Monday, July 31, 2006

Dark Courier

I'm a huge fan of this free TrueType font, provided by Hewlett Packard as an alternative to the spindly Courier New that comes with Windows. Manuscripts are still routinely done in Courier, and this version is much easier on the eyes.

Rob's Worldcon schedule

I finally got my programming schedule for L.A.con IV, the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. You can see it here.

Hugo deadline tonight

I mistakenly said it was yesterday in an earlier post. The deadline is tonight at midnight Pacific time. If you're a Worldcon member, you can vote here. You'll need both your membership number and your voting PIN, which should be on any progress report (or envelope that contained same) for the convention. Your voting PIN is the same as your nominating PIN.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Fred Gambino

For this weeks' Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 500+ documents on my website at, I offer this tribute to Fred Gambino, one of the finest artists working in SF today.

Lou Anders on the Campbell Conference

Lou Anders has done up a very nice blog post about the Campbell Conference that took place last month in Kansas. You can read it here.

Hugo voting deadline today

Hugo Award ballots must be cast by midnight PACIFIC time today. They can be cast here.

Today's also the last day for getting my Hugo-nominated novella "Identity Theft" for free from me, or from Fictionwise. If you want it, download it now from here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The State of Science Fiction

Lou Anders has a fascinating discussion going on his blog about the state of science fiction. See his posts (and the comments to them) here and here.

I just posted almost 900 words over there on this topic, and thought I'd share them here as well:
We often hear references in discussions like these (as echoed by the new SF reviewer at the New York Times) about today's SF requiring a degree in physics to understand it. The conclusion often wrongly drawn from that is that, therefore, hard science is what's bogging down SF. I disagree. It's eminently possible to write about hard science -- including quantum physics, string theory, brane theory, nanotech, subtleties of evolutionary theory, and so on -- in an inviting fashion. The nonfiction bookshelves are full of such things: Brian Greene, Stephen Pinker, and recently Seth Lloyd are all doing that to great success.

And the problem isn't infodumps being antithetical to fiction, despite what the MFA-derived workshopping movement wants to tell us. Michael Crichton and Dan Brown have outsold us all by orders of magnitude without ever once worrying about whether the reader will sit still for background information.

Aside: Lou, I almost titled my story "Flashes, " which is in your Futureshocks anthology, "Infodumps" instead, so that I could use that as the title of my next short-story collection -- reach out and tweak the critics right on the nose. But my wife talked me out of it. :)

Rather than infodumps being a problem, I think the real problem in a lot of books is a deliberate attempt to keep out outsiders. It started when we all thought it was cool to co-opt Ursula LeGuin's term ansible for any faster-than-light communication system, but it's gotten way worse than that.

Enormous numbers of SF novels whose plots hinge on nanotech or quantum physics fail to make the needed background self-contained in the book, and therefore exclude readers. Fantasy has to include all needed background in the book; perhaps to survive, science fiction should do this (with wit and charm and elegance, of course).

Instead, SF has become the leetspeak of pop literature: we like the outsider/misfit/subculture label, and set up linguistic barriers to keep newcomers out. Woot! $(13|\|(3 ph!xo|\| 12|_|73z! [Science fiction rules -- and maybe it does, but it's a pyrrhic victory if no outsider can read it. TANSTAAFL, and all that.]

For my own part, I've bet my career on trying to write accessible SF -- stuff that can be read with pleasure both by those who are intimately familiar with the genre and by people who've never read it before. You were there last month, Lou, when I won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year -- and I was thrilled to get it, as I was thrilled to get the Hugo and the Nebula before that. But in all my career, the following are the two honors that mean the most to me, and they're what I call juxtapositional honors:

First, I was thrilled that my 2000 novel Calculating God hit number one on the Locus bestsellers' list -- meaning it was doing well with habitual SF readers who shop at the SF specialty stores that provide the bulk of the datapoints for that list -- and that Calculating God hit the national top-ten mainstream bestsellers lists here in Canada (in Maclean's: Canada's Weekly Newsmagazine and The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper) -- meaning that it was being scooped up by people who don't traditionally read SF.

Second, I was thrilled that last year, my Hominids was chosen as the "One Book, One Community" reading selection for a Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada, and was warmly embraced by huge numbers of readers who'd never read SF before, and that Hominids was serialized in Analog, the bastion of hard-SF. You can appeal to the core SF readership and the mainstream audience -- it isn't an either/or proposition.

Note that none of this requires downplaying the term "science fiction" -- I make no bones about who I am and what I write.

Some of my British colleagues have similar experiences with both mainstream and genre acceptance, but not nearly enough American authors -- or publishers -- are even making a token effort to try for it.

It is possible to cater to both audiences with the same work, but it takes an understanding that this is what's being undertaken not just by the author but by the publisher as well. Yes, call it science fiction, but don't put an alien or a spaceship on the cover. I personally happen to like Robert Charles Wilson's Blind Lake better than his Spin -- although both are excellent, and both could easily be read by non-habitual SF readers -- but Blind Lake didn't get nearly as much notice, or, I'd wager, as many sales, because it has, literally, a bug-eyed monster on the cover (see above), whereas Spin has a very mainstream look, and was reviewed widely in and out of genre. Or look at Charles Stross's Accelerando (US edition) -- wonderful packaging that works both in and out of category.

Again, I'm not urging people to escape the SF category; rather I'm urging more at least try to do that tricky walk along the top of the fence around the category. Because it's only by making new readers feel comfortable in our field that SF will survive.

Friday, July 28, 2006

What to do if an alien shows up in your living room

I was asked the above question a couple of years ago by a guy writing a book with practical advice for unusual situations. I never heard back from him, and don't know what happened to the book, but here's my answer:
What to do if an alien shows up in your living room:

First, in the time-honored words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, "Don’t panic."

The alien standing in front of you evolved somewhere other than here. That means its biochemistry isn’t like that of earthly organisms -- so you don’t have to worry about being eaten; it could no more digest you than you could digest sand.

Also, it’s far less likely that an alien would find you sexually attractive than it is that you’d get turned on by the sight of a squid. Indeed, you’re probably the butt-ugliest thing this alien has ever seen -- so there’s no need to worry about guarding your virtue.

Finally, remember that it takes a large amount of energy to move between worlds, and energy costs money, everywhere in the universe. There’s no material object or natural resource on Earth that it wouldn’t be cheaper for the alien to synthesize at home rather than come here to get. The only reason for traveling between worlds is to access the immaterial: other cultures, other points of view, other forms of art.

So, relax, put on a good CD, and calmly set about trying to communicate. The alien might not use spoken language -- it could rely on sign language, shifting patterns of skin coloration, or any of countless other methods. But the fact that it came here when we don’t have the technology to go to its world means it has greater technology than we do. The alien doubtless has a small computer on its person, which will observe what you’re doing and figure out how to translate between your spoken words and the alien’s language.

Build up a vocabulary of nouns and verbs by pointing at things and demonstrating actions while saying the appropriate words aloud. Be polite and be patient -- although it’s true that the alien is the one in a foreign land, you are the goodwill ambassador for all of us. Do us proud.

Talebones on Mindscan

Talebones has just posted a nice review of my novel Mindscan, using such terms as "extremely satisfying" and "excellent." You can read it here (you may have to scroll down as they add more reviews, although right now it's in their "top five" featured on the main page).

How I'm spending my summer vacation

That's me standing up yesterday at Fort York in Toronto, site of one of the big battles of the War of 1812. I was guest speaker at the "Junior Authors" summer camp hosted by the Harbourfront Centre, home of the world-famous International Festival of Authors. I had great fun talking to a dozen young people, ages 10-15, about writing, and they asked very perceptive questions.

Meanwhile, I spent part of today working on some suggestions for the film adaptation of The Terminal Experiment that's in development; I'm actually a paid consultant on the film, in addition to the option fee for the underlying literary property. I've been enjoying fielding very insightful and tough questions from the director/screenwriter.

Sunday is the annual barbecue for The Fledglings, the writers' workshop I put together with the best writers who had come to see me when I was Writer in Residence at The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, back in 2003.

And on Monday, I'm off to the University of Toronto at Mississauga, where they teach my Mindscan in the summer science-fiction course, to speak to the students. Let's see if they can ask questions as good as those posed by the ten-year-olds yesterday! :)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Aaarrrgh! What a time to cut back!

So, the wonderful Chris from Bakka-Phoenix, Toronto's science fiction bookstore, called today with a classic good-news/bad-news bit.

The good news was that the October 2006 issue of Analog, featuring the first of four serialization installments of my latest novel, Rollback, arrived at the store today.

The bad news was that instead of their usual order of 30 copies, the distributor delivered only nine copies. MetroNews, which handles distribution of Dell magazines in Ontario, hastened to add that it wasn't their fault: Dell has decided to slash newsstand distribution of Analog and Asimov's here 75% across the board, at least in Ontario, so Bakka-Phoenix was actually doing well to get nine copies. Two of those nine had already been spoken for, and I've taken two, so Bakka only has five left.

They could have sold a lot more copies at Bakka-Phoenix, not just of this issue but of the next three as well, because I have oodles of fans who shop there: in 2003, the number-one bestselling hardcover for the entire year at the store was my Humans; the number-one bestselling paperback for the entire year was my Hominids.

It'll be the same at other retailers in Ontario: they'll be getting just one-quarter of the copies they used to get. Sigh.

Any typos in Analog serialization of Rollback?

For those reading the serialization of my novel Rollback in Analog, which has just begun (with the October issue), I'd be very grateful if you'd let me know about any typos you might spot. I can still get them fixed in the Tor hardcover, coming next year. My email address is sawyer at sfwriter dot com. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Analog with Rollback part 1 on the stands

I haven't seen it yet myself, but it's been reported in my Yahoo! Groups newsgroup that the October 2006 issue of Analog, which contains part one of my serialized novel Rollback, is now out on newsstands, at least in Ohio. Woohoo!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It's a good day ...

... when you make money without working. :)

Got word today that my agent Ralph Vicinanza has just sold Spanish rights to my 1996 Hugo, Nebula, and Seiun Award finalist (and Aurora and HOMer Award winner) Starplex to Libros del Atril in Barcelona. It's way cool when something I wrote more than a decade ago suddenly earns me several thousand additional dollars.

But let us not forget short stories! Also got word today that my short story "Relativity," originally written for the anthology Janis Ian's Stars, edited by Mike Resnick and Janis Ian, will be reprinted in the Canadian SF anthology North of Infinity III (follow up to the just-published North of Infinity II), edited by Mark Leslie.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Print on Demand

Well, given all the discussion between me an Evo Terra about new publishing and distribution paradigms here and here and here this past week, my choice for this week's Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 500+ documents on my website at, is this piece I wrote in 1998 about "Print on Demand."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Parallel universe in which Al Gore is president

I'm not the only one who likes playing with the concept of parallel universes. Saturday Night Live did it recently, with special guest star Al Gore giving his state-of-the-union address in the alternate quantum reality in which he is president. I was lucky enough to catch this live when it was first broadcast, and it's now online here -- click on "New Videos," then "Parallel Universe."

What's wrong with this web page?

Have a look at this web page, and ask yourself what's missing.

The answer? The words "science fiction." Robert A. Heinlein was never coy about what he wrote, but the web page for his centennial celebration makes no mention of the genre by name, instead calling him an "American author, futurist, philosopher and spaceflight advocate."

Leaving out the phrase "science fiction" means that if you Google "Heinlein science fiction" or "science fiction Kansas" (which is where the event is being held), this page doesn't turn up (although my own site does for the former search, as hit #6). (The word "Kansas" on the Heinlein Centennial website is in a graphic, not text, and isn't searched by Google.)

I mentioned this to the conference organizers two weeks ago when I was in Kansas, by the way ... Next year, the wonderful Campbell Conference will be held in conjunction with the Heinlein Centennial.

More on online audiences

Evo Terra answers some of the questions I raised in this posting, but not as a comment to that post; rather, his response is in his comments to an earlier posting by me, in which he says: "6 of the 58 titles [at] have (or have had) over 2000 subscribers. 17 are over 1000."

So, just to be clear, about 90% of the titles at (52 out of 58) DON'T have "thousands of subscribers" and just 10% do -- and we still don't know of that 10% how many are SF. But the maximum number of data points we're talking about, if every single one of those works ARE indeed SF, is just six.

But then Evo goes on to say that most of these are "works in progress." In other words, apparently substantially fewer than six (and maybe even as few as zero) works in all genres at have had "thousands of subscribers" (minimum: 2,000) for AN ENTIRE BOOK.

That's an awfully small number of data points (somewhere between zero to six) to base the claim that online serialization is "enabling many authors who have chosen the serialized route to find audiences in the thousands." And it's ever slimmer evidence in the case of science fiction, which was what was under discussion here, since we don't know the proportion of that zero to six data points that are SF.

But what really interests me is how this all relates to actually putting money into the author's pocket. Our analysis of Cory's figures (in my own comment to this post) suggest that between, oh, say 0.5% and 2%, of those who download a freebie will buy the finished product.

My own Fictionwise numbers, reported in this blog post, suggest the ratio of those who will grab a freebie to those who will pay is in the 0.5% to 1% range.

If you have 650,000 downloads as the very first, high-profile giveaway experiment did (Cory's first novel), and, as far as we know, no book published under this model has ever equaled since, that results in between 3,250 and 13,000 copies sold exclusively because of online exposure

[Digression: And I very much doubt the 2% or 13,000-copies figure. I also doubt that it was just downloading, and not all Cory's other online activities, that generated interest in his book: of all the copies sold (a number Cory doesn't divulge) of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, some sold because of the efforts of Tor and booksellers or as a result of reviews, some sold because of Cory's public profile, and some sold because people read and liked the freely available text -- but it's folly to attribute all, and I'd say it's folly to attribute even most, of the sales to the free downloading, because that implies that Cory's book would have done quite poorly without this. There were lots of other Tor first science-fiction novels that year whose books sold well enough in hardcover to justify their release in mass-market paperback, and, even with giving away two-thirds of a million copies online, Cory's book apparently didn't do as well as those titles. Do the evangelists for this really want to say that Cory's book would have sold extremely poorly had it not been given away online? If so, why? End digression.]

Anyway, if you have just 2,000 subscribers/downloaders (the lucky six at, the same percentages -- 0.5% to 2% willing to pay for what they got for free -- suggest that between ten and forty copies might actually sell if a version were offered commercially.

On the Dragon Page, Evo notes that he believes most first novels in the SF field sell only 5,000 copies; I suspect that's right (and is certainly the right order of magnitude) for novels that don't go into mass-market paperback; many average ones that do go into mass-market (and many first novels do, of course) might do at least twice as well as that in combined hardcover/mass sales.

But what Evo doesn't mention is that the average advance for a first novel in this genre from the major publishers is US$5,000 (with, I'd say, 80% of all first science-fiction novels published by the majors falling between $2,500 and $7,500 advances). That's not to be sneezed at, and if one's implying "Hey, a few thousand free online downloads here, a few thousands print copies in bookstores there -- what's the difference?", the difference is clear: thousands of dollars in the writer's pocket.

Rob in The Globe and Mail

Today's (Saturday, July 22, 2006) Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper has a nice piece about me, my John W. Campbell Memorial Award win, and the future of Toronto. It's in the paper's Toronto section, and also online here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

eReader moribund

You see the above graphic when you visit, which, for my money, has the best ebook-reading software on the market, and the most livable digital-rights-management system. But the graphic lies. "New version," my ass. They haven't updated the software in well over a year. Come on, guys! There's work to be done!

Hugo voting deadline very soon

Cough, cough ...

The received-by deadline for Hugo ballots sent by paper mail is July 31 -- so if you haven't mailed yours in, you should do so this weekend. :)

The deadline for electronic ballots -- which you can cast here -- is the same date, but you'll need your Hugo voting PIN to vote online. That PIN is on the mailing label for the April L.A.con IV progress report, and is also on the mailing label affixed to the July progess report, which was mailed recently (it's also the same PIN as you used for Hugo nominating).

And "Identity Theft," my l'il ole nominated novella, is here -- and electronic copies of three of this year's nominated novels are available here, and most of the other nominees are here.

(And let's hope that this year's Hugo base design is at least as pretty as the one above, from 2003 ...)

Neanderthal Genome Project

Read all about it here or here or here.

Svante Paabo, one of the participants, was the real-life inspiration for much of Mary Vaughan's work on Neanderthal DNA in my Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids and its sequels; the work I describe Mary as having done in recovering Neanderthal DNA at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Chapter 15 of Hominids was really done by Svante Paabo.

Evo and Rob on the size of online audiences

In response to another posting of mine on this blog, Evo Terra of and the Dragon Page responded to my comment that online serialization of a first SF novel would probably get the author fewer than 100 readers; in his posting here he says that's not true -- thousands of readers can be reasonably expected. He's also put a different version of his comment (lowering his claimed number to just 1,000 readers in the process) on the Dragon Page, and there brings up the writers John Salzi and Cory Doctorow, both of whom I admire greatly, as examples to prove his point. Have a look at what Evo said, then come back here for my response to him:

Now you're saying, well, let's ask the two most successful examples of online text distribution how well they're doing as an indication of whether or not the advice I gave to an unknown, first-time novelist was sound or not -- which would be not unlike me saying, "Well, let's check J.K. Rowling's numbers to see how a first-time fantasy novelist can expect to do." :) John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow are exceptions, literally; their experiences have been exceptional, and are not the norm.

And even when Cory does talk about this, we get soft numbers from him; Cory usually cites the number of printings his books have gone into -- six for his most-successful one to date, all in trade paperback, which, of the three common book formats [hardcover, mass-market, and trade] has the lowest threshold for economical reprinting, instead of the actual number of copies sold.

He does know that figure; he just doesn't share it. But it's on his royalty statements -- and royalty statements, in fact, don't list number of printings (because they're meaningless, since a printing has no fixed size -- a trade paperback reprinting could easily be and often is 1,000 copies), so he's giving us the public number [anybody can see what the printing number is on a book], and is withholding the private number.

There's an evangelical quality to a lot of what's said, including your comments here, Evo, about online publishing and podcasting, but the hard numbers that could be disclosed by the evangelists but are not otherwise available to those who might dispute their rosy portrayal often are withheld in favor of soft metrics or vague statements.

Cory and John, incidentally, are excellent writers with very significant, long-established personal online presences. And, yes, if you're so good that you can be a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as they both were/are, or a winner, as Cory already has been, or a Hugo finalist for your first novel, as John currently is, then maybe you, too, can be an exceptional data point.

But reality-checking demands that if you're going to shore up your argument with best-case data, you need to also include the worst-case data ... or else throw out all exceptional highs and lows, and just look at the middle; the wonderful success of John and Cory needs to be counterbalanced by failures or simply ignored in the equation. As with the testimonials in weight-loss ads, you need the asterisk that says, "Results not typical. Your results may be much less."

There's room in the cultural landscape for one, and maybe even a few, wunderkind SF pop-culture prophets who got in on the ground floor a la Cory; there isn't room for dozens, let alone hundreds -- so implying "You can be the next Cory Doctorow!" isn't what I'd call sound career advice. :)

And one wonders, given the plug-pulling recently done on Tor's attempts to join in with the Baen ebook distribution system (the plug was pulled by Tor's parent company, which has, rightly or wrongly, profound concerns about paying to package text in print form for the bookstore trade that is also freely or cheaply available online) if anything like the circumstance of being bought from online serialization will ever happen again. People are quick to turn aberrations (the two cases you cite) into trends, and to cite exceptional data as the norm; that's no way to build a business or a career.

And you're still pulling punches, Evo, as far as numbers are concerned. You've got 58 podiobooks at your company; you say 17 have a thousand listeners (and ARE you in fact defining that the way I did -- at least half the episodes downloaded?), but then, instead of answering my question about how many are SF novels, you go back to vague terms: "the lion's share" of the 58 (not the 17, at least not on the basis of anything you've said here) are, you say, science fiction (and not fantasy).

Surely you know how many of the 58 are SF, and how many of the lucky 17 are; we don't need to fall back on a generalization. :) Precisely how many data points -- how many SF novels serialized at Podibooks that have had at least 2,000 people (to support the claim you made in my blog) or 1,000 people (to support the claim you made on the Dragon Page) download half the chapters? What we know for sure is that there are NO MORE THAN 17 data points, and, for the 2,000 threshold, probably many fewer. If we're talking about a single-digit number of cases, then let's directly say that.

And then -- and I say again -- 1,000 people downloading something for free does not mean 1,000 listeners or readers. Just because they grabbed it doesn't mean they do anything with it. What percentage of people who grab something for free actually read/listen to it?

Well, we can get some figures, I suppose: on, readers are asked to tip the author/publisher if they like what they've heard. Of the subset of the 17 works that have had 1,000 downloads of 1/2 of their installments (if indeed that's what you mean when you say 1,000), how many of those 1,000 people have actually left a payment?

Here's a hard number of my own. My novella "Identity Theft" has been online for free at for four months now (since March 20, 2006). In that time, it's been "read" 5,258 times, which sounds quite impressive. ("Identity Theft" has always been free at Fictionwise because, during its entire life there to date, it's been an award finalist, first for the Nebula, and now for the Hugo.) Now, first, we should look at the verbs here: "Read" or "listened to" is what you'd say, apparently, but, in fact, we don't know that.

Over at Fictionwise, the number (which Fictionwise terms "Units sold" on the royalty statement, but that's a misnomer too, since with a freebie nothing has been sold) actually only measures how many people have clicked a couple of online buttons, adding the item to their online bookshelves -- that's step one of a three-part process in going from Fictionwise customer to actual reader.

Step two, how many of those 5,258 customers have actually downloaded the work from their online bookshelf to their PC or PDA or eBook reader for reading, is a figure I don't have access to (although I presume does).

And then there's step three: actually reading the work (or actually listening to it). Granted, lots of paper books sell, too, that no one ever gets around to reading -- but at least the author got paid for those; they don't for freebies at Fictionwise or for anything at Podiobooks (unless the customer elects to offer a tip, something presumably quite rare for works that haven't been listened to).

So how many actual readers are there of "Identity Theft" through Fictionwise? Who knows? But it's a subset of a subset of 5,258.

And how many actual listeners are their of works at You say the fact that requires registration is significant; so does, though. When you say 1,000 listeners, you can't possibly know that. What you mean (I presume) is 1,000 people who've hit the free "Subscribe" button on, so the real number of listeners, again, is a subset of a subset of that figure.

And even if you mean 1,000 people went to step two -- actually downloading, not just accumulating an OPML list at of things they might someday download (the equivalent of Fictionwise's server-side bookshelf), there's still a further reduction: how many people actually listened to it? And that figure you just don't know, but it surely isn't 100%.

Since this all started when I was giving career advice, as posted on my blog, I should point out what I and the person I was corresponding with knew: that the serialization he'd been offered was one in which he was going to be paid an advance (of a couple of hundred dollars) by the site in question.

That means, one presumes, that the site in question was going to be SELLING, not giving away, the online text. How big a drop off in "readers" or "listeners" can one expect when one starts actually charging for online material? Many people will grab any freebie they see, but may not actually do anything with it. If they pay for it, I suspect the actual usage rates -- the percentages that go to stage two, and then stage three -- are much higher.

Well, here's some more hard data: in the same period -- the last four months -- during which 5,258 people added my "Identity Theft" to their online bookshelves at Fictionwise -- my bestSELLING (as in actually being sold) title at Fictionwise racked up just 23 sales -- that's one-half of one percent of the number who grabbed the freebie.

And I do want to bring this back to where it started by reminding you that, in any event, you've done nothing now to disprove the figure of fewer than a hundred readers I suggested; all the data you've provided (which amounts to one hard number now: 17) has been related to audio podcasts given away for free.

I stand by my advice, and I'll add one more piece: when deciding what to do to build a career in science fiction or fantasy, be conservative in your financial predictions. You're less likely to end up disappointed.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

News that wasn't

I happened to stumble across this particular installment of the week's news from Science Fiction Weekly, dated from April 21, 1997 (scroll down past the long piece on the Nebula winners to see the week's news). Fascinating to read of the things that we were told were on their way to theatres back then, including:
Ringworld coming to the big screen

Ringworld, the popular SF adventure trilogy by Larry Niven, is being developed into a feature film by QDE Entertainment, the production company of music producer Quincy Jones, Daily Variety reports.

The Ringworld books tell the story of a massive artificial ring, as large as the Earth's orbit around the sun, discovered in deep space by a band of alien and human adventurers, and the efforts of the discoverers to unravel the mystery of the ring's builders.

The film should have a built-in audience: the Ringworld trilogy has more than 7 million copies in print. -- P.L.

and this:
Superman to get Dark Knight treatment

Wire-haired director Tim Burton, who did much to transform Batman from camp buffoon to Dark Knight, may be in the works to do the same to that All-American icon, Superman, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Burton (Ed Wood) is reportedly in talks to take the helm of Superman Reborn, a new, darker take on the story of Our Man from Krypton. Nicolas Cage (The Rock) is expected to don the Man of Steel's new tights (no cape this time around).

Evean as word of Burton's involvement came out, the film's writer Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Clerks) was quoted blasting the film's studio, Warner Bros., in a story in Buzz Weekly. Smith later said he didn't recall making the comments to Buzz, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "When I say 'anxious motherf---kers,' it doesn't mean I don't like the guys," he told the trade paper. "They were nice enough to tap me to write."

Burton -- reportedly unsatisfied with Smith's script -- has already approached at least two major screenwriters, Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp (Jurassic Park), to submit new versions, according to the trade paper. -- P.L.

Definitely Not the Opera podcast

The interview I did on May 13, 2006, for CBC Radio One's Definitely Not the Opera is now online here. I come on about the 12-minute mark ... but the stuff before me is good, too. :)

Host is Sook-Yin Lee, above. The topic: geekiness. :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Promoting a fantasy novel

Got asked today by a new author for advice on promoting a first fantasy novel. Here's what I had to say:

For starters, you should have a look at the promotion stuff on my website, particularly this 37-minute podcast.

You should also read this article by me on getting good press, and this one by me on self-promotion for writers.

You asked about awards in the field. Here's a comprehensive list.

And you asked which conventions to attend. Since you're in Florida, I'd certainly recommend the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and I also highly recommend the World Fantasy Convention.

Best of luck!

Mississauga News

For those who live in the same city as me -- Mississauga, Ontario (pop: 650,000, abutting the west border of Toronto) -- there's an article about me entitled "Science fiction writer picks up award," with the subtitle "Lone Canadian to win field's top awards" on the front page of the Lifestyles section of the Mississauga News. The article is by Julia Le, and is based on an interview we did by phone while I was at Odyssey last week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The value of writing exercises

Saskatchewan writer smilin' Edward Willett (above) does a weekly science column for the CBC and the Regina Leader Post. You can sign up to have the print version emailed to you for free each week right here.

Ed has twice been my writing student at the Banff Centre (in 2003 and 2005), and he begins his latest science column with this personal note:
I'm thrilled to announce I've sold a second novel to DAW Books, via my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, for publication in (probably) 2007. The as-yet untitled book will be a stand-alone science fiction novel, not a sequel to my science fiction novel Lost in Translation, which DAW is bringing out in mass-market paperback this October. (A Lost in Translation sequel remains a possibility for the future.)

It's not often I know the precise date when a story or novel was born, but I do in this case: it was born on September 20, 2005, during the Writing With Style workshop on writing speculative fiction taught by Robert J. Sawyer at the Banff School of Fine Arts. That morning I and fellow workshoppers were asked to write, as a classroom exercise, the opening lines of a story. The opening line I wrote became an unfinished short story which in turn became the basis of the synopsis that sold the new novel to DAW.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Point of View

I had a fabulous time teaching at the Odyssey workshop last week. Part of my job was giving daily lectures on various aspects of writing. The first one I did was on point of view, which had also been the topic of one of my old "On Writing" columns for On Spec magazine. I offer that particular column as this week's Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 500+ articles on my website at

I rejected a novel this evening ...

... which is something I never enjoy doing. The author wanted me to make up my mind about a submission to Robert J. Sawyer Books, because he/she had interest from a PoD publisher, and a web site had expressed interest in serializing the book. And so I did make up my mind. Here's what I had to say, since it might be helpful to others out there:
This is the second follow-up you've sent since submitting your novel less than three months ago.

I've read a good hunk of your book and like it on a stylistic level; I'm not 100% sure it's fresh enough in terms of content for me, and have been trying to find the time to read more of it.

I will say this: very few traditional print publishers move really fast in making decisions. I've been moving way faster than, say, Tor or DAW, would have; there, it's often over a year before anyone even opens your envelope, and usually at least two years after a first novel is bought before it's on the bookstore shelves.

The reason online/POD places can reply so quickly is that they're risking almost nothing; production and distribution costs on a book going into bookstores will run to tens of thousands of dollars, and so such decisions have to be made with care. If you want immediate short-term gratification, you're in the wrong field.

I'll also say this: repeatedly forcing an editor to focus his or her thoughts on your work by asking if a determination has been made yet may lead the editor to make decisions prematurely, and there's only one safe decision to be made that way. Since you want a decision now, here it is: I'm going to pass on your book.

As you yourself have just pointed out to me, I'm having no trouble getting submissions from established, bankable names such as Matt Hughes and Phyllis Gotlieb (not to mention Karl Schroeder), and although I am proud to have already brought a couple of first novels to market, they are harder work for the editor, harder sells for the sales force, and earn less money for the publisher; I fight to make them possible in a very competitive marketplace, but I can't do it without careful deliberation.

So, best of luck elsewhere. All that said, though, one writer to another, I think going the route of online serialization and POD are mistakes you will regret in the years to come. Online publishing and POD are a waste of time; you'll have fewer than a hundred readers, I'm willing to wager, in either format. But it's up to you.

All best wishes.


Northview Heights reunion

If you're reading my blog because you knew me back in the late 1970s when I was a student at Northview Heights Secondary School (previously known as Northview Heights Collegiate Institute) in Willowdale / North York / Toronto, please note that the school is having a reunion Friday, May 4, and Saturday, May 5, 2007, in honour of the building's 50th anniversary. I'll certainly be attending. You can find more information here.

(And pictures of the joint Class of 1979 / Class of 1980 reunion held last year are here and here.)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Odyssey Workshop

Jeanne Cavelos, Rob Sawyer

Jeanne Cavelos runs Odyssey, the famed six-week-long science-fiction and fantasy writing workshop held in New Hampshire each summer. Back in October 2005, she asked me to be "Special Writer-in-Residence" at Odyssey 2006.

Odyssey and the three Clarion workshops are the best known long-term SF-writing workshops, and they're often referred to as boot camps for new writers. The Clarion workshops have a different writer or editor in residence for each of the six weeks of the workshop. Odyssey takes another approach: Jeanne Cavelos -- World Fantasy Award-winning former editor for Dell Books -- teaches for all six weeks of her workshop. For five of the weeks, there's a guest lecturer for one day, and in the fifth week of the workshop, she has her Special Writer-in-Residence on hand for the entire week.

Jeanne is ably assisted at Odyssey by administrator (and Odyssey grad -- they're called "Od Fellows") Susan Sielinski. I've done a lot of teaching over the years, but this was a new experience for me. In all my previous teaching, the students and I all met each other for the first time the day I arrived; at Odyssey, these people had been working together for a solid month before I got there. And it showed, too: instead of having to spend time on beginner's errors, I was able to concentrate in my critiques on big structural and thematic issues.

In total, Odyssey had sixteen students this year, and some were quite experienced: one was already an active member of SFWA, another had co-written an episode of NYPD Blue, a third had published children's books, and one more had completed a creative-writing degree. Others, such as my friend Adria Laycraft from Calgary's Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, were long-term members of successful writers' groups, and one had previously done Clarion.

My job entailed giving five one-hour lectures (one each morning, starting bright and early at 9:00 a.m.); participating in round-table critiquing of one story or chapter by each of the 16 students (I gave the final critique for each; in the course of the week, 272 critiques were presented, including the ones by Jeanne and me); and having a private one-on-one meeting with each student.

The venue -- a small Catholic college named Saint Anselm College -- was gorgeous, and mostly deserted. The apartments, in big old houses, were charming and pleasant (although hot!), and the campus staff couldn't have been more helpful and accommodating. On Monday night a group of us showed up at the dining hall after it had closed for the day -- and the chef insisted on reopening for us, putting out soup, a salad bar, and cooking us all delicious ham steaks and mashed potatoes. I commented about how hospitable they were being, and the cashier said, "Of course -- we're Benedictines; being hospitable is one of our pledges."

I really enjoyed working with the students (two from Canada, one from the UK, and 13 from all over the US). Without exception, every single one of the students wrote well, critiqued insightfully, and took criticism professionally. They are all names you'll be seeing in bookstores and magazines soon:
  • Ellen Denham
  • Terry Edge
  • Rhiannon Held
  • Dave Hendrickson
  • Elizabeth Hirst
  • Larry Hodges
  • Lance Kind
  • Clayton Kroh
  • Adria Laycraft
  • Eric Newman
  • Jeffrey Pert
  • Deborah Sacks
  • Russell Scarola
  • Calie Voorhis
  • Victoria (Tori) Witt
  • Nu Yang

I had a fabulous time at Odyssey, and was stunned by how fast the week flew by. My profound thanks to Jeanne for inviting me to participate; it's an experience I'll never forget.

4th row: Dave, Tori, Lance, Clay, Eric
3rd row: Calie, Russ, Terry, Jeff
2nd row: Larry, Deborah, Rob, Jeanne, Susan
1st row: Rhiannon, Adria, Liz, Nu, Ellen

(Jeff VanderMeer visited the Odyssey workshop earlier this year. His blog entry on his visit is here.)

Campbell Award Conference

I'm back home after nine days on the road, and finally have a chance to properly update my blog. This entry is about the Campbell Conference, held July 5-9, 2006, at the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

On Wednesday, June 7, 2006, I received an email from James Gunn telling me that my Mindscan had won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel of the Year. I was absolutely thrilled by this news, of course -- the Campbell Memorial was the only one of the big-three science-fiction novel awards that I hadn't yet won.

Along with the news of my win came an invitation to attend the Campbell Conference, at which the award would be bestowed. I knew immediately that I had to go -- the conference is legendary -- but it also meant I'd have to change my already-made plans for that weekend: the Campbell Conference was to be held at the same time as Readercon, a literary SF convention held near Boston that I like very much.

Lou Anders, Paolo Bacigalupi

In the event, the Campbell Conference turned out to be at least as interesting, if not more so, than Readercon. At Readercon, I would have had fifty five-minute conversations over the course of the weekend; at the Campbell Conference, it was more like five fifty-minute conversations -- and they were unfailingly stimulating, interesting, and pleasant.

I was delighted to get to spend major time talking with Lou Anders, the editor of Pyr Books (and of the 2006 anthology Futureshocks, which contains my story "Flashes"). And it was wonderful to get to spend a lot of time with Paolo Bacigalupi, who won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Story of the Year at the same conference, for his wonderful "The Calorie Man." Indeed, Lou, Paolo, and I were so simpatico about what's right and wrong with SF, and about how the art form should be practiced, that it was like I'd found two brothers I didn't know I'd had.

Pamela Sargent, George Zebrowski

It was also great to get to spend a lot of time with old friends George Zebrowski and Pamela Sargent, who were both there. Indeed, on Saturday afternoon, George and I did an on-stage interviews of each other that went really well. Other interview pairings that day: Lou and Paolo; Kij Johnson and Pam Sargent; previous Sturgeon and Campbell winner Bradley Denton and Jim Gunn; all were fascinating to hear.

Before the interviews, John Ordover, currently editor of Phobos Books, and, prior to that, editor of Pocket's Star Trek novel line, gave a very provocative speech decrying that science fiction is not sufficiently derivative -- that is, that the reason it's selling so poorly is that, unlike other genres, it fails to provide a reliable, predictable reading experience. It was intriguing to hear what many of us think of as SF's greatest artistic strength being shown to also be its greatest commercial weakness.

This wasn't the first good speech of the conference, though. On the opening night -- Thursday, July 5, 2006 -- Lou Anders and George Zebrowski each gave excellent keynotes about the state of the SF novel. Lou's in part touched on the value of the small press -- something I certainly can related to, since I edit my own small-press line. And George's talk detailed all the ways in which the business practices of big publishers rip off authors and keep good work in the field down.

I also had great chats during the course of the conference with Kij, writer and academic Chris McKitterick, and SFWA President Robin Wayne Bailey. And I got to spend time with author Diane Turnshek, SFWA news director Keith Stokes (whose great pictures -- much better than mine! -- from the conference are here), and Thomas Seay, who works with the About SF website.

Jim Gunn's famed SF writing workshop was just concluding at the Campbell Conference began, and I also had lots of great conversations with the students (and was quartered in the same dorm as them).

Jim Gunn presents Campbell to Rob

The awards banquet was Friday night, and a very classy affair it was, too. The Sturgeon was presented first, then the Campbell. Instead of just announcing the winners, though, first judges praised at length the third- and second-place works, which was a very classy touch. Third-place for the Campbell was The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod; second-place was Spin by my great friend (and previous Campbell Memorial Award winner) Robert Charles Wilson. I was not the only one to note how cool it was that Canadians took the top two spots for the Campbell. Jim Gunn presented the Campbell to me.

Paolo and Rob holding the permanent trophies

For both the Campbell and the Sturgeon, there are permanent trophies that stay at the University of Kansas, inscribed with the names of all the winners to date. Paolo was visibly moved to see his own name engraved alongside those of so many of his idols. I had the same feeling. In particular, since Fred Pohl's Gateway is my all-time favorite SF novel, it was stunning to see my Mindscan and that book being listed together.

Rob's trophy

The winners also get beautiful etched acrylic trophies to take home. They really are gorgeous, and, as I quipped at one point in the conference, it's cool to have trophies that are quantally entangled -- no matter how far my personal one moves away from the permanent one in Kansas, they will both always say "Robert J. Sawyer" on them.

I wish I'd had more of a chance to talk with Jim Gunn at the conference, but I did get to say publicly in front of everyone how big an influence he'd been on me. Many of my novels and short stories involve SETI (especially the novels Golden Fleece, Factoring Humanity, Mindscan, Rollback, and the short works "You See But You Do Not Observe," "Ineluctable," and "Flashes"), and there's no doubt that that's because of the huge impact Jim's 1972 novel The Listeners had on me.

The Campbell Conference also included three wonderful receptions/parties at Chris McKitterick's house, a terrific night out at a local restaurant, a very successful mass autographing at the university bookstore, and lots of really penetrating conversation, panels, and talks. All in all, it was one of the absolute peak experiences of my life, and I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


From the publishers of Talebones, one of the best magazines in our field:
Dear Family, Friends, Peers, Acquaintances:

Talebones has been a part of our lives for almost 11 years now. We have enjoyed every minute of putting all 33 issues together for our readers. It has truly been a labor of love. Most of the time that labor has cost us money, and now, because the amount of money we can put into the magazine has dwindled and, for whatever reason, subscriptions and renewals have not been as strong as we had hoped over the past year, we figure we may have to close down the magazine.

A couple of days ago, it was actually a final decision. “That’s it, there’s no way can we keep going.” There were tears. A few VIPs we mentioned it to asked us to reconsider. So we took a step back and decided: We will issue renewal notices as usual, but put an extra strong plea in there about this. And then we will send a more detailed email to everyone in our email address book who might have an interest. Based on what renewals come in over the next month, based on the response to this email, we will see if Talebones can continue on past 2006. Issue #33 is already in its final preparation stage. With our decision to make this final stab at keeping things going came the decision to at least have an issue #34, to be published in November of December. We will make a determination then if it is to be the last or not.

If you’ve subscribed to our magazine before, if you’ve never subscribed, but maybe sent us stories (or had stories published by us), or have wished us well with our little venture, we hope you’ll consider helping out. (We didn’t go through our files to know which of you are current subscribers and pull you off this email list, so forgive us if you’re already subscribers in good standing. If nothing else, we wanted you to know what was up.) At this point, even a single issue copy of our upcoming issue #33 will help. (We’ve put the order form/info up on our website early.) We have Paypal ready to go if you’d like to go that route. Or you can send money order or check payable to Talebones to our physical address at 5203 Quincy Ave SE; Auburn, WA 98092. Or you can ignore this, delete this, or, do whatever you like. It won’t change the way we feel about ANY of you. We just thought we’d do something we’ve never done in over a decade of publishing the magazine: beg!

That’s our sermon. Thanks for your support. Regardless of what happens to the magazine, never fear: Talebones and Fairwood Press will continue to have a presence in the SF world.

Patrick & Honna Swenson

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More photos from Campbell Memorial Award ceremony

These photos are by Tracy A. Majkol.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Award-winning Canadian SF

For today's Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the hundreds of articles on my website at, I offer up this guide to award-winning Canadian Science Fiction, updated to include this year's Aurora winners.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Photos of the Campbell Conferfence

Photos of the Campbell Conference by the wonderful Keith Stokes.

Another photo is here

I'm news in North Korea

Lots of nice press coverage about my John W. Campbell Memorial Award win:

North Korea Times

Daily India

Washington Times

United Press International

The Vancouver Sun


CBC on Campbell win

CBC Online has a nice article about my John W. Campbell Memorial Award win here.


Saturday, July 8, 2006

Rob wins John W. Campbell Memorial Award

Robert J. Sawyer has just won the world's top juried award for science fiction: the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel of the Year.

The award, which Sawyer won for his latest novel, Mindscan, was presented Friday night, July 7, 2006, at a banquet at the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

With this award win -- his 38th for his fiction -- Robert J. Sawyer now joins the most-select club in all of science fiction: the seven writers who have won all three of the field's top awards for best novel of the year:

(The full list of winners of all three awards: David Brin, Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Frederik Pohl, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Connie Willis; Sawyer is the only Canadian to win all three.)

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award was created to honor the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine (renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact in 1960). Campbell, who edited the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971, is often called the father of modern science fiction. Writers Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in 1973 as a way of continuing Campbell's efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work.

[As a reflection of Campbell's stature, there's also another award named for him: the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is voted on by readers and sponsored by the publisher of Campbell's magazine Analog; that award shouldn't be confused with the juried John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel of the Year.]

The 12 finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award this year were:
  • Transcendent by Stephen Baxter (published by Gollancz)
  • The Meq by Steve Cash (Del Rey)
  • Child Of Earth by David Gerrold (BenBella)
  • Mind's Eye by Paul J. McAuley (Simon & Schuster UK)
  • Seeker by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Learning The World by Ken MacLeod (Tor)
  • The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod (Aio)
  • Counting Heads by David Marusek (Tor)
  • Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor)
  • Accelerando by Charles Stross (Ace)
  • The World Before by Karen Traviss (Eos)
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Baxter, McAuley, Traviss, and Ian MacLeod are British; Cash, Gerrold, McDevitt, and Marusek are American; Ken MacLeod and Stross are Scottish; and Wilson and Sawyer are Canadian. This was Sawyer's third Campbell nomination. He'd previously been nominated in 2001 for his Calculating God, and in 2003 for his Hominids.

Previous winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award include such SF classics as Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Gateway by Frederik Pohl, The Postman by David Brin, and The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter.

The stellar jury consisted of eight major writers, editors, and scholars from the United States and Britain:

  • Nebula-winning physicist Gregory Benford, author of the classic SF novel Timescape
  • Historian Paul A. Carter, author of The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction
  • Hugo-winning author and scholar James Gunn, past president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
  • Elizabeth Anne Hull, past president of the Science Fiction Research Association
  • Christopher McKitterick, associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction
  • Hugo-winning scholar Farah Mendlesohn, editor of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction
  • Nebula-winning author and editor Pamela Sargent, editor of the Women of Wonder anthologies
  • T.A. Shippey, editor of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories

Mindscan is Sawyer's sixteenth novel. It was published in hardcover by Tor Books, New York, in April 2005, and was a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club; the paperback came out in January 2006. Film rights have been optioned by Toronto producer Scott Calbeck.

The novel tells the story of Jacob Sullivan, a young man who copies his consciousness into an artificial body, since he believes his biological body is about to die due to a congenital illness. But shortly after this, a cure is found for his condition, and the biological version must battle the copy for the right to be considered the real Jake Sullivan.

Entertainment Weekly says Mindscan "lucidly explores fascinating philosophical conundrums," and Publishers Weekly declares: "This tightly plotted novel offers plenty of philosophical speculation on the ethics of bio-technology and the nature of consciousness."

SF Site calls Mindscan "a brilliant and innovative novel, with complex and highly entertaining courtroom drama. In Sawyer's capable grasp the story positively sings with humor, insight, and depth." And Starlog says Mindscan is written "with intelligence and far-reaching vision worthy of Isaac Asimov."

Sawyer's next novel, Rollback, will be published by Tor in April 2007, following full-text serialization beginning in the October 2006 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact — the magazine John W. Campbell himself edited for so many years.

Robert J. Sawyer's Website

Campbell Award Website

Previous Campbell Winners

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Analog blurb for Rollback

The four-part serialization of my next novel, Rollback, starts in the October issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. The September issue has just come out, and it contains this "In Times to Come" blurb for my novel:
Robert J. Sawyer, as you've probably noticed by now, has a way of taking familiar ideas, looking at them from new angles and in greater depth than almost anybody before him, and tying them together to create extraordinarily fresh and thought-provoking stories. The latest example is his novel Rollback, which we'll be serializing in four parts beginning in our next issue (October).

We've all seen lots of stories about rejuvenation and lots of stories about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but how often have you thought about how the two might be connected? Well, consider these questions: Who could maintain interest in a very long, slow conversation long enough to go anywhere with it? What would be worth talking about under such conditions? If rejuvenation is very, very expensive, as it probably will be at least initially, what would motivate anybody to pay for it? What would it really be like -- and what if it doesn't work the same for everybody?

Sawyer's answers to those questions, and the many others they stir up, will guarantee you a thoroughly engaging story, and acquaintance with some of the most memorable people you'll ever meet.

The October issue of Analog goes on sale August 1.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Bookloons on Mindscan

Somehow I'd missed this review earlier on the wonderful book-review site Bookloons. The review concludes:
The development of the court case is fascinating (including both the exploration of individuation and lawyers taking issue with the fact that the androids don't dream), as well as the very human reactions of all versions of these people, in their original and artificial forms. Mindscan is Robert Sawyer's best yet, SF that explores an issue that may not be all that far ahead of us, by developing all kinds of intriguing human implications. Don't miss this one.

The Wild, Wild West

I was five when The Wild, Wild West debuted on CBS in 1965, and never watched it. My wife, who was a much more worldly seven then, remembers it as one of her favourite shows.

The first season (of four, and the only one in black and white) is just out on DVD, and we bought and watched the first episode tonight. Pacing was very slow by modern standards, but the whole thing was quite stylish. It was great seeing so many of my favourite character actors as guest stars: James Gregory (Dr. Tristan Adams from Star Trek's "Dagger of the Mind"); Nehemiah Persoff (endless character roles on everything from The Time Tunnel and The Six Million Dollar Man to The Facts of Life); Victor Buono (Batman's King Tut); and Suzanne Pleshette (Emily on the old Bob Newhart Show).

Of course, as a sign of the times, Persoff -- born in Jerusalem -- plays a Mexican, and Buono -- a white guy -- plays a Chinese. Although, in fairness -- and intriguingly presaging Buono's role as a mutant in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the episode ends with him pulling off a face mask to reveal ... that he's Hispanic!

Speaking of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, five years later Gregory and Buono would appear together in that film, the former as gorilla general Ursus, the latter as -- and, yes, this is the character's official name -- "Fat Man." However, they probably never even met when doing Wild, Wild West, since they had no scenes together (Gregory -- also known as Inspector Luger from Barney Miller -- has a scenery-chomping bit as Ulysses S. Grant at the beginning of the episode).

Anyway, it was thoroughly enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to watching more episodes. The next one has guest stars BarBara Luna (Captain's Woman Marlena Moreau from Trek's "Mirror, Mirror"), and J.D. Cannon (chief of detectives Peter B. Clifford from McCloud, one of my favourite series from the 1970s).

And of course, it's interesting knowing that we're seeing these digitally remastered episodes on our 50" TV looking much better than anyone saw them when they first aired 41 years ago ...

Rob visits Vulcan

On Monday, July 3, I helped my friends Barb and Elisabeth move from Calgary to Lethbridge -- and detoured slightly to visit Vulcan!

Vulcan, Alberta, is a small town that's made a lot of the fact that it happens to share a name with the most famous planet of 40 Eridani. And even though we got there just as the gift shop was closing, the nice young woman let us come in and look around. I bought a communicator prop replica (we do not say "toy" in my home), and had my picture taken standing in front of the big Enterprise mockup by the highway.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Ad Astra 2007 dates

Just got word that Ad Astra, Toronto's general SF convention, has set its 2007 dates: it will be March 2-4, 2007. Mark your calendars! We'll be launching Phyllis Gotlieb's new book there.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Alpha Centauri

For this week's Monday Spotlight, highlighting one of the 500+ documents on my website at, I offer up this compendium of information about Alpha Centuari, which I kept handing while creating my 1997 novel Illegal Alien.