Sunday, December 31, 2006

Writing about the future

Hey, all you newsmagazines and other media outlets that did their "2006-in-review" news coverage earlier this month: Don't you think that the execution of Saddam Hussein was one of the top news stories of 2006? Yeah, well, people looking back at your coverage would never know it. A polite request: leave writing about the future to us science-fiction writers. Thanks.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

CBC's The Hour features Robert J. Sawyer and Karl Schroeder

CBC Television's The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulous, which airs at 11:00 p.m. local time coast-to-coast in Canada, is doing a three-part series on the future to kick off the new year.

The three segments will air Tuesday, January 2; Wednesday, January 3; and Thursday, January 4. Each segment features a different theme, and a different person making the predictions. One segment is on the future of transportation, and SF writer Robert J. Sawyer is interviewed; another is on the future of warfare and SF writer Karl Schroeder is interviewed; the third is on the future of humanity, and George Dvorsky of the Toronto Transhumanist Association is interviewed. But which segment will air on which night hasn't yet been determined.

The Hour is a national current-affairs show produced by CBC Television in Toronto. The segments in question are produced by Nick McCabe.

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Robby the Robot guest stars on Stacked

How can you not love this show? The episode I watched today, "Gavin's Pipe Dream," includes an appearance near the end by Robby the Robot (an absolutely spot-on perfect recreation of the robot from Forbidden Planet).

It also has a funny bit in which Christopher Lloyd's ex-NASA-scientist, who never throws out anything that's still good (he has a garage full of Tang), pulls out his cell phone, and it's one of the original, gigantic 1973-vintage Motorola cell phones.

(For another cool Robby the Robot appearance, see this AT&T commercial on YouTube.)


Copyright and the Web

My friend Kirstin Morrell drew this fascinating article entitled "How the anti-copyright lobby makes big business richer," from The Register, to my attention. In general, it's about how the web has been demolishing the ability of creative people to make a living; in particular, it's a photojournalist's perspective on that. In light of all the mindless bandwagoning for the opposite perspective, it's a very interesting read.

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The God Delusion: my pick for Book of the Year

In today's edition of The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper, the books section is devoted to "Books of the Year." Among the 38 people The Globe asked to discuss their picks are yours truly, plus Jane Urquhart, Freeman Dyson, Jack Whyte, Emily Pohl-Weary (Judith Merril and Fred Pohl's daughter), and Ronald Wright -- plus two of the stars of Canada's top sitcom, Corner Gas, Brent Butt and Gabrielle Miller (who are pictured on the cover of the books section, as seen above).

The whole shebang is available online here. My pick, which is Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, is discussed on this page, where I say:
Early in The God Delusion, British biologist Richard Dawkins discusses a print ad for a TV series he was recently involved with in the UK. The headline, with a nod to John Lennon: "Imagine a world without religion." And the image: the skyline of Manhattan -- with the Twin Towers intact.

As Dawkins says repeatedly in his sharp and witty book,
whether or not God exists is no longer a subject best left to late-night dorm-room debates. Rather, the pathological belief in a higher being who sanctions horrors is the single biggest threat to humanity's survival. As a standup comic I saw recently quipped, "I don't want the guy with his finger on the button believing there's a better world after this one." But we do have an apocalypticist in the White House -- and other fundamentalists wreaking terror worldwide.

Does it really matter whether we teach evolution or creationism in the schools? Not on a grand scale; our species' past is only of academic interest. But allowing religion to guide governments and terrorists, to sanction persecution and slaughter, to suppress women and minorities -- that does matter. Dawkins (who, regrettably, is occasionally unable to keep the sneer out of his voice) flushes out the manifold cruelty perpetrated in the name of religion, while also elegantly proving that it's possible to be moral and just in its absence.

Using "it's what our faith teaches" as a get-out-of-jail-free card for atrocities, including infanticide, genocide, and the mutilation of women, is more than just flat-out wrong, he says, it's mental illness. Of course, few of those who most need to hear Dawkins's message will read this powerful book, and that's not just a shame -- it's a deadly reality.

-- Robert J. Sawyer is a Hugo Award-winning science-fiction writer in Mississauga; his latest novel is Mindscan, published by Tor.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Some things I got for Christmas

It was a nice Christmas this year. It was Carolyn and my turn to host the Sawyer family get-together.

Among the goodies I found under the tree:

* The first new series of Doctor Who on DVD

* The second season of The Simpsons on DVD

* The book The Trouble with Physics by my friend Lee Smolin

* The novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

* A Chapters / Indigo gift card that is going to become the Season 2.0 and 2.5 DVDs of Battlestar Galactica

* A 2007 daily Scrabble calendar

* A gift certificate for Swiss Chalet, my favourite barbecue-chicken restaurant chain

* A lovely new sweater.

I'm a lucky man. :)

Cash Flow, Part 2

Following up on this earlier blog entry of mine about cash flow, I note for the record that I received today my "on publication" portion of the advance for Boarding the Enterprise, the Star Trek essay collection I edited with David Gerrold for BenBella Books. Publication date was August 1, 2006; today was December 27, 2006, which is 147 days, or getting on to five months later.

Publishers big and small (including, I must say, the one that I edit for) have been taking increasingly liberal definitions of "on publication." I'm doing all right, but I know lots of other authors who are really being hurt by this tendency. A word to the wise among beginning writers: don't quit your day job. :)

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I've watched three episodes now of Stacked, the short-lived Fox sitcom starring Pamela Anderson as an unlikely bookstore clerk, and, you know what? It's charming, funny, cute, clever, and intelligent.

The show's characters include a failed novelist, and a physics professor (played by Taxi's Christopher Lloyd), and the setting is a lovely little independent bookshop. As someone who writes, and as someone who used to work in a bookstore, I'm actually really enjoying this -- and so is Carolyn, so you can be sure it's not just Pammy that this has going for it.

The creator and head writer is Steven Levitan, who created Just Shoot Me and wrote four episodes of Frasier. The whole series -- the 14 episodes that aired, plus 5 more that never did -- is now out on DVD. Remember, if you dismiss it at a glance, you're simply judging a book by its cover ... and we all know that's not fair. :)


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Seminars in Canada on writing as a profession

I've been a member of the The Writers' Union of Canada for 16 years now. I've got nothing to do with the one-day seminars they're putting on across Canada entitled "Writing as a Profession: How to Get Published and Survive as an Author: Professional Development Workshops for Writers in All Phases of Their Careers," but, at Cdn$45 for a full day including lunch and lots of free informational booklets, they sound like a bargain, and my buddy Ken McGoogan is one of the presenters. They're being given at cities coast-to-coast in Canada; details are here.

What the gfuck?

Here's the word-verification screen that Blogger offered me this morning. Gee, thanks!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bringing my RCA REB1100 back to life

My RCA REB1100 (REB-1100, REB 1100) eBook reading device succumbed yesterday to the dreaded grid of death: a condition in which the internal flash ROM is corrupted, and the device won't do anything.

After googling around, and an hour or two of trial-and-error on my own, I managed to get the device working again, including getting it to recognize its old serial number and eBook ID, something, as far as I can tell, no one has ever managed before.

I wrote up the procedure for the REB1100 groups on Yahoo!, and thought I'd post a link to it here. Since Google does a good job of including my blog in its search results, I'm hoping others who need the advice will find this posting, and follow this link to the Yahoo! Groups REB1100 files group, where I outline the fix that worked for me in detail.

Incidentally, I'm rather fond of this five-year-old eBook-reading device (and tons of content is still available for it at

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A letter I got today about literary agents

Just received the following email, with the subject line "My Friend is an excellent Science Fiction, Military, And "What If" Writer."
Dear Mr. Sawyer,

I have a Writer Friend who has a great imagination and is an excellent Writer! We met at our Writer's group and are "Writer Friends." Do you know of an agent that accepts stories like his? He is very prolific and is always researching, and finding ideas. I am a Writer too, but what I do is Romantic, Family History, Poetry and short stories. Here is a sample of my friend's work [Word file attached]. Would you let me know.

And here's my reply:
My lawyer has advised me not to read the work of beginning writers who approach me over the Internet. Sadly, we live in a very litigious world, and the risk is too great that someday someone will claim that something I independently created was influenced by or based on some unpublished work I'd supposedly seen online. And so I have to politely decline to look at the work you want me to read; I hope you'll understand.

That said, there's information on finding agents on my web site:

Also, I have to say you're going about this backwards. You, or your friend, should be reading widely in the field you want to publish in, and identifying which authors are writing similar material, and then finding out who their agents are. Don't ask others to do your homework for you; your friend needs to know the field well enough to figure out who the appropriate agents to approach are. Now, if you want to come back to me with a question such as, "My friend writes books similar to those of XXXX and YYYY, and I was wondering if you could tell me who their agents are?," I'd be glad to oblige if I happen to have the answer.

Best of luck.


The bottom of Taylor's starship revealed (Planet of the Apes)

There's a lot of discussion in Planet of the Apes fandom about what the back end of Colonel Taylor's ANSA spaceship looked like. The ship is only ever seen partially submerged in water in the film (at Lake Powell), so the details of the rear end have been left mostly to the imagination. William Creber, the gifted art director who designed it (he also designed the original miniature of the spaceship from Lost in Space, another of my favorite ships) has said in interviews that not a lot of thought was given to the back end because it wasn't going to be shown on screen.

I've never seen the image above anywhere else, and so I thought I'd share it here. Where's it from, you ask? Actor Roddy McDowall's home movies of the making of the original Planet of the Apes, from 1967, included on disk number two of the Ultimate Planet of the Apes collection Fox released in an ape-head case earlier this year. Not that the spaceship -- which fans have dubbed Icarus, although that name isn't canonical -- is pointed out in the home movies; it isn't and McDowall doesn't seem to notice it himself.

The above is a detail of some footage, at about the 9-minute, 10-seconds mark into the home movies, of a helicopter flight from the Fox studios that McDowall was on; the ship, seen standing on its end outside a building labeled "20" is visible for just a few seconds in a small part of the movie frame. Note the white car just to the right of the ship for scale.

I captured this from the DVD, cropped it, and offer it here as my little contribution to the ongoing discussion of what the back end of the ship looked like before it was re-configured to be Brent's ship in Beneath the Planet of the Apes or truncated, with the rear end shortened and a rounded heat shield added, in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

As you can see, each of the big fins has what appears to be an engine nozzle sticking out of it, very near the tips of the fins. We know from the final film that the nose cone (the tip at the top) is gold in color; it looks like the engine cones are about the same color here.

Eight Things New Writers Need to Know

Not sure how long it'll be available on-line but the latest electronic newsletter from Writers of the Future contains my essay "Eight Things New Writers Need to Know," reprinted from the latest volume in the long-running series. I'm a judge for the contest, and I do recommend beginning writers enter it.

A very nice blog entry ...

... about a Japanese reader's visit with me. It's a meeting I fondly remember, and I'm delighted it meant so much to him, too. You can read what he had to say here.

(And thanks to the friend who drew this to my attention!)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

To Serve All My Days

So, on Saturday night, Kirstin, Carolyn, and I watched To Serve All My Days, the new fan-produced Star Trek classic episode from New Voyages.

The previous episode done by this group -- In Harm's Way, with guest star William Windom -- was brilliant, with an amazingly clever and interesting script. And this new episode had guest star Walter Koenig (the original Chekov) and a script by D.C. Fontana (who wrote Journey to Babel and other classic Trek episodes).

Unfortunately, this new episode isn't nearly as good as the last one. For starters, it's not edited tightly. And the script ... well, it does have a very clever central premise (spoilers follow):

In the original Trek episode The Deadly Years, Chekov is the one member of a landing party immune to an aging disease that makes Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scott all into old men. Well, it turns out he wasn't immune, but rather that the onset was simply delayed, neatly allowing the now sixty-something Walter Koenig to play Chekov in a classic-era story.

But the episode left me unsatisfied for a couple of reasons. First, I was astonished to see a Mary Sue in it. (Mary Sues are characters in fan fiction that are obviously avatars of the female author of the piece; in this case, it's a dignified female human Federation amabassador who has lots of scenes, but doesn't really advance the plot.) And, mind-bogglingly, given its auctorial pedigree, the episode hugely violates canon, having Pavel Chekov die during the original five-year mission (and having him pre-decease Kirk). Uh-uh. Chekov goes on to be in seven Star Trek movies, and he outlives Kirk's demise in Star Trek: Generations. Yeah, his death here is kinda poignant, but it left me more in a scratching-my-head rather than drying-my-eyes frame of mind.

(It also takes Kirk an awfully long time to recognize that a ship that looks Klingon might be Romulan -- he should have thought of that at once, since he'd previously seen Romulans using ships of Klingon design. But then, bafflingly, the ship turns out to belong to some race of aliens we've never heard of.)

There are some good thing in this, and the notion of a Trek episode exploring economic issues is an interesting one, but although I've watched In Harm's Way four or five times now, I doubt I'll go back for a second viewing of To Serve All My Days.

Kirstin and Rob's Excellent Adventure

Last Saturday, Kirstin Morrell was in town from Calgary. She's the managing editor of Red Deer Press, the company that publishes my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. I took her on a whirlwind tour of Toronto's sites, with an emphasis on those of interest to an SF fan (which Kirstin most assuredly is: she's also the chair of Con-Version, Calgary's SF convention, for 2007).

For starters, we went up the CN Tower. I was shocked to find it's now $25 a head to go up all the way to the SkyPod, and that a good chunk of the observation deck is now taken up by a cafe that you're supposed to buy something in if you want to look out the windows. Excuse me! We just paid 25 bucks to look out the windows -- this is a total ripoff, and CN management should be ashamed.

Next stop was the museum at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, national headquarters of the CBC. Since a visit there figures in my novel Rollback, I'll just quote the description from that book:
The broadcasting museum was tiny, and tucked off to one side, clearly an afterthought in designing the building. Some of the stuff predated Don. The kiddie program Uncle Chichimus was before his time, and This Hour Has Seven Days and Front Page Challenge were shows his parents had watched. He was old enough to remember Wayne and Shuster, but not old enough to have ever thought they were funny. But he'd learned his first French from Chez Hélène, and had spent many happy hours with Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant. Don took a minute to look at the model of Friendly's castle, and the puppets of Rusty the Rooster and Jerome the Giraffe. He read the placard that explained that Jerome's bizarre color scheme of purple and orange had been selected in the days of black-and-white TV because it had good contrast, and had been left intact when the program switched to color in 1966, giving him a psychedelic look, an unintentional reflection of the times.

Don had forgotten that Mister Rogers had gotten his start here, but there it was, the original miniature trolley from that show, back when it had been called Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood, the last word notably sporting a U.

Then it was off to lunch at the Duke of Argyle pub, followed by a trip to the three most interesting stores on Queen Street West: Active Surplus, where you can buy all sorts of electronic and computer components; the giant comic-book and action-figure emporium known as the Silver Snail; and, of course, Bakka-Phoenix, the world's oldest SF specialty store. We were lucky: Michelle Sagara West (who writes novels for DAW and reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) happened to be in, as did former store owner John Rose.

Then it was off to the Art Gallery of Ontario for the special Ansel Adams exhibition. After that, we hustled up to The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, where they rolled out the red carpet for Kirstin, giving us the VIP back-in-the-private-stacks tour, showing us such gems as a first edition copy of Dracula, the first issue of Amazing Stories, and the manuscript for Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars.

We then walked around the Royal Ontario Museum building, looking at the fascinating exterior renovations in progress (embedding part of the old Victoria building inside a funky crystalline shell, making it look like the Borg are assimilating the old building), and we walked through Queen's Park and looked at the Ontario parliament buildings. A lot to cram into one day, but it was great fun!

(For those interested in a more elaborate tour of Toronto, I wrote up this guide for visitors to the city; it was published in one of the progress reports for the 2003 World Science Fiction Convention.)

Sideshow Collectibles' Planet of the Apes figures

I love the Planet of the Apes apes figures in this 12-inch series from Sideshow Collectibles (I'm not keen on the human figures, though -- to me, they look nothing like Charlton Heston and the rest, suggesting that Sideshow didn't have rights to their likenesses). But the apes are excellent, particularly the Zira and Cornelius figures.

You can get them in Toronto at Silver Snail, and I'm sure at other comic-book and memorabilia stores worldwide; also, lots of eBay dealers have them. Really nice figures, at around US$40 a piece. (I also have the 18-inch-high Lawgiver statue they make; it's excellent.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marcel dedicates book to Rob and Carolyn

The biggest honour a writer can pay to another human being is to dedicate a book to him or her.

I have been touched and deeply moved to have books dedicated to me before by Edo van Belkom, James Alan Gardner, and Mike Resnick. And I can tell you now from experience that the thrill doesn't diminish over time.

On Saturday, my great friend Marcel Gagné presented Carolyn and me with the very first copy he'd received of his new book Moving to Free Software from Addison-Wesley. It's dedicated to Carolyn and me, with these words:

This book is dedicated to
my friend, Robert J. Sawyer,
who said, "I want you to write a book
Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye!",
thereby getting me into this mess . . .
and to Carolyn Clink, who, as far as I know,
hasn't gotten me into any trouble.

The comment refers to the fact that I suggested Marcel write his first "Moving To" book, which was called Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye! The current book is his fifth in the "Moving To" series.

Many, many thanks, Marcel!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hugo Winners party

I've had an insanely busy -- but very pleasant -- last couple of weeks. The highlight was this past Friday night, December 15. Carolyn and I hosted a party in honor of two of this year's Hugo Award winners: my editor David G. Hartwell, who won for Best Editor, and my great friend Robert Charles Wilson, who won for Best Novel (for his remarkable Spin).

David was in town for an H.B. Fenn sales conference (Fenn is Tor's Canadian distributor), and he stayed overnight at our place (as did our other very special guest, Kirstin Morrell, the managing editor of Calgary's Red Deer Press, publisher of Robert J. Sawyer Books, who was in town for her own sales conference).

The party was a blast, with a who's-who of Canadian SF in attendance. We had a total of four Hugo winners (the other two were myself and Mike Glicksohn, who won the Best Fanzine Hugo in 1973), and three other Hugo finalists: artist Taral, and writers James Alan Gardner (who had come to the party directly from London, England -- he came straight from the airport to our place) and Pat Forde. Also on hand were such luminaries as Merril Collection head Lorna Toolis, Canada's great editor John Robert Colombo, authors Karl Schroeder, Terence M. Green, Phyllis Gotlieb, and many more.

The evening was doubly special, in that it was also Robert Charles Wilson's birthday. Great conversation, lots of food, good friends -- what more can one ask?

David G. Hartwell, Sharry Wilson, Robert Charles Wilson

Kirstin Morrell plants a wet one on Caesar

Phyllis Gotlieb and Kelly Gotlieb

The Senior Pajamas writer's group: Pat Forde, Robert J. Sawyer, James Alan Gardner, Suzanne Church

Robert Charles Wilson's birthday cake

Janice Beitel and Karl Schroeder

Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson with their Hugos

Rob on CBC Radio this afternoon

I'm doing another marathon of interviews for CBC Radio stations coast to coast today. This time, it's about the future of the Web -- perfect for my upcoming WWW trilogy. The news hook is Time magazine having named "You" (all us bloggers, YouTubers, MySpacers, and so on) as its "Persons of the Year."

I'll be on these CBC Radio One stations; all times listed are MY time (Eastern Time; same as New York), NOT the local station time. You can hear the interviews (each live, each different) online here; again, I believe all the stations are Radio ONE:









Thursday, December 14, 2006

Calculating God one of Canada's all-time best books

The Canadian bookselling chain Chapters / Indigo / Coles asked 150,000 members of its iRewards loyalty program to pick the top 100 Canadian-authored books of all time. Only one book published as science fiction made the list: my Calculating God, coming in at number 79. You can see the whole list here (I'm on page 4).

Unveiling the ROLLBACK Cover

I'm very pleased with this cover for the hardcover of Rollback, which will be published by Tor in April 2007.

There's actually a lot of detail in the dark background; if you can't see it, turn the brightness and contrast up on your monitor.

Click on the small version above for a bigger version; note that your browser might scale down the bigger version for display -- click on the big version to see it full size.

The notation about this being a "SciFi Essential Book" refers to this cross promotion with the SciFi Channel.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Calgary trip a success

The fund-raising book fair for the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary in 2008 sponsored by Calgary's writers' workshop IFWA was a great success. Lots of money raised, lots of good books swapped or acquired. Plans are in the works for an even bigger such event next year.

Tomorrow is a big party day for me: the Christmas parties for Fitzhenry and Whiteside (parent publisher of Robert J. Sawyer Books) and of my speakers' bureau, Speakers' Spotlight, take place one after the other.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Suzuki bio

David Suzuki is a leading Canadian science broadcaster, geneticist, and environmentalist, but if you didn't know that and read the bio note on his article on page 18 of the 23 September 2006 New Scientist, you might think he was a raving ego-maniac, since it's completely self-referential. :) It says, in its entirety:
David Suzuki is chair of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, Canada ( His latest book, David Suzuki: The autobiography, is published by Greystone.

They like me in the Twin Cities

A nice write-up about the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy is here at bTALK. Thanks, guys!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

I'm off to Berton House in the Yukon next summer

Carolyn and I will be spending three months next summer in Canada's far north. We'll be living at Berton House, the childhood home of famed Canadian nonfiction writer Pierre Berton, in Dawson City, Yukon Territory; Dawson City was the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush, and is at latitude 64 degrees north, about 100 km due east (along The Top of the World Highway) from the Alaska border.

Berton House is administered as a writers' retreat, sponsored by the Klondike Visitors Association. Established Canadian writers apply to live there for three-month terms -- and I was just accepted. This will be a real chance to get away from it all, and concentrate on my writing.

Carolyn and I will head there early in July, and stay until the end of September, 2007. (I've been to the Yukon once before, as an instructor at the Yukon Writers Conference in Whitehorse during February 2002, and I fell in love with the people and the geography.) My plan is to come back at the end of September with Wake, volume one of my WWW trilogy, completed.

Because of this residency, we will miss the World Science Fiction Convention in Japan, and we'll also miss the NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Convention, which is in St. Louis in 2007). But we will be at the World Horror Convention in Toronto in the spring of 2007, the World Fantasy Convention in upstate New York in the fall, plus all these other events (and I will be back to Toronto in time for Word on the Street on the last day of September).

I'm very excited about this!

The fundraising dinner I was at last week was in support of Berton House, by the way.

More information about Berton House is here (click to enter) and here.

More about Dawson City is here.

Biographical details about Pierre Berton are on his website, in The Canadian Encyclopedia, and at Wikipedia.

Monday, December 4, 2006

SparkNotes study guides free online

We Canadians grew up with Coles Notes; Americans are used to Cliffs Notes, Barron's Notes, and SparkNotes or Spark Notes (the brand that Barnes and Noble sells) -- study guides for various scientific and historical subjects, or for great works of literature and plays.

Well, the full text of all the SparkNotes are now online for free (you pay only if you want to download a whole book as a single PDF file). A cool reference source, I must say. And they've also got all those handy review charts, but you have to pay to download those.

Also free on the same site: a searchable style guide (punctuation, grammar, etc.). Sadly -- from my point of view -- it agrees with the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, on not italicizing punctuation marks following italicized words, as I wrote about here.

A moment later: Hey, whattaya know! CliffsNotes offers something similar -- free online viewing; pay only if you want to download a PDF. Cool!

Rob at Book Festival in Calgary this Saturday, December 9

IFWA Christmas Book Festival!

(in conjunction with the Calgary 2008 World Fantasy Convention)

Come one, come all to the first ever IFWA-sponsored Christmas Book Festival. Food! Fun! ... and Books!

(IFWA is the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, Calgary's venerable SF&F writing workshop.)

View the poster (with map) here.

From high noon through 4:00 p.m. we'll have an assortment of All-You-Can-Eat food and drink! Bring along your orphaned books for trade with other avid readers at Honest Ivan's Book Exchange! (Our own Ivan Dorin.)

Special Events:
  • At 1:00 p.m. Special Guest Hugo Award winning author Robert J. Sawyer will be on hand to lead a discussion on how near-future technology will save Mankind.

  • At 2:00 p.m. Cliff Samuels will moderate a Book Discussion on new and old books worth reading.

  • At 3:00 p.m. we'll hold our Enormous Book Raffle! We have a mountain of SF&f hard covers, trades, and paperbacks. And even a few non-book items.

Raffle Tickets available throughout the afternoon: $1 each; 6 for $5; 15 for $10.

We've also been warned that Satan Claus, that devilish old saint, will put in an appearance and reward all the bad little boys and girls. He knows who's been naughty ... and approves!

When: Saturday, December 9, 2006, from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m.
Where: Danita Maslankowski's Recreation Centre / Party Room*
Cost: $10

*Party Room is the center building of Richmond Meadows Co-op, 4940 - 39 Ave. SW in Calgary. Please park on 39th Ave. or in the Co-op Shopping Center parking lot.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

The effect Star Trek had on my life

No big deal, but I was playing around a bit with Yahoo! Answers, to see if it might be a substitute for the defunct Google Answers (it's not; it's a quite different beast, although interesting in its own right). And in the process of testing it, I answered the question: "What effect, if any, has the original Star Trek series had on your life?" And the asker of the question ranked mine as the best answer. I said:
It made me decide to become a science-fiction writer (which is what I now do for a living):

More, though: it taught me tolerance, that it is cool to be a pacifist, and that you should apologize when you're wrong. I mean this in all sincerity: I'm a better person because of that show, and I think that's true for a lot of us who grew up with it (I was six when it debuted).

All the other answers are here (scroll down past mine).

What do you believe that you cannot prove?

A provocative question: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Edge Foundation asked that of 120 scientists, philosophers, and futurists. The answers make fascinating reading. Very, very stimulating stuff. Check it out

(All 120 answers are free at the above site; also has them collected in an easy-to-navigate ebook for under ten bucks.)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Google Answers bites the dust

I must have been one of the very last people to use Google Answers, the service through which freelance researchers answered tough questions for those who couldn't find what they were looking for with Google on their own.

Four days ago, I needed to find a document that my keyword searching wasn't turning up, and so I offered $10 on Google Answers to anyone who could find it for me -- and a fine fellow named Rainbow found it, very, very quickly. I'm a good online researcher, but I thought this was a good service (and much-touted when it first came out). But I noticed today that the service is "retired," with a notice saying:

Google Answers is no longer accepting questions.

We're sorry, but Google Answers has been retired, and is no longer accepting new questions.

I'm sorry to see it go. For the curious, here are the question I asked over the years:

Subject: Suicide illegal
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $25.00 Posted: 14 Dec 2003
Question ID: 287230
[Research for MINDSCAN]

Is it true that successfully committing suicide is illegal in the United States? Is this a federal law, or something that's set individually by each state, and, if the latter, in which states is killing oneself actually illegal? Are there any penalties for killing oneself (I personally can't see how there could be, but laws often have strange provisions)? Note of reassurance: I'm not depressed or planning to kill myself; I'm a novelist, and this is a point I need to pin down for a book I'm currently writing.

How late in pregnancy can conjoined twins form through refusion?
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
Price: $10.00 Posted: 17 Jan 2004
Question ID: 297395
[Research for MINDSCAN]

Recent research (see below) indicates that conjoined twins are not formed by the arrested fission of monozygotic twins, but rather by the re-fusion of already separated monozygotic twins.

My question: how late into a human pregnancy can this re-fusion occur? That is, what is the latest that a pregnancy that seems to be going normally toward producing separate identical twins can end up producing fused conjoined twins?

As a reference, here's the study that said re-fusion is in fact how conjoined twins are formed (note Dr. Spencer is now retired, but a Google search showed that she had impeccable credentials):


From: Clinical Anatomy (Volume 13, Issue 1 , Pages 36 - 53, year 2000)

Title: "Theoretical and analytical embryology of conjoined twins:
Part I: Embryogenesis"

by Rowena Spencer *
Louisiana State University School of Medicine and Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana


A review of over 1,800 publications concerning the embryology and pathologic anatomy of conjoined twins provides convincing evidence that they all result from the secondary union of two originally separate monovular embryonic discs. This fusion theory seems to be confirmed by the adjustments to union and the pattern and incidence of specific anomalies at the proposed sites of conjunction in more than 1,200 cases, all of which can be arranged in two uninterrupted series of cases, the one united dorsally (in the neural tube) and the other, ventrally (over a shared a yolk sac). No theoretical fission of the vertebrate embryo at any stage of development, in any plane, in any direction can explain (1) the selection of the observed sites of fusion, (2) the details of the union, or (3) the limitation to the specific areas in which the twins are found to be joined.

Subject: Dolphin experiments disproves sophisticated dolphin Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 10 Nov 2005
Question ID: 591500
[Research for ROLLBACK]

In 1964, Jarvis Bastian did an experiment in dolphin communications, described here:

I believe I read in the last year or so of a recent, more decisive follow-up to this work, in which the premise that dolphins do not have a sophisticated language was shown by essentially replicating Bastian's experiment with more mature dolphins. But I can't find the citation or a discussion of the work anywhere (I probably read about it in NEW SCIENTIST or SCIENCE NEWS, but can't find the article). So, I'm looking for follow-ups to Bastian's work, done in the last decade, that reached a definitive conclusion. Thanks!

Subject: Literary executor or agent for French science-fiction writer Rene Barjavel
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 23 Jan 2006
Question ID: 436814

I'm interested in contacting the holder of English-language rights for the out-of-print French science-fiction novel called THE ICE PEOPLE (in its last English-language edition) and LA NUIT DE TEMPS (in the original French) by Rene Barjavel (note that Rene is properly rendered with an accent over the second E; not sure how that affects Google searching). Barjavel died in 1985, and I need to find either a postal or email address for his literary agent or the executor of his literary estate. Help, please!

Subject: Identifying that a signal contains language information
Category: Science
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 27 Nov 2006
Question ID: 786044
[Research for WAKE]

I'm trying to find an article I read online sometime in the last two years. It was a report, perhaps in a popular-interest science magazine (and the one I read the most online is NEW SCIENTIST) about language having a distinctive pattern that enables it to be distinguished from noise in signal processing, even if you don't recognize the language. I can't remember if the article made a specific parallel with SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), but I think it did: the notion was that we should be able to recognize that a signal contains language (because of the distinctive statistical skew caused by repetition of common words, or something like that) even if we don't know and can't decode the language. One of the key words, I imagine, would be "information," as in information content. Thanks!


Name-drop? Moi?

Sometimes, life is particularly nice. This evening, Carolyn and I were guests at a $150-a-plate fundraising dinner (I'll tell you for what in another post). The meal was at a Chinese seafood restaurant -- and I'm not a big fan of seafood. But the eight-course dinner included Peking duck and crispy chicken, so I actually really enjoyed the food.

Seated at our table was my old friend Bob McDonald, the host of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks.

Seated at the next table was Canadian comedy legend Don Harron (who portrays the character Charlie Farquharson). MC was talk-show host Vicki Gabereau, and the entertainment included renowned Canadian singer Catherine McKinnon and standup by Alan Park from the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

Also on hand were a bunch of my literary colleagues, including writers Lawrence Hill and Ken McGoogan, powerhouse agent Bev Slopen, and Trevor Owen, the impresario of Canada's famed Writers in Electronic Residence Program, of which I was part of in its early years.

Great food, great company, great entertainment. Life be good.