Thursday, November 30, 2006

Calculating God 7th printing

I'm pleased to note that my novel Calculating God is now in its seventh mass-market paperback printing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Roundup of Canadian publishing news

This is excellent: Arts News Canada -- the publishing news section. A great way to keep up with what's happening in the wacky world of Canadian writing, updated frequently.

(They cover all areas of the arts, not just publishing: for the whole shebang, go here.)


I thought this would be cool ...

... but it isn't. Mobipocket's Ultimate Handheld Classic Library.

I'm not happy with this at all. Instead of giving you a separate file for each book, the books are clustered into giant files, one per author. If you want to read Dickens, you better have TEN MEGABYTES free on your device, 'cause that's how big the Dickens file is. Here are the actual 23 files you get (these aren't zips containing smaller files; these are single giant Mobipocket files containing several books or works):

Alexandre Dumas - 5092KB
Alfred Lord Tennyson - 2051KB
Charles Dickens - 10176KB
Charlotte Bronte - 1111KB
Edgar Allan Poe - 996KB
Henry W Longfellow - 1002KB
Herman Melville - 1556KB
Jack London - 4960KB
James Fenimore Cooper - 6603KB
Jane Austen - 1470KB
Jules Verne - 986KB
Leo Tolstoy - 3251KB
Louisa May Alcott - 2588KB
Lucy Maud Montgomery - 1756KB
Mark Twain - 5563KB
Nathaniel Hawthorne - 3593KB
Oscar Wilde - 1096KB
Robert Louis Stevenson - 5128KB
Sir Walter Scott - 7118KB
Washington Irving - 2492KB
William Shakespeare - 2109KB
William Thackeray - 5439KB
Wuthering Heights - 282KB

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Writer in Residence evaluations

Well, I think it's safe to say now that they loved me in Kitchener. :)

Tonight was my last event as the Tenth Annual Edna Staebler Writer in Residence at the Kitchener (Ontario) Public Library. Seventy people showed up for the farewell reception, the local Chapters bookstore was on hand to sell books by me, and five of the people who had come to see me while I was writer in residence gave readings from their work: Jennifer Ross, Susan Deefholts, Kimberlee Feick, Heather E. Wright, and Leanne Beattie -- and I gave a reading from Rollback.

During my two-month residency I had one-on-one hour-long appointments with 37 aspirant writers. All of them were asked to fill out anonymous surveys after their appointments; 35 of them chose to do so. They rated their experience on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. The ratings given were:
  • Twenty-three ratings of "10"
  • Nine ratings of "9"
  • One of "7"
  • One "11" from a particularly satisfied patron who added that number to the scale
  • One left blank
for an average rating of 9.7 out of 10.

They also commented at length on the program. You can read everything they had to say here.

For my own part, I had an absolutely fabulous time; it was a total joy from start to finish.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Everybody should have a will ...

... and writers have particular needs in that area, as Neil Gaiman points out in his blog.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

New Scientist subscription special

In honour of its 50th anniversary, New Scientist is running a subscription special. In Canada, the deal is one full year -- 51 issues -- for just Cdn$50, an incredible bargain. To get the deal, you need to access the website here, and select your country.

Consciousness DVDs

I bought this set of five DVDs, totaling nine hours of interviews with 20 different scientists on the topic of consciousness, and I must say, although I've just started watching it, I'm really impressed. It's just talking-heads interviews, with a guy asking (really well informed) questions, but, so far, it's great. And at US$29.95, it's a bargain. The director is Greg Alsbury.

Also, the telephone support at Discover This (the vendor) was the most polite, friendly, and patient I think I've ever had from any vendor (I had a small problem getting the website to tell me how much shipping for my order from Canada would be; turned out to be US$8, and the order came through without being stopped by Customs).

The 20 interviewed scientists are:

Dr. Stuart Hameroff, M.D. Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology, Associate Director, Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona.

Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, M.D. Professor, Dept. of Radiology, Division of Nuclear Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, co-author of The Mystical Mind

Nancy J. Woolf, Ph.D. Professor, Laboratory of NanoNeuroscience, Department of Psychology, UCLA

Jack A. Tuszynski, Ph.D. Professor of Biophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, University of Alberta

David Chalmers, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Philosophy; Director, Center For Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona

Dick Bierman, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University

Vilayanur Ramachandran, Ph.D., MD Director, Center for Brain and Cognition; Professor, Department of Psychology and Neurosciences Program, University of
California, San Diego; Adjunct Professor of Biology, Salk Institute

Paavo Pylkkanen M.Sc., Ph.D. Professor, Consciousness Studies Programme, Department of Humanities, University of Skovde, Sweden

Dr. Petra Stoerig, Ph.D. Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Dusseldorf

C. Van Youngman, Professor of Psychology, Art Institute of Philadelphia, Department of General Education

Dr. Steven Sevush, M.D. Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology, University of Miami

Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. Director of the Lucidity Institute and author of Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming

Dean Radin, Ph.D. Senior Scientist, Institute of Noetic Sciences

Tony Bell, Ph.D. Senior Scientist, Redwood Neuroscience Institute

Ellery Lanier, Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Program, New Mexico State University

Gregg H. Rosenberg, Ph.D. Post-doctoral Fellow/Assistant Research Scientist,
Artificial Intelligence Center, The University of Georgia

Christian Seiter, Department of Psychology, Institut fur Umweltmedizin, University of Freiburg

Chester Wildey, M.Sc. The University of Texas at Arlington

Willoughby Britton, University of Arizona, Tucson

Susan Blackmore, Author of The Meme Machine

Adele Engel Behar, Satellite Captiva Ltd.

Tesseracts 10 launch

I won't be there (I'll be at the Kitchener Public Library, doing my writer-in-residence gig), but Bakka-Phoenix Books in Toronto is having a launch this Saturday, November 25, at 3:00 p.m. for the Canadian SF anthology Tesseracts 10, edited by two of my best friends, Edo van Belkom and Robert Charles Wilson.


A legally blind US reader sent me an email urging me to have my books made into commercial audiobooks, and to also have them produced as talking books by the US National Library Service for the Blind; she also suggested who she thought would make a great narrator. Here's what I had to say in reply; it pretty much applies to all modern SF writers whose names aren't Asimov, Bujold, Card, Clarke, Crichton, Heinlein, or Herbert <grin>:
Believe me, I wish my books were available on commercial audio, but I have no say in the matter. Most of the authors done as audio books are New York Times bestselling authors -- and I (and most SF writers) are a long way from being one of those.

My publisher -- not me -- controls the audio rights to my books, and the publisher would gladly license those rights to anyone who was willing to purchase them. But although you're correct that the audio book market is growing, it's still less than 5% of the print book market in unit volume, and so only books selling huge numbers of copies in print are attractive to audio-book publishers. And, I must say, even if my books were produced in audio format, I'd have no say in who did the narration; that would be entirely up to the company licensing the books.

Actually, one of my books IS available unabridged commercially on cassette: The Terminal Experiment, from Recorded Books. But that's the only one, and it was done almost a decade ago. You can find out about it here.

As for the National Library Service for the Blind, again, I have no control over what books they produce. Almost all authors, myself included, give permission in their publishing contracts for their books to be read for free on audio for the visually impaired -- beyond that, it's up to the Library Service to actually do it; I've already given the permission.

As you've discovered, in my native Canada, most of my books ARE available as talking books from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). I'd suggest you ask the National Library Service in the US either if they could get the CNIB editions for you, or if they'd do their own; as I said, I've already signed the contracts that give them the permission to do so, so they just have to learn that there's a demand for my books. <grin>

Many thanks for your kind words!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Free public-domain ebooks

A great library of over 2,100 public-domain ebooks, in Microsoft Reader and Palm DOC formats, is here at the University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center. You can read the Palm versions with your favorite Palm reader (or the Windows versions of eReader or Mobipocket, or -- ptui! -- in Microsoft Reader).

And check this out: you can search the full text of all these ebooks -- what a great way to look for a quote or epigram that isn't in Bartlett's.

A few classics that really are worth reading, and are enormously entertaining:

A Christmas Carol (Dickens)
Around the World in 80 Days (Verne)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)
First Men in the Moon (Wells)
Frankenstein (Shelley)
The Invisible Man (Wells)
The Lost World (Doyle)
Tarzan of the Apes (Burroughs)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Verne)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Italics and punctuation

The Chicago Manual of Style is the bible for how text is presented in books. The Fourteenth Edition (section 5.4) says this: "Generally, punctuation marks are printed in the same style or font of type as the word, letter, character, or symbol immediately preceding them."

And that's the way it should be, in my view (in most of the examples that follow italicized text is also colored green):

Look out! looks right, whereas Look out! looks awkward. Same thing with "Say what?" looking better than either "Say what?" or "Say what?"

But now The Chicago Manual of Style has changed its mind. The new Fifteenth Edition (section 6.3 -- "Punctuation and font: primary system") delcares: "All punctuation marks should appear in the same font -- roman or italic -- as the main or surrounding text, except for punctuation that belongs to a title or an exclamation in a different font. This departure from Chicago's former usage serves both simplicity and logic. For an alternative system, see 6.5." These samples are given:
Smith played the title role in Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear; after his final performance, during which many in the audience wept, he announced his retirement.

Many editors admire Wired Style: it is both elegant and easy to use.

An Apache Life-way: The Economic, Social, and Religious Institutions of the Chiricahua Indians

Are you saying the wound was self-inflicted?

She is the author of What Next?

For light entertainment he reads King Lear!

The manual Online! is always at my elbow.

We heard his cries of "Help!"

Well, I don't like that at all. But the Fifteenth Edition's section 6.5 ("Punctuation and font: alternative system") doesn't give you the option of using the system from the Fourteenth Edition. Rather, it says: "According to a more traditional system, periods, commas, colons, and semicolons should appear in the same font as the word, letter, character, or symbol immediately preceding them if different from that of the main or surrounding text. In the first example in 6.3, the first two commas and the semicolon would be italic. Question marks and exclamation points, however, should appear in the same font as the immediately preceding word only if they belong to a title or an exclamation (see examples in 6.3).

So even if you rely on the "alternative system," Chicago now wants roman exclamation marks to follow italicized words -- and that (as seen here) just looks crappy! And what's up with roman question marks after italicized text? That looks wrong, too.

Hey, Chicago! Are you even listening? Doesn't it look better like this, with italicized question marks and exclamation marks? Yes, it does!

The alternative:

Hey, Chicago! Are you even listening? Wouldn't this look a whole lot better with italicized question marks and exclamation marks? Yes, it would!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wit and wisdom from Odyssey (and photos, too!)

I was Writer in Residence at the Odyssey workshop this past summer, and had a great time. Quotes and photos from this year's session are now online here, including a fair bit of the wit and wisdom of yours truly, including such pronouncements as, "Acknowledging that a question isn't answered isn't the same as answering the question."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

An Italian interview with me ...

... is here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sex in the Future

An oldie but a goodie, from 1999: "Famous SF Authors & The Future of Sex" -- including yours truly.

Part One is here.

Part Two is here (use this link; the one on the Part One page is broken).

Star Trek scripts from -- the company run by Gene Roddenberry's son -- has teamed up with to offer handsome perfect-bound volumes of the scripts for the original Star Trek. They started with a special limited-edition of "The Cage" (the original pilot, later incorporated into "The Menagerie"). I bought that, and was favorably impressed. And now I've bought the first two (of five) volumes of the first-season scripts. "The Cage" had been retyped on a word processor, which I guess means no clean copy of the original typewriter script still exists; it also seems that "The Cage" is no longer for sale. The scripts in volumes one and two are very clean copies of the original typed versions.

I'm enjoying the heck out of these. These scripts date back to the era when writers tried to direct on the page ("Close up on Kirk. Kirk's eyebrows go up. Two shot: Kirk and Spock ..."). No one writes scripts like that anymore; directors hate it when writers try to compose shots. But it's fascinating to see how much of what we saw on screen, including a lot of the subtleties in the acting, WAS indeed in the scripts. Plus there's lots of little bits that were cut, or changed (like a long opening narration by Kirk for "Where No Man Has Gone Before").

Anyway, check 'em out here. I'm going to order all the season-one scripts, once the rest of them are released; I'll probably stop there, since it gets kinda pricey to buy all three seasons, and what I'm particularly interested in seeing is how the stuff we came to know and love on screen was first conceptualized on the printed page (in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," there's a great description of what a journey in a turbolift is supposed to feel and sound like, for instance). Lots of fun.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Scientist podcast

New Scientist, my favourite magazine, has an excellent weekly podcast about what's new in science and techology. You can get it for free here.

A letter I got today

A letter I received today:

Hello Mr. Sawyer. I noticed your website while I was online and searching for ways to start publisizing my book before completion. The most common problem that I run into is the fact that most publsists only want to deal with nonfiction first time authors only, not fiction.

Dorrence publishing told me after review of a rough, unedited copy of my book that they want to publish it. I'm assuming they only want to make money but they also stated theire reasons why. But the truth is I want to publish with my own Isbn Number. I'm not worried about spending money because i have to to learn what I need to know. I would like to have a consultation with you over the phone and I mostly want to learn how I as A fiction Author can successfully approach a Radio or TV station that will want to hear about my fiction book because it is so irritating when they won't just because of it's genre.

After copyrighting it I let many people read a rough copy of it and guess what upon publication they all want to buy a copy. So truthfully it only matters what those people think and they are the ones buying not the publisits.

Thankyou for reading my email I was only expressing how much I need your help. Your a fiction author that has already gotten through all of this, so I really need your advice sir. please email me or give me a call thankyou sir.

My reply:

There's zero point in publicizing an unfinished book that has no publisher lined up.

Dorrance is a vanity press; they make 100% of their money from you by charging you to print your books. Vanity-press and self-published books are almost never carried in bookstores; do not go this route.

Promoting fiction is hard, and you promote it because the underlying topic is interesting: Mark Haddon gets interviewed all the time about autism because he wrote the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which has an autistic main character; I get interviewed all the time about the clash between science and religion because I wrote Calculating God, a novel that dramatizes that issue. But if your novel isn't about something of general interest, then news outlets quite rightly don't care. Read the essays about this on my website and listen to the podcast on promoting your books there.

Promoting self-published fiction is impossible; no one will believe the book is any good, because no one but the author says it is. You're right that I got through all this -- but I did so by getting a traditional, advance-paying publisher ... and you should be trying for the same. If you can't land one of those, your problem isn't lack of publicity for the book; rather, it's the quality of the book. Work on that, before you work on trying to get people to buy individual copies of it.

Best of luck.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why I Do This

So, here I am, at the Kitchener Public Library, doing my weekend gig as Writer-in-Residence. And in comes a fellow named John R. Little -- who had also come to see me three years ago in Toronto when I was Writer-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.

And what does he hand me, but an ARC (advance reading copy; uncorrected proof) of his novel The Memory Tree, which will be published in February 2007 by Nocturne Press in Washington state -- The Memory Tree being the book that I'd critiqued a portion of for John back in 2003. John told me how much my critique had helped him shape the manuscript back then, and how it had helped him make the book publishable, which it now demonstrably is. I was delighted to see my name in the Acknowledgments.

John, by the way, holds the record for coming the farthest to see me for a Writer in Residence appointment -- he lives in British Columbia, some 4,000 kilometers away ...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jack Williamson leaves us

The one and only time I met him -- in 1998 -- he was extraordinarily kind and supportive. Jack Williamson was a true gentleman, and a great writer. His "With Folded Hands" is one of my all-time favorite SF stories.

He was born in 1908; he died today.

Toronto World Horror Convention rates go up tomorrow!

Today's the last day for the US$100 / Cdn$113 membership rates for the Toronto World Horror Convention -- they go up tomorrow (Saturday) to US$120 / Cdn$137. They take PayPal, and you can buy your membership online here.

Carolyn and I bought our memberships today.

By the way, in case you're wondering what connection I have to the horror field, I'm a past Bram Stoker Award finalist (for best short story of 2001), an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and have stories in the horror anthologies Dark Destiny III: Children of Dracula, Strange Attraction, Dante's Disciples, Urban Nightmares, Northern Horror, and Unnatural Selection.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Another rave for Nick DiChario's book

Can I pick 'em, or what? Another rave review for Nick DiChario's A Small and Remarkable Life, published under the Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint of Red Deer Press.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, November 5, 2006 podcasts Gar, Judy, and Rob

Over at, Alan and Rebecca Lickiss interview Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Robert J. Sawyer. The three provide information and advice for writers of all levels. Run-time: 35 minutes. stream the audio or download the MP3 directly here.

Friday, November 3, 2006

"The Shoulders of Giants" podcast now available

A free podcast containing a full-text reading of my short story "The Shoulders of Giants" from the anthology Star Colonies is now available from Escape Pod. The story is read by Escape Pod producer Stephen Eley. You can get it here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Nigel Kneale leaves us

Just this past Sunday, during "An Hour with Robert J. Sawyer" at MileHiCon in Denver, I told the audience that half my career has been writing riffs on one of my all-time favourite SF films: Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth).

The author of the screenplay for the movie, and the earlier BBC television serial, was Nigel Kneale. The story featured a paleontologist as a main character (and, in the longer serial version, it was made clear that he was a Canadian paleontologist), dealt with early hominid forms, had some great philosophical underpinnings, unearthed a long buried alien spaceship, presented a pacifist hero, and made a reference to a real-world scientist being known to one of the fictional characters -- all things I myself have since included in my own fiction.

As it happened, on the day I uttered those words, Nigel Kneale died, at age 84. I never had the honour of meeting him, but he influenced me greatly.

(For the Doctor Who fans out there, much of the feeling of the Jon Pertwee years was lifted directly from Quatermass and the Pit, with The Doctor in the role of Quatermass, the Brigadier standing in for Colonel Breen.)

Rest in peace, Nigel Kneale.

Tributes are here and here.