Monday, January 30, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Public Readings

It's Monday morning: time for another RJS Monday Spotlight, calling attention to one of the 500+ documents on my website at

As it happens, I'm in Alberta right now. Yesterday, I did a reading from Mindscan at the Edmonton Public Library, which went over very well. Indeed, people often compliment me not just on what I read but how well I read it, which is nice. There's nothing more excruciating than sitting through a bad public reading, which is why, back in 1992, I wrote this little guide to doing readings. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Edmonton, here I come!

I'll be in Edmonton, Alberta, this weekend. If you're in E-town, come and see me signing and reading Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at the Chapters bookstore in St. Albert, or Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Stanley A. Milner Branch of the Edmonton Public Library downtown.


Received my contributor's copy of the handsome new anthology FutureShocks, edited by Lou Anders and published by Roc. It contains my story "Flashes," which begins thus:

My heart pounded as I surveyed the scene. It was a horrific, but oddly appropriate, image: a bright light pulsing on and off. The light was the setting sun, visible through the window, and the pulsing was caused by the rhythmic swaying of the corpse, dangling from a makeshift noose, as it passed in front of the blood-red disk.

"Another one, eh, Detective?" said Chiu, the campus security guard, from behind me. His tone was soft.

I looked around the office. The computer monitor was showing a virtual desktop with a panoramic view of a spiral galaxy as the wallpaper; no files were open. Nor was there any sheet of e-paper prominently displayed on the real desktop. The poor bastards didn't even bother to leave suicide notes anymore. There was no point; it had all already been said.

"Yeah," I said quietly, responding to Chiu. "Another one."

The dead man was maybe sixty, scrawny, mostly bald. He was wearing black denim jeans and a black turtleneck sweater, the standard professorial look these days. His noose was fashioned out of fiber-optic cabling, giving it a pearlescent sheen in the sunlight. His eyes had bugged out, and his mouth was hanging open.

"I knew him a bit," said Chiu. "Ethan McCharles. Nice guy -- he always remembered my name. So many of the profs, they think they're too important to say hi to a security guard. But not him."

I nodded. It was as good a eulogy as one could hope for -- honest, spontaneous, heartfelt.

Chiu went on. "He was married," he said, pointing to the gold band on the corpse's left hand. "I think his wife works here, too."

I felt my stomach tightening, and I let out a sigh. My favorite thing: informing the spouse.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A day for RJS Books

Today is a day for work on Robert J. Sawyer Books, the line of SF books I edit for Calgary's Red Deer Press. Had to do cover copy for the trade-paperback reissues of Marcos Donnelly's Letters from the Flesh and Andrew Weiner's Getting Near the End, plus cover copy for our newest title, Nick DiChario's A Small and Remarkable Life. Also, reviewing cover designs for the Donnelly trade paperback, trying to track down rights to a book we want to reissue, and reading slush. Whew!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tagged to talk about books

My friend Mark Leslie tagged me in his blog to talk about books, so here goes:

Total number of books I've owned:

A trickier question than it might seem. I've divested myself of a lot of books over the years, and besides all the ones in my bookcases I still have many hundreds in unopened boxes from when I last moved, five years ago. But the number 2,000 sounds about right to me ...

The last book I bought:

A trade paperback of Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, to replace my old mass-market paperback that's in one of the boxes mentioned above; I needed the book as a prop for my appearance on TVOntario's More 2 Life discussed below. (Incidentally, I also watched the 1976 Helter Skelter miniseries for the third time this week; much of the acting in it is astonishingly good -- way better than typical Seventies television -- and it has Alan Oppenheimer in it, whom I'll watch in anything.)

The last book I read:

Believe it or not, The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke, which I had never read before. Delightful. It was Clarke's first full-length novel, and it was fascinating to see the seeds for things he did later in it: the plots of 2010 and A Fall of Moondust are both presaged here.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

Oooh! Let me do six:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- my favorite novel.
  • Trouble on Titan by Alan E. Nourse -- the first adult science-fiction novel I ever read, and the one that (in a positive way) made me decide I wanted to be a science-fiction writer.
  • The Man of Property by John Gallsworthy -- first volume of "The Forsyte Saga," which I absolutely adore.
  • Gateway by Frederik Pohl -- for my money, the best science-fiction novel ever written.
  • The Enormous Egg by Oliver P. Butterworth -- a kid's book that I can still read with pure joy as an adult; it's the totally charming story of a young boy whose hen lays an egg out of which hatches a Triceratops ...
  • The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr. -- I read this in my last year of high school, and it made my change my career path: I decided to pursue writing instead of academia because of it.

The books in my collection where the physical object means a lot to me:

  • An ancient, beat-up paperback of From Outer Space, a variant title for Hal Clement's Needle, signed by Hal the first time I met him; Hal and I went on to become friends, and I miss him a lot.
  • A copy of Dune, inscribed to me by one of my high-school girlfriends, 'cause what she wrote was so sweet ... (and, just to underscore how long ago high school was, I had her adult son as one of my writing students at the University of Toronto last summer ...).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Is Canadian SF Different From American SF?

My website at contains 530 documents totaling over one million words of text. Although a few pages there are hit frequently, lots of the stuff only attracts an occasional visitor. I thought it would be fun to start each Monday by spotlighting what I think is an interesting, but seldom-looked-at, document on my site. So, here is the first weekly RJS "Monday Spotlight," an essay entitled "Is Canadian SF Different from American SF?"

I wrote this essay nine years ago, back in 1997, but, given that the cover story in the current Locus wrestles with the very same issue (and features another essay by me), I thought people might enjoy a look at this older piece.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Booked on More 2 Life

I have two appearances coming up on TVOntario's More 2 Life with Mary Ito. TVOntario is the educational broadcaster in Ontario, Canada.

This Thursday, January 26, 2006, at 2:00 p.m., horror writer Edo van Belkom and I will be on talking about books that really frightened us (my picks are Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells).

And on Tuesday, March 28, 2006, at 2:00 p.m., I'll be part of a panel discussion about what it means to be human.

Not that anyone's keeping track, but these will be my seventh and eighth appearances on More 2 Life, and the one this week will mark my 221st TV appearance.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Reviews of my short fiction

A sad truth about writing short fiction is that the work is so rarely reviewed. So imagine my delight on discovering a site that has reviews of six of my short stories (all of which are available through via links on the reviewer's site). Over at Rainbow Dragon, you'll find reviews of:

as well as reviews of my novels Hominids and Calculating God.

Lots of other fascinating reviews are available there, too.

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Scientist on the Canadian election

My favourite magazine, New Scientist, has just published some fascinating research related to who is telling more lies among the Canadian candidates in the election coming up next week. (Personally, I'm voting Liberal despite Martin.)

Blogger Blogs of Note

Wow! I'm very pleased to see that this blog is currently #1 on the Blogger "Blogs of Note" list, on the Blogger home page. Thanks to those who pointed that out to me -- and welcome to all the new visitors!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mindscan paperback a Canadian bestseller

To my delight, Janis Ackroyd, my wonderful publicist at H.B. Fenn, Tor's Canadian distributor, has just informed me that last week the mass-market paperback of Mindscan was number 10 on the BookManager New Releases bestsellers list, compiled by BookManager, the company that makes the point-of-sale software program used by the majority of independent bookstores in Canada. I was sandwiched between the romance novel Almost a Lady by Jane Feather at number 9 and the self-help book Life Strategies by Dr. Phil at number 11.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Locus's 2005 Cover Art Directory

I think this is the coolest thing: Mark Kelly of the Locus website has compiled a directory showing just about every SF&F book and magazine cover from the last year (the wonderful Stephan Martiniere did the cover for my Mindscan, and you can see five more covers he had published in 2005).

Just 120 or so of my closest friends ...

The open party Carolyn and I threw yesterday went fabulously!

We had about 120 people go through our doors, and peaked at about 100 people present. Folks started showing up around 6:30 p.m. and the last ones left at 2:00 a.m. Much food was eaten, much beer and soft drinks were drunk, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

It was an eclectic mix of people -- old time Toronto fans, including Grant Schuyler (who used to be moderator of the Ontario Science Fiction Club, before I took over, back in the 1970s), Hugo-winning fanzine editor Mike Glicksohn, and Hugo-nominated fan artist Taral; many of my writing students (including a good contingent from The Fledglings, the writers' workshop that spun off of my tenure at Writer-in-Residence at the Merril Collection ; lots of current convention organizers; lots of members of the USS Hudson Bay (local SF club, of which I'm a proud member); lots of my writing students; many readers of my books who aren't involved in fandom; and so on.

And, as a testament to what fine people SF fans are, nothing was broken and nobody spilled anything on the rug. :)

Flying American Airlines before the end of the month?

If you're flying American Airlines between now and the end of this month, have a look a their inflight magazine, American Way. The current issue (dated January 15, 2006) is supposed to contain a little write-up in their books section about Robert J. Sawyer Books, the line of science-fiction books I edit for Red Deer Press. The piece is by Tracy Staton.

I won't be flying AA myself this month, but I'd be very grateful to anyone who could pick up copies for me. My mailing address is:

Robert J. Sawyer
100 City Centre Drive
PO Box 2065
Mississauga, ON
Canada L5B 3C6

Many thanks!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

One thousand members!

My newsgroup at Yahoo! Groups just signed up its one thousandth member! Woohoo!

Come join us!

"That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

I've always been a fan of Tom Lehrer, and was delighted to see that there's a new play about him. Just bought tickets; looking forward to it!

For your Hugo consideration: "Identity Theft" novella

For those of you who can nominate for this year's Hugo Awards (everyone who had a membership in last year's World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow or in this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles), may I politely draw to your attention my novella "Identity Theft," first published in Down These Dark Spaceways, a May 2005 anthology of hard-boiled-detective SF edited by Mike Resnick for the Science Fiction Book Club.

The full text of the story is available as an Adobe PDF file and as a Microsoft Word file (so that you can format it any way you wish, or synch it to your PDA).

"Identity Theft" is a current finalist for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novella of the Year, and has already won Spain's 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción.

CANADIANS, PLEASE NOTE: "Identity Theft" is also eligible for the Aurora Awards to be presented this year at Toronto Trek.

(If you spot any typos or formatting glitches in these files, please let me know let me know -- thanks!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I love eBay!

Scored five -- five! -- high-capacity lithium-ion batteries, all in great shape, for my trusty Compaq Armada M300 notebook computers (I have two of them), for US$60 total, less than half the price of just one new battery. And -- bonus! -- turned out the guy selling them lives two kilometers from my home, so I just dropped by to pick them up, saving the shipping charge.

Compaq Armada M300s are great little notebooks -- 1" thick, 3.4 pounds, quiet. And, since they're a few years old, they're are lots of them cheap on eBay.

I'm also quite fond of NEC MobilePro palmtops, either model 780 upgraded to the 790 ROM, or an actual 790. They're also common and cheap on eBay. (Nice thing about being a writer is that you don't actually need the newest or fastest computers.) Put either "M300" or "MobilePro 790" into the search box on eBay and you'll see lots of them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blogged on "Confessions of a Book Pimp"

I've been blogged! A fellow named Justin B. Maltais has a very nice and thoughtful entry on his blog about my novel Mindscan.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Fascinating essay on innovation in Canada

An online exclusive, from the website of The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper. The author is Roger Martin, the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto; my father is professor emeritus there.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Excellent resources for hard-SF writers has some great resourses for hard-SF writers. As the site says, " provides information and software for those interested in astronomy and in writing, education, or entertainments related to science or speculative fiction."

Solstation's database of stars is tremendously useful; my current novel involves Sigma Draconis, and I got a lot of the info there.

Also way cool is the free ChView software (the name is short for CherryhView, referring to my friend, writer C.J. Cherryh), which produces three dimensional star maps, showing how the stars in the local universe are positioned relative to each other; I made great use of this back in 1999 when I was plotting the multilegged flightplan of the starship Merelcas (named, incidentally, for my friend Merle Casci, the wife of Toronto SF writer Terence M. Green) in my novel Calculating God.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

French interview

The French SF magazine Phenex (number 7, just out) has a long interview with me, in French, conducted and translated by Marc Bailly; the issue is available online in PDF format.

Bruce Holland Rogers in the Toronto Star

Nebula Award winner Bruce Holland Rogers, who does a nifty by-subscription short-story service, is featured in today's Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulation newspaper; the article has a couple of quotes from me, and is by the redoubtable Bert Archer.

Friday, January 6, 2006

The trade in illegal fossils

My novella "Identity Theft" deals in part with the trade in illegal fossils (albeit, Martian fossils), so this story from today's Globe and Mail caught my eye: "Beijing — A Chinese-Canadian academic and five other people have been sentenced to prison for trafficking nearly 3,000 dinosaur and other fossils from China, some up to 200 million years old, the government said Friday ..."

Thursday, January 5, 2006

"Identity Theft" will be on the final Nebula ballot!

SpacewaysWoohoo! SFWA has just released its Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot, which contains all works that have had signed, personal recommendations sent in by ten or more Active SFWA Members. My "Identity Theft" (which first appeared in the anthology Down These Dark Spaceways edited by Mike Resnick and published as a Science Fiction Book Club original) is one of only five works on the preliminary ballot in the novella category.

The Active Members of SFWA now vote on the works on the preliminary ballot, and the top five works in each category end up on the final ballot, which the whole membership votes on again. But since there are only five novellas on the preliminary ballot, all of them automatically make it to the final ballot, which means that "Identity Theft" will be a Nebula nominee this year.

If you're a SFWA member, or a nominator for the Hugos (member of last year's World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, or this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles), drop me an email at and I'll be glad to email you the story for your consideration.

By the way, "Identity Theft" has already won the world's largest cash prize for SF writing, Spain's 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Secret Master of Prodom

My friend Andrew Zimmerman Jones points out that I'm referred to in this article over on Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. On the topic of how to move out of the slush pile, my editor David G. Hartwell says: "Get a personal recommendation. If Robert J. Sawyer comes up to me at a con and says I know this talented writer and you've got to read her right away, I will."

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Criminal review of one of my books

Talk about an unlikely place for an SF review! The current issue of the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Volume 47, Number 4), published by the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, reviews my novel Hybrids, calling it "a useful book to any student or instructor of criminological theory."

Rendezvous with Ramses

My friend Paul E. Martens has just drawn to my attention that tonight's episode of Nova on PBS is about whether a mummy found in Niagara Falls might be that of Ramses I.

Well, I'd dealt with that very issue in my Hugo-award nominated Humans, published in 2003 -- science catches up with the Rob-man! In Humans, I wrote this, involving my character Mary Vaughan:

Daria Klein -- one of Mary's grad students -- had clearly been in repeatedly during Mary's absence, though. Her work area had been rearranged, and the chart on the wall showing her sequencing of the ancient Egyptian Y chromosome she was working on had many more spaces filled in.

Arne Eggebrecht of the Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, had recently suggested that an Egyptian body purchased from an old Niagara Falls tourist attraction might in fact have been Ramses I, founder of the line that contained Seti I, Ramses II (the one portrayed by Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments), Ramses III, and Queen Nefertari. The specimen was now housed in Atlanta's Emory University, but DNA samples had been sent to Toronto for analysis; Mary's lab was world-renowned for its success in recovering ancient DNA, a fact that had led directly to her involvement with Ponter Boddit. Daria had made considerable progress on the putative Ramses in Mary's absence, and Mary nodded approvingly.

And, later on in the book:

"Daria!" exclaimed Mary. "How good to hear from you!" Mary pictured the slim brown-haired girl's angular, smiling face.

"It's nice to hear your voice, too," said Daria. "I hope you don't mind me phoning. I didn't just want to send an e-mail about this." She could practically hear Daria jumping up and down.

"About what?"

"About Ramses!"

Mary's first thought was to quip, "You know, they're only ninety-seven percent effective," but she didn't. Daria was obviously referring to the ancient Egyptian body whose DNA she'd been working on. "I take it the results are in," said Mary.

"Yes, yes! It is indeed a member of the Ramses line -- presumably Ramses the First! Chalk up another success for the Vaughan Technique!"

Mary probably blushed a bit. "That's great," she said. But it was Daria who had done the painstaking sequencing. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," said Daria. "The people at Emory are delighted."

"Wonderful," said Mary. "Great work. I'm really proud of you."

Sunday, January 1, 2006

And a much less swanky event ...

In response to many requests, Carolyn and I are hosting another of our occasional open parties for members of science-fiction fandom and fans of my books on Saturday evening, January 14, 2006, at our home in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. If you're reading this, you're invited! E-mail me at for all the details ...

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Book Lover's Ball in Toronto

Looking for a truly swanky night out in Toronto? The Toronto Public Library Foundation is holding its first-ever black-tie Book Lover's Ball on Thursday, February 16, 2006, and I'll be one of the attending authors.

The web site is attractive but terribly designed, in that almost all the text is actually graphics, making it impossible to cut-and-paste. But I swiped this desccription from the ticket order-form PDF:
Join a veritable Who's Who of the world's most celebrated authors for a stunning evening. Mix and mingle with authors and other guests at an old-fashioned mystical Library cocktail reception. Savour a divine meal prepared by celebrity chef authors. Enjoy a fabulous novel-inspired designer fashion show, and much more!

Ticket Price: Cdn$5,000 per table, Cdn$350 per person (tax receipt for maximum allowable)

Fossil Hunter unearthed

Nice way to start a new year: Stephen Hunt's SFCrowsnest, Europe's most-popular SF site, just posted a review the recent Tor reissue of Fossil Hunter, the second volume of my "Qunitaglio Ascension" trilogy, calling the book "a delightful read." (Please note that the review has major spoilers for the first volume in the trilogy, Far-Seer.) The review is by Geoff Willmetts.