rob was also keynote speaker at the National Life Group Brokers 
conference in May and at S/SF: The First Canadian Conference on 
Science and Science Fiction, held at the National Research 
Council of Canada in Ottawa during September.

In May, Carolyn was Poet Guest of Honour and Rob was Author Guest 
of Honour at V-Con 25, a science-fiction convention in Vancouver, 
B.C.

On April 29, Rob celebrated the big four-oh.  Special guests at 
the party included friends Nick DiChario and Dave Smith, who 
drove up from Rochester, New York, for the event.

In June, friend Asbed Bedrossian came for a visit from L.A.  On 
June 26, Rob was a guest on CNBC's Rivera Live with Geraldo 
Rivera, talking about the future of genetics.  The highlight of 
the month, though, was a two-hour dinner Carolyn and Rob had with 
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin while he was in Toronto (Rob and 
Buzz have the same publisher).

At the end of June, Rob's residency in Richmond Hill concluded 
with a gala launch party for his twelfth novel, Calculating God.  
Carolyn and Rob did a two-week by-car book tour promoting the novel, 
going throughout Ontario, Quebec, New York, Massachusetts, and New 
Hampshire.  

Rob did more touring in Vancouver and Victoria in August (where 
he caught up with junior-high-school friend Gary Mackenzie and 
his Grade-11 physics teacher, George Laundry).

Calculating God was a national mainstream bestseller in Canada, 
appearing on the bestsellers lists in both Maclean's: Canada's 
Weekly Newsmagazine and The Globe and Mail: Canada's National 
Newspaper.  

For the second year in a row, Rob spent the Canada Day long 
weekend teaching at the University of Toronto's Taddle Creek 
Writers Workshop.

In July, Rob pulled off a rare double win in the Canadian Science 
Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("the Auroras"), taking home the 
trophies for best English novel of the year (for FlashForward) 
and best English short story of the year (for "Stream of 
Consciousness").

Rob had a short story reprinted in this year's edition of the 
annual Year's Best SF, and had new stories in the July 6 edition 
of Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, and in the 
anthologies Be Afraid!, Northern Horror, Strange Attraction, Far 
Frontiers, and Guardsmen of Tomorrow, plus the lead stories in 
Star Colonies (alongside new work by friends Edo van Belkom and 
Robert Charles Wilson) and TransVersions.

Speaking of Bob Wilson, on August 27, Carolyn and Rob attended 
the wedding of Bob to Sharry Walderman; Bob is a major 
science-fiction writer, and the wedding was held, appropriately 
enough, at Toronto's Sci-Fi Café.

Carolyn and Rob attended the World Science Fiction Convention in 
Chicago over Labour Day weekend.  The highlight of that trip was 
getting a private tour of the home of John Lazendorf, who owns 
the world's largest collection of dinosaur art; thanks to friends 
Michael and Kim Brett-Surman for arranging the tour.

In September, Carolyn and Rob, and Rob's brother Alan and his 
wife Kim, went to see plays at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.  
Carolyn and Kim saw a wonderful production of The Importance of 
Being Earnest.  Alan and Rob saw an equally terrific production 
of Fiddler on the Roof.

In October, Australian SF writer Stephen Dedman visited us, and 
we all went to Montreal for a wonderful weekend with Terence M. 
Green and his wife Merle Casci, and Rob's editor David G. 
Hartwell and his wife Kathryn Cramer and young son Peter.

On September 27, Junction Press launched Carolyn's poetry 
chapbook Changing Planes at the University of Toronto's Hart 
House.  Carolyn and her brother David 
(www.poetrymachine.com) 
continue to attend the Algonquin Square Table poetry workshop every 
other Sunday afternoon; their workshop leader, Al Moritz, was nominated for 
the Governor General's Award this year.  

In November, the anthology TransVersions was launched with a 
great event at the Sci-Fi Café; Carolyn and Phyllis Gotlieb were 
the poetry editors for the book, and good friends Marcel Gagné 
and Sally Tomasevic were the fiction editors and publishers.  

Carolyn had two new poems published this year in Tales of the 
Unanticipated.

From October 30 until November 14, Carolyn and Rob were in Japan; 
it was one of the best trips we've ever taken.  The first 
weekend, Rob was keynote speaker at Contact Japan 4, a conference 
about first contact with extraterrestrials.  The second weekend 
he was Guest of Honour at the Kyoto Science Fiction Festival.  In 
between, we toured around and saw the magnificent sights.  We 
also had meetings with Canada's ambassador to Japan and the 
president of Nortel Japan, both of whom are big fans of Rob's 
books.

On December 4 and 5, we went to Sudbury, Ontario, staying with 
friends Chris and Donna Krejlgaard.  We visited the Sudbury 
Neutrino Observatory, located 2 km underground in a nickel 
mine; part of Rob's next book is set there.

In December, Rob was in Los Angeles for three days, pitching a TV 
project with William Shatner — hopefully, there'll be more to 
say about that in next year's Christmas letter.

On December 23, Carolyn and Rob are hosting a 25th-anniversary 
reunion party for our high-school science-fiction club, the 
Northview Association for Science Fiction Addicts (NASFA), which 
is where we met.  We're also hosting the Sawyer Christmas family 
get-together this year.

Best wishes for the real beginning of the New Millennium!

=================================================================

10 December 2000

Today, Peter Halasz, Sally Tomasevic, Marcel Gagne, Carolyn 
Clink, and I (Robert J. Sawyer) went to see the dark-comedy play 
called Science Fiction at the Factory Studio Theatre in downtown 
Toronto.

It was fabulous.  We all loved it.  Playwright David Widdicombe 
has done a terrific job of capturing a down-on-his-luck 
science-fiction writer.  I saw gentle echoes of Barry Malzberg's 
Herovit's World in this production; Peter Halasz remarked on 
similarities to the life of Philip K. Dick.

This is a fully professional production, with a truly great cast.  
Hardee T. Lineham brilliantly plays the central character, an SF 
novelist — whom you will immediately recognize as an amalgam of 
any number of bitter old SF pros who you've met at 
science-fiction conventions.  The rest of the cast — David Fox, 
Kristina Nicoll, and Dylan Roberts — are equally good; indeed, 
this is a terrific ensemble piece.  The director, Ted Dykstra, 
does a first-rate job, as well.

The script, I thought, was bang on:  the dialogue crackles, there 
were many belly-laughs to be had, and playwright Widdicombe 
obviously knows his science fiction.  Although the play is billed 
as a comedy (and it is indeed very funny), this is also a complex 
psychological portrait of the mind of a completely believable 
science-fiction writer, and the dichotomies that swirl around SF 
writers' lives.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.

But the play only has one week left in its run.  I highly 
encourage everyone in the Toronto SF community to go see it; I 
can't imagine anyone who loves writing and written SF being 
disappointed by it.

Tickets are $18 (at least at the performance we went to); for
bookings and showtimes call 

Here's a press release about the play:

       "In a seedy hotel room deep on one of the most 
       decrepit areas of the big city there is a solitary 
       man. He's in a drunken stupor. He's disillusioned. 
       And his dog has just died. And later tonight he's 
       going to be asked to save the universe. Whether he 
       wants to or not..."

       SCIENCE FICTION:  THE PLAY

       A new dark comedy by award-winning playwright DAVID 
       WIDDICOMBE.

       Come watch as director overlord TED DYKSTRA pits 
       four incredible actors against each other in the 
       arena that it is SCIENCE FICTION. It's Amazing! 
       It's Hysterical! It's in 3-D!

       Now playing at the FACTORY STUDIO THEATRE. 125 
       Bathurst Street (at Adelaide) in Toronto. For 
       Tickets Phone the Box Office at 504-9971.

       Starring DAVID FOX, HARDEE T. LINEHAM, KRISTINA 
       NICOLL and DYLAN ROBERTS.

       Now playing until December 17th Only. Book Tickets 
       early to avoid disappointment!

       "The most entertaining play since the Drawer 
       Boy...a gloriously acted production!"  THE NATIONAL 
       POST

       "A spacy black comedy...fast-moving, delightfully 
       improbable and filled with wonderfully wacky 
       characters...SCIENCE FICTION sure puts on a good 
       show!"  THE GLOBE & MAIL

================================================================= 

6 December 2000

I was pleased to note today, while browsing in a Chapters store, 
that my Calculating God is now in a THIRD hardcover printing, and 
that my The Terminal Experiment has just gone into a sixth 
paperback printing.  Nice to know these books have legs ...

=================================================================

25 November 2000

Quick update.

The move is over, and it went very well indeed; nothing got 
broken <grin>.  We're now in the process of unpacking, which will 
continue for at least the next week.  Carolyn and I are both 
absolutely thrilled with the new place, and are very much looking 
forward to having everything set up the way we want it.  (First 
priority was setting up my office, so I could get back to work; I 
must say I'm delighted with it:  it's large, has fabulous views 
through floor-to-ceiling windows, and is very comfortable.)

I apologize for not having yet posted my report on Carolyn and my 
trip to Japan.  It was absolutely fabulous — even better, I 
think than our trip to Australia last year — but, sad to say, I 
picked up food poisoning there:  lab tests show I've got 
campylobacterosis, a relative of salmonella, which results in 
diarrhea (gak!), abdominal cramps (oof!), and fever (ugh); it's 
caused by eating raw meat or unpasteurized milk contaminated with 
Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that infects poultry, cattle, 
and sheep.  

I've had it since November 9, and my doctor says it will take 
another week or so to run its course; fortunately, though, I'm 
only suffering from the first of the three symptoms listed 
above now, and even that's getting much better.  Interestingly, 
all medical labs in Ontario are under a compulsory directive 
to notify the local Public Health Office about cases of 
campylobacterosis, on the assumption that the patient caught it 
at a local restaurant that needs to be cited.

Anyway, the infection, being swamped with final revisions to the 
animated series pilot I've been writing, and suddenly having to 
prepare for two unexpected trips in the next couple of weeks, has 
put me behind schedule — but I will get the Japan diary up soon.

The first trip is to Sudbury, Ontario, to tour the Sudbury 
Neutrino Observatory, where the first chapter of the novel I'm 
currently writing takes place.  SNO is the world's largest 
neutrino detector, located 2 km underground in a nickel mine; it 
should be fascinating to visit.  I've been wanting to go there 
for some time, but it took a while to get the appropriate 
approvals.

The second trip is to Los Angeles.  I'll write more about that 
later ... <grin>.

Today, we're taking most of the day off.  This afternoon is the 
book launch for the TransVersions anthology, edited by Marcel 
Gagne and Sally Tomasevic, with my new short story "Iterations" 
as the lead piece.  And this evening, the Toronto in 2003 bid 
committee is throwing a bash down at the Royal York Hotel 
(principal hotel for the 2003 Worldcon) to celebrate winning the 
bid to bring the World Science Fiction Convention to Toronto in 
three years' time.  Should be fun!

=================================================================

14 November 2000
OUR TRIP TO JAPAN This 6,200-word entry, the last one in this file, covers our trip to Japan. You can skip it and jump directly to the next diary file, covering earlier events, if you like. Carolyn and I are back home safe and sound from our 16-day trip to Japan. We had an absolutely wonderful time. We had a nonstop flight from Toronto to Tokyo, which took 14 hours (and had us cross the International Date Line, so although we left shortly after noon on Monday, October 30, we arrived in Tokyo mid-afternoon on Tuesday, October 31, 2000, which in North America is Halloween, a holiday not celebrated in Japan). The flight was very pleasant; we were in an emergency-exit row (something I always request when flying), so we had lots of extra leg room. We took an express train from Narita airport to Shinjuku, the heart of modern Tokyo. On the way, we chatted with a Japanese man whose English name was Spike; his spoken English was flawless, but, as he told us, that is highly unusual. In school, Japanese students learn to read and write English, but speaking it is not part of the curriculum. We had booked ourselves into the Sun Lite Shinjuku hotel, which was nice and well located, although our room was very small. This was Carolyn and my first time in Japan, and I had expected it to be a more disorienting experience. Yes, almost all the signs were in Japanese, but, except for that, Tokyo at first didn't seem really all that much different from any large city in North America or Western Europe. I'd also been prepared for crushing crowds and gridlock on the roads, but in fact downtown Toronto traffic is worse than that in Tokyo, and I never felt overwhelmed by the number of people around me, the way I sometimes do in Manhattan. Neither Carolyn nor I had slept much on the plane. The flight had been only half full, so we had actually been able to move from our coveted emergency-exit seats to lay down across four chairs (whose armrests swung up out of the way) in the centre section of the cabin. Carolyn and I alternated laying down. Nonetheless, we were exhausted, and on our first night in Japan, we just spent ninety minutes or so walking around Shinjuku, then went to bed. On Wednesday, November 1, we spent the morning exploring Shinjuku on foot; the business district looked exactly like any business district in North America, with skyscrapers and people in Western business attire scurrying around. We spent some time in the lovely Shinjuku Gyoen, a large, very beautiful park. Sadly, it was raining, which made walking around less pleasant than it should have been. We spent a fair bit of time in the greenhouse at the park, but did manage to see some of the wonderful outdoor chrysanthemum display that they only have in November. Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m., we were met in our hotel lobby by Yoshihiro Shiozawa, the chief editor of Hayakawa SF Magazine, Japan's leading SF periodical. He took us to the Hayakawa Publishing offices, which looked very similar to U.S. publishing offices, in that they were crowded, and desks were piled high with manuscripts and other papers. But there were no room dividers in the office, and the boss, Hiroshi Hayakawa — a true gentleman with impeccable manners who spoke perfect English — had his desk in the same room as everyone else, which apparently is the Japanese norm; the only difference was that his desk was clean and uncluttered. At the Hayakawa offices, I was interviewed at length by Nozomi Ohmori; the interview will appear in the March issue of Hayakawa SF Magazine, which will also include a brand new 8,000-word novelette by me, specially commissioned by Hayakawa SF Magazine, and having its first world publication being its Japanese translation. After the interview, Hayakawa Publishing Company held a wonderful welcoming party for Carolyn and me. Perhaps 40 people were in attendance, including SF editors, writers, translators, reviewers, and major figures from Japanese fandom. (Mr. and Mrs. Shibano, well-known to Worldcon attendees for the Seiun Award presentation during the Hugo ceremonies, were there.) At this party, I got to meet my wonderful Japanese translator, Masayuki Uchida, for the first time. We have been E-mail friends for years (he has translated all of my novels and short stories that have been published in Japanese, and obviously does a fabulous job, since we together won the Seiun Award for End of an Era, and were nominated for the Seiun for Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, The Terminal Experiment, and Starplex, as well as my short story, "You See But You Do Not Observe"). I recognized him at once from a photo someone had shown me at the Chicago Worldcon, and we had a great time chatting; Masayuki is currently finishing the translation of FlashForward, which Hayakawa Publishing will release in January 2001. The food at the party consisted of a wonderful buffet; I confess to having been nervous about what I would eat in Japan, not being much on raw fish or other seafood, but I always found something I enjoyed eating. I had heard that Japanese portions tend to be smaller than North American ones, but that really wasn't true very often, and I frequently felt stuffed after my meals. After the Hayakawa party, we were taken out for a traditional Japanese dinner (I hadn't really understood that this was going to happen, so I'm afraid I'd eaten too much at the party, and didn't really have much room left). We talked with many fine people at the party. When they noticed that we were starting to tire from jetlag, so we were escorted home by a Hayakawa employee. Carolyn and I slept very well Wednesday night. On Thursday, we took a one-day sightseeing tour of Tokyo. Sadly, it was raining for much of this day as well, but the tour turned out to be excellent nonetheless. We went up to the observation deck in the Tokyo Tower (we did not see Mt. Fuji; it would have been visible had it been clear); had a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the Happoen-Garden; had an absolutely amazing barbecue lunch at the Chinzanso Garden Restaurant where the food was prepared at our table by a cook working on a superheated slab of basaltic rock; took a cruise up the Sumida River, going under the seven Tokyo bridges; and visited the Nakamise Shopping Arcade — a traditional Japanese shopping mall, consisting of hundreds of tiny stalls and boutiques, outdoors but with an awning over the street they lined. The arcade was in front of the Asakusa Kannon Temple, a very large and beautiful Buddhist temple. At 7:00 p.m. we were met at our hotel by my good friend Masamichi Osako, one of the organizers of Contact JAPAN 4, the conference that had brought me to Tokyo, and by Ryuichi Kaneko, a freelance science writer specializing in vertebrate paleontology. Ryuichi is a Tokyo resident and a gourmet; he chose an excellent restaurant for us to have dinner at (Masamichi lives in Osaka, and so was also guided by Ryuichi's recommendation). We ate yakatori, which is meat on skewers. At both yesterday's party and today's dinner, my Japanese hosts were surprised to find that I did not drink alcohol, but they accommodated me with little bottles of Coca Cola. Carolyn and I had practiced a bit with chopsticks in Toronto, but I still wasn't very good with them, and broke down and asked for a fork. We had a wonderful evening out, after which our friends returned us to our hotel in Shinjuku. On Friday morning, November 3, Masamichi and Ryuichi met us again at our hotel, and escorted us to Contact JAPAN 4. We walked with our luggage to an entrance to Tokyo's vast underground complex of tunnels and shops, and made our way through there to the Shinjuku train station. (Since Carolyn and I are moving to a new home late in November, I had hit upon the idea of taking to Japan only clothes that we didn't really want anymore, so after wearing them we could simply discard them; we'd done the first purge that morning, lightening our luggage somewhat.) It took an hour by train to get to the ITI Training Center, which was being used for Contact JAPAN 4; it was located south of Tokyo. The conference centre was large and modern, and Contact JAPAN 4 had rented the entire facility. Contact JAPAN, held every second year, is a spin-off from the American Contact seminars, devoted to discussing and simulating first contact between humans and extraterrestrials. The 80 participants are divided into six teams, three teams of humans and three teams of aliens (Carolyn and I were assigned to one of the alien teams). Each human team is paired with a specific alien team and they retreat to adjacent conference rooms. In advance of the conference, I had prepared a first-contact scenario, involving a starship that had arrived at Sol's Oort cloud and was sending messages to Earth not by radio, but rather by pulsing their fusion engines on and off, producing bright flashes of light. I established a protocol for messages: each was to be 1,817 bits long; 1,817 is the product of the prime numbers 23 and 79, so that if the bits were arranged in 23 rows of 79 columns, they would form pictures. I had devised the first four messages to be transmitted by each team of aliens, and they conveyed them to their corresponding teams of humans. Although I had established that the aliens called themselves Hissst (singular) or aHissst (plural), the humans came up with their own name for us. Since the first message we sent showed a picture of our physical form (evolved from jawless fish, with arms sticking out of the sides of the head, two legs, and a broad, flat beaver-like tail), the humans dubbed us "tailiens," being a combination of "tail" and "aliens;" I discovered that the Japanese relish puns and word play in both English and their own language (which has a great many homonyms, making puns particularly easy to produce). We continued with the simulation for the first afternoon, then broke at 5:00 p.m. for dinner. All six groups — humans and aliens — came together to eat, but the rule was that no discussion could be made about the simulations. After the dinner, Carolyn and I went to a charming room party, with much laughter, and much drinking (Coca Cola again for me, but mostly beer for the others). The party was held in a traditional Japanese guest room, whose floors were covered with tatami (woven straw) mats, and we sat on cushions. At around 8:00 p.m., I went off with the men for a traditional communal Japanese bath (I was told that Poul Anderson, the Guest of Honor at Contact JAPAN 3, two years earlier, had declined to participate). I felt somewhat self-conscious, not because of the nudity per se, but because although I'm not particularly hairy by North American standards, I was downright simian in comparison to the sleek Japanese around me; also, of course, the Japanese diet is very healthy, and none of them had an ounce of fat on them. Still, the bath was very pleasant and very relaxing. There were two large pools, adjacent to each other, but separated by a narrow divider; the first was the hot pool, and the second was the very hot pool. I found the hot pool quite warm enough for me — indeed, I could feel my heart racing — and so never tried the really hot one. On Saturday, November 4, our teams continued with the first-contact simulations. The interaction was very interesting, since it turned out that Earth had received a warning series of radio messages about the aHissst from a civilization at Epsilon Indi, where first contact between the aHissst and the natives had gone quite badly. We continued to attempt to communicate through messages sent back and forth, and the afternoon culminated in successful face-to-face first contact between both groups (taking place in the vicinity of Neptune, in the case of our two teams). In the evening, we had another terrific dinner, followed by a wonderful Japanese tea ceremony, then a large party in the dinning hall, with yet more food. I arrived about five minutes late (the Japanese are extraordinarily punctual), and found everyone seated and waiting for me. They all had beer or sake, but I was led to a chair in the exact centre of the room, where they had placed a bottle of Coke for me and a tray of North American treats (including Kit-Kat bars and cookies). They then presented me with a thank-you gift for being Guest of Honor, and we proceeded to party for several hours. Many people had brought Japanese edition of my books for me to sign, which was very nice. The conversation was quite wide-ranging, and I was asked very direct questions ("Are you pro-choice?" "Do you believe in God?"). It was a truly wonderful and very enlightening evening. Sunday morning, November 5, was spent with each pair of teams reporting about their own first-contact simulations. All six groups had ended up making face-to-face contact, which pleased everyone. (Two years ago, the first contact scenario Poul Anderson had devised involved radio communication with a star 20 light-years distant, and the participants were frustrated that no actual contact was possible.) One pair of teams had a human terrorist attack the aHissst contact delegation with a sword. After the reports, Ryuichi Kaneko (the science journalist specializing in vertebrate paleontology) and I did a panel discussion about the possibilities of dinosaurs having evolved intelligence if they hadn't been wiped out 65 million years ago. We then had lunch, followed by the Guest of Honor speeches. First up was the conference's science guest, Jun Jugaku, an expert on SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), who gave a fascinating talk about extrasolar planets (translated in whispered English for me by a woman named Takahashi Masayo, who was sitting next to me). I then gave my Guest of Honor speech. I had hoped to have written my speech in advance, so that Masamichi Osako, who was translating for me, could have a printed text to work from, but the time pressures of getting ready for Carolyn and my move to a new home had prevented that. Still, he did an excellent job of translating, getting even bigger laughs for my jokes than I thought they really deserved. My speech was about unquestioned assumption: four areas in which we almost always tacitly assume aliens will be like us, but in fact in which they may differ radically. The first area I spoke about was susceptibility to anesthesia; without it, surgery would be torture for humans, and much of the medical knowledge we now have would still elude us. There's no real necessity that pain sensors evolve with a way to be shut off by the administering of foreign chemicals, nor any necessity that such chemicals wouldn't also derail the autonomic nervous system, as well, so that besides stopping pain they might also stop your heart. The second area — one that had been implicitly assumed by me and everyone else working on the first-contact simulations — was that aliens would have the ability to conceptualize in arbitrary symbols. I wrote two Japanese ideograms that I had learned on the white board: a divided square that represents a rice field, and three little trees, representing a forest. I pointed out that these are not arbitrary but rather very directly representative of the objects they express. I then drew the standard biologist's gender symbols, which are also used in Japan: the circle with an arrow coming out of it at 2 o'clock for "male" and the circle with a cross beneath it for "female." I pointed out that these were not arbitrary, either: the male symbol represents Mars' circular shield and pointed spear, and the female symbol represents Venus' circular hand mirror, with a handle sticking out of its bottom edge. Using any of these symbols required one type of thinking — the ability to reduce a complex object to a simple, stylized representation. I then drew some of the symbols that the various alien and human teams had employed in the messages they had exchanged, including a "T" shape that, depending on its orientation, had been used by one group to mean addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. I also wrote the English words "forest" and "force," showing that they were also quite arbitrary, in no way representative of the concepts they expressed, and totally unrelated to each other, despite their similar appearance. Such symbols, I said, were something that humans manipulated with great ease, but aliens might not be able to comprehend. I then spoke briefly about birth control (one of the many topics that had come up at the party the night before). I had established that my aHissst aliens laid eggs in large clutches, and that almost all egglings lived to reproduce, meaning their population would swell rapidly. Every one of the participants had assumed an easy birth-control method could be found to keep population growth in check. I suggested that this, too, might be an unwarranted assumption about aliens; it might be a fluke of human physiology that allows sex to be pleasurable without the actual mixing of body fluids, or without conception. In Japan, the birth-control pill is not approved for human use; the federal drug regulator considers it unsafe (and, because Japanese diets are very high in sodium, thanks to all the soy sauce, and since high levels of sodium cause hypertension, and hypertension is indeed a contraindicator for the use of oral contraceptives, this might indeed be the right choice); the standard method of birth control is the condom. But I suggested one could easily envision an alien race for whom the pleasure associated with sex came specifically from a neurotransmitter produced by the mixing of male and female genital fluids, or by the act of conception (which, after all, in humans, triggers immediate hormonal changes in the woman); for such a race of beings, neither the barrier method of birth control, nor oral contraceptives that fool the woman's body into thinking it is already pregnant, would be effective. Finally, I talked about insanity, which might be a uniquely human problem, or might be universal. If it's universal, then as technologies become cheaper and more widely disseminated, any race might face destruction at the hands of a single lunatic. I explained that the Cold War acronym MAD, for Mutually Assured Destruction, was a bit of English word play, since the word could mean both angry and crazy, and the underlying assumption of that strategy was that you'd have to be crazy to strike first with nuclear weapons. MAD might have made some sense early in the nuclear age, assuming that the belief that governments act rationally has any validity, but as soon as such technology is in the hands of individuals, as it likely will be on Earth before the end of the 21st century, any level of insanity might be a threat to our species — and any other intelligent species it might come in contact with. After, I did a question-and-answer session. The first question was quite blunt: in my initial first-contact scenario, used by all six teams, the aHissst sent four radio messages to Earth. The first showed the Hissst body plan and solar system. The second and third showed simple mathematical problems, with three possible answers given, and the fourth was also a multiple-choice question, with three possible answers. The question, represented symbolically with snippets of DNA, basically asked whether or not, in dealing with others, nepotism was the most important factor. The idea behind the question was that any species still at the selfish-gene level of thinking would be incapable of dealing altruistically with aliens who were obviously unrelated to them; there were two proffered answers designed to convey yes or no responses to this, and a third choice that basically made no sense. The question put to me from the floor was this: why did I make the fourth message so hard to decipher? My first response elicited much laughter after it was translated for the audience by Masamichi: I said I'd made it difficult because in North America, we're taught that Japanese are much smarter than we are. I then went on to explain at some length the points I was trying to convey with that message, namely that aliens might want no contact with races that were still driven by the favoring of genetic relatives or with races that were insane (because of the possible threat of destruction they represent); choosing the nonsense answer would suggest that the race being contacted was indeed insane. I concluded by saying we wouldn't have had two days of fun if I'd made the puzzle too simple, a comment that, to my relief, generated much applause. Over lunch, I'd mentioned I was interested in finding a store that sold Japanese science-fiction toys. Suddenly a plan developed among my new Japanese friends. Mr. Adachi would drive Carolyn and my luggage back to Tokyo; we and ten others would take the train back to Tokyo (which was supposed to be faster than driving), and then our whole group (led by Mitsuyasu Sakai) would go out to Nakomo Broadway, where, I was told, there would be several stores selling science-fiction toys. I found something I wanted at the very first store I went into, a wonderful set of vehicles from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds TV series, one of my favourite programs in my youth. I was contemplating whether I wanted to spend the money (7800 yen, which was US$78 or Cdn$117, when I was informed that Mr. Shiozawa of Hayakawa SF Magazine had given strict orders that a special toy be bought for me as a present from the people at the Hayakawa party. I was astonished by this generosity, and my companion plucked the box from my hand and immediately bought it for me. The collection — Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus FAB 1, and the Mole — will occupy a special place in Carolyn and my new home. At the next store, I found something else I very much wanted: a series of wonderful 10 cm Planet of the Apes figures. These were a Japanese product (made by a company called Medicom) that I'd never seen in North America. Each figure was 2400 yen (US$24 / Cdn$36), and I bought one of each of the seven different ones they had in stock. There were, according to the packaging, a total of 19 figures in the series, and I vowed to keep my eyes open for the others during the rest of my trip to Japan. One thing I saw that I did not buy was a fabulous 1:1-scale replica of the actual studio miniature of the Klingon battle cruiser from the original Star Trek series. This was one of a limited edition made by Icons in the U.S.; I'd heard of this replica, but had never seen one in the flesh before. At 200,000 yen (US$2,000 or Cdn$3,000), it was much too expensive to buy on the spur of the moment and, besides, I couldn't see any way to get it safely back to Canada, but I'll certainly be looking for one (hopefully somewhat cheaper!) back in North America, even though Icons is out of business. Carolyn was fascinated by something she saw while shopping. It looked like a normal North American claw arcade game, except instead of using the claw to grasp stuffed animals, you grasp live lobsters. After we finished shopping, the ten of us went out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant; Chinese food turns out to be as popular with Japanese fans as it is with North American ones. But Chinese cuisine was introduced separately to Japan and North America, and has undergone separate evolution in each place. None of the items I was used to seeing on Chinese menus were available here. Still, the food was excellent, and we all had a great time. After dinner, Mr. Adachi (the same fellow who had driven our luggage here from the conference centre) picked up the check for everyone, saying his company would pay for it. "He's not rich," quipped one of my companions, "but the company he works for is." After dinner, Mr. Adachi and Mr. Sakai drove Carolyn and me to our new hotel. We were staying tonight in the Tokyo Prince; our Japanese friends were very impressed when we told them that; it was apparently a very famous and very ritzy hotel. But we'd simply chosen it because a packaged tour we planned to take tomorrow was scheduled to depart from there, and, actually, our travel agent had gotten us a very good rate at the hotel (17,800 yen, which is US$178 or Cdn$267, quite reasonable for Tokyo). The trip to the hotel gave us our first real sense of Tokyo as an alien place. Toronto's downtown core measures maybe 10 km by 6 km, after which you get away from the sky scrapers. But we drove for a solid hour, at a good clip, and never got out of downtown Tokyo. Our friends dropped us at our hotel, which was indeed very classy. But our bed was as hard as a rock, and I woke up on Monday morning, November 6, with a back ache that just got worse and worse as the day wore on. Our tour began on Monday with a trip halfway up Mount Fuji. In the afternoon, we took a brief cruise on Lake Ashi and rode the aerial cableway up Mount Komagatake. But fog had rolled in, and there was no view at all to be had from the mountaintop. Still, we did visit a nice Shinto shrine up there, which was quite eerie in the fog. That evening, we went to a lovely countryside resort town called Hakone, famous for its hot springs. Our lodgings were at the stunningly beautiful resort Hotel Kowaki-en, one of the most beautiful places I've ever stayed in. The restaurants were very pricey though (US$6.00 for a Coke or a cup of tea), so we walked to a nearby convenience store and bought cheese, crackers, milk, pound cake, and a few other goodies, and had a fine little dinner in our room, which was large and had very comfortable beds. By this point, my back ache was excruciating. It turned out that Carolyn happened to have some Tylenol 3 tablets with her (a prescription-strength acetaminophen/codeine combination). I took three of them and lay down in bed to read; they worked like magic, and the pain went away. Carolyn, meanwhile, took advantage of the hotel spring-fed baths and had a nice long soak. We slept with the window open, listening to the soothing sound of a stream going by outside our window; it was truly a lovely place. On Tuesday morning, November 7, I woke up very well rested. My back pain had returned somewhat, but it was much diminished from the day before, and I made it through Tuesday without much trouble. I also thought I was getting a cold when I woke up — I had a terribly sore throat — but it had cleared up by the end of the day. We drove through the Hakone mountains to Odawara Station and took a bullet train to Nagoya. We'd paid a small premium on our tour price in order to get deluxe accommodation, and that turned out to apply to the bullet train, too. We were seated in first class, which really was just like first class on an airplane — big, comfortable seats. The train took two hours to get us to Nagoya, during which I worked on this diary. In Nagoya, we had a fabulous buffet lunch, then visited Japan's largest castle — Nagoya Castle — and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, which was fascinating. After that, we took a regular commuter train to Toba, and checked into the Toba Hotel International. Like the Hotel Kowaki-en in Hakone, the Toba was a lovely hotel. It was right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view. But, the restaurant wanted $40 US for dinner, and there was no convenience store to be seen. Luckily, Carolyn wandered into the Ryokan section of the hotel, and their shop had a Pepsi machine and snacks. The next morning our tour started at Pearl Island. Here we saw the pearl diving women and the Mikimoto museum. In 1893, we learned, Mikimoto Kokichi was the first person to culture pearls. In the afternoon we went to Ise-Jingu Shrine, Japan's most sacred Shinto centre. Here they had protective barriers on the tree trunks to keep people from taking bark souvenirs. And you could not take photographs inside the shrine. It was a beautiful, peaceful place. We took the train to Kyoto and stayed at the Miyako Hotel. This was yet another beautiful hotel. It was very close to a subway station and we hopped the train at 8:00 p.m. to go shopping at the arcades. Here Carolyn saw another live-lobster tank. This one was on the street, so the lobsters were cold and quiet. Everywhere in Japan there are vending machines on the streets. You can buy just about anything from these machines. The next morning was our last tour day. We took a bus around Kyoto stopping at a number of sights. We saw the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle (with its nightingale floors that deliberately squeak when you walk on them, so no assassin could sneak up on the emperor), and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We had lunch at the Kyoto Handicraft Centre. The lunch was unspectacular, but the items for sale were very beautiful. Carolyn bought two t-shirts. We boarded a second bus for an afternoon tour of Nara. The Todaiji Temple, housing the Great Buddha, was a very large and very dark wooden building. It was difficult to get a good photograph. The deer in the surrounding park were very brazen; I was almost bowled over for my food. We also saw the Kasuga Shrine. The guide told us that a Japanese woman would not like to be compared to wisteria — a flowering plant that, while beautiful, strangles the tree to which it is attached. We headed back to Kyoto for a second night at the Miyako Hotel, spending the evening at the shopping arcades. Friday morning we were met by Rintaro Kato of the Kyoto SF Festival. He took us by taxi to a Chinese restaurant where all the SF professionals were gathering for lunch. We had a fabulous time. The food was plentiful and excellent. We were introduced to Japanese cellular phones that take digital photos and upload them to the internet. I got to meet Ms. Hiroe Suga who is in David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF 5 with me. Also at the lunch was Nozomi Ohmori who had interviewed me in Tokyo. Carolyn was amazed by the way his sweater matched his hair colour. (It was not unusual to see Japanese people with their hair dyed, but Nozomi's eggplant colour was unique.) Rintaro took us to a hotel that he had booked for us, and prepaid for our dinner at the hotel restaurant. I was not feeling well, so Carolyn decided to explore the neighbourhood on foot. She took the subway down to the Kyoto train station to book our hotel accommodation in Tokyo for Monday night through an organization called Welcome Inns. Rintaro came back for us on Saturday morning to take us to the Japanese inn where the first day of the convention would be held. All the rooms were Japanese-style with tatami mats, but ours had an en suite bathroom. There was a back door on the room that led to a sort of balcony over a carp pond with a refrigerator on it. At the opening ceremonies almost everyone got up and introduced themselves. It was a very fun and friendly group. Yoshihiro Shiozawa (Editor in Chief, Hayakawa's SF Magazine) had come from Tokyo with copies of my books to sell. Someone was kind enough to get me a chair, and by stacking two low tables I could sign the books in comfort. The Kyoto people had multi-track programming in the rooms at the Japanese inn. We saw a fabulous origami demonstration as a master was teaching others how to make a King Ghidorah. There were people of all ages making origami figures. Carolyn was shown how to make a crane (a symbol of long life). They had also decided to do their own first-contact simulation that was supposed to last two hours. It went until very early in the morning. I had to turn in well before then as I was ill, but didn't know it yet. [When I got back to Toronto, I was diagnosed with campylobacterosis, a kind of food poisoning related to salmonella; I probably got it from some tainted milk I drank in Kyoto.] We had a knock on our door at 8:45 a.m. to get us to check out; we hadn't understood that we were changing hotels today, and so had to scurry to get ready. Sunday's programming was at the University of Kyoto. There were panels and talks. Someone told me that this festival is known as "the napping convention" — and I could see why: people who had not gotten much sleep the night before were snoozing in the audience. The convention ended with Dr. Reiko Noda (think of "Yoda," she said) doing a live on-stage interview with me. Her questions were terrific; it was the best Guest of Honor interview I've ever had. We met many people. We have business cards from many of them, but often the romaji (roman type) spelling of their names is not on the card. We spent our last night in Kyoto at another Hotel. I wish we had been able to see more of Kyoto. It's such a beautiful city. On Monday morning, November 13, we took the bullet train back from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was once again a very pleasant way to travel. We dropped our luggage at the hotel we were staying at, which was just a few hundred metres from Tokyo station. Carolyn and I then spent the afternoon shopping and sight-seeing. By pure coincidence, just prior to us leaving Canada for our trip to Japan, I received a letter from Len Edwards, Canada's ambassador to Japan. He wrote to say he was a fan of my work, and wondered if I might be interested in participating in a Canadian festival in Japan next year. I'd immediately contacted his office to say that I was actually just about to come to Japan for the first time. We'd set up a meeting for Carolyn and me with Ambassador Edwards on Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. The Canadian embassy was designed by Japanese-Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama, who, in another coincidence, I had done a lot of freelance writing and editing for in 1988 and 1989. It's a truly beautiful (and truly huge) building, near the Japanese Imperial Palace. We had a wonderful chat with Ambassador Edwards plus Deanna Horton, the economic minister-counselor. While we were talking, Ambassador Edwards said that another fan of my work in Japan is Norio Murakami, the President of Nortel Japan (Nortel — formerly Northern Telecom — is Canada's largest company). After a little telephone tag, it was arranged that we'd be picked up at our hotel the next morning and taken to the Nortel offices to meet the president. I was still not feeling 100%, so I turned in early on Monday night, and Carolyn went shopping in downtown Tokyo. Tuesday morning, our last day in Japan, the promised car was indeed waiting for us, and we headed off to Nortel. President, Murakami and his vice-president, Gary Ito, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian who has now moved back to Japan, spent about 40 minutes chatting with Carolyn and me, and taking pictures of us for the company newsletter. Afterwards, the president's chauffeur took us to Odaiba. We went into a big, beautiful, upscale shopping centre, made up on the inside to look like a European street scene. The lighting in the mall dims and brightens each hour to simulate a full day. We had a fabulous Italian lunch there, then headed back to our hotel via the Yurikamome monorail, got our luggage, and took the train out to Narita airport. Once again, the plane was mostly empty — in fact, it had even fewer passengers on it than did the flight on our way to Japan. Carolyn and I each took a row of five seats across (as did many of the other passengers), and slept for much of the 12-hour trip back home. We later received Christmas cards and photographs from many of the wonderful people we met in Japan. It was a truly spectacular trip. I'm really looking forward to returning to Japan in April 2001 to speak at the Canadian embassy, and hope to make many more trips there after that. Hopefully, the Japanese will win their bid to have the World Science Fiction Convention there in 2007; that would be a wonderful, tax-deductible reason to return to the beautiful land of the rising sun . . .


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