Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Four old farts and ...

... her!

Yup, at the Denver Worldcon, you can come to the panel on "The Evolution of Science Fiction" with Ben Bova, John E. Stith, L.E. Modesitt, Robert J. Sawyer -- and the brilliant and lovely Shoshana Glick.

(That's Sho pictured above, during her January 2008 visit to Toronto, during which she stayed with Carolyn and me.)

This seems as good a way as any to get people to actually look at my REVISED PROGRAMMING SCHEDULE for Denvention 3, the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention, which begins next week in Denver. :)

My autographing is new to the previously posted list, and I've added the room numbers:

Friday, August 8:
  • 10:00 a.m.: Canadian Science Fiction [CCC - Korbel 4AB]
  • 11:30 a.m.: A World Made of Birds -- What if the
    Dinosaurs had Survived? [CCC - Korbel 1B]
  • 5:30 p.m.: Kaffeeklatch (join me for coffee and chat -- advance sign-up at the convention required) [CCC - Korbel 4E]

Saturday, August 9:
  • 10:00 a.m.: Digging up SF: Paleontology in SF [CCC - Room 502]
  • 2:30 p.m.: The Evolution of Science Fiction [CCC - Korbel 1C]
  • 4:00 p.m.: Reading from my upcoming novel Wake [Hyatt hotel - Granite BC]

Sunday, August 10:
  • 10:00 a.m. (to 11:15 a.m.): Signing/Autographing (seated next to Nancy Kress) [CCC - Hall D]
  • 1:00 p.m.: Holy Holographic eBooks! Ideas for Next Gen Reading Technologies

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Analog teaser for Wake

The October 2008 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is out, and in the "In Times to Come" section at the back, which plugs the following issue, we find this teaser for my next novel, Wake:
Next month (our November issue) we begin another mind-stretching serial by Robert J. Sawyer, with a cover by George Krauter. In Wake, the term "mind-stretching," often heard in connection with science fiction, applies a bit more literally than usual, with several minds stretching themselves -- and each other -- in literally unprecedented ways. All minds operate under limitations, which can be overcome by a variety of means; but probably all of those approaches have one thing in common. And the possibilities extend very far out, in ways both exhilarating and terrifying....

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Heeeeere's Enik!

Enik was the coolest character on The Land of the Lost, the NBC Saturday morning half-hour live-action SF show from the 1970s that had David Gerrold as story editor.

And I scored one of the above at Comic-Con: one of 480 Enik banks. Enik was an Altrursian, the ancestors of the Sleestaks (it was quite a shock for him to discover that his civilizaiton had fallen and his people devolved to barbarism). They were introduced in the episode "The Stranger" written by none other than Star Trek's Walter Koenig (who also wrote one of the best animated Star Treks, "The Infinite Vulcan."

As I mentioned earlier, I had dinner with Walter Koenig on Thursday night at San Diego Comic-Con. David Gerrold, Carolyn, and I were a bit late joining our dinner party (we were meeting in the exhibition hall, and we'd ended up going the wrong way; to make it back to the other end is a major undertaking).

Walter was only at the con for that one day, and as we were going by the Funko booth, David wanted to stop to look at the giant Sleestak figure (below), but Walter was in a hurry to get to dinner (since he was heading back up to L.A. afterwards), and wouldn't let us stop ... so, ironically, he missed seeing the wall display of action figures based on a character he created! (Neither David nor I noticed the Enik figures as we were whipping by the booth -- but we both went back the next day, and David cadged Eniks for both himself and Walter. Very kind of him!)
"I cannot allow your sacrifice to be greater than mine." --Enik the Altrusian to Will Marshall in Walter's script

Monday, July 28, 2008

So, how does a free trip end up costing $2,700?

San Diego Comic-Con International 2008 was extremely generous with Carolyn and me: since I was Special Guest this year, we had all our expenses covered -- roundtrip airfare for both of us from Toronto, five nights in the Omni right across the street from the convention center (where our suite number was 1701 -- the Enterprise's serial number!), and all our meals paid for.

And yet, I return to Toronto $2,700 poorer.

How, you ask?

By going nuts in the dealers' room! :) And very happily so. We only hauled $700 worth of stuff back with us; the rest is orders or pre-orders for merchandise that will be shipped later (with proper customs delcarations; I'll happily pay the Canadian tax when it arrives).

What kind of things did we get? Well, for one, the 15-inch statue of the Battlestar Galactica from Diamond Select Toys pictured above (we opted for this, the battle-damaged version, as it had more character than the pristine version). It's a good, not great, piece (I tend to agree with Sean Huxter's "B-minus" review over at Science Fiction Weekly), but we got a deal, and it's not like there's another large version of this ship available.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Man, I thought for sure it was Feist singing ...

Okay, I'm no expert on music, but, like millions of people, I found Canadian singer Feist's nifty "1 2 3 4" (above), which was used on an iPod commercial, quite appealing (in that it-keeps-running-through-your-head sort of way).

And I thought for sure the song with the lyric "I crinkle my nose" that's on the radio a lot these days was Feist -- the voice sounds identical to me. But it's not; it's someone named Colbie Caillat, and the song, it turns out (after some spelunking with Google) is called "Bubbly." Still, it's a nice cheery piece, and it makes me happy. :) You can hear/see it on YouTube here (and the Feist song "1 2 3 4" is here).

(And yes, I even like The Partridge Family. So there.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Diego Comic-Con: Day 5

The final day at San Diego Comic-Con comes to a close. We had a wonderful time.

This morning, I hooked up with Anthony Pascale, who runs TrekMovie.Com (for whom I reviewed the Star Trek Classic remastered episode "The Immunity Syndrome" last year).

He and I went to the event related to the sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I used my VIP badge to get us into the special seating at the front, and I ended up sitting next to Fred Savage, star of The Wonder Years, as they screened a new episode of Sunny, which Fred had directed. The panel discussion afterwards, with the three male stars of the series, was excellent.

The afternoon: more trawling through the dealers' room (including close encounters with Star Trek: The Next Generation stars Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and LeVar Burton, and Zachary Quinto, the new Spock in the upcoming movie).

That was followed by drinks with Astrid and Greg Bear, plus Mike Moscoe/Mike Shepherd. Then I went to the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer musical sing-along. For several reasons, "Once More with Feeling" has special connotations for me ...

And then the convention was over: five exhausting, exciting, fun-filled, amazing days. We had our final dinner here in San Diego with our friend, book collector Cary Meriwether (pictured above).

And now we try to pack all the stuff we acquired! Among the things I bought [actually, pre-ordered]: a 12" statue of Linx the Sontaran, my favourite Doctor Who alien, from the very first Doctor Who I even watched, The Time Warrior -- I love Sontarans.

Tomorrow is the long, two-legged (via Chicago) trip back to Toronto -- during which I intend to get a lot of writing done.

Let me just close by saying to the San Diego Comic-Con International 2008 committee: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Being Special Guest at this year's convention was one of the biggest honours ever in my career, and Carolyn and I will always be grateful to you!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

San Diego Comic-Con: Day 4

Today started with this panel, masterfully moderated by MaryElizabeth Hart from San Diego science-fiction bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:
10:00-11:00 "Looking at Our World: Eye on the Future": Speculative-fiction authors discuss shaping the future through their fiction and shaping their fiction to the future. Panelists [pictured, left to right]: Comic-Con 2008 Guest of Honor Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback), John Zakour (Dangerous Dames), Charles Stross (Saturn's Children), Alan Dean Foster (author of more than 100 books), William C. Dietz (When All Seems Lost), Tobias S. Buckell (Ragamuffin), and Ann Aguirre (Grimspace)
I'd been afraid the panel was going to be unwieldy with so many of us on it, but it actually came off extremely well, and we had a packed room.

After we all did an autographing session, aided by Toronto TV personality Liana K (co-host of Ed & Red's Night Party, recently added to the line-up of the US cable channel Ripe TV), dressed up as Power Girl.

I was pleased to see that in addition to my Tor titles, Mysterious Galaxy had laid in a nice stock of my new short-story collection Identity Theft and Other Stories, from Canada's Red Deer Press, as well as my earlier collection Iterations (that's John Zakour on the right).

After the signing, Rob Sawyer (me!), Toby Buckell, Charlie Stross, and Carolyn Clink (pictured, l-r), all went to Dick's Last Resort (pub) for a nice alfresco lunch, at which much shop was talked. :)

Carolyn and I spent the afternoon working through the exhibits/dealers' room some more, and Carolyn had her picture taken with one of our favorite actors, Robert Culp of I, Spy and Greatest American Hero fame.

I stopped by the Write Brothers booth, and to my surprise and delight was given a copy of their plotting/story-outlining software StoryView, which I've long been intrigued by; expect a review here soon.

(Other goods scored in the dealers' room today: a limited-edition Enik the Altrusian (Sleestak ancestor) plastic coin-bank figure (just 480 made) from Land of the Lost; a complete set of The Six Million Dollar Man series on DVD -- of somewhat (cough, cough) dubious pedigree.)

I spent some pleasant time chatting with editor Jim Frenkel at the Tor Booth, and ran into David Gerrold again. Later in the day, we ran into Astrid and Greg Bear, and went for a snack together.

Dinner was terrific: Carolyn, myself, multiple Hugo Award-winning author (and San Diego local) Vernor Vinge, and screenwriter David Baxter (who, among other things, wrote for Star Trek: Voyager). We ate outside, and had a wonderful, leisurely dinner.

All in all, a wonderful, pleasant day.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, July 26, 2008

San Diego Comic-Con: Day 3

Today was my "Spotlight on Robert J. Sawyer" event. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the audience, and very gratified by the quality of the questions in the Q&A.

After my talk, I had some nice chats with people, including a woman who is now a Hollywood scriptwriter who had read Far-Seer when she was 14, and had sent me a fan letter then, and a man who is a paleontologist at the University of Texas.

I was also touched by the industry professionals who came out to my talk, including fellow writer Jean Lamb; Fraser Robinson, the head of original production for Space: The Imagination Station; and film producers Keith Calder and Jessica Wu (who have my "Identity Theft" under option; Keith, who is a six-year veteran of the San Diego Comic-Con, kindly observed that my talk was one of the very best he'd ever heard there).

Today was also my big day for going through the vast exhibition/dealers' area ... and for buying things! I'll say more about my acquisitions later, but I'm very pleased with them.

During the day I ran into Craig Engler from the SciFi Channel, Mark Askwith from Space: The Imagination Station, and fellow writers Mike Shepherd/Mike Moscoe, and Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta Anderson.

I stopped by the Ace Science Fiction booth, and spoke to a marketing person who said the cover for my forthcoming novel Wake is spectacular (I haven't yet seen it myself; apparently, it was just finished). And Carolyn and I went to the Ace/Roc presentation (a PowerPoint presentation about upcoming Ace and Roc titles through the end of the is year) -- very well attended, and very interesting.

Dinner was with film producers Jessica Wu and Keith Calder at a wonderful restaurant called Cafe Chloe.

I can't believe this convention is only half over! :)

(A giant Sleestak from Land of the Lost in the dealers' room)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, July 25, 2008

San Diego Comic-Con: Day 2

We had a wonderful first full day at San Diego Comic-Con, at which I'm special guest.

(Noel Neill)

We started Thursday by attending a session with Noel Neill, now 87, who played Lois Lane in the classic 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman. Sadly, 15 minutes of her hour were eaten up by a "tribute" video that consisted mostly of schtick by a modern guy and lots of clips that featured George Reeves rather than Noel. But when she did speak, she was funny and warm, and absolutely charming. Carolyn and I scored front-row seats for that one.

We then briefly ran into Fraser Robinson, the head of original programming for Space: The Imagination Station, Canada's counterpart of the SciFi Channel.

(John Barrowman)

I then went off to visit the unbelievably massive dealers' room, while Carolyn went to see a panel on the BBC series Torchwood, which included many of the actors, including the guy who plays Captain Jack.

Meanwhile, I caught up with my friends Marc Scott Zicree (who wrote "Far Beyond the Stars," arguably the best ever Deep Space Nine episode) and David Gerrold (who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles") as a panel they'd been on was ending.

We then attended a panel on the upcoming NASA-sponsored (!) SF film Quantum Quest. Actors Gary Graham and Robert Picardo, plus Tom Kenny, the guy who voices SpongeBob SquarePants, were on the panel; we scored front-row seats again.

(Left to right: David Gerrold, Carolyn Clink, Robert J. Sawyer, Walter Koenig, William F. Nolan; facing us: George Clayton Johnson.)

Later, David Gerrold, Carolyn, and I went out to dinner, joined by actor Walter Koenig and writers George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan (who together wrote Logan's Run; George also wrote the classic Star Trek episode "The Man Trap"). It was a terrific dinner at an Australian restaurant in San Diego's Gas Lamp district, near the Convention Center.

(Left to right: Robert J. Sawyer, Walter Koenig)

(Carolyn Clink and a Dalek)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, July 24, 2008

San Diego Comic-Con: Day 1

Carolyn and I flew from Toronto to San Diego, by way of Chicago, today for San Diego Comic-Con International, at which I'm a Special Guest this year. We were picked up at the airport, and whisked to our lovely hotel suite.

Once we got checked in, we took a cab over to the San Diego Aerospace Museum, which is having a Star Trek exhibition. It's $24 a head to get in, and, frankly, isn't worth it. The bridge re-creation is only so-so (Spock's Library Computer is missing the hooded viewer and the console used for the self-destruct sequence; Sulu's helm station doesn't have the targeting scope; there are no chase lights running beneath the main view screen, and that screen has rounded corners; etc.).

And the tour guide flat-out lied and said that this chair they were letting everyone sit in was the actual Captain Kirk chair from the original series. (No, it isn't; that one is at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle -- behind glass.)

Also, most of the props are reconstructions, not originals, and the Excelsior model is not the one from Star Trek III, but a smaller one built for a flashback episode of Voyager.

We had a wonderful dinner in the hotel restaurant, then headed over to the preview night, and wondered around the gigantic exhibit hall. We saw Nicole DeBoer from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Lou Ferrigno from The Incredible Hulk. I bought a 16" Diamond Select Toys statue of the Battlestar Galactica from the new series, and pre-ordered a 12" statue of Linx the Sontaran from the classic Doctor Who episode "The Time Warrior." We also stopped by the Tor booth, and the Ace booth, and ran into some old friends, including local fan Cary Meriwether.

Today was a long day -- 27 hours for us, with the time-zone changes. But it's been great fun. And, best of all, I got some very good writing done on the airplane (I tend to get a lot of my best work done on planes -- which is good, given how much I travel). Tomorrow (Thursday) is the first full day of the convention.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Visiting MIT and Marvin Minsky

Man, I love this job! On Monday, following Readercon 19 in Burlington, Massachusetts, I stopped by MIT, and had a wonderful three-hour tour-and-lunch with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky (above: Robert J. Sawyer, Marvin Minsky) and his students Bo and Dustin. We visited the AI Lab and the Media Lab -- and I met the robot below.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Birth of a Notion

My friend Melody Friedenthal today asked me, "Which idea in the Neanderthal Parallax books did you start with?"

For me, book ideas start out quite vague, and only after much research do they become concrete. But, culled from my writing journals, here are notes about the creation of the basic ideas for the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. (Note that I bounce back and forth below between the spelling "Neanderthal" and "Neandertal;" I discuss that issue in this introductory note to the first novel in the trilogy, Hominids.

Saturday, December 30, 1995: Carolyn and I went to lunch at The Olive Garden out on Highway 7. An idea occurred to me [over lunch] for a multibook SF series: Earth is threatened by some menace so great that many multiple versions of Earth -- one were dinosaurs evolved intelligence; another where Neanderthals became the dominant form of humanity; others were different Cambrian explosion bodyplans rose to intelligence -- must band together to defeat it.

Sunday, June 20, 1999: Went for a walk with Carolyn, and told her the idea I had for a novel about parallel modern-day worlds, one peopled by the descendants of Cro-Magnon, the other by the descendants of Neandertals.

Tuesday, June 22, 1999: Downloaded 50,000 words of research on Neanderthals from CompuServe's Magazine Database Plus, as research for my possible next novel. Also, checked for information about novels on Neanderthals or other prehistoric humans, including Waiting, Almost Adam, Esau, and Neanderthal. Nothing is similar to my premise.

At 5:00 p.m., wrote up a series of goals for the Neanderthal novel:
  • To write an ambitious novel for publication in 2002, to be a real contender for the Hugo Award to be presented in Toronto in 2003;
  • To be a tour de force of world-building, rewriting the last 40,000 years of human history;
  • To be a big book, 150,000 typesetters words (135,000 grammatical words);
  • To have out-of-genre appeal.
Wednesday, June 23, 1999: Did some research reading on Neandertals.

Friday, July 9, 1999: Readercon 10 near Boston, Massachusetts. Dinner with Jim Minz [at the time, David G. Hartwell's assistant at Tor Books]. Handed him the manuscript for Calculating God; we discussed how quickly he or David could get feedback to me; I said I needed it as soon as possible, since I'm going to Australia for five weeks. He asked me what I was going to work on next and I pitched my vague notion about two parallel world, one in which Cro-magnon came into ascendancy, the other in which Neandertals did. He sounded very intrigued by it.

Sunday, July 25, 1999: Started reading material for my possible novel about an alternative universe in which Neanderthals survived instead of Cro-Magnons.

Monday, July 26, 1999: Reading about Neanderthals. Thought I might do my Space Colonies short story about a Neanderthal space colony, as a warm-up for the novel; might call it "This Town Ain't Big Enough." [Space Colonies, ultimately retitled Star Colonies: A DAW anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, published in June 2000; my story, "The Shoulders of Giants," ended up being nothing like the above.]

Tuesday, July 27, 1999: Read up on Neandertals for my next novel. Phone conversation with [my literary agent] Ralph Vicinanza: I asked Ralph if we should hit Tor up now for a contract, or wait until after the Hugos [my novel Factoring Humanity was a Hugo Award-finalist at this time]. He said let's strike while there is still a sense of anticipation; he'll call David G. Hartwell to see what sort of proposal David needs. I pitched the Neandertal parallel-world idea at Ralph; he likes it -- so I guess that's what I'm doing next.

Wednesday, July 28, 1999: Started actually writing Neandertal outline, producing 1,086 words.

Thursday, July 29, 1999: Finished, by mid-afternoon, I thought, the outline for Neandertal World -- but in the evening I skimmed Waiting by Frank M. Robinson (and edited by David G. Hartwell); Jim Minz had sent me a copy because I told him I was working on a book about Neandertals. Robinson uses his conflict between the modern descendants of archaic humans to preach about ecology; my take was too close to that. Aided by the Encyclopedia Britannica and Grolier's [Encyclopedia] on CD-ROM, I came up with the idea of the threat to the two worlds being a magnetic reversal (I suspect this might have been in my mind because earlier in the week, I had used Britannica to look up the Geologic Time Scale, and the chart it presented listed magnetic reversals). I like the magnetic-field collapse better than the ecological threat, anyway. The proposal now stands at 1,400 words.

Friday, July 30, 1999: Thought of a new title for the Neandertal book overnight: Neandertal Parallax. Gave the outline a final polish, and faxed it to Ralph Vicinanza.

Tuesday, August 3, 1999: Ralph Vicinanza called. He gave David G. Hartwell an over-the-phone pitch for Neandertal Parallax, and will send him the outline tomorrow; Ralph thinks it's an excellent outline, and more than adequate to get a contract.

And, indeed, Ralph Vicinanza got me a very handsome six-figure three-book contract. "Neanderthal Parallax" became the overall trilogy title, and the individual volumes were Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids.

The actual pitch that sold the series to Tor is below. Don't worry too much about spoilers; the final books deviate a great deal from this outline:


a novel proposal by

Robert J. Sawyer

Ne·an·der·tal: now the preferred spelling by most English-language paleoanthropologists of the word formerly rendered as Neanderthal, recognizing the official revision of the spelling of the original German place name by the German government.

par·al·lax: the apparent shifting of an object's position when seen from a different point of view.


Forty thousand years ago, two distinct species of humanity existed on Earth: Archaic Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. Both looked out on their world with dull gazes, unable to comprehend it, barely aware of their own existence.

And then an event that would change everything occurred: in the quantum structures of the complex neural tissue packed into the brains of Homo sapiens, consciousness emerged. And with consciousness came art and sophisticated language and science and religion and subtle emotions and planning for the future. Until this time, no truly self-aware lifeform had existed on Earth, no creature lived, primate or otherwise, that was driven by anything other than instinct.

Of course, this newfound awareness enabled Homo sapiens to out-compete the Neandertals; in less than ten thousand years, the Neandertals were extinct.

Or, at least, they were extinct here — in this universe.

But, under quantum physics, the phenomenon of consciousness is intimately tied in with the nature of reality. Indeed, quantum theory predicts that every time an event observed by an intelligent being could have two outcomes, both outcomes do come to pass — but in separate universes. Until the rise of consciousness, there were no branching universes, no parallel realities. But, starting on that crucial day 40,000 years ago when consciousness emerged for the first time, the universe did begin to split into multiple versions.

The very first split — the very first time an alternative universe was spun off from this one — happened because the original emergence of consciousness, a product of quantum fluctuations, could have gone a different way: instead of consciousness first arising in a Homo sapiens mind, it might instead have arisen originally in a

Homo neanderthalensis mind, leading to the Neandertals deposing our ancestors, instead of vice versa.

And 40,000 years later, in what in this universe is referred to as the dawn of the 21st century, an artificial portal opens, bridging between our universe and one in which the descendants of Neandertals are the dominant form, allowing small numbers of individuals to pass in either direction.

Many things are the same on both Earths: the sky shows the same patterns of stars, the year is still 365 days long, and is divided into months based on the cycling of the moon's phases. The gross geography of both worlds — the shapes of the continents, the location of lakes and mountains — is the same. And the flora and fauna is essentially the same (although Neandertals never hunted mammoths or other animals into extinction, and so they still flourish).

But all the details of culture are different. Gender roles, family structures, economic models, morals, ethics, religion, art, vices, and more are unique to each species. In what I hope will be a tour de force of world building, the Neandertal world will be as rich and as human as our own, but different in almost every particular. Although there is much diversity in modern human cultures, many themes recur in almost all of them, themes that can be traced back to our archaic Homo sapiens ancestors of 40,000 years ago: pair-bonding, belief in an afterlife, territorial defense, xenophobia, accumulation of wealth. The modern Neandertal society will have entirely different approaches to these and other issues, based on the their different evolutionary history.

For instance, humans are able to effectively communicate with words alone: language spoken in darkness, printed text, radio, telephone conversations, E-mail — all are possible because we can easily transcribe or transmit spoken sounds, and convey virtually our entire intended meaning with just these sounds. But there is much evidence that Neandertals would have had a substantially reduced vocal range compared to that of archaic humans — possibly meaning they, and their descendants, would have to supplement verbal communication with facial expressions and gestures. If their descendants developed books or telephones at all, they might only be useful for conveying limited kinds of information.

Meanwhile, some fossil sites suggest that only female Neandertals homesteaded, and males lived nomadic existences, interacting with females only to breed. Projected into the present day, such lifestyles might define radically different social arrangements, with most individuals having long-term same-sex partnerships (of two, or possibly more, individuals), and secondary other-sex relationships. Absentee fathers wouldn't necessarily be bad fathers, though: modern Neandertal society might be built around multiday holidays during which all work stops and rural males come into the cities to be with their offspring.

And, of course, all the background of daily life — here, in our universe, typified by such things as single-family dwellings, nine-to-five jobs, private automobiles, television, contract law, national allegiances, and war — would be completely different in the Neandertal world, a world equally advanced scientifically but in which individuals are much more physically robust, have larger brains (ancient Neandertal brains averaged 10% larger than those of Homo sapiens), are much less interested in colonizing and proselytizing, and are much better suited to living in cold, northern climates: the harsh lands that we know as Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, and Iceland — sparsely populated in this universe — might be developed centers in the Neandertal world.

Neandertals and humans differ genetically by only 0.5% (whereas humans and chimpanzees differ by 1.4%); incorporating the latest anthropological research to develop a modern, technological Neandertal culture, the book will illuminate what it means to be human.


The portal between the two universes has been opened accidentally, by the creation not in this world but rather in the Neandertal one of a giant quantum-computing facility (quantum computers — currently in development — access alternate universes to almost instantly solve otherwise intractable mathematical problems).

The contact could not have come at a more propitious time. In both universes, Earth's magnetic field is collapsing — a prelude to a polarity reversal. Such reversals have happened many times during our planet's geologic history. They occur without any discernible periodicity, and can last as little as two thousand years or as long as 35 million years (the current normal-polarity period began 780,000 years ago; the preceding period of reversed polarity lasted from 980,000 to 780,000 years ago). The difference between reversed and normal polarity is trivial: compass needles point south during the former and north during the latter. But the transitional period is of great concern: during it, the magnetic field shuts down, and dangerous cosmic-ray particles that are normally deflected are free to bombard the Earth's surface.

Neither the Neandertals nor the Homo sapiens alone have the technology to prevent the collapse of the magnetic field, or, failing that, to protect their worlds during the transitional period — but, perhaps by pooling their differing scientific expertises, they will jointly be able to save both worlds.

The exchange of science and culture starts off promisingly enough, but then the Neandertals discover that we have depleted our ozone layer (which provides additional protection from cosmic rays) through our use of chlorofluorocarbons and petrochemical exhaust from automobiles. It becomes clear that the magnetic-field collapse actually presents a much greater threat to us than it does to them. On their world, the onslaught of cosmic rays will surely cause many cancers and mutations, but on ours, out-and-out mass extinctions — including, likely, that of Homo sapiens — will additionally occur.

The Neandertals have learned of our history of expansionism and warfare (something they don't share). Many of them fear if no solution to the magnetic-field collapse is found that we will try to forcibly invade their world with its intact ozone shield — it is, after all, the only other habitable planet that we could possibly escape to.

Continued contact between the two universes is at the Neandertals' discretion, not ours: shutting off their quantum-computing facility will almost certainly sever the link, closing the portal. And once they learn that 40,000 years ago in this universe, our kind drove their ancestors to extinction, will they want to help us? Or, indeed, will they feel justified in letting us die — just as we let their kind die in our own past? Homo sapiens will have to prove its humanity, if it is going to be saved.


Neandertal Parallax will be an ultimately uplifting novel of first contact, speculative anthropology, world-building, and cutting-edge quantum theory, with the potential for a sequel or ongoing series.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cordwainer Award to Stanley G. Weinbaum

I'm at Readercon 19 in Burlington, Massachusetts, where, on Friday, July 18, 2008, the winner of this year's Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, honoring a deceased SF writer who has slipped from public consciousness but deserved to have renewed attention brought to his work, was presented to Stanley G. Weinbaum, author of, among others, the seminal short story "A Martian Odyssey."

The current jury for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award is:
  • Martin Harry Greenberg
  • Barry N. Malzberg
  • Mike Resnick
  • Robert J. Sawyer

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The crazy season begins!

Summer's here, and the Rob-man is on the road!
  • Thursday, July 17, to Sunday, July 20, 2008: Readercon, Burlington, Massachusetts

  • Wednesday, July 23, to Sunday, July 27, 2008: Special Guest at San Diego Comic Con

  • Wednesday, August 6, to Sunday, August 10, 2008: Denvention 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, in Denver

  • Thursday, August 14, to Sunday, August 17, 2008: Writers of the Future workshop and awards ceremony, Malibu, California
Links above are to my programming schedules at the listed events.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

eReader for iPhone and iPod touch

My very favorite ebook-reading software, eReader (formerly, Palm Reader), is now available for the iPhone and the iPod touch. Steve Pendergrast of and gives a terrific tour in this YouTube video, as well as a great explanation of the eReader DRM system, which I think is the fairest and easiset to use one out there:

And all the other info you might want is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Asimov's 30 Laws of Robotics

... are a hoot! See here.

(Thanks to my buddy Fergus Heywood of the CBC for the link!)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hangin' with Gar and Judy

Our great friends Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens are in town, and Carolyn and I just came back from a fabulous three-and-a-half-hour dinner with them. Lots of shop talk, lots of pleasant conversation, and lots and lots of good food.

(Here's a profile I wrote of them when we all guests of honor at MileHiCon in Denver a couple of years ago.)

Life be good. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Nice to be appreciated

I'm a member of a number of online groups devoted to various aspects of electronic publishing, but I probably post the most over in the Yahoo! Groups Fictionwise group, which is over here.

Today, this popped up in my email box:
Rob, I'm not writing to tell you how much I love or hate any of your work; millions of readers do that every day, I am sure. Yes, I am a fan, but I am writing to you to thank you for taking the time to put so much into the Fictionwise group. As an avid e-book reader, I appreciate your working so hard to share your information and experiences with others. You have gone far beyond the level of, "Here, this is what you have to do and then you can read my book." You interact with the other members in a way that keeps people talking about topics and still solves specific problems for individual readers. I wonder how many other authors who operate at your level take the time to help their readers learn how to do the equivalent of open the book, turn it right side up, turn the page and begin reading!

I feel that what you are doing would be the equal of Keith Richards telling 13 year old boys how to tune their guitars to open g, drop the low e string, bar the strings at the fifth fret, put your second finger below it and strum. When I think of all the messages you have posted about ebook readers, formatting issues, publishers' practices, etc. it staggers my poor ole mind. OK, now that I have rambled on, here is my message to you: Thank you, Robert Sawyer. Please keep writing thought-provoking books, and keep on helping us idiots enjoy reading those books.
Well, what a nice way to begin the day! My reply:
Thank you!

I got my start in the online world back in 1987 on CompuServe helping others use WordStar (then, a popular word-processing program). And I just love, love, love the notion of ebooks -- and want the industry to succeed. So -- thanks!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, July 14, 2008

My San Diego Comic-Con Scheudle

I'm lucky enough to be a Special Guest at the San Diego Comic-Con later this month (woohoo!). Here's my schedule of events there:

Spotlight on Robert J. Sawyer
Friday, JULY 25
Robert J. Sawyer is one of only seven writers in history to win all three of science-fiction's top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award; his latest novel, Rollback, has earned him his 11th Hugo nomination. Join him for a one-on-one Q&A session about the world of print SF. (Room 4)

Panel: Looking at our World: Eye on the Future
Saturday, JULY 26
Authors discuss fiction and the future: GOH Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback), Ann Aguirre (Grimspace), Tobias S. Buckell (Ragamuffin), William C. Dietz, When All Seems Lost, Alan Dean Foster (author of more than 100 books), Charles Stross (Saturn's Children, Halting State) and John Zakour (Dangerous Dames)

Autographing Session
Saturday, JULY 26
GOH Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback), Ann Aguirre (Grimspace), Tobias S. Buckell (Ragamuffin), William C. Dietz, When All Seems Lost, Alan Dean Foster (author of more than 100 books), Charles Stross (Saturn's Children, Halting State) and John Zakour (Dangerous Dames)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Used to be, when all computers used fixed-width fonts, that ASCII art was cool: little pictures, often used in the signature blocks at the end of emails, made out of typewriter-style characters. These days, with proportional fonts, they don't work well. But here's one of my favorites, a Klingon cruiser seen bow on:

====____\ /.. ..\ /____====
// ---\__O__/--- \\
\_\ /_/

I have no idea who the artist is, but my hat's off to him or her.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, July 12, 2008

John W. Campbell Memorial Award results

Well, although nominated, I did not place in the 2008 John W. Campbell Memorial Awards (and neither did the other Canadian nominees, Nalo Hopkinson and Robert Charles Wilson). The winners, announced last night in Kansas, were:

1st: In War Times, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Tor
2nd: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon, HarperCollins
3rd: The Execution Channel, Ken MacLeod, Tor

The other nominees, not ranked, were:
  • Brian Aldiss, HARM, Del Rey
  • Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon's Arms, Grand Central Publishing
  • Jay Lake, Mainspring, Tor
  • Ian McDonald, Brasyl, Pyr
  • Rebecca Ore, Time's Child, Eos
  • Matt Ruff, Bad Monkeys, HarperCollins
  • Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback, Tor
  • Jose Carlos Somoza, Zig Zag, Rayo
  • Sheri S. Tepper, The Margarets, Eos
  • Jeffrey Thomas, Deadstock, Solaris
  • Robert Charles Wilson, Axis, Tor
Excellent company to be in!

Only Greg Bear (with 7 nominations to date) and Jack McDevitt (with 5) now have more John W. Cambpell Memorial Award nominations than me. I'm tied now with 4 nominations a piece with Frederik Pohl, Sheri S. Tepper, and Ken MacLeod. I'd previously been nominated for Calculating God (which tied for second place) and Hominids (which came in third place), and I won for Mindscan.

I'd known for weeks that I hadn't won; the Campbell Committee notifies the winner in May of each year, so that they can plan a trip to Kansas for the ceremony ... so, this comes as no surprise (also, the names of the announced guests since May included Kathy Goonan, so it didn't take a genius to figure out she'd won). Still, big, big congrats to Kathleen Ann Goonan!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Free Science Fiction from Robert J. Sawyer

With all this talk about giving away science fiction online, I'd be remiss if I didn't draw attention to my own offerings in this area -- after all, I was one of the first professional SF writers to give away work on the World Wide Web.

Short stories by me have been available to download for free since 1995, and I always provide a big hunk of each of my novels (17 to date) for free, too. Check out all the free reading here:

Complete Short Stories

Opening Chapters of Novels

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Readercon Programming 2008

Here's my programming schedule for Readercon 19, being held near Boston from Thursday evening, July 17, through Sunday afternoon, July 20, 2008:

15. FRIDAY 11:00 ME Science Fiction as a Mirror for Reality. Robert J. Sawyer with discussion by Paolo Bacigalupi, Michael A. Burstein, Lancer Kind, Hildy Silverman, et al. Talk / Discussion (60 min.). Science fiction has always been a powerful vehicle for commenting on the here-and-now, letting us explore the burning issues of today in the guise of talking about tomorrow. Sawyer is currently under contract with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to host and co-produce a pilot for a web-based new-media series based on this idea. He'll talk about sf as a mirror of reality, discuss the project, and brainstorm with audience members about recent sf that comments on the here and now and might be worth spotlighting should the CBC series go beyond the pilot stage.

62. FRIDAY 4:00 NH Robert J. Sawyer reads from his upcoming novel Wake (2009). (60 min.)

68. FRIDAY 5:00 G A Tale of Two Disciplines. Louise Marley, Geoff Ryman, Robert J. Sawyer (moderator), Vandana Singh, Ian Randal Strock. "The scientific world of the future will be pairs, or connections. Everybody is going to be a bridge between specialties."--Donald Knuth. Combining ideas from two or more disciplines is not just a fresh approach to doing science, it's a great way to generate thought-provoking hard sf. We especially want to talk about stories where the ideas don't just co-exist as separate elements of an extrapolated future, but combine in interesting or unexpected ways.

158. SATURDAY 3:00 Vin Kaffeeklatsch.

178. SUNDAY 11:00 ME The Fermi Paradox Paradox. Michael A. Burstein, Jeff Hecht (L), Steven Popkes, Robert J. Sawyer, Ian Randal Strock. The Fermi Paradox--the absence of any evidence of extraterrestrial civilization despite the huge size and age of the universe--seems like it should be the basis for much hard sf. The paradox has numerous solutions (e.g., that nearly all civilizations quickly leave this reality and go somewhere else, or they destroy themselves as quickly, or they're consciously hiding from us), and all the solutions seem to be storyable. What sf writers have explored the paradox, and why are there so few of them? Is it because the vision of a galaxy essentially devoid of extraterrestrial intelligence is just a downer?

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

More on ebooks

For those who enjoyed my post a couple of days ago about Tor's free ebook program, I've just added another 1,300 words by me to the end of the comments section of that blog entry. Also, note that Jeffrey A. Carver, another participant in the Tor program, has now stopped by to comment there, in addition to earlier posts by John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tor's free e-book program

Simon Owens at Bloggasm sent me this note this morning:
I remember seeing one or two posts of yours about Tor's experiment releasing free ebooks [actually I've never posted about that, but I have posted about free ebooks in general]. I got a chance recently to talk to several Tor authors [he quotes three, out of the 20 so far whose books have been given away] and asked them whether the ebook releases boosted sales. My article on the subject was posted over here. Anyway, I thought this was something you and your readers might find interesting.
Do go read Simon's article, and also have a look at this one from John Scalzi on the same topic.

For me, it all comes down to this: business models should be built on actual data, not anecdotal evidence. Tor has released 20 books now under this program, and we (the blogosphere debating this) have hard data (actual numbers) for zero of them, and anecdotal evidence for three, two who saw sales increases and one who didn't. (The two who did, probably not coincidentally, have very large web presences, and plugged the giveaways themselves online.)

I'm delighted my friend Toby Buckell saw a surge in numbers for his book -- but he's not reporting hard numbers. A mass-market paperback by a new author a year after release is doing tremendously well if it sells 100 copies a week as reported by Bookscan (that is, the book is selling 5,000 copies a year), so if such a book sees a spike doubling that -- to 200 -- then that's 100 additional copies.

For a $7.99 paperback at 8% royalties, a hundred copies sold is $64 gross for the author, minus a 15% agent's commission, for a net income of $54.

John Scalzi (a hugely popular author) tells us his books are selling hundreds of copies a week in mass-market. So let's say he's moving 20,000 units of a book a year (400 copies a week). A 33% bump is an extra 132 copies moved.

That's not to be sneezed at, but the income for the author is $72 (based on a $7.99 paperback), after agent's commission; one might enjoy a nice enough dinner out, if one didn't order wine. (John got a smaller -- 20% -- bump on another book, and a tiny bump -- 9% -- on a third; still, the total in his pocket would have been [actually, will eventually be, once Tor pays royalties four months after then end of the January-June 2008 royalty period] on the order of $200 for all three books.

What might be interesting, if John and Toby's numbers are generally true, is the fact that the actual bump, if any, might be a fixed number of copies -- around 100 -- regardless of the author's stature.

But, as Simon explicitly says, "Not all Tor authors I spoke to saw such impressive numbers, however." Daniel Abraham saw no sales change.

What's missing here is an important time-factor point. Do people really grab the free ebooks the week they come out? Yes, of course. Tor, in fact, has contrived it to make it difficult to do otherwise. Do people then drop everything and immediately read the free ebook they just acquired? And then decide immediately that they must have the sequel?

Doubtless some do (I have little doubt that many who read the first book in Toby's or John's series do want to read the subsequent volumes; both are very fine writers). I don't know about you, but my to-be-read pile isn't hours deep; it's months deep. I've grabbed every one of the Tor freebies myself -- and haven't read a one of them yet (except for the titles I'd already read in print form, prior to getting the ebook freebies); they're still down in the queue. To claim that the proximate spikes are causally linked to the giveaways require people to immediately read the books and make a purchase decision (or a purchase recommendation to someone else) based on them.

Sales data for any other product is always reports as compared to the same period last year, because seasonality affects sales; we're not getting any of that data, either.

Nor are we seeing how much flux is normal. We've got data points from two authors here; without knowing the normal fluctuation range -- both from week to week, and as compared to the same time last year -- the significance of the "spikes" are in doubt. And, remember, if books do routinely go up and down in sales with equal probability, by pure random chance, two random authors are going to both be up often anyway (and another two -- any two of the 17 authors in this program for whom we have zero data now -- will likely be down).

The assumption behind reporting these spikes is that sales are flat over many weeks, but if the normal sales pattern over two months reads like the following, then a couple of positive bumps is just noise: up 10%, down 20%, up 10%, down 30%, up 15%, up 15%, down 20%, up 20%. We just don't know, because not enough data is being given. (And John Scalzi points out that Bookscan sales in general for SF were up 6% across the entire category the week he looked at the data.)

What's really significant is what the one person who has all the numbers does next: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the head of SF publishing at Tor, does have the Bookscan (and other) sales data week by week for every title Tor has given away under this program. He also knows how many downloads each of these ebooks has had -- a hugely significant number to this debate that we don't have access to.

Back in February 2008, he said that Tor will terminate the freebie-book program later this month (July 2008). Now, of course, he's got several months' worth of additional data for all the authors whose work they gave away since he said that -- not just data on John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell and Daniel Abraham (the ones we've heard about), but also on Kage Baker and Jeffrey Carver and David Drake and Jane Lindskold and Robert Charles Wilson and a dozen others.

PNH is a bright man: if giving away ebooks uniformly across the board is indeed generally and significantly increasing sales, wouldn't one expect to see Tor change its collective mind and continue the program after the launch of their new site on July 20? And wouldn't one expect them to still be doing it a year later, on July 20, 2009? Those will be very interesting indicators.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I understand that people want it to be true that giving away ebooks significantly boosts print sales. I'm just not convinced that a case has been clearly made that it is in fact generally true, and I won't be convinced until there are a lot more hard numbers.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two full years on the Locus Bestsellers' list

I noted earlier that my latest novel, Rollback, is in its third consecutive month on the Locus paperback bestsellers' list, and, for the second month in a row, it's the highest-ranked SF title. (Locus is the US trade journal of the science-fiction field.)

Three months is a long run on the Locus list, but I think I'm even more pleased to note that my most recent appearance is my 24th time being on the Locus list.

Since the Locus list is compiled monthly, that means that Robert J. Sawyer novels have now spent a total of two full years on the Locus list. Woohoo!

My first appearance, at #5 on the list, was in 1996 for my Starplex in paperback, and every novel of mine since (and including) 1997's Illegal Alien has made the list. My highest-ranked appearance was #1 (and by a wide margin, too, according to the accompanying notes) for the Calculating God paperback, as reported in the October 2001 issue.

Go me! :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Guest Editor at

I'm the smiling guest editor at this month in the science-fiction and fantasy section, recommending some of my favorite audiobooks by other authors. Check it out here -- click on "(more)" to see the rest of my essay, and my comments on each audiobook.

And you can get all my titles here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


My Italian translator

... is Dario Rivarossa, and besides being a great translator, he's also a great photographic artist. Check out his website here, with his art and info about his translation services.

And note that the samples of his translations skills are two passages from my Hugo Award-nominated 2003 novel Humans. the first passage in Italian is here, and the second is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Calculating God 8th printing in my hands

I received today copies of the eighth mass-market paperback printing of my novel Calculating God, a Hugo Award-finalist first published in 2000 (and first in paperback in 2001).

So, those of you who've had trouble finding it should have trouble no more., which had been showing it as unavailable for the last few months, now shows it again as "in stock" right here.

(Sadly, Tor made no movement on the cover price: it's still US$6.99/Cdn$8.99, exactly the same as the first edition seven years ago ... so, the good news is no inflation; the bad news is no adjustment for the rising value of the Canadian dollar.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Quick View Plus: converting DOS word-processing files to Windows

There are many ways to convert DOS word-processing files to Windows formats, but one I never see mentione involves using the Windows file-viewing program Quick View Plus. It is, in fact, a quick-and-easy tool for that. (As many of you know, I still write with WordStar for DOS, for all the reasons I explain here.)

The conversion is based on the same conversion filters that shipped with WordStar for DOS 7.0 (System Compatibility Corporation's Software Bridge, which was rebranded as Star Exchange for bundling with later versions of Wordstar for DOS).

Now, Quick View Plus does not allow you to "Save As" any other format -- but what it does do is this:

If you use it to open a WordStar for DOS file (or a word-processing file from any other program), it displays the file's formatted text in a Windows window, with all the same formatting intact that Software Bridge / Star Exchange would have preserved: print attributes (bold, italics, etc.), tabs, centering, etc. (but not information coded in WordStar's paragraph style sheets).

If you then do Ctrl-A (or Edit | Select all) and Ctrl-C (or Edit | Copy), the displayed file's contents are copied into the Windows clipboard in RTF (Rich Text Format), with all formatting (bold, tabs, etc.) intact. You can then just open a Windows word processor and paste the contents of the clipboard in with Ctrl-C, as normal.

Voilà! A WordStar for DOS file converted to Word.

I've used Quick View Plus 7.0 for many years, and yesterday I gave the latest version, 10,0, a try. Except for adding some new file formats (7.0 supported viewing files through Word 2002 and StarOffice Writer through 5.2; 10.0 supports viewing files through Word 2007 and StarOffice Writer through 8.0), there are no differences in the program -- no new features. Note: you don't need a more recent version of Quick View Plus to paste into these later versions of programs; you only need a more recent version to view documents created under those programs in the Quick View Plus file viewer.

But what is new is that Avantstar, the current owners of Quick View Plus, have finally given it a reasonable price: it used to be that Avantstar charged over a hundred bucks for it; it's now $46. There's a free 30-day trial, and Vista support is promised for the end of July 2008.

Check it out here, and see if it works for you.

Quick View Plus supports the following DOS word-processing file formats, plus viewing most graphics formats (although not WordStar / InSet's .pix format), and most DOS and Windows spreadsheet and database formats:
  • DEC WPS Plus (DX), Versions through 4.0
  • DEC WPS Plus (WPL), Versions through 4.1
  • DisplayWrite 2 & 3 (TXT), All versions
  • DisplayWrite 4 & 5, Versions through Release 2.0
  • Enable, Versions 3.0, 4.0 and 4.5
  • First Choice, Versions through 3.0
  • Framework, Version 3.0
  • IBM Writing Assistant, Version 1.01
  • Lotus Manuscript, Version 2.0
  • MASS11, Versions through 8.0
  • Microsoft Word, Versions through 6.0
  • Microsoft Works, Versions through 2.0
  • MultiMate, Versions through 4.0
  • Navy DIF, All versions
  • Nota Bene, Version 3.0
  • Office Writer, Versions 4.0 - 6.0
  • PC-File Letter, Versions through 5.0
  • PC-File+ Letter, Versions through 3.0
  • PFS:Write, Versions A, B and C
  • Professional Write, Versions through 2.1
  • Q&A, Version 2.0
  • Samna Word, Versions through Samna Word IV+
  • SmartWare II, Version 1.02
  • Sprint, Versions through 1.0
  • Total Word, Version 1.2
  • Volkswriter 3 & 4, Versions through 1.0
  • Wang PC (IWP), Versions through 2.6
  • WordMARC, Versions through Composer Plus
  • WordPerfect, Versions through 6.1
  • WordStar, Versions through 7.0
  • WordStar 2000, Versions through 3.0
  • XyWrite, Versions through III Plus
(The program's name is sometimes styled as "QuickView Plus," so I'm including that here so Google will find it in searches for that, too. Quick View Plus was previously owned by Systems Compatibility Corporation (and an earlier version was marketed as Outside In). SCC changed its name to Inso; the current owners are Avantstar.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008

Thomas M. Disch, a great American science-fiction writer and critic, killed himself four days ago.

My admittedly small relationship with him involved a couple of memorable miscommunications. In late 1980, when I was 20, the Ontario Science Fiction Club (OSFiC), which my friends Carolyn Clink, Ted Bleaney, and I had recently joined, was to devote a meeting to the novels of a great writer. Somehow, Carolyn, Ted, and I got word that the writer in question was Thomas M. Disch, and we went out and read his Camp Concentration, The Genocides, and On Wings of Song.

At the time, all were easy to find in mass-market paperback. Pulling those copies off my shelf today, I see that my Pocket Books paperback of The Genocides was a first printing, dated September 1979; my Bantam paperback of Camp Concentration was February 1980; and my Bantam paperback of On Wings of Song was September 1980: three mass-market releases in the space of a year.

I found all three books fascinating, beautifully written, sad, and memorable -- it's almost 18 years since I've read them now, and they all still stick with me, although particularly On Wings of Song.

Well, Carolyn, Ted, and I showed up at the OSFiC meeting at Hart House at the University of Toronto, all set to discuss the books -- and discovered the topic was not "The Novels of Thomas M. Disch," but rather "The Novels of Philip K. Dick" -- which none of us had read at that point.

Five years later, in the summer of 1985, I was under commission from CBC Radio's Ideas series to write and narrate three one-hour documentaries about science fiction. The CBC sent me to Manhattan to interview SF authors, and one of the first I had scheduled to meet was Thomas M. Disch. I was to come to his apartment building -- the same one, as I understand it, that he was concerned just before his death about being evicted from.

But, again, miscommunication: somehow I'd written down the wrong apartment number, and there was no buzz-board with the name Disch in the lobby. I had no trouble getting into the building, though and got to the door, and was sure it must be the right apartment: it had a massive lion's head knocker on the door, an oddly fierce, ostentatious, but bold thing to put on one's door in an apartment building. I knocked it several times, but no one was home (or, at least, no one answered).

The next day, I did get Disch on the phone, and it turns out that wasn't his apartment; he was amused to learn that one of his neighbors (on a different floor) has such a knocker, and that I'd thought it indicative of him.

We had a wonderful interview (among other things, he savaged Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy," and I recall using a clip of that portion in the documentary). I found him a fascinating character: he looked, to me, like a sailor, with big, muscular arms, but he had a strangely high-pitched voice. After, the interview, which we recorded in his apartment, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, and we did -- a very pleasant walk around his neighborhood.

My final interaction with Tom was on Thursday, June 18, 1998. His wonderful but thorny nonfiction book about science fiction, The Stuff Our Dreams Are Made Of, had just come out, and CTV's flagship morning television program Canada AM had me on, in studio in Toronto, to essentially debate the points in Disch's book with him; he was hooked up by satellite from (I suspect -- I don't remember) New York.

I don't think Disch had any idea that the 38-year-old he was hearing at his end was the same guy as the 25-year-old who had interviewed him in New York all those years ago ... nor do I think had he been quite briefed (or maybe it was just too early in the morning for him, or one in a series of interviews he was doing) on the fact that this was to be a debate; he seemed somewhat peeved that he wasn't being given a simple soapbox to propound about the failings of SF.

In point of fact, I agreed with many of his points, but my brief on that occasion was to defend the genre (and at one point Tom said to me, "You're giving the Party line," which indeed, I was). Anyway, it was a good piece of television.

I imagine I have a VHS tape of the Canada AM debate somewhere in one of my storage units (and I still have the raw CBC Radio interview on cassette tape, also in a storage locker somewhere); someday I'll get around to digitizing all those things -- hopefully before they all decay.

Anyway, I liked Disch as a person, and I liked him as a writer. And, as my wife Carolyn has noticed, I've been moping around quite a bit these last couple of days since I learned of his suicide. Depression is common among writers, all over the world, and I've seen many a colleague struggle with it.

Thomas M. Disch took his own life with his own gun, after being financially devastated by medical expenses during the long illness preceding the death of his life partner. He killed himself on the Fourth of July.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fascinating economics puzzle

So, I've been reading a lot of game theory and popular economics (including Tim Harford's excellent The Logic of Life). And tonight I encountered a fascinating example of an interesting economic effect.

The first Thursday of each month is one of Toronto's open science-fiction pub nights. We meet at a place called The Foxes Den. The bar has daily specials, but they're usually the same on the first Thursday of each month, and, like, forever they've been offering a special on a small pizza with three toppings of your choice for $7.99. Usually, two or three people get that (I'm usually one of them, and I get pepperoni, bacon, and onions).

Anyway, tonight, for whatever reason, they changed the special: instead of being any three toppings of your choice, the special was on the "meat lover's pizza" -- with these three toppings: sausage, pepperoni, and beef. It was $7.99, as usual.

Now, in any previous month, you could have ordered that exact same pizza under the special, but tonight when you had to take those three toppings, our group bought nine pizzas (including one bought by me) instead of the usual one or two. Fascinating to see that giving people no choice of toppings moved way more pie than letting them pick the toppings they wanted.

Anyway, it was, as always, a terrific evening. Lots of BNFs (big-name fans), including Murray Moore, Catherine Crockett, Taral Wayne, Hope Liebowitz, Alex Von Thorn, Marah Searle, and Lloyd and Yvonne Penney; two -- count 'em, two! -- Clinks: Carolyn and David; a trio of Tans (Irwin, Lisa -- who is big in Doctor Who fandom -- and their son, Ian); three Ph.D.s (Dan Evens [physics], Diane Lacey [chemistry], Charles Levi [History]); and a slew of people who just plain like reading SF. Always a great time, and newcomers are always welcome!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy keynote customers

It's always nice to have happy clients, and it seems I do in my sideline as a keynote speaker.

Last month I gave a keynote address in Hunstville, Ontario, for The MEARIE Group (the only Canadian insurance supplier dedicated to the energy industry) and moderated a keynote panel just outside Washington, D.C., for Gartner, Inc. (the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company).

Here's what the clients had to say:

"Robert delivered a provocative and dynamic address to our conference. Our goal was to choose a keynote who spoke outside the box and Robert delivered. He spoke to the wonders / marvels / complexities of modern technology ... how it's shaped our human history ... and how it's continually shaping us.

"Robert went out of his way to weave our conference theme and industry into his remarks, which only added to his impact on the audience. It's often difficult to inspire an audience who has been to many conferences and sat through many keynote sessions. Robert, however, did just that. I definitely recommend him."

— Andrea Dale
The MEARIE Group

"As conference chair for Gartner's annual Information Security Summit, I contacted Robert J. Sawyer based on a co-worker's recommendation. I asked Robert to assist in producing, and to moderate, a session called Science Fiction Writers Panel: Information Security and the Sci-Fi Future.

"Robert helped us evaluate suitable panel members for this topic, worked to help us contact and contract with them, and when the big day came, moderated the panel with the highest degrees of professionalism, along with considerable wit, humor and clarity. As they occasionally can do, when the panelists wandered off in flights of fancy outside our topic area, Robert skillfully and diplomatically brought the discussion back to relevance with the main theme.

"I have no doubt about Robert Sawyer's ability to hold an audience's attention, either solo or in the more challenging panel discussion format, and recommend him for suitable corporate or other events."

— Victor S. Wheatman
Managing Vice-President, San Jose
Gartner, Inc.

More client quotes are here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rollback rolls along on the Locus bestsellers' list!

Woohoo! Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer is now in its third month on the paperback bestsellers' list published by Locus, the trade journal of the SF field.

I'm doubly pleased because this is the second month in a row that Rollback is the top-selling science-fiction title (all the higher ranked titles are fantasy).

This is also the second month in a row that Rollback is the highest-ranked paperback from my publisher, Tor (and three months ago, the only Tor title to beat Rollback was Steve Gould's Jumper, while the movie based on it was in theaters).

Here are the lists for the last three months. Numbers following listings are: months on list; position last month. An asterisk means a tie with the book listed (alphabetically) preceding it -- so, this month Greg Bear and I are tied for 7th place.

JULY 2008 (data period: April [Locus site]):

1) The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW) 1 -

2) Embrace the Night, Karen Chance (Roc) 1 -

3) White Night, Jim Butcher (Roc) 3 1

4) Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill (Harper) 1 -

5) Storm Front, Jim Butcher (Roc) 6 -

6) All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris (Ace) 1 -

7) Quantico, Greg Bear (Vanguard Press) 1 -

*) Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer (Tor) 3 3

9) Fortune's Fool, Mercedes Lackey (Luna) 1 -

10) The Outback Stars, Sandra McDonald (Tor) 2 -

JUNE 2008 (data period: March [Locus site]):

1) White Night, Jim Butcher (Roc) 2 1

2) Into a Dark Realm, Raymond E. Feist (Eos) 1 -

3) Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer (Tor) 2 7

4) Grimspace, Ann Aguirre (Ace) 1 -

5) No Humans Involved, Kelley Armstrong (Bantam Spectra) 1 -

6) Madhouse, Rob Thurman (Roc) 2 8

7) Goblin War, Jim C. Hines (DAW) 1 -

8) Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (Tor) 20 -

9) Dead to Me, Anton Stout (Ace) 1 -

*) Von Neumann's War, John Ringo & Travis Taylor (Baen) 1 -

MAY 2008 (data period: February [Locus site]):

1) White Night, Jim Butcher (Roc) 1 -

2) Iron Kissed, Patricia Briggs (Ace) 3 1

3) Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon (Ballantine Del Rey) 1 -

4) Some Golden Harbor, David Drake (Baen) 1 -

5) Jumper, Steven Gould (Tor) 1 -

6) Feast of Souls, C. S. Friedman (DAW) 1 -

7) Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer (Tor) 1 -

8) Madhouse, Rob Thurman (Roc) 1 -

*) The Outback Stars, Sandra McDonald (Tor) 1 -

10) Whitechapel Gods, S.M. Peters (Roc) 1 -

Since Rollback also spent two months on the Locus bestsellers' list in hardcover, that means the book has now been on the Locus bestsellers' list for a total of five months. Yay!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site