Thursday, August 31, 2006

This weekend is a total write-off

... by design. Two and half years ago, I started attending the twice-yearly "Write-Off" weekends hosted by Danita Maslan (aka Danita Maslankowski) for Calgary's Imaginative Fiction Writers' Association (IFWA). A bunch of writers -- 15 or 20 -- hole up for a weekend in the rec center at Danita's townhouse complex, bringing laptops along, and they write, write, write all weekend.

And this long holiday weekend is the first-ever Mississauga Write-Off. Carolyn is off at the airport making the first round of pickups: Hayden Trenholm and Elizabeth Westbrook-Trenholm, who are flying in from Ottawa. Later, Randy McCharles (chair of the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary) and Val King arrive on another flight; they're coming from Calgary. And later still, Herb Kauderer and Al Katerinsky are showing up from Buffalo, New York, by car. I became involved with IFWA in 1996, when they hired me to facilitate a workshop for them; Hayden, Liz, Val, and Randy were all in that workshop, and Herb (a massively published poet) and Al are frequent guests in our home during SF cons, parties, and so on.

All of them, plus Carolyn and I, will be writing our hearts out over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus part of Monday (the Labour Day holiday here in Canada). Carolyn and I have a very large penthouse apartment, with lots of comfy chairs and couches for people to curl up in with their laptops. Our building has a guest suite, which is where Herb and Al will be sleeping, but everybody will be writing in our apartment (or out on the large balcony).

We'll walk out to restaurants for lunch each day, and either order in or go out for dinner. The goal, of course, is to get as much writing done as possible (and Sunday night, we'll all do brief readings of samples of what we've written). We'll see how it goes. I'll keep y'all posted ...

The Pope and Evolution

A papal summit will debate the Catholic church's stance on evolution, says New Scientist.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

MasterReplicas Enterprise

I've put four 4.1-megapixel pictures of the latest prototype of the MasterReplica's 33-inch Enterprise model from Classic Star Trek up on my website, for those who, like me, are thinking of getting one. Only 2,000 are being made, and they cost US$1,199 each (or more, with autographs).

The photos are: here, here, here, and here.

These photos were taken last weekend at the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles.


Carolyn and Rob live out childhood dreams

... at L.A. Con IV, the Worldcon in Los Angeles:

Me in a Star Trek uniform

Carolyn in the Batmobile

Boarding the Enterprise now out

Boarding the Enterprise, the 40th-anniversary Classic Star Trek essay collection edited by David Gerrold and me, is now out from BenBella Books; I've now seen it for sale in stores, and it was flying off the BenBella dealers' table at the L.A. Worldcon.

You can read my introduction to the book here.

And there's a nice review over at Trek Nation, and another nice one at The Log Book.

Buy it at your favorite local store, or from or Barnes and Noble Online.

Of all the nerve!

A message that just showed up in my inbox:

Dear Robert,

I expect you get asked by a lot of people to finish their story....

Mine really isn't such a sloppy idea... I really just am too busy and thought you might help??

That's as far as I read. Sheesh! I'm rather busy myself, ass-face.


Writers of the Future, Volume XXII

Volume 22 of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future is now out. This volume contains writing essays by Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, and myself, plus one on art by Bob Eggleton; mine is called "Eight Things New Writers Need to Know."

But the meat of the volume is the award-winning stories from the latest year of the Writers of the Future contest. I was a judge for the grand prize this year (helping select the year's overall winner from the four quarterly finalists), and I was simply blown away by the quality of the stories, every one of which was first rate.

You can buy the anthology here, or at your favorite bookstore.

And you can find out about entering the contest -- which has helped make the careers of such writers as Stephen Baxter, Dave Wolverton, James Alan Gardner, Eric Flint, Sean Williams, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Robert Reed, Howard V. Hendrix, and 2006 Hugo winner David D. Levine -- here.

World Fantasy Barbecue in Calgary

Calgary World Fantasy ALL-U-CAN-EAT BBQ!

Saturday September 16th, 12 – 4 PM
Pearce Estate Park (east downtown)

$10 gets you all the burgers and pop you can handle + an assortment of amusements: Music, nature walks, games and much, much more.

Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer will lead a discussion on how near-future technology can save mankind.

There will also be an ENORMOUS BOOK RAFFLE! Hard covers. Trades. Paperbacks. Galleys.
Ivan Dorin will be running a book exchange table, so bring along any books you'd like to swap.

Visit for more information.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hugo stats from a decade ago

Happened to come across a few of the stats for the 1996 Hugos -- the ones given ten years ago, at the exact same venue (the Anaheim Convention Center) as this year's Hugos; the ones ten years ago were given at L.A. Con III.

Back then, the nominees were Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (which won), my The Terminal Experiment, Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships, David Brin's Brightness Reef, and Connie Willis's Remake. But what's interesting is that ten years ago, 734 ballots were cast in the best-novel category, and this year only 567 ballots were cast -- that's close to a 23% reduction, which is yet another sign of the declining readership of SF, and the shrinking of fandom, I suppose.

On the other hand, back in 1996, it took just 27 nominations to make the final ballot: (Stephenson had 76, I had 58, Baxter had 47, Brin had 28, and Willis had 27), whereas this year it took 45 (Stross had 90, Wilson had 76, Martin had 47, MacLeod had 46, and Scalzi had 45.)

Net's Largest SF&F Forum

Net's Largest Science Fiction & Fantasy Forum Created by Chronicles Network Acquisition of

The chronicles network has purchased Ascifi, and successfully merged the forums from both sites, to create the internet's largest general science fiction and fantasy forums.

Read more

Monday, August 28, 2006

Worldcon day five

Sunday, August 27, was the final day of L.A. Con IV, the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles.

I started off with a meeting with Scott Danielson from SFF Audio, then did my autographing, which was well attended, and my reading, which was not (just four people -- the readings venue was hidden off in one of the hotels, instead of the convention center; I hate it when cons do that).

I read "The Eagle Has Landed" from Mike Resnick's DAW anthology I, Alien, and spoke rather passionately about the societal role of science fiction. After that, I ran into actress Karen Black outside, as I was heading from the hotel to the convention center; I remembered her remembered fondly from Capricorn One and other movies; we had a very nice chat -- she's still quite lovely.

Next up was a group photo on a mock-up of the bridge of the Enterprise from the original Star Trek, posing with wax figures of the original crew, with me, Susan Forest, Heather Osborne, and Kirstin Morrell dressed in classic Trek uniforms. Once I get a copy of the photo, I'll post it here. (As it happened, my editor walked by just after I'd put on my gold Enterprise tunic. "That's your new author photo, Rob," I was told.

Dinner was with Analog editor Stan Schmidt and his wife Joyce; very nice. After, Carolyn and I joined the Calgary contingent and headed off to watch the fireworks at Disneyland from a parking lot (Disneyland is only a short walk from the convention center). We then attended a bit of the dead-dog party, ran into Robert Charles Wilson and his wife Sharry over in the Marriott as they returned from Disneyland, and had drinks with them before calling it a day.

All in all, it was a very pleasant Worldcon. But it was small, as these things go; just 4,950 warm bodies on site, from what I heard; that's only 2/3 of what was expected.

My theory: the presence of the 110,000-person San Diego Comics Con -- which has evolved into a general pop-culture media convention with a very large science-fiction component -- just last month in nearby San Diego may have siphoned off a lot of the potential traffic for L.A. Con IV. Or, it may be that World Science Fiction Conventions are generally in decline. Next year's attendance figures in Japan won't tell us anything, because that's such an unusual location for a Worldcon (the Worldcon has only once before been in a country where English isn't the principal language), but the 2008 con in Denver will be a significant test.

Anyway, I had a great time, and did a lot of useful business. And I'm now back home after 20 days on the road, a trip that took me to Calgary for a wedding; to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California; to San Diego for Writers of the Future; and finally to L.A. for the Worldcon. I wish I could say the rest of my year won't be as hectic, but I've got trips to Banff, Denver, Montreal, and two trips to Vancouver coming up ... Still, it's a great life! :)

Worldcon day four

Saturday, August 26, was the fourth day of the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. Carolyn went off to Disneyland with friend Stella Luuk, but for me the day started with a wonderful two-hour lunch with Eric Greene, who wrote one of my favorite nonfiction books, Planet of the Apes as American Myth.

Eric is also a policy analyst for the ACLU in L.A., and contributed an essay to Boarding the Enterprise, the 40th anniversary Star Trek book that David Gerrold and I edited (and which just came out); Eric also played Lokai in the 1970s Saturday-morning SF show Space Academy. Eric and I had never met before, but we hit it off fabulously, chatting about Planet of the Apes and a million other things.

After that, I moderated a panel on dinosaurs; the panel included Worldcon artist Guest of Honor James Gurney and author James P. Hogan, but, truth be told, it suffered from having no actual paleontologist on it. Still, we panelists had a good time, and it seemed like the audience did, too.

I then met for an hour with my agent, Ralph Vicinanza. Lots of good business was discussed.

Next up was a panel on the Renaissance in Hard Science Fiction. Besides myself, the panelist were Gregory Benford, John Barnes, and Alistair Reynolds, plus moderator Allen M. Steele. Like many of the printed panel descriptions in the program book, this one was a bit lame (as moderator, I'd rewritten the proffered one for the dinosaur panel in advance of the con); the description of this one suggested that Vernor Vinge and Greg Egan somehow were new authors, of the same vintage as Charlie Stross: "With the emergence of authors like Stross, MacLeod, Vinge, Egan, etc., Hard SF is making a comeback." I guess the actual panelists were the "etc." :)

Anyway, it was a great panel, with lots of really good discussion and audience participation.

Then it was time for the pre-Hugo-Awards reception. As my guests, I brought Carolyn (of course!), plus Barbara Geiger and Elisabeth Hegerat, who were celebrating their honeymoon at Worldcon (I'd attended their wedding in Calgary on Thursday, August 10), and Kirstin Morrell, the managing editor of Red Deer Press, which is publishing my short-story collection Identity Theft and Other Stories next year; "Identity Theft" was my Hugo-nominated novella this year.

The reception was very pleasant, but I'd eaten plenty already that day, so didn't have any of the nice spread they'd put out. My guests and I got front-row-center seats for the Hugo ceremony.

Before the ceremony began, I went up to chat with Harlan Ellison -- it ended up being me, Harlan, Tor editor Moshe Feder, and Robert Silverberg, standing and talking in front of the stage for a time. Bob looked at us and said, "Four old Jews." I pointed out that I wasn't Jewish, to which Bob replied, "You are now," and Moshe said, "I snuck into your room last night," and he made a scissors-snipping motion with his fingers. Had I won the Hugo -- which is a very phallic trophy -- I was going to tell Moshe in my acceptance speech to keep his hands off it. :)

Anyway, I was delighted to get to congratulate Harlan in person on his SFWA Grand Master Award -- especially since Harlan has announced that this would be his last convention.

Connie Willis was master of ceremonies for the Hugos, and did her usual terrific job, periodically aided by Bob Silverberg, who was his usual dapper, droll self. The whole ceremony came in at just about exactly two hours and was great fun. That said, I do think it was wrong not to read the names of the writers and directors of the dramatic-presentation nominees; a lot of them were in attendance, and they deserved to have their moment in the sun (indeed, I'd quite enjoyed getting to know Anne Cofell Saunders, who wrote the Battlestar Galactica episode "Pegasus" -- she and her husband, as it turns out, are great fans of my books, and her husband had in fact been at my very first book signing, back in 1990 for Golden Fleece).

As I've mentioned before, I lost in the novella category to Connie Willis, but my buddy Robert Charles Wilson won in the novel category for Spin, and my editor David G. Hartwell won for his editorial work -- a long overdue honor. And John Scalzi gave a terrific, heartfelt speech on winning the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

After the ceremony, it was off to the Hugo Nominees party, hosted by the crew from Japan who are putting on next year's Worldcon. It was a particularly nice party, and I had a great time.

Hugo statistics for 2006

Lots of interesting stuff in the Hugo nominating stats.

For starters, I've suggested to my friend Robert Charles Wilson that he send a thank-you note to Neil Gaiman, 'cause it turns out Gaiman withdrew Anansi Boys from Hugo consideration (presumably because, although flattered by the nomination, with two Hugos already and a superstar career, he felt another writer might benefit more from the award -- a very classy move on Neil's part).

Now, I'm not saying that Anansi Boys would have beat Spin had it been on the ballot, but it might have moved Neil's supporters to actually vote, and their second-place choice (which is significant in the Australian instant-runoff voting system used for the Hugos) might have gone to the only other fantasy on the ballot, George R.R. Martin's book.

Also interesting is that John Scalzi's Old Man's War had only one more nomination than did Dan Simmons's Olympos. Simmons is very popular; had his book gotten one more nomination, or the Scalzi one less (so that they tied and both ended up on the ballot), again, things might have been different.

Once you get past Anansi Boys (withdrawn) and Olympos (which missed the final ballot by one nomination), the next-most-nominated work was my own Mindscan. Of course, I was sad not to make the final ballot, and I note that when I did go head-to-head against three of the four sf novels that did make the final ballot -- for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award -- I did beat them all (and the one fantasy novel on the Hugo ballot, the Martin, came in dead last). Spin, Charles Stross's Accelerando, and Ken MacLeod's Learning the World were all also Campbell nominees; of the SF novels on the Hugo ballot, only the Scalzi didn't make the Campbell Memorial Award ballot (although he handily won the other Campbell, the one for best new writer, this past weekend). Ah, well. One can't be nominated every year. :)

Although, actually, I was nominated this year -- but in the novella category, for my hard-boiled SF detective story "Identity Theft." I never expected to win -- I thought for sure that Kelly Link would, given the acclaim her "Magic for Beginners" has already had. I should have known that the unbeatable Connie Willis is called that for a reason. :) Although I did well in first-place voting (Kelly Link and Connie were tied for most first-place votes, with 124 a piece; I had 109; Ian McDonald had 90; and James Patrick Kelly had 72), as the instant-runoff voting sorted itself out, I came in last place in the final tally ...

That's probably it for award possibilities for "Identity Theft," but it retires honorably, having won the world's largest cash prize for SF writing, and been a Hugo, Nebula, and Aurora finalist.

Speaking of Auroras (the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards), it's interesting to note that Robert Charles Wilson and I -- both of whom have won our share of Auroras -- won our Hugos in years in which we lost the Aurora. When my Hominids won the 2003 Hugo, it lost the Aurora to a novel by Karl Schroeder; earlier this year, Bob's Spin (and, incidentally, my Mindscan) lost the Aurora to a book by Karin Lowachee ... all of which goes to show that there's lots of great Canadian SF around these days!

Last night, Carolyn and I and Bob and his wife Sharry sat by the pool at the Anaheim Marriott and had nightcaps, toasting Bob's Hugo win (and I actually had a drink -- very rare for me -- enjoying a gin and tonic). Bob, who is one of my very best friends as well as one of my favorite writers, observed that it was nice that we'd each won our Hugos in years when the other wasn't on the Hugo ballot in the same category, and I agreed. I'm totally thrilled for Bob. This is a lonely profession, and it's truly wonderful to have a brother, a peer, a colleague, and a friend like Bob. Congratulations, Bob!

(See all the Hugo voting and nominating statistics for this year)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hugos for Robert Charles Wilson, David G. Hartwell, Donato Giancola ...

... and others.

My "Identity Theft" did not win in the best novella category ... but I knew I didn't have a chance, and was totally calm all evening. It was a great ceremony, and my posse (Carolyn, Kirstin Morrell, Barbara Geiger, and Elisabeth Hegerat) and I had front-row seats at the ceremony.

I'm totally, totally thrilled that Bob Wilson, one of my very best friends, finally got his long overdue Hugo, and that my editor and friend David Hartwell, who, with 33 nominations to date, held the record for most nominations without a win, finally got the Best Editor Hugo; I was also delighted that Donato Giancola, who did the wonderful covers for my Neanderthal books, won for best artist. I was also delighted to see John Scalzi get the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Worldcon day three

Yesterday (Friday) was very busy, but very enjoyable. It started with an excellent 10:00 a.m. panel [note to self: stop agreeing to do 10:00 a.m. panels] on "Giving Good Interview," moderated by the wonderful Evo Terra from the Slice of Sci-Fi podcast. After, I was approached by the producer of Escape Pod, who actually had a contract and check for me for doing a podcast of my short story "The Shoulders of Giants."

Then it was off to lunch with old friend Roger MacBride Allen -- a long-standing Worldcon tradition for Rog and me, during which we catch each other up on our so-called careers, and discuss the state of the field.

After that, I wandered the dealers' room, and had a nice five-minute chat with BarBara Luna, who had played Captain's Woman Marlena Moreau in the classic Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror." She's still stunning at 67. Later in the day, I had second-row seats for the "Women of Star Trek" panel, featuring BarBara, Susie Plakson, Marina Sirtis, and Chase Masterson, which was a blast -- all four are really witty.

I had to leave that to attend my kaffeeklatch, at which a tableful of people sat with me for an hour to just chat informally; it was great.

In the dealers' room, I saw a prototype of the MasterReplica's 33-inch Enterprise from classic Trek -- they're making 2,000 of them, and they sell for US$1,199. It was beautiful, and I'm trying to decide if I want one (and where I'd put it if I did get one).

Then it was dinner with high-school buddy Asbed Bedrossian and his wife Laura, poolside at the Marriott.

In the evening, I escorted new Asimov's writer Susan Forest (one of my writing students) to the Asimov's / Analog party, and to the very-hard-to-find Tor party, and I made the rounds to a lot of other parties. I didn't get to bed until 2:30.

Denver beat Chicago for the right to hold the 2008 Worldcon, in very close balloting.

Well, it's time for another day ... :)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Worldcon day two

The con began bright and early for me, with a 10:00 a.m. panel called, "No, Really, That Makes Sense!" SF writers tried to come up with rational and entertaining explanations for various things that at first glance seem illogical in SF movies, TV shows, and books. Despite valiant moderating by Dr. Isaac Szpindel, it didn't really come off that well; 10:00 a.m. is too early after a night of partying for a think-on-your-feet panel.

At 1:00 p.m., about a dozen members of my Yahoo! Groups newsgroup met for a get-together, which was great fun.

At 3:00, I signed at the Edge Publications table -- I did the introduction for their edition of The Alphanauts by J. Brian Clarke. Then it was off to a presentation by Suzie Plakson and J.G. Hertzler (K'Ehleyer and General Martok from Star Trek), an event that had a surprisingly small audience (Carolyn, Kirstin Morrell, and I sat in the front row). It was absolutely excellent; both of them are great storytellers.

I then had a wonderful editorial meeting ... about which more later. :)

Then it was dinner, outside, by the pool, with a fabulous all-you-can-eat buffet. Our dinner party consisted of Carolyn and me, Pyr editor Lou Anders, Hugo nominee Paolo Bacigalupi and his wife Anjula, Hugo nominee Robert Charles Wilson and his wife Sharry, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner Jack McDevitt. We had a fabulous three-hour dinner, and I said with confidence, even though this was only the second day of the five-day con, that unless I win a Hugo Saturday night, this dinner will clearly be the highlight of the convention for me. It was amazing, with conversation ranging from serious shoptalk to which actor was the best Superman.

After that, we hit some parties, and had good chats with John Scalzi, Adam-Troy Castro, and others. And now, to bed ...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Worldcon day one

Lunch with Amy Sisson and her husband, NASA scientist Paul Abell. Sat with Mike Moscoe at the Analog/Asimov's table, hustling subscriptions, then at the Edge Press table, helping to sell J. Brian Clarke's The Alphanauts, for which I did the introduction. Moderated a very lively and entertaining panel entitled "You Are Responsible For Your Own Career." Spent some time hanging out in the green room with my Tor editor, David G. Hartwell. Went to a reception for the writers in the evening, and hung out in the SFWA suite for a while with Robert Silverberg, Allen Steele, and Joe and Gay Haldeman, then lots of party-hopping. All in all, L.A. Con IV is off to a great start.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Carolyn and I have been in Los Angeles since Sunday. Yesterday, we fought the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad traffic in L.A. to visit the terrific store of Barry R. Levin, the world's leading rare-SF dealer, then had a a very productive lunch with my film agents, Vince Gerardis and Eli Kirschner, then headed off to meet a producer interested in optioning one of my properties, then went to the house of my old high-school buddy Asbed Bedrossian for a great evening of pizza and conversation.

Today, it was lunch with Anne McCaffrey and Sean Williams, then off to DisneyLand (where we ran into David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, plus their children, and Karl Schroeder and his wife Janice, and their daughter).

Then it was time for the first round of Worldcon parties, all being put on by cities bidding to host future Worldcons. I spent a lot of really enjoyable time talking with Mike Resnick, as well as with Lou Anders, and with Paul Cornell, who is up for a Hugo this year for the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day."

Bed now; the con starts tomorrow ...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writers of the Future

Carolyn and I spent from Thursday afternoon until this morning (Sunday) in San Diego at the 22nd annual L. Ron Hubbard's Writers and Illustrators of the Future awards weekend (I'm one of the judges for the writing contest). As always, it was a fabulous event, and we had a great time.

A few pictures:

Todd McCaffrey, David Brin, and Anne McCaffrey at our table at the opening barbecue

Rob and Kevin J. Anderson confer

Rob and Larry Niven walking along the beach outside our hotel

Astronaut Rick Searfoss and Rob

Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (in center) receive Lifetime Achievement Awards

Canadian winner Sarah Totton

Rob presents one of the awards

All the judges and winners on stage

Anne and Todd McCaffrey, and globe of Pern, at Saturday's massive autographing party

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Dragon Page interviews Rob ...

... about the Hugo nomination for "Identity Theft." You can listen here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Author will kill you

My buddy Mark Leslie is auctioning off the right to be murdered in his online serial, in order to raise funds for literacy. Details are here.

Science and Science Fiction

DAW author Edward Willett "in praise of science-fiction writing," in this article in the Regina Leader-Post.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

One of the many reasons I love fandom

When the chips are down (kind of a pun in this context ...), SF fandom always comes through: there will indeed be an Internet lounge at Worldcon this year.


OSC's Medicine Show loves Nick's book

See here for the full review by John Joseph Adams.

An excerpt:

... kudos to Robert J. Sawyer for making this book available via his imprint at Red Deer Press. Books like this one remind us that the small press is of vital importance to the field, and remind us that it's up to us, the readers, to support them to ensure that someone will be around to publish the books that fall through the cracks.

A Small and Remarkable Life is at once beautiful, heartbreaking, and profound. It's a must-read for SF fans and non-genre readers alike. Like Tink Puddah, DiChario's novel is small (just 208 pages), but it is also just as remarkable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Science Foo

Left to right: Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation, Google co-founder Larry Page, and SF writer Greg Bear at Rob's brainstorming session
Yes, it's officially true: my life rocks!

I spent this past weekend (August 11-13, 2006) at the Googleplex, the headquarters of Google, in Mountain View, California. I was a participant at Science Foo Camp, an invitation-only gathering produced by Nature (the international multidisciplinary science journal) and O'Reilly Media, the famed publisher of computer books. (FOO in this context stands for "Friends of O'Reilly.)

A hundred of us were invited to attend. The purpose: "to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas -- and to have fun."

The invitees were (according to the invitation) "a fascinating crowd of world-class biologists, chemists, physicists, earth scientists, clinicians, historians, technologists, and writers." I was honoured to be one of four science-fiction writers participating (the others were Greg Bear, Cory Doctorow, and Vernor Vinge).

When we arrived, we were shown a big grid with room names and their capacities written across the top, and hour-long timeslots down the left side. We were invited to grab a square and write in a description of a topic we wanted to discuss.

I decided to pick a modest-sized room that putatively held eight people (the smallest held four; the largest, 125), and invited those who wished to join me to come talk about the possibility of the World Wide Web gaining consciousness once it reaches a sufficient level of complexity -- which, as I explained, is the theme of a trilogy I'm now working on.

To give you a sense of the caliber of people at Science Foo Camp, among the overflow group that came to my room were Google co-founder Larry Page, Stewart Brand from the Long Now Foundation, futurist Esther Dyson, Sun Microsystems chief researcher John Gage, and my buddy Greg Bear.

The feedback was amazing: high-level, brilliant, and very, very useful. And I was very encouraged by how warmly my ideas were received.

And that was just one session! I also attended great sessions on robots based on insect designs, the future of human evolution (led by Greg Bear), collaborative web tools for health sciences, geobrowsers, the visual representation of data (presented by fellow Torontonian Michael Friendly of York University), Vernor Vinge on semiconductors as a potential single point of failure for civilization, a great talk about Project Orion presented by George Dyson, and a very lively discussion on science and religion.

Google put us all up at a very nice hotel (the Wild Palms in Sunnyvale) and provided shuttle service back and forth. And Google's legendary food-services people just kept feeding us!

Conversations over the 90-minute breakfast, lunch, and dinner breaks were fascinating. I enjoyed getting to meet nanotech pioneer K. Eric Drexler, Clinton Science Advisor Tom Kalil, Tom Knight from MIT's artificial intelligence lab, and many others.

Tim O'Reilly (the CEO of O'Reilly) and Timo Hannay from Nature were wonderful hosts, and the event fully succeeded at meeting its stated goal of being "an informal but intense eye-opening weekend." I loved every minute of it.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Watch your punctuation!

My friend Don Wilkat drew this to my attention, from today's Globe and Mail -- one misplaced comma in a contract that ended up costing a company millions of dollars.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Monday Spotlight: Flashforward

I'm off on Tuesday for a trip that will ultimately take me to Califonia for a meeting with my film agent -- and one of his favorites of my books is Flashforward.

And so, for this week's Monday spotlight -- a day early! -- a few words about writing Flashforward.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Our Inner Ape

Maclean's: Canada's Weekly Newsmagazine asked me to recommend a book for this summer. My pick appears on page 83 of the August 14, 2006, double issue, now on sale. Here's what I had to say:

Summer is the perfect time for people watching -- on the beach, at the mall, in the park. Nothing makes that more entertaining than recognizing the basic primate behaviour and mannerism that we exhibit in group situations, in interactions with members of our own gender, and when dealing with those of the opposite sex.

Our Inner Ape by Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal -- just out in paperback [from Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin] after a successful run in hardcover -- lets you see the hidden chimp, bonobo, gorilla, and orangutan lurking in the background of everything we hairless apes do.

Given all the headlines about evolution vs. intelligent design, it's fascinating to reflect on exactly what it means to share a common ancestor with the great apes. Witty, charming, and deeply compassionate, de Waal enlightens while he entertains.

Friday, August 4, 2006

SciFi Dimensions says, "DiChario rocks"

Another rave for Nick DiChario's A Small and Remarkable Life, published under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. The review is from SciFi Dimensions. The review concludes, "This is a pearl of a first novel; DiChario rocks." As editor, I couldn't agree more.

When is an organ donor dead?

That provocative question was the springboard for my 1995 novel The Terminal Experiment, which went on to win the Nebula Award: how do we decide whens someone is gone for good, so that it's appropriate to harvest their organs. Here's a snippet from that book:
     "Let's go," said Mamikonian.

     A nurse moved in and injected something into Enzo's body. She spoke into a microphone dangled on a thin wire from the ceiling. "Myolock administered at 10:02 a.m."

     Dr.Mamikonian requested a scalpel and made an incision starting just below the Adam's apple and continuing down the center of the chest. The scalpel split the skin easily, sliding through the muscle and fat until it banged against the breastbone.

     The EKG shuddered slightly. Peter glanced at one of Hwa's monitors: blood pressure was rising, too.

     "Sir," said Peter. "The heart rate is acting up."

     Mamikonian squinted at Peter's oscilloscope. "That's normal," he said, sounding irritated at being interrupted.

     Mamikonian handed the scalpel, now slick and crimson, back to the nurse. She passed him the sternal saw, and he turned it on. Its buzzing drowned out the blipping from Peter's EKG. The saw's rotating blade sliced through the sternum. An acrid smell rose from the body cavity: powdered bone. Once the sternum was cut apart, two technicians moved in with the chest spreader. They cranked it around until the heart, beating once per second, was visible.

     Mamikonian looked up. On the wall was the digital ischemic counter; it would be started the moment he excised the organ, measuring the time during which there would be no blood flowing to the heart. Next to Mamikonian was a plastic bowl filled with saline. The heart would be rinsed in there to get old blood off it. It would then be transferred into an Igloo container filled with ice for the flight to Sudbury.

     Mamikonian requested another scalpel and bent down to cut through the pericardium. And, just as his blade sliced through the membrane surrounding the heart--

     The chest of Enzo Bandello, legally dead organ donor, heaved massively.

     A gasp escaped from around his ventilator breathing tube.

     A moment later, a second gasp was heard.

     "Christ--" said Peter, softly.

     Mamikonian looked irritated. He snapped his gloved fingers at one of the nurses. "More Myolock!"

     She moved in and administered a second shot.

     Mamikonian's voice was sarcastic. "Let's see if we can finish this damned thing without the donor walking away, shall we, folks?"

It's still a gray area today, more than a decade later, as this story entitled "Not brain-dead, but ripe for transplant" from the August 4, 2006, New Scientist makes clear -- and, interestingly, the test case they're talking about involves a vehicular accident in Ontario, just like the one in the opening of The Terminal Experiment.

Twin planets ... with no sun

And a Toronto connection, to boot.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Three in a row!

Being an author is kinda cool sometimes. :) Today I got recognized not once, not twice, but three times in public -- a record to date.

It happened first at BestBuy, where a sales associate in the computer department told me how much he'd enjoyed my books, including Factoring Humanity and Calculating God.

Then it happened at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. The cashier there played it cool. When I handed her the four copies of the October Analog I was buying, which has my name prominently on the cover, she said, without missing a beat, "Don't they send you contributor's copies?" (Yes, they do -- but I wanted more.) We had a nice little chat after that.

Later, I was out at the monthly First Thursday fannish pub night, which we were holding in a new venue this month. A fellow entered the pub we were in, did a double-take when he saw me, and came over to say he really enjoyed my interviews on TV, and vividly remembered some comments I'd made about cyberpunk.

Nice! :)

Rollback a "SciFi Essential Book"

Just learned that my Rollback will be the SciFi Essential Book for April 2007. Cool!

Analog cover art for Rollback

Charming, I'd say! :) A bigger version (PDF) is here.

This issue -- dated October -- is on sale now, and contains the first of four parts of the serialization of Rollback. The cover art is by John Allemand, and the cover design is by Victoria Green.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The full interview

In another conversation elsewhere, I've been reminded of an old interview I did for the Canadian SF magazine Challenging Destiny. This one's a transcription of a recorded interview, so it's kinda loose reading, but it's still interesting. Oh, and just for the record, nowhere does it say that the science in science fiction is actually bulletproof. :)

The interview, conducted in 1998, is still good reading after all these years. You can read it here.

Rob to be Writer in Residence in Kitchener this fall

I'm delighted to announce that I will be the Edna Staebler Writer in Residence at the Kitchener (Ontario) Public Library this fall.

I will be doing free appraisals/critiques of manuscripts of all types, and having private one-on-one hour long consultations with the authors of the works submitted. I'll also be leading a couple of workshops and giving a reading.

I'm only doing a limited number of appraisals during my residency, and it's first come, first served. Manuscripts will be accepted starting Monday, August 14, 2006, at the Main Library's Marketing & Communications department on the Lower Level.

All the details are here.

(Kitchener is a city in southern Ontario, adjacent to Waterloo, and about an hour and a half from downtown Toronto.)

This is my third writer-in-residence stint at a library. I was writer in residence at the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Public Library in 2000, and at the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, in 2003.

Science fiction and prediction

Over at Meme Therapy, they have this Brain Parade going on, exploring this topic:
Science fiction isn't a predictive tool. Do you agree with that statement? And if so why do we fuss over plausibility in science fiction?

The question is illustrated with the picture above of a Star Trek communicator -- but there's no commentary about the communicator. It's become the iconic symbol of how SF sometimes gets it right, because some cell phones flip open.

But that's crap, and grasping at straws to prove we got one right. The lid on the communicator was an antenna; today's cell phones have internal antennae. Cellphones often reside in purses and pockets; surely the real inspiration for hinged cellphones are the other hinged things that already live in there: a wallet, a woman's compact, a business-card case.

(If cell phones were really supposed to mimic Star Trek communicators, they'd flip open with the same wrist movement that Captain Kirk always used -- but they don't.)

Science fiction isn't about prediction; it's about the here-and-now. That said, plausibility -- this could be, as opposed to this might be -- does add to science fiction's moral authority to make comments on the here and now.

Back during the 2000 US presidential elections, everywhere you went, people were talking about how the election was going to turn out. If you were at a party and someone said, "You know, if George W. Bush wins, I think his economic strategy is going to be ...," you might lean in and listen.

And if somebody else said, "Yeah, but if Al Gore wins, his foreign policy might be ...," you might also lend an ear.

But when some raving lunatic in the corner says, "Listen, Ralph Nader's going to take this race, and when he gets into the Oval Office, he's going to ...," you tune that guy right out, because what he had to say had no chance at all of becoming reality.

It's the same with the prediction in science fiction. If you want to talk about gender politics, or race relations, or the abortion issue, or world peace, or anything else of contemporary interest through a science-fictional lens, the infrastructure on which you set your morality play benefits from at least appearing to be plausible. But we don't say George Orwell was a lousy science-fiction writer because his version of 1984 turned out to be nothing like the way the real year 1984 was; instead, we rightly laud him for getting us thinking about a possible future, and making mid-course corrections to (mostly) end up avoiding that future from becoming a reality.

Rob on Rochester NPR affiliate today

I'll be interviewed live today on 1370 Connection on WXXI 1370 AM, the National Public Radio affiliate in Rochester, New York. You can listen live here. I go on at 12:10 p.m. Eastern time (9:10 a.m. on the West Coast).

Review of Nick DiChario's book

Steven H. Silver has weighed in very kindly on Nick DiChario's A Small and Remarkable Life, the latest title from my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. You can read Steven's review here.