Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wake delivered

I am delighted to announce that today I delivered the 100,000-word manuscript for Wake, my 18th novel, to Ginjer Buchanan at Penguin USA's Ace Science Fiction imprint and to Nicole Winstanely at Penguin Canada.

I'm sure there will still be another draft, when my editors request revisions, and I'm still waiting for some feedback from experts who are reviewing the manuscript -- I'll incorporate what they have to say in the final draft. But, for now, I can set the book aside, and work on something else -- like the sequel! Wake is the first volume of my WWW trilogy; the second volume will be called Watch and the third will be Wonder.

I started writing the actual manuscript of Wake on Friday, November 5, 2004. Back then, I'd conceived of it as a standalone novel. I took a break, wrote Rollback, and came back to the project, re-envisioning it as a trilogy.

The book is scheduled for Spring 2009 publication.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sawyer one of "The CanLit 30"

To my astonishment and delight, Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, has just released (as the cover story in its March 2008 issue) its first-ever list of "The CanLit 30: The most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing." On the list: Robert J. Sawyer.

The unnumbered list takes ten pages in the magazine. I share a page with Geoffrey Taylor, the artistic director of the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront and with powerhouse literary agents Michael Levine and Jackie Kaiser, of Westwood Creative Artists.

The write-up about me says, "When Penguin Canada snatched up domestic rights to science fiction giant Robert J. Sawyer last year, it felt like the Canuck industry was finally waking up to an entire genre. Not that Sawyer really needed the nod: he already sells more than respectably and has a shelf full of major sci-fi prizes. As a generous mentor to other writers, the proprietor of his own eponymous imprint at Red Deer Press, and a frequent media pundit, Sawyer is the public face of Canadian sci-fi."

Only three authors made the list: Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, and Robert J. Sawyer.

Others on the list include Heather Reisman, CEO of bookstore chain Chapters/Indigo; Martin Levin, book-review editor for The Globe and Mail; and David Kent, president of HarperCollins Canada.

I am thrilled, honoured, and very pleased.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

All versions of eReader Pro are now free

I think eReader (formerly PalmReader) is the best ebook reading software out there, better than Mobipocket (and with a much better DRM scheme). just acquired, and to celebrate, they've made all versions of eReader Pro, their premium software, free. You can get them right here, for Windows, Mac, Palm, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and OQO.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Steven Gould's blog

It's been many a year since I've run into Steven Gould and his wife Laura Mixon, but I've always been fond of them -- and Steve is living what many novelists dream of just now: his novel Jumper has been made into a major Hollywood motion picture, which premiered last week.

You can tag along with Steve as he enjoys all the excitment by reading his blog.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Globe and Mail mentions Sawyer, Robinson

Jack Kirchhoff of The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper does a weekly roundup of notable titles newly in paperback, and this week (Saturday, February 16, 2008) he mentions two science-fiction books with Canadian authors:


By Robert Sawyer, Tor, 313 pages, $8.99

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is backdrop for Sawyer's investigation of the implications of humanity's soon-to-be-realized ability to roll back the aging process.


By Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, Tor, 352 pages, $9.99

A composer flees a tragic affair, determined to begin a new life for himself in space, only to be derailed by a literally cosmic cataclysm.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

eBooks that hard code flush-right margins

A note I sent to the fine folks at

Might you have a word with your vendors about the fact that it's wrong to force full justification of text in ebooks? The last two secure Mobipocket ebooks I've bought from you have flush-right margins regardless of what setting is chosen in Mobipocket reader. On narrow screens, to me, right-justified text looks awful, and is very hard to read (because of the often huge gaps between words).

The books in question:


The Next Fifty Years

I forgave the former book (Nonzero by Robert Wright), because it was released six years ago, but the latter -- The Next Fifty Years, edited by John Brockman -- just came out as an ebook. Both were published by Random House.

Yes, I know some people like full justification; that's not the point. If they like it, they can turn it on in Mobipocket; if they don't, they should be able to turn it off, but these books force it on regardless, and that's contrary to the spirit of what the ebook reading experience should be: text formatted the way the individual reader likes it.

(Oh, and I would have bought these titles in eReader format, but they weren't offered in it.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Writing retreat

I'm away with eight good friends (including Randy McCharles, chair of this year's World Fantasy Convention, and Asimov's and Analog author Susan Forest) on a writing retreat in Banff, Alberta. I happened to be in Calgary this past Thursday, giving a keynote address to the annual professional-development conference for Calgary high-school teachers, and sticking around for this was irresistable, as I slide toward my deadline this coming Thursday for Wake, my 18th novel.

Banff is a wonderful ski-resort town in the Canadian Rockies. We're staying at the Hidden Ridge Resort, which is gorgeous. We've rented a two-bedroom-plus-loft condo (with balcony, fireplace, and two bathrooms) that looks like this. I'm paying extra to have one of the bedrooms to myself (the one just inside the patio door on the ground floor in the floor plan here), but we're all writing in the living room with laptops: six people around the dining-room table, one more on the floor, and two of us (me and Mike Gillett) on the couch, with our feet up on little coffee tables.

Everyone has been working hard. We were at it until 11:00 p.m. last night, and back at work by 7:30 a.m. this morning. Randy McCharles and a couple of others have taken a break to go outdoor hot-tubbing now, but the rest of us are still pounding away. The only sounds I've heard for the last few hours are the soft clicking of keys and mice.

I'm making great progress doing my final-top down edit of Wake. My goal is actually to cut, not add; the manuscript stood at 104,000 words when I arrived, and I want to tighten it to under 100,000 by Monday afternoon, when we leave. I'm also incorporating feedback from some very kind blind people who have been beta-testing the book for me, as one of the book's main characters has been blind since birth.

Anyway, it's been wonderfully productive so far -- and I should get back to it!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What I was doing 40 years ago today

On February 13, 1968, a seven-year-old Robert J. Sawyer -- then known as Robin -- recorded a reading of his short story "Bobby Bug" on audio tape, with the aid of his father (the first voice on the recording). Listen. (45 seconds WMA clip, playable with Windows Media Player, unearthed a couple of years ago by my brother Alan.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Las Vegas, here I come!

I've just accepted an invitation to be Author Guest of Honor at Xanadu Las Vegas, a new convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 17-19, 2009 (next year). Woohoo!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thunderbirds are Go!

At least in novel form. See here.

(I love Thunderbirds -- I even love the live-action movie!)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, February 10, 2008

24 feet of submarine sandwiches and 96 slices of pizza

That was the tally consumed at Carolyn and my open party for members of science-fiction fandom and fans of my books tonight (Friday, February 9) -- plus various fruit trays, cheese trays, veggie platters, etc. etc.

Well over a hundred people showed up, starting at 3:30 p.m. and going to 1:00 a.m. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and, as always, nothing got broken or damaged. :) All in all, a terrific day. I'll try to get some more pictures up shortly, but the one above shows people in Carolyn's office.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, February 8, 2008

Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary

Forty years ago today, Thursday, February 8, 1968, the original Planet of the Apes arrived in theaters. It is, in my opinion, one of the very best science-fiction films ever made, and was hugely influential on me and my career.

Its stature wasn't always obvious to everyone, though, and, indeed The New York Times was rather dismissive in its review (written by the then 29-year-old Renata Adler), which appeared the next day:
"PLANET OF THE APES," which opened yesterday at the Capitol and 72d Street Playhouse, is an anti-war film and a science-fiction liberal tract, based on a novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote "The Bridge on the River Kwai"). It is no good at all, but fun, at moments, to watch.

A most unconvincing spaceship containing three men and one woman, who dies at once, arrives on a desolate-looking planet. One of the movie's misfortunes lies in trying to maintain suspense about what planet it is. The men debark. One of them is a relatively new movie type, a Negro based on some recent, good Sidney Poitier roles -- intelligent, scholarly, no good at sports at all. Another is an all-American boy. They are not around for long. The third is Charlton Heston.

He falls in with the planet's only human inhabitants, some Neanderthal flower children who have lost the power of speech. They are raided and enslaved by the apes of the title -- who seem to represent militarism, fascism and police brutality. The apes live in towns with Gaudi-like architecture. They have a religion and funerals with speeches like "I never met an ape I didn't like," and "He was a model for all of us, a gorilla to remember." Some of them have grounds to believe, heretically, that apes evolved from men. They put Heston on trial, as men did the half-apes in Vercors's novel "You Shall Know Them." All this leads to some dialogue that is funny, and some that tries to be. Also some that tries to be serious.

Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and many others are cast as apes, with wonderful anthropoid masks covering their faces. They wiggle their noses and one hardly notices any loss in normal human facial expression. Linda Harrison is cast as Heston's Neanderthal flower girl. She wiggles her hips when she wants to say something. -- R.A.
In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the original Planet of the Apes "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Odd, from four decades on, to see what a first viewer picked up on, and what she missed.

That it is a liberal film is very true, I think, but the reviewer seems to sneer the term, making it the pejorative it so often is in the US today; it is good, though, that she saw it as an anti-war film, since it is very much indeed that.

The exterior of the spaceship, I think, is absolutely lovely, one of the nicest ever put on film (and based very much on NASA's winged Gemini variant that had been on the drawing boards then); to call it "most unconvincing" seems groundless.

The comment about the "Negro" astronaut, of course, is of its time -- but the notion that the character is based on other movie characters is wrong-headed; the portrayal of a black astronaut, and a black scientist, was a significant social statement (one Stanley Kubrick utterly failed to echo in 2001, which came out the same year). The dismissiveness in the review is ... well, may we all be forgiven for things we wrote decades ago.

Even in 1968, there was no way at all that any educated person could say that the humans portrayed on screen where "Neanderthals." This relates to discussion elsewhere in my blog about why people look down on genre fiction: genre expects a familiarity with a canon beyond just a handful of works, and an understanding of science. A person who confuses a Neanderthal with a Homo sapiens simply is using big words that he or she doesn't understand.

The notion that Linda Harrison is overtly sexual in the film ("wiggles her hips") is simply not supported by what was on screen. It's a kind of reviewing I hate -- when the reviewer decides he or she has a line that will make him or her look oh-so-clever and so shoves it in regardless of whether it is an accurate response to the work in question.

And, of course, the attempt by the reviewer to spoil the fun -- to draw attention to the question of what planet this really is -- is simply unfair, in my view. A reviewer is welcomed to say that the ending sucked; a reviewer is not entitled to spoil the ending so that he or she can affect an ennui-laden yawn and look down his or her nose at the reader and say, "Oh, come on, surely you saw it coming!"
"I'm a seeker too. But my dreams aren't like yours. I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than The New York Times. Has to be." -- Colonel George Taylor, more or less

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Is anyone remotely surprised?

Lawsuit alleges over a billion dollars a year improperly diverted at Oral Roberts University.

I think I'll have an institution called Anal Peters College in my next novel ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is it "science fiction writer" or "science-fiction writer"?

Interesting question, and it came up today as I was asked to vet ad copy for something I'm involved with.

The genre is "science fiction," with no hyphen, but when used in the phrase "science fiction writer," "science fiction" then becomes a compound adjective (two or more words that together form a single modifier for a following noun), and so, according to many authorities, they should be hyphenated: "science-fiction writer."

The classic example from Strunk and White's The Elements of the Style is this: "He was a member of the leisure class and he enjoyed leisure-class pursuits."

(How can you tell if two words are a compound adjective? My trick is to rerverse the order and see if they still make sense: "a big red ball" and "a red big ball" are equally comprehensible (although the former perhaps comes more trippingly to the tongue), but while "a science fiction writer" makes sense, "a fiction science writer" does not.)

For many years, one of the principal academic journals in the field, Science Fiction Studies, rendered its name with the hyphen: Science-Fiction Studies. Eventually, though, the editors apparently decided their journal was stuffy and pedantic enough without being picayune about punctuation in the title. :)

And for a time, SFWA was styling its name as "Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America," although that seemed more out of a desire to preserve what I call their "burnt-matchstick" logo after the decision was made to add "and Fantasy" to the organization's name; the full name is now mostly styled without the hyphen and with two capital Fs.

I tend to use "science-fiction writer" (and "science-fiction novel," etc.), in normal prose, but on my web site, I usually don't hyphenate the phrase, as I want all search engines to find me when people search for science fiction writer.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bakka-Phoenix has autographed Rollback paperbacks

Carolyn and I went to see Richard Thomas (of The Waltons) in the play Twelve Angry Men this afternoon (despite the snow storm!), and on the way we stopped at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto's venerable SF specialty store, and I signed a mountain of copies of the mass-market paperback of Rollback there ... get 'em while they're hot!

Bakka-Phoenix Books
697 Queen Street West (just west of Bathurst)

(Oh, and the play was excellent!)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

New Associate Publisher for Red Deer Press

My Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint is published by Calgary's Red Deer Press; I edit the line, and Richard Dionne has been the publisher since September 2007. In addition to securing the services of Nalo Hopkinson as editor of her own fantasy imprint, Richard has just announced the promotion of the terrific Valerie Burke-Harland to Associate Publisher of Red Deer Press (and, therefore, to associate publisher of my line). Congrats, Val!

I'm also delighted to see my colleague and friend Peter Carver returning to Red Deer Press as children's / YA editor.

Our next book under my imprint is Nick DiChario's Valley of Day-Glo, coming in May 2007.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Weather? What weather? Rowers Pub is a go

Despite the heavy snowfall expected this afternoon in Toronto, the readings I'm part of at the Rowers Pub tonight (Wednesday, February 6, 2008) are still going ahead. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Literary vs. commercial fiction

This showed up in my email box today:
I have what may be a silly question: what is the difference between genre writing and literary writing? I have asked many people/authors and I'm still confused. At first I thought a genre work couldn't be literary, but I have a friend who published fantasy novels that were considered literary. So apparently it's possible to be both.

I've also heard that literary writing is writing that is good for writing's sake, so that a literary writer is good with writing as an art form. Does that mean literature is good by virtue of the way it is written and not necessarily by the content of what is written? That seems to go against what I learned in high school about content being integral to good writing.

Do you consider yourself a literary writer?
And here's my three-minute response (because that's all I had time for); I'm not wedded to these observations, and please don't expect me to defend them to death, but I think they're a good first approximation of the right answer, and certainly a decent starting point for discussion:
I am a commercial fiction writer (meaning I write books to make money, and my publisher publishes them with that end in mind).

I am also a genre fiction writer (meaning I work in one of the specially labeled categories you see in bookstores: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, horror, western, etc.; commercial fiction that does not fall into these categories is called mainstream fiction).

Literary publishing is done without hopes of making a lot of money, and often in small print runs produced by small publishers.

Commercial fiction tends to emphasize characterization, plot, action, and dialog, and may, or may not, include beautiful, or highfalutin, or arch language, and may, or may not, have an overall theme.

In contrast, literary fiction usually gives short shrift to plot and action, but often has a theme (a statement other than a plot synopsis describing what the story is about).

However literary merit is often found in commercial fiction including that subset of commercial fiction called genre fiction.

But having literary merit is not a requirement of successful commercial fiction, and doing well commercially is not a requirement of successful literary fiction.

In any event, to call oneself a "literary writer" has always stuck me as either a silly redundancy (I'm a "woody carpenter") or pretentious; if the person saying that means that his or her work has literary merit -- sorry, that's for others to judge. :)

By the way, nine years ago, I was approached by an academic (whose biases I think were quite evident from the questions he asked) about whether or not I considered myself part of that special form of literary publishing known as Canadian literature (or "Canlit"). I absolutely do consider myself part of that, for the reasons I gave him, which you can read here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Rollback paperback now out!

Today -- February 5, 2008 -- is the official release date of the mass-market paperback edition of my 17th novel, Rollback. The book had a very successful run in hardcover, and I'm delighted that it's now going to be even more widely read.

The opening chapters are here, and plenty more about the book is here.

Direct links to bookstore pages for buying the paperback edition at,,,,,,, and McNally Robinson, are here.

If you'd like to buy an autographed copy directly from me, info is here.

Among Rollback's honors to date:
  • A Main Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club
  • Currently on the Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot

  • One of the American Library Association's Top Ten SF Novels of the Year
  • One of the Kansas City Star's Top Five SF Novels of the Year
  • On Quill & Quire's list of the Best Books of the Year of any type
Some reviews:
"Extraordinarily fresh and thought-provoking, with some of the most memorable people you'll ever meet." —Analog Science Fiction & Fact

"A story that is so poignant that I found myself in tears. Sawyer has written another classic." —The Davis Enterprise, Davis, California

"One of those books you can't put down ... truly engrossing human drama; characters that are totally realistic. It's got mainstream appeal but is also a great read for fans of thought-provoking science fiction. ***** [out of 5]" —SF Signal

"Beyond the SF trappings, Rollback is a story about love and commitment, about humanity at its most basic — a novel to be savoured by science-fiction and mainstream readers alike." —The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper

"A dynamite science fiction novel; a wholly satisfying story." —January Magazine

"Above all, the author's characters bear their human strengths and weaknesses with dignity and poise. An elegantly told story for all libraries; highly recommended." —Library Journal (starred review)

"An early candidate for sci-fi book of the year." —Kansas City Star

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

"Sawyer, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards, may well win another major SF award with this superior effort." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Highly emotional and original — a complex story with sympathetic and believable characters. A riveting book." —Romantic Times Book Reviews

"A reminder of why Sawyer is one of our most highly regarded writers of speculative fiction, able to handle the demands of the heart and the cosmos with equal skill." —Quill & Quire

"It's a shoo-in to be short-listed for major awards." —SciFiDimensions

"A fascinating human drama, worth reading by genre and mainstream readers alike." —SFRevu

by Robert J. Sawyer
Tor Books mass-market paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0-765-34974-3
ISBN-10: 0-765-34974-4

In stores now!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, February 4, 2008

Nalo Hopkinson new fantasy editor for Red Deer Press

It was announced in the subscribers' only Quill & Quire Online today that Nalo Hopkinson -- World Fantasy Award winner and fellow Toronto writer -- has joined the Red Deer Press team as the editor of her own fantasy imprint, a companion for my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. Nalo will be doing three books a year for Red Deer Press.

This has been in the works for months now, and I take justifiable pride in it happening, I think, as I'm the one who recommended and introduced Nalo to Sharon Fitzhenry, the publisher of Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Red Deer's parent company. Welcome aboard, Nalo!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Money for nothing and checks for free

Or maybe that's "cheques" for my Canadian readers ... ;)

That's the cool thing about being a writer: money shows up for work you did years ago. :)

I'm delighted to announce that Divani Films has renewed (for a third year) its option on my 1995 Nebula Award-winning novel The Terminal Experiment.

And I'm also thrilled to announce that we just sold Lithuanian rights to my 2000 Hugo-nominated novel Calculating God to Eridanas.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

SF Signal loves Rollback

As we count down to the official pub date of the paperback of my Rollback -- one more day to go! -- SF Signal has weighed in with a lengthy five-star review of the book.

A few snippets:
"Thoroughly entertaining (and accessible) science fiction. Moves fast; one of those books you can't put down ... truly engrossing human drama. The content and motive of the alien communication turns out to be a great springboard for philosophical discussions on morality and ethics, man's place in the universe, abortion, and more; there are several stop-and-think moments. All through this, he gives us characters that are totally realistic. Rollback succeeds at being the kind of book that can attract a wide audience. It's got mainstream appeal but is also a great read for fans of thought-provoking science fiction. ***** [out of 5]"
The reviewer is John DeNardo.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rob Sawyer SF lecture on TVOntario tomorrow

Tomorrow (Saturday, February 2, 2008), at 4:00 p.m., I'll be on TVOntario's Big Ideas, talking about science fiction in a lecture recorded in October 2007 at the University of Waterloo. On the same show: Steven Pinker! The hour-long program repeats Sunday, February 3, 2008, also at 4:00 p.m.

TVO's description:


Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought, examines how language reveals the way we think by exposing the physics built into our nouns, the temporal characteristics of our verbs and the manner in which our brains react to profanity.

Also included in this episode, author Robert J. Sawyer explains how Hollywood's approach to science fiction, starting with George Lucas's Star Wars, has dulled the edge that made science fiction such a pertinent film genre. Sawyer disects the problematic aspects of the original Star Wars film and shows how science fiction books continue to tackle difficult issues while their big screen counterparts take the easy road of big explosions and small ideas.

More information here.

UPDATE: An MP3 audio-version of my lecture is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

What rhymes with Quintaglio?

In honour of the mass-market paperback release of my 17th novel Rollback, I'm participating next Wednesday in what is probably better known as a poetry reading series, but it should be great fun, so please join us:

Rowers Pub Reading Series

Rowers Pub, 150 Harbord Street, 2nd floor (416 961-6277)
(W of Spadina, just E of Brunswick, on Harbord)
Toronto, Ontario.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Evening starts at 7:30 p.m.
Free (a hat is passed)

The Rowers Pub Reading Series, which runs the first Wednesday of the month, has as its February features: Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback, Tor Books, 2007); Sarah Sheard (The Hypnotist - Doubleday Canada, 1999); and Priscila Uppal (Ontological Necessities - Exile Editions, 2006).

We acknowledge financial assistance through The Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers' Union of Canada, and a donation from Alexander McCall Smith. For more information visit

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site