Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Going to Mars

Time for another Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 530 articles on my website at

As NASA continues to struggle with budget cuts, and a presidential vision of spaceflight that came with no guaranteed funding, I'm reminded of the speech the fictitious US president gave in my novel Hybrids. There, the speech is divided into 44 little snippets, with one at the beginning of each chapters. But, for our spotlight today, here's the whole speech as a single document.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rob's "Identity Theft" a Nebula Award finalist

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have just announced the final ballot for this year's Nebula Awards. My "Identity Theft" is one of five finalists in the novella category. "Identity Theft" has already won the world's top prize for SF writing, the 6,000-euro Premio UPC.

For the convenience of SFWA members -- who now are voting on the final Nebula ballot -- as well as for those who might like to read "Identity Theft" as they contemplate what to nominate for the Hugo and Aurora Awards -- the full text (all 25,000 words) of "Identity Theft" is available online as a Word document and an Acrobat PDF file.

"Identity Theft" was first published in the wonderful anthology Down These Dark Spaceways, edited by Mike Resnick for the Science Fiction Book Club. This makes me the first person ever to be nominated for a major award for an original Science Fiction Book Club publication, and I'm very proud of that.

The full final Nebula Award ballot is here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Toronto's Ad Astra loses three of its Guests of Honour

It'll still be a wonderful con, with authors Terry Brooks and Peter David, editor Betsty Mitchell from Del Rey, and fan David Warren (who, among other things, is also my real-estate lawyer), but the other announced guests have all bowed out. Here's the scoop from Ad Astra's website:

As I'm sure some have now noticed, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury and Rowena have been removed from our website as Guests of Honour for our upcoming convention.

Although this is very disheartening, we could not avoid the situation.

Ray Harryhausen was contacted last year via his British agent. They agreed on attending our convention, even going so far as to waive the normal appearance fee. We were overjoyed. We were also informed that they would be releasing a new book this year in North America, so we were trying to tie in a book launch. Sadly, Ray's North American agent was not happy with the arrangements, and booked Ray for a conflicting convention. As they were willing to pay a large stipend, and we could not, Ray has been booked with them.

Ray Bradbury has informed us that he has a project in the works that has had it's deadline changed, and it now also conflicts with Ad Astra. Again, earning a living has won out over a free appearance.

Rowena was forced to cancel when she ran into some difficulties with Canada Customs and importing her work. She has also opted to not attend in order to save herself some money.

So, although it is sad to lose three large guests so suddenly, we certainly understand why they opt to do what is financially best for them, especially in today's economy.

We wish them the best going forward.

We are currently looking to replace them with other Guests of Honour. At this point, we will not be making any announcements vis-a-vis who we are contacting. Once we have firmed up an appearance, we will make an announcement and update our website.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Apes live!

Coming March 28, 2006: Planet of the Apes - The Ultimate DVD Collection - With Ape Head Packaging. All five original movies, the entire live-action TV series, the entire animated TV series, Tim Burton's remake, and all sorts of extra features. Woohoo!

Hartwell wins Skylark

My editor, Dr. David G. Hartwell, won the Skylark Award this past weekend:

The Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction (the Skylark) is presented annually by the New England Science Fiction Association to some person, who in the opinion of the membership, has contributed significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late "Doc" Smith well-loved by those who knew him.

Way to go, David!

Monday, February 20, 2006

My GoH streak continues: Winnipeg

Accepted another Guest of Honor offer today; this one from KeyCon 23 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That makes three GoH offers in the last month: To Be CONtinued in Chicago, MileHighCon in Denver, and KeyCon in Winnipeg.

The KeyCon one is particularly sweet, because, I'm told, this is the first time in the 23-year-history of KeyCon that they've had the same person be Guest of Honor for a second time (I was also GoH at KeyCon 20). Woohoo!

KeyCon will be held May 19-21, 2006, in Winnipeg. More info is here.

Monday Spotlight: Fermi Paradox

Time for this week's Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 530 articles on my website at

I've always been fascinated by the Fermi Paradox (and offer one fanciful solution to it in my Sherlock Holmes pastiche "You See But You Do Not Observer", which is available through Fictionwise). Here, in today's spotlighted article entitled "Where are the Aliens?", I provide a more chilling answer.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Aurora Award nominations now open

Nominations are now open for this year's Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (the Auroras). Any Canadian may nominate, and there's no charge to do so.

The ballot, in PDF format, is here.

And more info about the awards is here.

I confess to having Aurora hopes for my novel Mindscan (in the Long-Form English category) and for my novella "Identity Theft" (in the Short-Form English category).

If you're a potential Aurora nominator, you can find the full text of "Identity Theft" here: (as an Acrobat file) (as a Word document)



Interesting website

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Mad Scientist at the CBC

My friend Joe Mahoney, the producer at CBC Radio who I worked with on the various pilots for Faster Than Light, our aborted series about SF, has uploaded some humorous audio clips that include me to his blog:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


Friday, February 17, 2006

Public Lending Right

Things like the Book Lover's Ball (see the next entry) are one of the reasons I love being an author in Canada -- it's hard to imagine a genre-fiction writer being so well treated in the States.

Another thing I love is that my federal government sends me a kickback every February to compensate me for royalties lost through the circulation of my books through public libraries. (Most Western countries do this for their domestic authors, recognizing the principle that it's unfair to tax an author and then use those tax dollars to finance a system that deprives the author of income; the U.S. is a notable exception, in not offering such payments to authors). It's called "The Public Lending Right," and the cheque I got was for $2,873.50, which was the maximum any one author was allowed to receive this year.

The system is based on surveying the card catalogs of seven randomly selected mid-sized libraries. If a specific title of yours is in one of the libraries (regardless of how many copies that library has of that title), you get a "hit" worth (this year) $41.05; if you're in all seven libraries with that title, you get seven times that amount, which is $287.35. You get a half-hit for translated editions. In aggregate, my hits happened to be worth $5,529.46 -- but, as I said, there's a maximum, to keep the most-popular authors from taking all the money out of the pool.

If you're curious about the math of such things, have a look here (a PDF file showing my hit schedule for this year). I was pleased to see that the English editions of every single one of my novels are in every one of the libraries, and even oddball stuff like my small-press essay collection Relativity was in three of the seven libraries searched.

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Book Lover's Ball a success

The Book Lover's Ball yesterday went fabulously, and was a first-class event from beginning to end -- valet parking, open bar, amazing food, the works. They'd been hoping to sell at least 200 tickets at Cdn$350 a pop, but actually sold 410. Besides the authors (including Margaret Atwood and Peter C. Newman), notables on hand included Adrienne Clarkson (former Governor-General of Canada), Bob Rae (former premier of Ontario) David Miller (current mayor of Toronto), David Crombie (former mayor of Toronto), Seamus O'Reagan (co-host of Canada A.M.), and Gord Martineau (anchor of CityPluse News).

Everybody sitting at my table got a free hardcover copy of Mindscan, courtesy of H.B. Fenn and Company, Tor's Canadian distributor.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My home on display

Just received the February 2006 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. It starts with six black-and-white photos taken during my editor David G. Hartwell's December 2005 trip to Toronto, during which he stayed at my home. Four of the photos are actually in Carolyn and my penthouse apartment, taken during a reception we held for David's authors:

  • Me in my office
  • Phyllis Gotlieb, Terence M. Green and son Daniel, Pat Forde, and me in my living room
  • Peter Watts holding forth in front of my fireplace, while Karl Schroeder and others look on
  • Carolyn Clink and Kelly Gotlieb in our living room (in a sort of Batman-villain's-lair framing, with the camera tilted)

The other two photos are David at a store we visited, and me at Toronto's Bakka-Phoenix Books.


Natural dialogue

It's very difficult for most writers to do natural-sounding dialogue. Whatever skill I have at it came from years of being a freelance magazine journalist, and transcribing hundreds of hours of interviews, and also from the countless hours I spent editing audio tape back in the 1980s, when I was doing some work for CBC Radio's Ideas series.

Every day, I spend half an hour on a treadmill, and I usually watch something on DVD while doing so. I recently finished watching the entire run of the BBC series The Office, and today finished Season Three of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Both are brilliant, and very, very funny, but perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that they have incredibly natural dialogue.

Interestingly, the techniques by the scriptwriters -- Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais in the case of the The Office, and Larry David and his team for Curb Your Enthusiasm -- use very different techniques to get this effect. The Office has every word, every nuance, scripted (and the scripts are available in book form), while Curb Your Enthusiasm is at least partially improvised. But both are well worth studying.

Although ostensibly a comedy, I found The Office quite poignant in a lot of ways. As Thoreau said, most of us live lives of quiet desperation. The dead-end existences of most of the people in that show are heart-breaking to watch, while at the same time ringing as absolutely true. It's one of the best TV shows I ever seen.

I did watch one episode of the American version of The Office, just to see how they'd managed the translation; it's a very faithful adaptation. Ridiculously, though, the guy who adapted it for American television -- by doing little more than changing character names and moving the setting from Slough to Scranton -- gets higher billing than the people who actually created the show (Merchant and Gervais). Anyway, the US version is decent, but the UK version is the one to see, in my opinion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Japanese Hybrids

Today's mail brought my author's copies of the lovely Japanese edition of Hybrids, final volume of my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, translated, as always, by my friend Masayuki Uchida.

GoH at MileHighCon

I've accepted an invitation to be Guest of Honor at MileHighCon 38 in Denver, Colorado, October 27-29, 2006.

This on top of the invitation I accepted six days ago to be Guest of Honor at To Be CONtinued in Chicago. Woohoo!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Science and God

Time for another RJS Monday Spotlight, calling out one of the 500+ documents on my website at

Back in 2000, Borders Books asked me to write an essay to help promote my novel Calculating God. I was glad to oblige, and this provocative little piece, entitled "Science and God" was the result ... I think it makes interesting reading today, because it pre-dates by several years the recent "Intelligent Design" controversy.

(This documents came to mind because I was just asked if it could be used as a handout for a panel at the science-fiction convention MidSouthCon in Memphis; of course I said yes.)

Arthur C. Clarke

Here's a lovely page of tributes to Arthur C. Clarke by other SF authors. The tributes are alphabetical by author; scroll down to see mine, which says:

Arthur C. Clarke has been the single greatest influence on me, and, in fact, I just quoted one of Clarke's dicta on writing ('the best way to end a novel is by opening up a new vista that allows the reader to write the sequel in his or her own mind') to my editor. Indeed, given that so much of my own work is based on exploring the science-vs.-religion conflict, I'd have to say that the stories 'The Nine Billion Names of God' and the 'The Star' (plus the essay 'God and Einstein' from 'Report on Planet Three') had a bigger impact on me than anything else I've ever read. Clarke's liberal humanism also meant an enormous amount to me, and was a needed antidote, at least in the eyes of this bleeding-heart-liberal Canadian, to the conservative politics I was seeing in so much American hard-SF. Long live Sir Arthur!

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Time Tunnel

Needing a break from a day of furious editing, Carolyn and I watched the first episode of The Time Tunnel on DVD this evening. Of course, the show has all sorts of logical problems, but it's still enormous fun. The first episode features Michael Rennie (Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still) as the captain of the Titanic and the irresistible Susan Hampshire (Fleur Forsyte from the 1960s version of The Forsyte Saga, which I've watched through in its entirety three times in my life). The art direction is fabulous.

We also skipped ahead to the best parts of the third episode, when Halley's Comet gets accidentally pulled into the Time Tunnel, and Dr. Newman comes home -- ten years early. Cool stuff!

There are a couple of other episodes I'm very fond of: the one with Nehemiah Persoff as the inventor of a Soviet Time Tunnel in the 1950s -- that one is included in this DVD boxed set of the first fifteen episodes -- and "The Last Patrol," with Carroll O'Connor (later, Archie Bunker). Also, the one about the walls of Jericho was the first science-vs.-religion exploration I ever saw, and obviously went on to influence my own writing.

The show deserves enormous kudos, by the way, for casting Lee Meriwether as a brainy female scientist. She happens to be very attractive (the actress is a former Miss America) but she's way more in control and sensible than any of the miniskirted females aboard the Enterprise on classic Star Trek, which was in production at the same time. Never does she become the love interest, or do anything gratuitously sexy; she's just brilliant and competent and level-headed (in the third episode, she saves a man's life while all the other male characters stand around ineffectually). Full marks, and, if you'll forgive me, way ahead of its time ...

Pros and Cons

A writer friend is contemplating going to a science-fiction convention ("a con") to promote a first novel from a small press. Here's the advice I offered:

I feel I should say a few words, one writer to another, about going to conventions on one's own nickel.

The upcoming con you're thinking of going to will doubtless be a wonderful event: you'll have fun and you'll meet neat people. But I should point out that last year, when I went to the same con, just as a panelist, as far as I could tell, not one single copy of my new novel Mindscan sold in the dealers' room. And even for a guest of honor at a con, selling ten copies of a book over the course of a weekend is a lot.

Also, if you're a small-press author, it's very likely that dealers won't have copies of your book; few dealers stock small-press titles. Even if you're with a major press, you may still find that no one has thought to bring your book; many cons are dilatory about letting dealers know who will actually be on programming. You might want to bring a half-dozen copies of your title on your own, and either sell them directly after your reading or offer them to a dealer to sell for you (normally, dealers take a 40% commission, so you barely break even doing this if you've bought copies at your author's discount, although you do eventually get royalties credited to your account).

I just want you to have your eyes wide open about the return-on-investment of making such an expensive trip. As an author, I can't say that over the years going to cons has had great financial benefits for me. They've been lots of fun, sure -- but I figure I spend at least $500 on any out-of-town con, and the return is never even a tenth of that in royalties. I just want to make sure you understand that going to cons is neither required nor expected from a business point of view. You should only do it if it's something you really want to do for personal enjoyment.

That said, if you are going to go to a con as a pro, I have some tips that I offer to every writer:

On why writers go to cons

More on why writers go to cons

Tips for public readings

A 37-minute podcast with me and Tee Morris on how writers can get the most out of cons and other ways of promoting their books.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

GoH at To Be CONtinued

I've accepted an invitation to be Author Guest of Honor at the science-fiction convention To Be CONtinued in suburban Chicago on May 12-14, 2006.

Info about the convention is here.

Get a life!

Came across this transcript of William Shatner's famous "Get a life!" appearance on Saturday Night Live. Amazing to think that as many years have now elapsed since this skit first aired in 1986 as separated the skit from the debut of Star Trek ...

Monday, February 6, 2006

Nick DiChario website

The next book under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint for Red Deer Press is A Small and Remarkable Life, by Hugo, Campbell, and World Fantasy Award-finalist Nick DiChario. Check out Nick's spiffy new website for all the details.

Winnipeg Free Press on Mindscan

The Winnipeg Free Press, the major daily paper in Winnipeg, Manitoba, ran a brief review of Mindscan yesterday; the review is by David Pitt:

Once again Ontario's Robert J. Sawyer takes something that seems wildly improbable -- the notion of transferring human consciousness to an artificial body -- and uses it as a jumping-off point for an exploration of some very nifty ideas.

In Mindscan (Tor, 370 pages, $10), a man with a life-threatening disease transfers himself into a synthetic body. When his biological self (now living in a sort of retirement community on the moon) learns his disease can be cured, he wants to return home. But which of the two Jake Sullivans is the real Jake?

On its surface a very inventive science-fiction story, the novel is actually a rumination on the nature of consciousness and identity. It is another excellent (not to mention surprising) novel from one of the genre's brightest lights.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Nuclear-waste markers

Just after midnight here in Toronto, meaning it's time for another RJS Monday Spotlight!

I've long had a great relationship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, going back to 1985, when I wrote and narrated three hour-long documentaries on SF for their venerable Ideas series. More recently, I did a series of brief commentaries on cutting-edge science for them, under the umbrella title "Science FACTion." One of these was on the topic of nuclear-waste markers, something that I twisted in a new way involving uploaded consciousness in my novel Calculating God.

Anyway, here's this week's Monday Spotlight, my commentary for CBC Radio on "Devising Markers for Nuclear Waste Sites."

(As you can see, the script called for the use of the wonderful John Williams theme from the old Irwin Allen TV series The Time Tunnel, the first fifteen episodes of which just came out on DVD -- and were promptly snapped up by me.)

The moment I became RJS ...

My brother Alan dug this up going through some old audio tape. It's from February 13, 1968, when I was seven years old. The first voice you'll hear is my father ...

The clip runs 45 seconds, and you'll need Windows Media Player, or something else that plays WMA files, to hear it ...

Boarding the Enterprise cover

Here's a look at the cover for Boarding the Enterprise: Transporters, Tribbles, and the Vulcan Death Grip in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, edited by David Gerrold and Robert J. Sawyer, coming this fall from BenBella Books to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek.

It's a terrific collection of essays; I'll post the table of contents later this month (we're still working out the order the essays will go in). And, yes, I've already told the publisher to correct the typo on the cover ... :)

Friday, February 3, 2006

My Alberta adventures

A fabulous week on the road come to an end.

On Friday, January 27, 2006, I flew to Edmonton, Alberta, courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts. That afternoon, I had a terrific get-together with Diane Walton and Danica LeBlanc, both of On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, at the magazine's offices in downtown Edmonton. Next up was an interview with Anna Borowiecki of the St. Albert Gazette (which ran this picture of me, taken the next day, accompanying her article). Then it was off to a wonderful steak dinner with local writers Barb Galler-Smith and Ann Marston, and Barb's husband John.

Saturday, Jaline, the district sales rep for H.B. Fenn and Company, Tor's Canadian distributor, took me around to various stores for drop-in signings, then it was off to the Chapters superstore in St. Albert (near Edmonton) for a well-attended signing and reading from Mindscan (I read the scene where the uploaded Jake first wakes up in his new body). Dinner that night was pizza with Minister Faust, the brilliant Edmontonian author of Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad.

Sunday morning, it was brunch with my friend Phil Currie, one of the world's leading dinosaur experts, his wife paleontologist Eva Kopplelhus, and one of their grad students (having earlier in the day met with some more of Phil's grad students at Phil's new lab at the University of Alberta, where he's now working). After that it was time for the main event -- my reading at the Edmonton Public Library; I read the examination and cross-examination of Caleb Poe, from Mindscan. The event was very well attended, and the bookseller (Audrey's Books) sold lots of copies of my books (intriguingly, more hardcovers than paperbacks of Mindscan -- they had both in stock). After that, it was dinner with my friends Jeff Krehmer (of Calgary's Imaginative Fiction Writers' Association) and his girlfriend Shawn Moore; Jeff then drove me down to Calgary.

On Wednesday morning, I went to the University of Calgary, and spoke to the science-fiction class there. Prof. Ruby Ramraj teaches my novel Golden Fleece, and this was the second time I'd visited one of her classes. The students had lots of great questions. For instance, one of them had read both Golden Fleece (my first novel) and Calculating God (my twelfth), and had noted that the amount of science I expected the reader to be familiar with before starting the book was much less in my more recent title. He asked if this was deliberate, and I said it indeed was -- Golden Fleece was designed solely for the science-fiction reader, but, starting with The Terminal Experiment in 1995, I'd been very deliberately trying to make my SF accessible to mainstream readers without alienating the core SF audience; it's a delicate tightrope walk.

Two of Phil Currie's grad students came to this class as well, as did Mary Hemmings, a librarian involved with the Gibson Collection, a massive donation of science fiction and fantasy given a few years ago to the University of Calgary. After my talk, she and I and English-department member Christian Bök went out for coffee, then Mary and I went for lunch. Wednesday night was dinner out with Randy McCharles, chair of the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, at my favorite Calgary pizza place, Greco.

Thursday was the monthly meeting of IFWA, the Imaginative Fiction Writers' Association. Beforehand, I dropped by Sentry Box, Calgary's SF specialty store (and saw there for the first time the cover for Slipstreams, the DAW anthology coming in May that features my short story "Biding Time," a sequel to my current Nebula Award-finalist "Identity Theft"). Then it was off to pre-meeting drinks at Jackdaws, the pub across the street.

The meeting itself featured a panel discussion by those (including myself) who have taken agent Donald Maass's terrific "Writing the Breakout Novel" seminar. After the meeting, it was off to a different pub for more food, drink, and great conversation. I spent a lot of time there talking to Danita Maslan, whose wonderful novel Rogue Harvest is the most recent title under the Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint I edit for Red Deer Press.

And now I'm back home in Mississauga. It was a truly terrific trip.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Jack McDevitt

People often ask me to recommend other authors, and I'm always happy to do so. One of my all-time favorites is Jack McDevitt. Locus unveiled its current bestsellers list today, and the paperback of Jack's Polaris is number one on the list. Congratulations, Jack!