Thursday, January 31, 2008

A nice review of Flashforward

My friend Bonnie Jean Mah just drew this to my attention: A very nice review of my 1999 novel Flashforward. Go me! :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Interview with Rob

McNally-Robinson, a wonderful Canadian bookstore chain, has relaunched its website, and is starting a series of SF&F author interviews. First up: Robert J. Sawyer, interviewed by Kent Pollard. The full text is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The Dissing of SF

I get awfully tired of the dissing of science fiction. In the last hour, I had to deal with it not once but twice. First, a major publisher doing a nonfiction book followed up in email on a bound galley they'd sent me; they want me to blurb the book. I gave them the blurb, but I added this to my commentary:
Let me gently say that I found your existing back-cover text offensive. Someone at your company wrote:

"The stuff of science fiction? Not so. These are actually the reasonable predictions of scientists attempting to forecast a few decades into the future ..."

Which implies that what we science-fiction writers do are UNreasonable predictions -- indeed, wild-ass guesses -- and that "the stuff of science fiction" is a synonym for far-out fantasy. It isn't -- and given that you're publishing a book by a science-fiction writer, and soliciting blurbs from science-fiction writers, I hope you'll re-think this ill-advised cover copy.

The careers of serious science-fiction writers such as myself have been all about "reasonable predictions," and to suggest otherwise is to insult not only your own author but the core readership for this book, by implying they've been foolish to listen to what science fiction has to say. If you mean to say, "The stuff of fantasy," then say that; don't be unfair to science fiction and its practitioners.
Then a Canadian magazine, which is sponsoring a $110-per-ticket public debate I'd agreed to be part of, sent me their draft ad copy for the event, identifying me as "world-renowned futurist Robert J. Sawyer." My response:
It's silly to bill me only as a futurist. I am by far better known as a science-fiction writer. Either say:

"world-renowned science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer"

or, if you want to use the word "futurist," use it in addition to "science-fiction writer":

"world-renowned science-fiction writer and futurist Robert J. Sawyer"

I'm adamant about this, I'm afraid. I simply refuse to try to pass as someone who should be associated with your magazine by hiding what I do for a living. I am a science-fiction writer, and you either think there's value in having one such on your panel, in which case I'm happy to participate, or you don't, in which case I'll politely bow out.
I can understand people dissing SF out of ignorance, but why people would diss it at the same time they're coming to an SF writer for a favour is utterly beyond me.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sharron Smith: Ontario Librarian of the Year

Sharron Smith is one gutsy lady. There are lots of community-wide reading programs in North America. Every once in a while, one of them will do a science-fiction book ... but they always do it stealthfully, choosing books that aren't labeled or marketed as science fiction.

But when Waterloo Region, almost half-a-million people west of Toronto, chose my Hominids for their "One Book, One Community" program, they made history: a community-wide program to read a science-fiction book that was openly identified as such. It was a bold initiative, and, as I learned during that wonderful year, huge numbers of people who had never read SF before discovered that the genre really did have something to offer them.

One of the key players behind the choice to do Hominids has just been honoured in her own right, and I'm totally, totally thrilled for her: Sharron Smith has just been named Ontario's Librarian of the Year. That's Sharron and me above, outside the Mike Lazaridis Lecture Theatre at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, where the press conference announcing the choice of Hominids was held in April 2005.

Sharron and I have kept up our association since: I spoke to her library-based book-club (again, readers who normally never read science fiction) when I was the Kitchener Public Library's Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence in 2006, and last year I was keynote speaker at an Ontario Public Libraries' Readers' Advisory Symposium Sharron chaired.

Below is the press release from the Kitchener Public Library on Sharron's win. Congratulations, Sharron!

Kitchener Public Library Manager Named Librarian of the Year

Kitchener Public Library is proud to claim one of its own as the Province's top librarian. Sharron Smith, Manager of Readers' Advisory Services, was recently selected by the Ontario Library Association for the prestigious W.J. Robertson Medallion. Named in honour of one of the Library Association's founding members, and more commonly known in the profession as "The Librarian of the Year," the award formally recognizes the one individual in the profession who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the advancement of public library service in Ontario.

One look at Smith's contributions to librarianship and you won't wonder why she received the award, but rather why it took so long.

Sharron Smith has worked at Kitchener Public Library since 1990 and is currently the Manager of Readers' Advisory Service, a position she has championed for the past decade. It is Sharron's passion for reading -- and helping others find the perfect great read -- that has drawn the attention of librarians not only across the Province, but across the continent. Sharron is a much sought after speaker and trainer on the complex subject of readers' advisory and has spoken at library conferences in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and in the United States. Sharron is the founding Chair of the Ontario Library Association's Readers' Advisory Committee and serves as a member of the same committee for the American Library Association.

Sharing what you know is the hallmark of a true professional. Sharron teaches the art of readers' advisory to aspiring librarians at the University of Western Ontario's Faculty of Information and Media Studies; and in 2005, she co-authored Canadian Fiction: A Guide to Reading Interests, a reference book now used by librarians across the country.

Locally, avid readers will know Sharron from her popular Saturday morning library book club and from her regular book-talk appearances on local radio and television programs. Sharron is also a founding member of our Region's "One Book One Community" Advisory Committee and a key organizer for the popular annual book festival "Word on the Street."

"Sharron Smith's name is synonymous with readers' advisory" says Sonia Lewis, Kitchener Public Library's CEO. "She has been a true leader in this field, inspiring countless librarians with her knowledge and passion for the fine art of matching readers with good books. When it comes to readers' advisory, she is the best."

And it's because she's the best that Sharron is to be honoured by her colleagues this year. Sharron Smith will officially receive her Librarian of the Year award on January 31st at the annual Public Library Awards dinner, held in conjunction with the Ontario Public Library Association's Annual Super Conference.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ed Hoch passes

For over thirty years, my family had a vacation home near Rochester, New York, and I got pretty plugged into the literary community down there. And the grand old man of Rochester letters was Edward D. Hoch -- a real gentleman, and a very fine writer.

Peter Sellers and I published a story by him in our book Over the Edge: The Crime Writers of Canada Anthology (yes, even though he was an American, Ed was a dues-paying member of the Crime Writers of Canada).

Ed had a story in every single issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine since May 1973 -- over thirty-four years without missing an issue.

He passed away earlier this month at the age of 77, and he shall be sorely missed.

Here's the New York Times obituary.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Go West, Young Man!

And I will -- for much of October 2008.

October 17-19, I will be Guest of Honour at the SF convention Pure Speculation in Edmonton, Alberta.

October 24-26, I'll be returning to the Surrey International Writers Conference, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

And October 29-November 2, I'll be at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, Alberta.


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sci Phi: The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy

Got a review copy of this fascinating new magazine. As the guy who advocates that our genre should really be called "philosophical fiction" -- Phi-Fi instead of Sci-Fi -- this is right up my street, and I'm looking forward to reading it. In the meantime, check it out.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Canadians for the Campbell

There are two awards named for John W. Campbell, Jr. (pictured above), the great editor of Astounding Stories. One is the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel of the Year, and it is the principal juried award in the SF field; I was fortunate enough to win it two years ago for my Mindscan.

The other is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; it's given alongside the Hugos at the World Science Ficton Convention. This year, there are four Canadians eligible for the award:

Stephen Kotowych

Tony Pi

Jerome Steuart

Sarah Totton

I point out (cough, cough) that I have personally mentored three of them: Stephen came to see me when I was writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy; Tony was my writing student at the University of Toronto; and Sarah came to see me when I was writer-in-residence at the Richmond Hill Public Library. Jerome moved to Canada in October 2007.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Helen Keller: What a Gas!

Google has digitized many thousands of books, including The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. And apparently she was one flatulent lady. Check out the table of contents Google has extracted from the book.

Ah, the rush to digitize! Even if the technology isn't quite there yet ... ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Toronto launch party for Identity Theft

Mark your calendars! The Toronto launch party for Robert J. Sawyer's new collection Identity Theft and Other Stories will be Saturday, May 10, 2008, from 3:00 p.m. on at Bakka-Phoenix Books, 697 Queen Street West (just west of Bathurst Street), Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Want to be my editor?

Penguin Canada is looking for a full-time editor specializing in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and other commercial fiction to work out of its Toronto office. The new editor will work on the Canadian editions of Robert J. Sawyer's upcoming WWW trilogy, on future books by Guy Gavriel Kay, and on other projects.

The job posting is here.

I had a conversation with Penguin Canada publisher David Davidar about this. This is a real job posting, not a pro forma listing; there is no hidden front-runner, and Penguin Canada is willing to hire from outside of Canada (although you'd have to relocate to Toronto to take the job). The new editor is expected to start work next month (February 2008).

Penguin Canada is a highly successful company, with one hundred million dollars in revenues last year.

(Barbara Berson, who was to have been my editor and had been editing Guy Gavriel Kay, has moved on; hence this vacancy. I wish Barbara all the best!)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sometimes I do help them with their homework ...

A high-school student wrote me this evening to say he was doing a project for his English class on my Rollback, in which he was going to explore four major moral issues related to rejuvenation and life prolongation -- and he asked me to suggest what those issues might be. And so, in 90 seconds, I banged out these:

Moral issue 1: If the process is expensive, should it be only the rich who should have access to it, or should there be some other mechanism for determining who gets to live forever?

Moral issue 2: If people are going to live forever, meaning they never stop taking up space and consuming resources, should they also still be allowed to breed?

Moral issue 3: In criminal cases, do "life sentences" or the "death penalty" become disproportionately severe if a person is/was going to live forever?

Moral issue 4: If it costs millions or billions to live forever, is it morally right to spend that much to do so when there are still starving people in the world -- if you could feed hundreds or thousands of people for a decade for the cost of giving yourself another century of life, doesn't morality demand that you spend the money helping the greatest number of people rather than spending it on yourself?

Other posers related to Rollback are in the readers' group / book-club discussion guide for the novel here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Rollback nominated for ALA's Best Adult Genre Fiction list

The American Library Association has announced its 2008 Reading List: Best Adult Genre Fiction, selecting books in eight different categories "that merit special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them."

The winner this year in the Science Fiction category is In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (congrats, Kathleen!), published by Tor (ISBN 978-0765313553)

But the short list of nine other nominees also included Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer:
  • Gibson, William. Spook Country. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007. ISBN: 978-0399154300

  • Kenyon, Kay. Bright of Sky. Pyr, 2007. ISBN: 978-1591025412

  • Mackay, Scott. Phytosphere. New American Library, 2007. ISBN: 978-0451461582

  • McDonald, Ian. Brasyl. Pyr, 2007. ISBN: 978-1591025436

  • Morgan, Richard. Thirteen. Del Rey/Ballantine, 2007. ISBN: 978-0345485250

  • Sawyer, Robert J. Rollback. Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0765311085

  • Scalzi, John. The Last Colony. Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0765316974

  • Van Name, Mark L. One Jump Ahead. Baen, 2007. ISBN: 978-1416520856

  • Wilson, Robert Charles. Axis. Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0765348265
What's staggering is that four of the ten nominees are by Canadians (William Gibson lives in Vancouver, and Scott Mackay, Robert J. Sawyer, and Robert Charles Wilson all live in Greater Toronto).

The full list in all categories is here as a Word document, and more about how the list was created is here on the ALA website; this is the first year the ALA has issued such a list.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rob the Tour Guide

(Left to right: Carolyn Clink, Robert J. Sawyer, Peter Halasz, Shoshana Glick, Robert Charles Wilson)

Shoshana Glick, my dear friend from Seattle, came to stay with Carolyn and me for two days this week (Tuesday and Wednesday), and I played tour guide. On Tuesday, Sho and I went to the Royal Ontario Museum -- my first time since the grand reopening last month -- to see the new dinosaur gallery (about which more in another post when I have time) and a wonderful display of antique typewriters.

We then spent the evening at The Central (a pub) for the Plasticine Poetry series, where my great friend Halli Villegas was headlining; she read fabulously.

And yesterday, Carolyn and I picked up Hugo-winner Robert Charles Wilson and we all went to Sci-Fi World, one of Toronto's SF specialty stores, then headed off to rendezvous with SF collector Peter Halasz for lunch at the Sierra Grill, which has Toronto's best salad bar (Shoshana is a vegetarian -- that's fake fur in the photo).

After that it was off to The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy (where I used to be writer-in-residence), where the wonderful Lorna Toolis gave us the behind-the-scenes tour (including showing us their copies of the first edition of Amazing Stories and the first edition of Dracula).

After that, I kid you not, it was off to a museum devoted entirely to footwear: The Bata Shoe Museum. It was fascinating, actually, and the displays were very well done, unlike (cough, cough) the new ones at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Then it was time for a little RJS colour: we went to The Duke of York, the pub that Lenore works at in my current novel Rollback. After that, we saw the play "Criminals in Love" by George F. Walker at the Hart House Theatre. After that, we had drinks in another pub, then dropped Shoshana at the bus terminal just after midnight so she could head off for Detroit.

All in all, a very pleasant couple of days! But now -- back to work for me ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, January 17, 2008

At least in Austria, a chimp is not a person

Personhood for great apes is an issue I allude to from time to time in my writings, particulary in my Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment from 1995:
When Peter Hobson had taken a university elective in taxonomy, the two species of chimpanzees had been Pan troglodytes (common chimps) and Pan paniscus (pygmy chimps).

But the split between chimps and humans had occurred just 500,000 generations ago, and they still have 98.4% of their DNA in common. In 1993, a group including evolutionist Richard Dawkins and bestselling science-fiction writer Douglas Adams published the Declaration on Great Apes, which urged the adoption of a bill of rights for our simian cousins.

In took thirteen years, but eventually their declaration came to be argued at the UN. An unprecedented resolution was adopted formally reclassifying chimpanzees as members of genus Homo, meaning there were now three extant species of humanity: Homo sapiens, Homo troglodytes, and Homo paniscus. Human rights were divided into two broad categories: those, such as the entitlement to life, liberty, and freedom from torture, that applied to all members of genus Homo, and other rights, such as pursuit of happiness, religious freedom, and ownership of land, that were reserved exclusively to H. sapiens.

Of course, under Homo rights, no one could ever kill a chimp again for experimental purposes -- indeed, no one could imprison a chimp in a lab. And many nations had modified their legal definitions of homicide to include the killing of chimps.

Adriaan Kortlandt, the first animal behaviorist to observe wild chimpanzees, once referred to them as "eerie souls in animals' furs." But now Peter Hobson was in a position to see how literally Kortlandt's observation should be taken. The soulwave existed in Homo sapiens. It did not exist in Bos taurus, the common cow. Peter supported the simian-rights movement, but all the good that had been done in the last few years might be undone if it were shown that humans had souls but chimps did not. Still, Peter knew that if he himself did not do the test, someone else eventually would.

Even though chimps were no longer captured for labs, zoos, or circuses, some were still living in human-operated facilities. The United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S., Tanzania, and Burundi jointly funded a chimpanzee retirement home in Glasgow -- of all places -- for chimps that couldn't be returned to the wild. Peter phoned the sanctuary, to find out if any of the chimps there were near death. According to the director, Brenda MacTavish, several were in their fifties, which was old age for a chimp, but none were terminal. Still, Peter arranged to have some scanning equipment shipped to her.
The issue is also touched on in Wake, the novel I'm currently writing.

Well, the question has been addressed in by the Supreme Court in Austria now, and the judgment was that chimps are not people. Read more here, in an Associated Press story.

Me, I say free the apes now, before this all turns ugly.
"Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of Man's downfall -- the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!"

-- Caesar, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

New Scientist on Low-Carb Dieting

As a guy who not only lost a lot of weight four years ago by restricting my carb intake, but has kept it off, I was gratified to see the following commentary in the January 19, 2008, New Scientist:
For the past century, the advice to the overweight and obese has remained remarkably consistent: consume fewer calories than you expend and you will lose weight. This prescription seems eminently reasonable. The only problem is that it doesn't seem to work. Neither eating less nor moving more reverses the course of obesity in any but the rarest cases.


There is considerable evidence that the obesity epidemic is caused by a hormonal phenomenon, specifically by the consumption of refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars, all of which prompt (sooner or later) excessive insulin secretion. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, fat accumulates in our body tissue; when they fall, fat is released and we use it for fuel. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat; by driving us to accumulate fat, they increase hunger and decrease the energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity. In short, obesity is caused not by overeating or sedentary behaviour, but by hormonal malfunctioning triggered by the consumption of particular types of carbohydrate-containing foods.

Obesity researchers, nutritionists and health authorities have refused to contemplate this scenario, partly because it would imply that diet-book doctors advocating carbohydrate-restricted diets -- Robert Atkins et al -- were right all along. Instead, these alleged experts and guardians of our health have wasted a good part of a century on research based on a high-school misconception, watching their compatriots grow ever fatter while blaming everyone but themselves. In the process, they have created a field of clinical medicine that functions more like a religion than a science. It is time to put science back in charge.
The above is by Gary Taubes, author of the new book The Diet Delusion.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Valley of Day-Glo cover

The cover for Valley of Day-Glo by Nick DiChario, coming in May 2008 from Robert J. Sawyer Books, the science-fiction imprint of Red Deer Press.

The wonderful cover design is by Karen Petherick Thomas, who also did these covers for my upcoming collections.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Another Hugo suggestion: The Gospel According to Science Fiction

The nonfiction book The Gospel According to Science Fiction by Gabriel McKee is a very worthy candidate, in my humble opinion, for the 2008 Hugo Award for for Best Related Book. Check out what I had to say when I first read the book last year.

(The 2008 "Best Related Book" Hugo is to honor "a work whose subject is related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time in book form during 2007, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text.")

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monkey Planet and its film adaptations

I quite like the Pierre Boulle novel sometimes called Monkey Planet in English (a lousy translation of the title: Planet of the Apes is much closer in structure to the original French, which was "La Planète des singes" -- and although "singe" is both "ape" and "monkey" in French, they are two different words (and types of primates!) in English. One wonders how careful Xan Fielding was in doing the translation of a book that's all about apes when this distinction was utterly lost on him).

Sadly, Fielding's is the only English translation; he got the job of translating this science-fiction novel because he'd previously translated Boulle's earlier novel The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Boulle himself did not speak or write English, by the way, so his having won the Oscar for the screenplay of the movie version of The Bridge on the River Kwai is a sham; the actual screenwriters (Michael Wilson -- who went on to co-author the original Planet of the Apes script with Rod Serling -- and Carl Foreman) were blacklisted, although they received belated Oscars posthumously.

The 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, is much closer to the Boulle original than is the Tim Burton "remake." The 1968 version resembles the original novel in characters (Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius all figure prominently), in setup, in plot line, and in being rich social comment (albeit on different topics; Boulle's target is mostly the stuffiness of academia and the inefficiency of bureaucracies; Wilson and Serling, in their screenplay, go after religious fundamentalism and racism).

The Tim Burton remake has almost no points of similarity with the Boulle, and the Wilson/Serling ending ("it was Earth!") and the Boulle ending ("it could happen here, too!") actually are very similar dramatically, although, yes, the Burton has echoes of the Boulle in its (otherwise awful) very last scene, too.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sawyer interview on Roboethics online

The whole 20-minute interview with science-fiction writer and futurist Robert J. Sawyer about robot ethics that aired Monday, January 14, 2008, on TVOntario's flagship current-affairs program The Agenda is now available online here.

To watch, click on Robert Sawyer. (There's also a second interview with me accessible from the same page: Web-Exclusive: Robert Sawyer. That's a shorter one just about my time at Berton House in the Yukon, although the first one, the one on roboethics, also begins with a reference to that.)

By the way, I got a nice note from John Robert Colombo, the editor of Colombo's Canadian Quotations and other quote books, saying he'd added a couple of things I'd said in this interview to his quotations file:
"Science fiction is a Distant Early Warning System for social upheaval."

"The role of the science-fiction writer is to be the conscience of the technological age."

-- Robert J. Sawyer, author, interviewed by Steve Paikin, TVOntario’s The Agenda, 14 Jan. 2008.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Berton House memories

In a web exclusive video, TVOntario's Steve Paikin interviews Robert J. Sawyer about his summer at the Berton House Writing Retreat (click on "Web-Exclusive: Robert Sawyer).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Coming Soon: The Collected Short Stories of RJS

Coming in May 2008 to a bookstore near you:

Red Deer Press is releasing my second collection of short stories, Identity Theft and Other Stories, in May 2008 in hardcover and trade paperback.

At the same time, they're issuing a new trade-paperback edition of my first collection, Iterations and Other Stories, which was first publised in hardcover six years ago this month by Quarry Press, and had a wonderful trade paperback later on from Red Deer. Both those editions have sold out, to my delight, and so Red Deer is doing a new printing, with a cover to match my new collection.

Between the two of them, these books collect all my short fiction to date. Each story is preceded by my own personal introduction, and the books have overall introductions by Robert Charles Wilson (to Identity Theft) and James Alan Gardner (to Iterations).

The books will be published by the Red Deer Press division of Fitzhenry & Whiteside, the company that also produces my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint.

The spectacular cover designs are by Karen Petherick Thomas.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Half a Wake ...

I sent the first 207 manuscript pages of Wake -- about half the book -- to Barbara Berson, my editor at Penguin Canada, today (and I'll be sending her and Ginjer Buchanan, my US editor, the rest next month). Wake is the first volume of my new WWW trilogy.

I note for the record that I have the best friends ever. I wanted to have some fresh eyes look at the material before it went to my editor, so on Thursday, January 10, I gave the latest draft of the first 174 pages of the book to some beta-test readers -- and all these fine folks had detailed comments to me by Sunday night, January 13:
  • Ted Bleaney
  • David Clink
  • Marcel Gagné
  • Al Katerinsky
  • Herb Kauderer
  • Fiona Kelleghan
  • Ariel Reich
  • Sally Tomasevic
  • Hayden Trenholm
These fine folks dropped everything on incredibly short notice to help a friend in need, and I thank them profusely!

(That's Herb Kauderer above, writing his own fiction on the balcony of my penthouse back in September 2006.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, January 13, 2008

RJS on TVO's The Agenda on Monday

I'll be a guest on TVOntario's flagship current affairs program The Agenda tomorrow, Monday, January 14, 2008. The Agenda is seen across Ontario at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., and also at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, and will be available online. The host of the agenda is the always insightful Steve Paikin.

We actually recorded this segment on December 11, 2007; the topic is roboethics (the ethics of robots), growing out of my editorial in the November 16 issue of Science, the world's leading scientific journal.

Above: science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer during an earlier appearance on The Agenda.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Arisia programming schedule

One week from today I head off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for Arisia, a four-day SF convention over the 2008 Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend.

Here's my programming schedule:

Robert J. Sawyer Reading
Sat 11:00 AM 1hr

Hugo winner Robert J. Sawyer reads.

Trend? What Trend?
Sat 1:00 PM 1hr
Lauran Anne Gilman (m), Robert J. Sawyer

In a perfect world, your book about "X" hits the market exactly when the readership is saying, "We want a book about X!" But popularity can be a double-eged sword.... hear discussions on the pros and cons of being popular -- and why sometimes being "in" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Science Fiction About "Touchy" Subjects
Sat 2:00 PM 1hr
Suford Lewis, Ken Gale (m), Aline Boucher Kaplan, Allen Steele, Robert J. Sawyer

SF these days is full of the moral dilemmas that the general public shrinks from. Why is science fiction good at talking about things people don't want to address? Does SF deal with such matters directly or metaphorically (i.e., coded in the language of the genre)? Are those aliens really aliens or are they standing in for someone else?

SF Mysteries: Laughs, Blood, & Technomurder
Sun 12:00 PM 1hr
John Sundman, Barry Longyear, Melissa Scott (m), Robert J. Sawyer

Crimes picked apart, stabbed, strangled, and otherwise discussed by perpetrators of the subgenre science fiction mysteries.

In a very nice move, the con has made the full pocket program available in advance online right here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot includes Rollback

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have just released their Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot. Here's the list in the Novel category (under the SFWA "rolling eligibility" rules, a number of these books are from two years ago):
  • The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman
  • Blindsight, by Peter Watts
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  • Mainspring, by Jay Lake
  • The New Moon's Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Odyssey, by Jack McDevitt
  • The Outback Stars, by Sandra McDonald
  • Ragamuffin, by Tobias Buckell
  • Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Species Imperative #3: Regeneration, by Julie E. Czerneda
  • Strange Robby, by Selina Rosen
  • Vellum: The Book of All Hours, by Hal Duncan
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
It must be something in the water up here, 'cause I note that four of the 13 novels are by Canadians (Czerneda, Hopkinson, Sawyer, and Watts -- sounds like a law firm!).

SFWA members will now vote on this preliminary ballot, and the top five, plus optionally a sixth work not listed here that may be added by a jury, will constitute the final Nebula Award ballot.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Raincoast Books: take the money and run

Bookninja has it right: Raincoast casts off sheep’s clothing. The Canadian publisher of the Harry Potter books claims it's too poor to do any domestic Canadian publishing. Yeah, right.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Party at Rob and Carolyn's place

Carolyn and I are having a party at our place in Mississauga (Greater Toronto Area) on Saturday, February 9, 2008, from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.

This is a party for our friends in science-fiction fandom, and for fans of my books. If you fall into either category, and would like to attend, please send me an email at, and I'll send you directions. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

And if you liked that other Doctor Who bit from YouTube ...

... check out this one, from the British comedy series Dead Ringers, brought to my attention on my newsgroup by the beauteous and talented Bonnie Jean Mah. It's just two minutes, and it's a hoot.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Fictionwise buys eReader store

Those savvy brothers Scott and Steve Pendergrast, who already run the best ebook store on the net, the venerable, have just bought the net's biggest ebook store, -- and I'm delighted. eReader is a better format, in my view, than Mobipocket, with a much more livable DRM scheme. Very interesting times in the ebook world!

(Although I like the Amazon Kindle reading device -- which uses Mobipocket -- the best ebook experience in my view is still on a Palm OS handheld running eReader.)

The press release is online over at TeleRead.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Doctor Who "Time Crash"

Over on my Yahoo! Groups News Group, Steven H. Silver -- a fine choice for the fan-writer Hugo, by the way -- pimped this 8-minute Doctor Who special short, in which David Tennant's Doctor meets Peter Davison's one. It's absolutely charming, if you're a Doctor Who fan ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

'Cause, y'know, it might not last ...

So, I saw out of the corner of my eye a promo for the new CBC TV series jPod today, based on the Douglas Coupland book, and I said to myself, "That can't be Alan Thicke, can it?" So I googled, and end up at Thicke's official website, and, indeed, it is Thicke, whom I've always liked, so I may have to give the show a try (plus, as you can see above, the show also stars Sherry Miller -- every Canadian male of my generation had a crush on her from her sexy Spumante Bambino commercials).

But I was amused by this line in Thicke's official bio: "Alan currently is married to Tanya Callau." Ah, Al, you big romantic, you! Friendly bit of advice as we slide toward Valentine's Day: drop the adverb. ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Philip K. Dick Award finalists

This year's finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award -- honoring SF books first published in the previous year as paperback originals in the US -- include my friend and fellow Canadian Minister Faust for The Notebooks of Dr. Brain.

The full list:
  • Grey, Jon Armstrong (Night Shade)
  • Undertow, Elizabeth Bear (Bantam Spectra)
  • From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, Minister Faust (Del Rey)
  • Nova Swing, M. John Harrison (Bantam Spectra)
  • Gradisil, Adam Roberts (Pyr)
  • Ally, Karen Traviss (Eos)
  • Saturn Returns, Sean Williams (Ace)
Many years ago, I was a Philip K. Dick Award judge. The previous Canadian PKD Award winners are Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984), and, in the year I was a judge, Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson -- long before we became close friends, I might add. :)

The copy of the cover of Minister Faust's book that is kicking around online has a quote from Richard K. Morgan in the upper left, but the actual book instead has this blurb from me there: "An outlandish, outrageous tour de force by the most innovative prose stylist in the field." --Robert J. Sawyer, author of Hominids

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Remainders: What do authors get?

My friend Mark Leslie Lefebvre sent me an interesting question today:
I also had a question about remainders (since I know that some of your older titles or books that have gone into paperback have gone into remainder status -- after an incredibly great run as a traditional trade book, of course). Remainders/Bargain Books are a win-win situation for consumers and for bookstores (lower retail, higher margins) but what about the author?

When Tor remainders your old stuff, is there any sort of compensation given to the author (ie, some sort of token royalty payment for that liquidated stock?) I've only seen this from a customer's and a bookseller's perspective, so was curious as to the author's side of things.
A good question! Tor's boilerplate remainder clause says this:
Remainder Sales. On copies of any edition of the Work sold in a remainder sale or a special stock reduction sale, a royalty of ten percent of the excess, if any, of the net amount received by the Publisher over the average cost of copies of that edition.
Now, let's try to parse that out. Most Tor hardcovers have a cover price of US$24.95, and on copies sold in the US, authors get 10% of that on the first 5,000 copies (which is $2.50 a copy), 12.5% on the next 5,000 copies (which is $3.12 a copy), and 15% on anything over 10,000 copies (which is $3.75 a copy). The deal is similar with all other commercial SF publishers.

[On the other hand, it should be noted that very few SF novels sell over 5,000 copies in hardcover; for the majority of SF authors, the effective royalty on all copies sold in the US prior to remaindering is 10%.]

But what about those bargain-table remainders? Well, Tor sells the remainders of its US$25 hardcovers to whoever wants to buy them (and the author does get first dibs) at US$1.75 or so a copy. And what royalty does the author get?

Not 10% of cover. Not 10% even of that $1.75 (which would be 18 cents), but rather 10% of the amount by which $1.75 exceeds the average manufacturing cost of copies of the actual book ... which, in my experience it never does. I don't know what it costs Tor to print its hardcovers, but I do know from my experience editing RJS Books that we pay over $5.00 a copy.

Mark is right: Tor does remainder all my books (and all its other authors' books) eventually; the average sell-through for a hardcover (the percentage of the copies printed that actually sell during its initial release) is only about 50%; there are always remainders -- even of superstar authors like Stephen King and Michael Crichton. Tor even oh-so-helpfully remaindered Hominids the very month it won the Hugo.

And he's right that bookstores love selling remainders, because although they've bought them up at $1.75 a copy or so (albeit on a non-returnable basis), they can sell 'em at whatever they like, and you'll often see them sold for more than three times that much. A $5.99 remainder is $4.24 of profit for the bookstore (compared to the $2.65 the bookstore would pocket on a mass-market paperback priced at $5.99, assuming the store got a fairly a typical 44% discount from the publisher).

So, yes, remainders are good for bookstores, and they allow publishers to recover some of their costs, but, in fact, in most cases, the author doesn't make a penny off them.

Just so you know.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Book Lover's Ball coming soon

I'm going to be one of the participating authors at the Toronto Public Library's third annual Book Lover's Ball, coming on Thursday, January 31, 2008. It's a swanky, black-tie, $500-a-plate fund-raising dinner for North America's largest public-library system.

It's also the event at which I will pass the torch of the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award -- which I won last year -- to this year's recipient, my great friend, the wonderful mystery writer Peter Robinson.

I'm off to rent a tux this afternoon ...

Above: Robert J. Sawyer and TV host Mary Ito at the 2007 Book Lover's Ball

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, January 7, 2008

Robert Fitzhenry passes

My Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint is published by Red Deer Press, which, in turn, is owned by Fitzhenry and Whiteside, a long-established, mid-sized Canadian publisher, run by Sharon Fitzhenry, daughter of co-founder Robert I. Fitzhenry.

Sharon's dad just passed away. There would be no Robert J. Sawyer Books -- and a lot less Canadian publishing in general -- if it hadn't been for him, and he will be missed. The Globe and Mail ran this brief obituary, with the promise that a full one is forthcoming:
Toronto -- American by birth but Canadian by choice, publisher Robert Fitzhenry died at home in his sleep on Thursday, Jan. 3. He was 89.

A wordsmith and an entrepreneur, he moved across the border in 1966 and co-founded Fitzhenry & Whiteside, a significant distribution company that represented Harper & Row (now part of HarperCollins) and other American houses, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Mr. Fitzhenry published a number of Canadian reference books, including the Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary and the Fitzhenry & Whiteside Thesaurus, Book of Quotations, Book of Canadian Facts and Dates and Trees in Canada.

He had been in ill health since suffering the first of two serious strokes in 1995. Predeceased by wife Hilda and daughter Bridget, he is survived by daughters Sharon and Hollister Doll (Holly) and three grandchildren. There will be a private family funeral followed by a public memorial service at a later date.
As another science-fictional connection, it should be noted that Fitzhenry & Whiteside used to be the Canadian distributor of Ace Books.

Rest in peace, Mr. Fitzhenry.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


And my own eligible work: Rollback

Speaking of Hugo and Aurora Awards, might I gently remind the world that my novel Rollback is currently eligible for nomination for both?

Rollback was published in hardcover by Tor in April 2007 (and was a Main Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club); the paperback comes out February 5, 2008.

Rollback is currently on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot. Others have suggested Rollback is worthy of awards consideration, too:
"Sawyer, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards, may well win another major SF award with this superior effort." --Publishers Weekly (starred review, denoting a book of exceptional merit)

"An early candidate for sci-fi book of the year." --Kansas City Star (which also included Rollback on its Top-Five SF Books of the Year list)

"Rollback gets my vote as SF novel of the year. A joy to read." --Jack McDevitt, author of Odyssey

"I highly recommend Robert J. Sawyer's Rollback. It's a shoo-in to be short-listed for next year's major awards." --SciFiDimensions
Much more about Rollback, including sample chapters, more reviews, and a book-club discussion guide, is here.

(Yes, the full text of Rollback was originally serialized in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the world's top-selling English-language SF magazine, in the October 2006, November 2006, December 2006, and January-February 2007 issues, but it's the date of the final issue that determines award eligibility. Rollback is a 2007 work and is indeed eligible for the Hugo and the Aurora to be given in 2008.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Kirstin Morrell for the Aurora

Nominating is now open for the Aurora Awards. For the first time ever, you can nominate online. All Canadians are eligible to do so, and there's no cost to nominate.

And although the Canadian SF Works Database that Marcel Gagné and I founded provides a wiki list of professional works that are eligible for the Auroras (and other awards), there's no central place on line that gathers info about potential nominees for Auroras in the three fan categories, and so I'm going to make a recommendation here.

The heart of fandom, in my view, is science-fiction conventions. Canada has fine ones in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and other places, but one of my very favourites is Con-Version in Calgary, and last year, when there was doubt about whether the convention would continue at all, the wonderful Kirstin Morrell stepped up to the plate, and chaired what was, by all reports, one of the best Con-Versions ever. She's going to be one of my nominees for the Aurora this year, and I urge you to consider making her one of yours.

Kirstin is eligible in the category "Fan Achievement (Organizational) - 2007" as "Kirstin Morrell, chair, Con-Version 23."

Pictured: Kirstin Morrell. If you look carefully in the background, you will see two of her favourite things: the starship Enterprise and bottles of wine ... ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

High time Stan Schmidt got a Hugo!

This year, 2008, is the 30th anniversary of Stanley Schmidt becoming editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Despite Analog being consistently the English-speaking world's #1 best-selling SF magazine for that entire period, Stan has never won a Hugo Award for Best Editor. It's high time he did win.

To nominate and vote, you have to be an attending or supporting member of this year's World Science Fiction Convention, Denvention 3.

Membership info is here -- you need to be at least a Supporting Member to nominate.

And the Hugo ballot itself is here. People who are already members should be receiving their online nominating identification numbers in the mail very shortly, if they haven't already.

Now, yes, Stan is probably a slam-dunk to get nominated this year -- he's nominated every year. But if you want to vote for him on the final ballot, which will come out in March, you have to be a paid-up Denvention 3 member by January 31, 2008; if you're not yet a member, and would like to help see Stan get his way-overdue rocket trophy, now's the time to sign up -- don't wait to become a member until the final ballot is out, because by then it's too late. Again, details on how to become a member are here.

Stan's own web page is here. In addition to 2008 being Stan's 30th anniversary as editor of Analog, it's also his 40th anniversary as a published SF writer. Besides actually editing Analog (and in a very hands-on fashion, working diligently with his writers), it should be noted that Stan is the only editor of a major SF magazine to write an editorial for each issue, and his editorials are in themselves worth the cost of the magazine.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Just when I thought Britannica might finally have gotten it right ...

... they pull a boneheaded stunt.

Okay, we all know that traditional encyclopedia publishers have been taking a beating as people turn to the free Wikipedia for content.

Still, every couple of years I update my Encyclopaedia Britannica CD-ROM. This year, I opted for the 2008 Ultimate DVD edition because, as it says on the packaging, it includes: "Free! Encylopaedia Britannica Online 1-Year Subscription -- a $70 Value!"

I mean, heck, the DVD, with over three gigs of quality content was only $35 -- and with a year of online access thrown in, it's a bargain, right? Especially if you want signed articles by authorities whose bona fides you can trace, right? (For example, Britannica's article on "Science Fiction" is by none other than Bruce Sterling.)

But it turns out that what's included is NOT a free one-year subscription to Britannica Online. No, it's a free one-year trial of Britannica Online that auto-renews at $49 if you don't cancel it before the end of the year. You have to give a credit-card number to claim your "free" subscription, and if you don't cancel on just the right day you either (a) get charged more than you paid for the effing DVD in the first place, or (b) get something less than the year you were promised because you canceled early.

F*ck that noise. In its quest to beat Wikipedia at its own game, instead of taking lessons in how online access should be done, they've copied the ploys used by porn sites,, and other shady dealers. When will they ever learn?

There are some improvements in the latest CD-ROM/DVD version of Britannica, most notably that long articles appear as one continuous scrollable page, instead of in little section-by-section chunks, which does make finding particular facts easier, and you can freely export articles to HTML.

But the largest font size you can select in Britnanica is still too small for my eyes, and they still use the clunky not-Windows-standard Java engine they've been using for the last several years, so all the menus and dialog boxes look a bit off.

Also, while the included Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary is indeed the new 11th edition, it's actually a stripped-down version, missing proper nouns such as Toronto and Clinton that are in the print and standalone CD-ROM versions.


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rollback #1 at Bakka-Phoenix

I'm pleased as punch to announced that my 17th novel Rollback was the #1 bestselling hardcover for the entire year of 2007 at Toronto's Bakka-Phoenix, the world's oldest surviving science-fiction specialty bookstore, beating out J.K. Rowling for the top spot.

And Phyllis Gotlieb's Birthstones, published under Red Deer Press's Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint, was #4.

At #1 on the paperback list: Old Man's War by my friend John Scalzi.

The full lists, in all categories, are here in Bakka-Phoenix's LiveJournal.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Penguin Canada tops $100 million

Penguin Canada is my new Canadian publisher; I'm about to turn in Wake, the first volume of my upcoming WWW trilogy, to them. Good to know that they're doing fine, as you can see in this Publishers Weekly article.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

eBooks directly to your handheld

One of the coolest things about Amazon's new Kindle eBook reader is the ability to download content directly to the reader, without having to use a separate computer. (Although, as I mentioned before, it was really the old Rocket eBook devices that pioneered this notion, delivering eBooks just by plugging your reader into a phone line.)

In order to compete, now is offering their flagship eReader Pro software for free for Windows Mobile PDAs and Windows-powered smartphones, and they've added "OTA" -- "over-the-air" -- technology to let you download books directly to the device.

But what about us folks with Palm OS devices? Well, if yours has WiFi (as mine does) or you have a Palm OS smartphone, try this for an easy experience downloading public-domain and Creative Commons ebooks straight to your device: the mobile-optimized, a simplified portal to the site I raved about earlier:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Year in Review: 2007

Happy New Year, Everyone!

This past year was spectacular for me, I must say. In approximately chronological order:Now, onward to 2008!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site