Friday, August 31, 2007

Beijing Book Fair and Sightseeing

A provocative banner outside the Beijing Book Fair

We began today by making an appearance at the Beijing International Book Fair. No sooner had we arrived than we ran into Neil Gaiman, who accompanied us to the Canadian Publishing booth, where Fitzhenry & Whiteside, and my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint, were very well represented.

Robert J. Sawyer Books titles at the Beijing Book Fair

After that Carolyn and I joined Neil and his handler from HarperCollins, a very nice economics student named Cygnus, for a wonderful lunch at a restaurant where the sinks had to be seen to be believed.

After, we all went to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, where a local guide gave us a terrific tour.

Neil Gaiman, Carolyn Clink, Robert J. Sawyer, Mao Zedong

The Forbidden City

Neil Gaiman, Robert J. Sawyer

Then Carolyn and I headed out for a great rooftop reception for foreign authors at the Book Worm, a wonderful English-language bookstore.

That was followed by one of the highlights of our trip: a fine fellow named Wenfeng, who is one of my friends on MySpace, treated us to the world famous Beijing acrobats and then took us for a fabulous dinner of authentic Peking Duck at a restaurant frequented by the locals.

The amazing Beijing acrobats -- incredible!

Rob's MySpace friend Wenfeng at dinner

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful day.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rob at Harbourfront

I will be reading at the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront in October. More details as I get them, but information about the Festival is here. This is one of the largest and most prestigious writers' festivals in the world, and I'm thrilled to be part of it again.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Neil Gaiman blogs China conference

Neil Gaiman also attended the Chengdu Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference, and he's much further ahead in getting it blogged than I am. Check out his excellent reportage here, and in the other posts Neil links to at the end of that one.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Great Wall of China

Yesterday (Thursday, August 30, 2007), Carolyn and I hired a driver and guide to take us on the road trip to a portion of The Great Wall of China, and we hiked along the wall. This was, I think, the hardest physical exercise I've ever done. It was boiling hot, the sun was beating down from a clear blue sky, and the staircases on the wall are often very, very steep with very high steps -- plus, they're in very bad repair in many places, making climbing precarious. Still, it was an amazing experience. At intervals along the way, there are watch towers, and I was grateful for the brief respites of shade they afforded.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I promise to post lots more pictures of my China trip when I have a chance, but for now, here's one: that's a real live panda bear in my lap. Do I have the coolest job in the world, or what? ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CBC Radio podcasts RJS

CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi interviews Robert J. Sawyer about his winning China's Galaxy Award for Most Popular Science Fiction Author of the Year.

You can listen here (grab the Tuesday 28 August 2007 show).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Globe interview

The article in Tuesday's Globe and Mail about my Galaxy Award win is based in part on this email interview I did with the Globe's James Adams yesterday:
Have any of your novels been translated into Cantonese or Mandarin for the mainland China market? Or have your books just been brought in as English-language imports into Hong Kong, China etc. by Tor? If they've been translated, have these been legit translations? That is, as you know, China is decidedly lax on copyright and are famous for bootlegging all sorts of cultural product.

Currently available in Chinese for the mainland market are my novels Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner, Starplex, and Calculating God, all translated into Chinese in editions licensed to the publisher Science Fiction World in Chengdu by me, via my New York agent Ralph Vicinanza. They pay advances against royalties, and have paid royalties beyond the initial advances; my intellectual property rights have absolutely been respected; everything has been 100% above-board.

I know there's a piracy problem with China, but my books are available there in fully legal licensed editions for which I'm being well paid. And Science Fiction World has treated my wife and me like royalty while we've been in China.

And let me add that of all the languages in which my books are published -- Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish -- the Chinese editions are easily the most beautiful, with the nicest covers, best graphic design, and most appealing interior layout.

Do you know if science-fiction has been a popular idiom in China for a long time? Or is it a more recent phenomenon?

Science fiction has really only taken off in the last 30 years in China, since the mid-1970s, and the popularity is still increasing. The domestic science fiction here is very much in the stage SF was in the 1950s in the United States: lots of spaceships, robots, and aliens. They are ripe here to have the counterpart of the "New Wave," which revolutionized English-language SF in the 1960s, by bringing more attention to inner space rather than outer space. And, in my small way, I'm helping with that: I do a how-to-write column for China's Science Fiction World magazine, which has been very popular, and, I'm told, has been very influential in honing the talents of the domestic SF writers here over the last couple of years.

Do you think there is a particular Chinese response to science-fiction literature? That is, is there something uniquely or semi-uniquely Chinese in their appreciation of science-fiction? Do they prefer one kind of story or narrative or theme over another?

Chinese readers prefer hard science fiction (with real science, rigorously extrapolated), and are partial to optimistic views of the future. The Chinese government is encouraging science fiction as a way of inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and technology. That said, science fiction is also being embraced by the Chinese people specifically because, with its tools of disguise and metaphor -- setting stories in the future or with alien civilizations -- the genre allows discussion of issues that might not otherwise be openly broached.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire on China win

The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper reports on Robert J. Sawyer winning the Galaxy Award, China's top science-fiction award, for most popular foreign author here.

Quill and Quire, Canada's publishing trade journal, has its report on Rob's win here.

And CBC Radio One's Q interviews Rob today: In about two hours, as I post this.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, August 27, 2007

Aurora final ballot delayed even longer

Says Dennis Mullin, "Apologies for the delays. I'm aiming for sooner, but promise the 2007 voting ballot will become available on the website no later than Labor Day." In other words, he's just delayed it another full week after the latest possible day he'd said it would be available.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Coverage of Galaxy Award Ceremony

... is here, with photos.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

China SF conference coverage ... from China!

A good article, with photos, is here.

Oh, and the CBC has a nice piece about my award win here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sawyer wins China's top SF Award

CHENGDU, CHINA, 26 AUGUST 2007: Robert J. Sawyer of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, today won China's top science-fiction award, the Galaxy Award, in the category "Most Popular Foreign Author of the Year." The award, voted on by Chinese readers, was presented at the Chengdu International Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, the largest science-fiction conference ever held in China. (The last international SF&F conference in China was held ten years ago, in 1997.)

Chinese translations of Sawyer's novels are published by Science Fiction World, headquartered in Chengdu, and his short stories have appeared in Science Fiction World magazine, the world's largest-circulation SF publication; Sawyer is also a past columnist for that magazine.

In his acceptance speech Sawyer said, "I come from Toronto, which was bidding against Beijing to hold the 2008 Olympics. In fact, I was on a committee to help decide arts and cultural programs that would be held in conjunction with the Olympics, should they be awarded to Toronto. And so I have to confess that I was sad when it was announced that China was getting the 2008 Games. But I forgive you now! I don't know how many of my countrymen and countrywomen will bring home medals next year -- but I feel like I've just won a Gold for Canada."

Sawyer added, "Seriously, the great thing about science fiction is that it transcends national boundaries. It's wonderful to be at a conference along with writers from the United States, England, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and Canada. Science fiction really is the literature of Planet Earth."

In addition to Chinese, Sawyer's work is published in Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish. He has previously won the top SF awards in Spain (a record-setting three times), Japan (three times), and France.

English-language honors for his work include the World Science Fiction Society's Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year (which he won in 2003 for Hominids); the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year (which he won in 1996 for The Terminal Experiment); the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the SF field's top juried award, for Best Novel of the Year (which he won in 2006 for Mindscan); and a record-setting nine Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras").

The Galaxy Award honors Sawyer's entire oeuvre, rather than a specific book. The award was presented at a gala ceremony at the Chengdu Museum of Science and Technology.

Sawyer, 47, and his wife, poet Carolyn Clink, were on hand in Chengdu -- the capital of Sichuan province -- for the ceremony. Science-fiction writers David Brin, David Hill, Nancy Kress, and Michael Swanwick from the US and fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman from the UK also attended the conference, as did prominent US critic Elizabeth Anne Hull.

Sawyer's seventeenth novel, Rollback, has just been published in English by Tor Books, New York. In its starred review of Rollback, denoting a book of exceptional merit, Library Journal said, "Above all, the author's characters bear their human strengths and weaknesses with dignity and poise. An elegantly told story; highly recommended."

Sawyer will be making an appearance at the Beijing International Book Fair later this week; he returns to Canada on September 3, 2007.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, August 20, 2007

Off to China!

Tomorrow, Carolyn and I start our Long March to China! :) We take two flights tomorrow -- Dawson to Whitehorse, then Whitehorse to Vancouver, and we stay overnight in Vancouver. Then on Wednesday, it's two more flights: Vancouver to Beijing, and Beijing to Chengdu.

We'll be attending the Chengdu International Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention; others attending include David Brin, Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, and Michael Swanwick.

And then we head on to Beijing for five days of sightseeing (including a day-long side trip to hike along the Great Wall).

While we're gone, some needed carpentry and repairs will be done on Berton House.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

A good cartoon

David Seltzer, a reader of mine in Palm Beach, who is currently reading Calculating God, sent me this link to a cartoon, which certainly is apropos of that book, and sadly is pretty much spot on. The cartoonist is Wiley, and the strip is called "Non Sequitur."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Georgia congressman files amicus brief in Ed Kramer case

The brief, filed by Georgia Congressman Bob Barr on August 17, 2007, begins:
There is an overwhelming sense of injustice that pervades all of what has happened to Petitioner Appellant Edward Kramer. The Georgia and United States Constitution Amendments that have been violated are, at minimum, The First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth as implicated through the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. This Court has also previously found that officers of Gwinnett violated the Fourth Amendment (See, State v. Kramer, AO2A1846, March 26, 2003).
And it ends:
The balance is so profoundly in favor of Ed Kramer; the conduct of Gwinnett County so egregious; and the Constitutions so abused that this Court has a wonderful opportunity to take a stand on behalf of right and to rectify these wrongs forcefully so that no subdivision of this State is ever again tempted to treat one of its citizens so badly.
Read the whole brief here. Ed Kramer is a renowned editor in the horror field, founder of Dragon*Con, and my dear friend.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Aurora final ballot delayed -- again

Dennis Mullin has yet again delayed release of the final Aurora ballot for 2007. It was to have been released in July; he then changed that to today, Saturday, August 18 -- handily making sure that no ballots or copies of work could be available for Con-Version, the Calgary regional con, which is happening this weekend (and, save Con*Cept, the last Canadian regional prior to VCon, where the awards will be given this year).

But that's not delay enough, apparently. He's just now announced: "The 2007 voting ballot should become available on the website during the August 21-27 time period." That puts the release date of the Aurora ballot two full months after the originally announced date for the close of nominations; the Hugo administrators normally turn around the ballot within two weeks.

We've had the same problem over and over again, with the tallying of nominations being dragged on forever, and the actual voting period being truncated to the point of becoming merely a ballot on name recognition, since few could read the nominated works in the tiny window Dennis has left us.

The truncated window has other impacts, too, of course: with sufficient notice, nominees might actually make an effort to go to the CanVention, which is supposed to be a congress gathering fans and pros from across Canada; waiting until so late in the game to announce the ballot prevents some people from being able to do that, and forces others to pay higher airfares (WestJet and Air Canada both had seat sales to Vancouver last week, for instance; the discounted fares are no longer available). I myself have reached the point where I have to make a decision about VCon ... and, with regret, and in the absence of a final Aurora ballot, have made the decision not to go.

As I say, this has been an on-going problem, and I urge those who DO make it to VCon to attend the CanVention business meeting and engage in a dialogue about ways in which the process can be fixed. Here's the text of an open letter I sent two years ago on the same topic:

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dennis Mullin, Aurora Awards committee
Peter Jarvis, Aurora Awards ceremony coordinator
Randy McCharles, co-chair Westercon 58
John Mansfield, co-chair Westercon 58

With copies to:
The Robert J. Sawyer newsgroup
The IFWA Slush Pile


As of the update today, May 17, 2005, the Aurora Award website says the final ballot is "Currently being prepared. Voting ballot will be available no later than May 23. Voting deadline will be mid-June."

I have no novel eligible for the Auroras this year, and so no vested interest in the outcome of the long-form voting, but, guys, this is ridiculous, and really unfair to the nominees, especially in the long-form categories.

The proposed timetable suggest that readers find and read five books in three weeks (assuming no tie; there could well be more than five books on the final ballot), in order to vote by mid-June. Even if they have 25 days (May 23 to June 17, say), that requires conscientious voters to read A BOOK EVERY FIVE DAYS in order to vote, which is an awful lot to ask. Yes, of course, some voters will have read one or two of the nominees, but many will have read none in advance of the ballot being released.

If the ballot was out RIGHT NOW -- today or tomorrow -- and if voting could continue to just before the awards ceremony (with a ballot received-by date of June 29, say), maybe, just maybe, there's enough time for fair, conscientious voting. But I really think you owe it to the awards to consider handing off the ceremony to Con*Cept in Montreal, or some other convention later in the year.

At this point, it doesn't matter why it's take so long to produce a final ballot (much longer than the proposed time being given to voters to actually consider the works on that ballot), so no explanation or blame is appropriate. But the awards need to be fair and just; rushing the actual voting does nothing but turn them into a popularity contest (the known names, or those whose works the most people had already read prior to the ballot coming out, will get the most votes, since there won't be time to track down the works by newer/less-known writers).

As a writer who is an established name now, I'd hate to win that way; as a writer whose own early career got a boost from an early Aurora win (in 1992, for my first novel), I'd hate to see the next generation of new voices deprived of such a possibility.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert J. Sawyer

Free Ed Kramer website

My friend Edward E. Kramer's ordeal continues. A new website, aptly titled "Free Ed," has been started to collect comments and testimonials about the case, including one from me. Check it out here.

My comment:
Ed Kramer is one of the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful people I know -- and one of the greatest editors ever in the horror-fiction field. I'm absolutely personally convinced of his innocence, and have invited him to come stay at my home for a visit as soon as this ordeal is over.

I keep harking back to the old Vicki Lawrence song "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." To think that in the 21st century lyrics such as this would still ring true about justice in that state: Don't trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer / 'Cause the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands.

The district attorneys and judges involved should be ashamed of themselves; what they've done to Ed Kramer is on a par with what Mike Nifong did to those lacrosse players in Durham, and they should pay the same penalty. Even if one -- mistakenly -- believes that Ed might be guilty of something, that he's being denied the chance to prove his innocence is reprehensible.

-- Robert J. Sawyer

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, August 17, 2007

Nineteen years ago ...

... on Friday, August 19, 1988, I bought what was then, and still is, the most expensive computer I've ever owned (and, at that time, was the most expensive thing I'd ever bought -- and, come to think of it, I think it still is, except for cars and real estate). Moore's Law rocks -- it's amazing to think of how cheap computers are today. The computer I bought that day was:

An AST Premium/386 Model 300 computer: the original system, with no video card or monitor (I migrated those from my older PC/XT clone), two megabytes of RAM, a 71-meg hard drive, a 5.25" floppy, and a 3.5" floppy, cost a whopping Cdn$6,725, plus 8% PST for a total of $7,263.

Carolyn took over using that computer in 1994, and kept using it until the system was nine years old, on August 18, 1997. The final configuration, after numerous (expensive!) upgrades included 6 megs of proprietary AST RAM and an ATI VGA Wonder Card.

Yeah, it was way expensive. Still, amortized over 260 business days a year over nine years, the base system cost me $3.10 per business day -- which, of course, was worth it.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Open house at Berton House

Yesterday, Thursday, August 16, 2007, was the "Authors on Eighth" celebration here in Dawson City, Yukon. As part of it, Carolyn and I hosted an open house at Berton House. Some bald guy gave a tour. The gentleman leaning against the doorway on the left is Dan Davidson, editor of the Klondike Sun newspaper.

Among those stopping by was local historian (and legend!) Dick North, who does the interpretive shows at the Jack London cabin, just up Eighth Avenue from Berton House.

After the tour, there was a ceremony on the lawn at which prizes were given for the "Authors on Eighth" writing contest, which Rob and Carolyn had judged. Rob gave an impassioned talk about Berton House.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Berton House halfway mark

Today, Thursday, August 16, 2007, marks the halfway point in my residency at Berton House, here in Dawson City, Yukon. Carolyn and I have been here 44 days, and we now have 43 left to go (14 of which will be spent on our side trip to China).

We're having a great time, and I'm getting lots of good work done. The weather is getting cooler, and we're having a few hours of actual darkness each night.

On Tuesday evening, I did a reading from Rollback at the Dawson Public Library, and presented the library with a hardcover copy of the book, donated by H.B. Fenn and Company, Tor's Canadian distributor.

Yesterday, we had lunch with old friends Marlys and Jim Schneider, who were visiting from Fairbanks, Alaska (and had come to my reading the night before); Jim used to be one of the sysops of the old CompuServe Science Fiction Forum, back in the day.

Today, it's "Authors on Eighth," a public celebration of the three literary landmarks on Eighth Avenue here in Dawson: Robert Service's home, Jack London's home, and Pierre Berton's home. Carolyn and I are hosting an open house this afternoon -- so I better go clean up!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dinosaurs in Science Fiction

My three favourite things are dinosaurs, science fiction, and beautiful women -- so what could be a more perfect way to start the day than getting an email from the beautiful Kirstin Morrell containing a link to an article about dinosaurs in science fiction? Check it out here, on the blog "Prehistoric Pulp."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A quality Canadian ezine

Challenging Destiny is a really well done Canadian science-fiction ezine, available through the good folks at Fictionwise, and the current issue (number 24) contains the story "Like Water in the Desert" by one of my best friends, Hayden Trenholm.

Visit the zine's website here, and pick up the latest issue online over here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, August 13, 2007

Who's Got The Better Art Department?

Riffs on Michaelangelo's painting on the roof of the Sistine Chapel are common, and, as it happens one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Frans de Waal, has just gotten one on the cover of his latest book, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, published by Princeton University Press.

But I think Tor Books did a much nicer job with its riff on the same thing for the cover of my Hugo-nominated novel Calculating God.

Tor's art director is the wonderful Irene Gallo, and the cover for my book was executed by Drive Communications.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, August 10, 2007

What I was doing 20 years ago today

I was writing an article about this new-fangled thing called "Windows" for ProFiles: The Magazine for KayPro Users, and it was a bitch to write. Here's what I said in my work journal for August 10, 1987:
I'm still having problems with Windows article. I have to explain how it integrates and replaces the familiar MS-DOS commands, something Mac users never have to deal with. Trying to explain what pull-down menus, icons, point-and-shoot, bit-mapped displays, tiled windows, overlapping windows, dialog boxes, standard applications (those that weren't designed with Windows in mind), multi-tasking with an 80386, faking multi-tasking with an 8088, is tricky when:

1) the target audience is used to talking to the computer through a single command line following the A> prompt;

2) one topic seems to require an understanding of another: icons, for instance, seem like magic until you've explained what a bit-mapped screen is, pull-down menus don't make sense until you've described what a mouse does, etc. etc.;

3) you don't have any pictures to explain it all with.

Windows and the Mac are intuitively obvious once you try them as a gestalt; looking at their components piecemeal in an article is a difficult thing to make flow. I've got all the material written for the article, I'm just trying to get paragraph A to logically lead to paragraph B, and so on.

The Windows manual itself doesn't try to explain the ins and outs of the user interface. It just gives a series of exercises that let you try it out in hopes that you will grasp the big picture by the time you've finished them. Unfortunately, someone else is writing "A First Session With Windows" for the same issue of the magazine, meaning I can't take that approach.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

More on Self-Publishing

Over in the LiveJournal for Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada's oldest science-fiction specialty store, the wise and wonderful Chris Szego, manager of same, posted this open letter:

Dear Writer who, because the publishing industry is so tough to break into decides to publish her novel on her own, or believes his interests are best served by self-publication, or is truly, truly convinced her/his work is too original/daring/polka-dotted for 'regular publishers',

You're wrong.

Bakka-Phoenix Books

PS: We're not dissing your writing. It's the distribution that matters.

Exactly, Chris. Exactly!

(And she's added a very good primer on distribution.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Nina profiles Rob's site

British Columbia writer Nina Munteanu profile my website at SFWRITER.COM today, as well as having us take a fanciful journey in space together. You can read all about it in Nina's blog.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

My Boys Make Good

I am a judge for the Writers of the Future contest, and am so very proud this year, because two of the winners are former writing students of mine: Stephen Kotowych came to see me when I was writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library's The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy in 2003 (and is a mainstay of The Fledglings, the writers' workshop I set up with the best students from that residency), and Tony Pi was in my intensive SF writing course at the University of Toronto in 2001. (Note: judging is done anonymously, without any names or identifying details on the manuscripts.)

Here's a press release about them: (sadly I won't be at the awards ceremony this year; I'll be off in China):


Contact: John Goodwin
Galaxy Press
Phone: (323) 321-2144

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Celebrities, Best-Selling Authors, Famous Illustrators To Fete Newcomers At the Prestigious Athenaeum Club on the Grounds of Caltech

Pasadena, CA-- Twelve winning writers and twelve illustrators from around the globe--including Tony Pi and Stephen Kotowych of Toronto--will be honored during the 23rd Annual L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards at the Athenaeum Club on the grounds of California Institute of Technology on Friday, August 24th, 2007 beginning at 8 pm.

The highlight of the ceremony will be the announcement of the year's two Grand Prize winners who will each receive $5,000. Quarterly winners also receive cash prizes from $1,000 to $500. Their winning stories and illustrations will appear in the annual anthology L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future, volume 23 (Galaxy Press, 2007).

Participating in the ceremony will be best-selling authors Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Tim Powers and Sean Williams who will serve as presenters along with celebrities Marisol Nichols (Fox TV's "24"), two-time Emmy award nominated actress Lee Purcell, and Latin vocalist Carina Rico.

Throughout the Contests' 24-year history, over 500 writers and illustrators have been recognized as winners. "What's amazing to me is that a good 60 to 70% of winners go on to successful careers," says New York Times' best-selling author Anderson (Dune prequels, Seven Suns series). "You could call it 'The American Idol' for writers-long before there ever was such a show."

The Writers of the Future Contest was initiated by L. Ron Hubbard in 1983 to provide a means for aspiring writers to get a much-needed break-its winners have gone on to publish over 550 novels and 1,400 short stories, selling an impressive 31 million copies of their works combined-enough books to fill the payloads of 6 space shuttles.

Because of the success of the Writers' Contest, the format was expanded to include a companion Illustrators of the Future Contest in 1988. Many of the illustration winners have gone on to highly successful illustration and design careers.

"The Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests have proven to be the most effective means for contestants to make their break in the publishing industry, an industry renowned for being closed to the newcomer," said John Goodwin, Galaxy Press president. "Well over six million fiction and non-fiction manuscripts make the rounds annually to find a publishing home, yet only 2,500 new science fiction and fantasy titles are published each year, and many of these are from already established authors.

"That's why these Contests were created - because it's so hard to get published and there are so many talented people who give up on their dreams to see their works in print."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Over at Yahoo! Answers, someone asked "What is the difference between science fiction and fantasy?," and I decided to post my own answer to that common question:

Science fiction deals with things that might possibly happen (or, in the case of the subgenre of science fiction known as alternate history, things that possibly could have happened); fantasy deals with things that never could happen.

There is always a path from our here-and-now to the milieu of a science-fiction story: usually that path simply involves time passing and plausible advances in science and changes in society taking place during that time.

There is never a path from our here-and-now to the milieu of a fantasy story: no matter how much you might want to get to the fantasy world, you can't, because magic and supernatural powers do not work in our universe -- you can't get there from here.

Succinctly: there's discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there's continuity between our reality and science fiction.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

January reviews Rollback

January Magazine reviews Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer today.

It's a positive review, with some cavils. One comment struck me as ... well, the reviewer writes, "I ... believe that had Sarah been the one to undergo successful treatment, while her husbands had failed, it would have changed a great deal of the story." Well, yeah. Of course. Exactly. I wouldn't have done my job properly had that not been the case. :) What's more interesting, though, is that the female reviewer implies that the choice of a male point of view ... well, she says she "wished" I'd taken the alternative. Granted, that could have been an equally good book, but inherently, prima facie a better one? I don't think so.

Still, the review says, "Rollback is a dynamite science fiction novel that examines some major themes. We get the big story -- communications with aliens -- and a smaller one -- life extension. Both are told cleanly, intelligently and woven together well. A wholly satisfying story."

The full review is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

A really nice review of Starplex

I'm very proud of my novel Starplex. It was the only 1996 novel to be nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula, it won the Aurora, it was a finalist for the Seiun, and it was a Locus bestseller and a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club.

But it's been out of print for a while, so it's not getting much attention these days. Which was why I was so pleased to stumble upon this recent, and very kind review of Starplex by Gabriel McKee, the author of The Gospel According to Science Fiction.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cancer vaccine for Ontario girls

I've often been known to criticize government officials here in Canada, but not today. Today, I'm standing up and cheering. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced a $39-million plan to give free voluntary vaccinations to girls in grade 8 in Ontario against the most deadly forms of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer.

In other places, moral zealots have prevented making this life-saving vaccine available to teenagers, because HPV is transmitted sexually, and they think that putting girls at risk of a horrible death by cancer is either a suitable deterrent or a suitable punishment for premarital sex. I'm glad I live in an enlightened place, and today, even though I happen to temporarily be away from home, I'm proud to be an Ontarian. My tax dollars at work -- and I'm genuinely thrilled.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Dawson temperatures

We're already sliding into autumn here in the far north. Here in Dawson it was 19 degrees Celsius this afternoon, and it's going down to 2 degrees tonight. In Fahrenheit, that's a swing from 66 to 37.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Not a bad picture of me

From VCon in Vancouver in October 2005 (I stumbled on this by complete accident; it's not captioned):

Robert J. Sawyer

And here's one from the same con of me with Danita Maslan, one of the authors I edit:

Danita Maslan and Robert J. Sawyer

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

"The Right's Tough"

Just stumbled on the fact that one of my stories is online for free over at the Baen website: "The Right's Tough" by Robert J. Sawyer.

This was commissioned for the Libertarian anthology Visions of Liberty, a collection devoted to the notion of throwing off the yoke of government. I think the best thing about my story, to be honest, is the title (a pun on The Right Stuff, of course).

And, at the time I wrote the story, I thought the idea of a reputation-based society was a good and clever one (and, well, it still is). I finished this story in 2001, ironically, on US income-tax day -- April 15. The book was to have been published in 2002, but then the September 11 attacks occurred -- and suddenly having no government didn't seem quite so palatable an idea.

The anthology was held off until July 2004, and in the interim my friend Cory Doctorow published a very good novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, that explored the same notion. Ah, well. Close only counts in horseshoes!

As for actual influences: Kim Stanley Robinson's "Remaking History," one of my favorite talking-heads SF stories.

"The Right's Tough," copyright 2004 by Robert J. Sawyer. First published in Visions of Liberty, edited by Mark Tier and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books, New York, July 2004.

Full text here -- and more of my short stories on line are here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

CBC Online interviews Robert J. Sawyer

CBC Online -- the web service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -- has just posted a new text interview with Robert J. Sawyer as part of its "Words at Large" section. You can read the whole thing right here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, August 6, 2007

Ed Kramer trial delays

The nightmare for my friend Edward E. Kramer -- one of the finest anthologists the horror field has ever known, and founder of Dragon*Con -- continues. Read more -- and see a fascinating YouTube clip here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Louise Marley

My great pal Louise Marley has updated her website with some nifty PowerPoint presentations on how to write, as well as "Five Music Lessons for Writers." Check it out here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Shed Skin at and iTunes

The dramatic reading of my Hugo Award-nominated short story Shed Skin -- the basis for my novel Mindscan -- is now available on both and iTunes, and it's still available at It's an excellent reading by actor Stephen Hoye.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, August 5, 2007

On-site voting at this year's Aurora Awards

V-Con, this year's CanVention (Canadian National Science Fiction Convention), has announced a break from CanVention tradition and is having on-site voting for the Aurora Awards (in addition to mail-in voting). Says V-Con Progress Report #2:

Vote at VCON

There is no fee to submit an Aurora nomination, but final voting is restricted to CSF&FA members. The good news? Because this years Canvention is being held in association with VCON 32, all VCON members are automatically CSF&FA members and are eligible to vote for the Auroras. A ballot will be included in your VCON 32 registration package. There will be a ballot box at the registration desk and you will have until 6:00 PM on Saturday, October 20 to make your vote count.

To my knowledge, on-site voting has only been done once before: the last time the awards were held at V-Con, which was in 2001.

For the curious, the winners that year were as follows:

* Best Long-Form Work in English: The Snow Queen, Eileen Kernaghan

* Meilleur livre en francais: Demain, les etoiles, Jean-Louis Trudel

* Best Short-Form Work in English: "Surrendering the Blade", Marcie Tentchoff (The Doom of Camelot, Green Knight Publishing) [poem]

* Meilleure nouvelle en francais: "La Danse des esprits", Douglas Smith (Solaris 134) [traducteur: Benot Domis]

* Best Work in English (Other): Science Fiction: The Play, David Widdicombe [play]

* Meilleur ouvrage en francais (Autre): Solaris, Joel Champetier, rd.

* Artistic Achievement / Accomplissement artistique: Jean-Pierre Normand

* Fan Achievement / Accomplissement fanique (Fanzine): Voyageur, Karen Bennett, ed. (USS Hudson Bay / IDIC) ( [clubzine]

* Fan Achievement / (Organizational/Organisation): R. Graeme Cameron (BCSFA president & V-Con 25 chair)

* Fan Achievement (Other/autre): Donna McMahon, book reviews/ critiques de livres

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, August 3, 2007

Benjamin Libet leaves us

Those of you who've read my Mindscan may remember this scene that takes place shortly after Jake has his consciousness copied into an artificial body:
I went to see Dr. Porter about the problem with thoughts I intended to keep private being spoken aloud.

"Ah, yes," he said, nodding. "I've seen that before. I can make some adjustments, but it's a tricky mind-body interface problem."

"You've got to fix it. Unless I explicitly decide to do something, it shouldn't happen."

"Ah," said Porter, his eyebrows working with glee, "but that's not how humans work -- not even biological ones. None of us consciously initiate our actions."

I shook my head. "I've studied philosophy, doc. I'm not prepared to give up on the notion of free will. I refuse to believe that we live in a deterministic universe."

"Oh, indeed," said Porter. "That's not what I meant. Say you walk into a room, see someone you know, and decide to extend your hand in greeting. Of course, your hand doesn't instantly shoot out; first, stuff has to happen in your brain, right? And that stuff -- the electrical change in the brain that precedes voluntary action -- is called the readiness potential. Well, in a biological brain the readiness potential begins 550 milliseconds -- just over half a second -- prior to your hand beginning to move. It really doesn't matter what the voluntary act is: the readiness potential occurs in the brain 550 milliseconds before the motor act begins. Okay?"

"Okay," I said.

"Ah, but it's not okay! See, if you ask people to indicate exactly when they decided to do something, they report that the idea occurred to them about 350 milliseconds before the motor act begins. A guy named Benjamin Libet proved that ages ago."

"But -- but that must be a measurement error," I said. "I mean, you're talking about milliseconds."

"No, not really. The difference between 550 milliseconds and 350 milliseconds is a fifth of a second: that's quite a significant amount of time, and easy enough to measure accurately. This basic test has been replicated over and over again since the 1980s, and the data are rock solid."

"But that doesn't make sense. You're saying --"

"I'm saying that what our intuition tells us the sequence of events should be, and what the sequence actually is, don't agree. Intuitively, we think the sequence must be: first, you decide to shake hands with your old friend Bob; second, your brain, in response to that decision, begins sending signals to your arm that it wants to shake hands; and third, your arm starts to swing up for the handshake. Right? But what really happens is this: first, your brain starts sending signals to shake hands; second, you consciously decide to shake hands with your old friend; and third, your arm starts to swing up. The brain has started down the road to shaking hands before you have consciously made any decision. Your conscious brain takes ownership of the action, and fools itself into thinking it started the action, but really it's just a spectator, watching what your body is doing."

"So you are saying there's no free will."

"Not quite. Our conscious minds have the free will to veto the action. See? The action begins 550 milliseconds prior to the first physical movement. Two hundred milliseconds later, the action that's already been started comes to the attention of your conscious self -- and your conscious self has 350 milliseconds to put on the brakes before anything happens. The conscious brain doesn't initiate so-called voluntary acts, although it can step in and stop them."

"Really?" I said.

Porter nodded his long face vigorously. "Absolutely. Everybody's experienced this, if you stop and think about it: you're lying in bed, quite mellow, and you look over at the clock, and you think to yourself, I really should get up, it's time to get up, I've got to go to work. You may think this a half-dozen times or more, and then, suddenly, you are getting up -- the action has begun, without you being consciously aware that you've finally, really made the decision to get out of bed. And that's because you haven't consciously made that decision; your unconscious has made it for you. It -- not the conscious you -- has concluded once and for all that it really is time to get out of bed."

"But I didn't have this problem when I was biological."

"No, that's right. And that was because of the slow speed of chemical reactions. But your new body and your new brain operate at electrical, not chemical, speeds, and the veto mechanism sometimes comes into play too late to do what it's supposed to do. But, as I said, I can make a few adjustments. Forgive me, but I'm going to have to pull back the skin on your head, and open up your skull ..."
That was based in large part on the pioneering research of Benjamin Libet. Sadly, Dr. Libet passed away last week, at the age of 91. I'm sorry to see him go. Wikipedia has a good article about him. R.I.P., Dr. Libet.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Rollback: Two months on the Locus Bestseller's List

[2008 update: Also see here.]

I am delighted to report that my latest novel Rollback is on the Locus bestsllers' list for a second consecutive month. Locus is the US trade journal of the science-fiction field.

The August 2007 issue, just out, lists these hardcover bestsellers (for the data period May 2007); the numbers at the end of each line are "months on list" and "position last month."

1) The Children of Hurin, J.R.R. Tolkien [2,1]
2) 1634: The Baltic War, Eric Flint & David Weber [2,8]
3) No Humans Involved, Kelley Armstrong [1,-]
4) White Night, Jim Butcher [2,2]
5) All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris [1,-]
6) The Last Colony, John Scalzi [2,7]
7) Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer [2,5]
8) The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss [2,4]
9) Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay [4, -]
10) The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon [1,-]

And here's the listing from last month's Locus [the July 2007 issue, for data period April 2007):

1) The Children of Hurin, J.R.R. Tolkien [1,-]
2) White Night, Jim Butcher [1,-]
3) Into a Dark Realm, Raymond E. Feist [1,-]
4) The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss [1,-]
5) Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer [1,-]
6) For a Few Demons More, Kim Harrison [2,3]
7) The Last Colony, John Scalzi [1,-]
8) 1634: The Baltic War, Eric Flint & David Weber [1,-]
9) Shadowplay, Tad Williams [2,1]
10) Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill [3,7]

The full list is at Locus Online.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rob Sawyer's letter to Toronto's mayor

Apropos of this, here's the letter I just sent -- in hardcopy and electronically -- to Toronto Mayor David Miller (pictured above):

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mayor David Miller
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen St. West 2nd Floor
Toronto ON M5H 2N2

Dear Mayor Miller,

I'm shocked and severely disappointed to read of the huge reductions in services that the Toronto Public Library has had to make in response to your government's funding cuts.

I am cognizant of the fiscal difficulties facing Toronto, but if we lose sight of the big picture -- of the things that make Toronto great -- the consequences will be severe.

The value of libraries in education cannot be overstated, but that's true in any city. What makes Toronto so special is its multiculturalism -- and it is in our libraries that newcomers to Toronto learn about the city and its traditions of inclusiveness and peacefulness. When you force library branches to curtail their hours, cut back on acquisitions, and freeze hiring, you are doing severe damage to the fabric of what once was, and can again be, the greatest city in the world. I urge you and your council to find another solution -- because the current one is untenable.

I speak not just as a library user, but also a past writer-in-residence for TPL, and the current recipient of the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award. I am a writer today because of Toronto's libraries -- and I'm a better citizen today because of them, too. Do not allow the great institution that is TPL to be whittled away by fiscal shortsightedness. Find the funds; don't let literacy, multiculturalism, learning, and fun fall by the wayside in David Miller's Toronto.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert J. Sawyer

CC: Josephine Bryant, TPL Chief Librarian
Kathy Gallagher Ross, Chair, TPL Board

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Toronto Public Library in trouble

The Toronto Public Library -- the largest system in North America, and the second-largest in the world -- is in trouble.


Quill & Quire's blog

This report in The Toronto Star

This letter from the Library Board Chair

This report on the fiscal actions taken

Want to protest the budget cuts? You can let Toronto Mayor David Miller know how you feel:

Mayor David Miller
Toronto City Hall
2nd Floor
100 Queen St. West
Toronto ON
Canada M5H 2N2

Phone: 416-397-CITY (2489)
Fax: 416-696-3687

I, of course, am protesting on my own behalf (and in my capacity as a past writer-in-residence for TPL and the current recipient of the TPL Celebrates Reading Award), but the more angry voices Mayor Miller hears, the better.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Ed Willett sings Star Trek

DAW Author Ed Willett has the best voice in all of science fiction, and here he sings the original Star Trek theme song (betcha didn't know it had lyrics!). Enjoy!

(If you have trouble with the link on Ed's blog, you can also get it here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site