Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Free Office Suite for Windows

Yes, I know Open Office is free, but here's another excellent choice, also free: SoftMaker Office 2006 for Windows. Included are a Microsoft Word-compatible wordprocessor called TextMaker and a Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheet called PlanMaker.

And for WordStar users like me, TextMaker optionally supports the WordStar keyboard interface. Just select Extras, Customize, Keyboard Mappings and switch from "Default" (Word-like) to "Classic" (WordStar-like). Cool!

Oh, and at Extras, Preferences, Files, Default file format, you can set the format used for saving files to Open Document, various flavours of Word, or TextMaker's own format.

It's a nice package (in fact, I paid to register an earlier version of TextMaker back in 2003); this free version is well worth grabbing. It's fully functional, not time-limited, and has no restrictions (although SoftMaker does offer a more-recent version as commercial software, for those who want the latest and greatest).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, December 29, 2008

The New York Times on used books

It's a no-win scenario for authors to talk about the impact the used-book trade has on their livelihood, so I won't. But The New York Times had an interesting article entitled "Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It" recently.

All right, I'll make one comment. One of the standard arguments you hear is that lots and lots of people buy used books when trying an author out, and then if they like him or her, they start picking up their stuff new. In my experience, having done hundreds of signings, that's just not generally true. People often come to signings with stacks of my books to get autographed, but it's usually either all new copies, or all used copies. I've almost never seen a case of a reader switching from one to the other.

Yes, yes, yes, I'm sure there are individual examples of people switching from buying an author used to buying new, but, again, in my experience, it's not the norm, even among people who profess to loving the author's work.

And, just in case the point is lost: when you buy a used copy of an author's book, neither the author nor the publisher makes a cent. Yes, yes, somebody paid for the book originally, and that person did contribute to putting food on my table (and on my editor's table) ... but the person who bought the book used did not.

(And before someone chimes in and says, "Well, then, I guess you hate libraries, you Philistine!," no, I don't -- and in Canada (and many other countries, but, as with so many things, not the US) we authors get a nice cheque from the government each year to compensate us for our lost royalties on copies circulated through libraries; read up on the Public Lending Right if you want to know more.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Flashing back to Coupling

Jack Davenport, who starred in the BBC sitcom Coupling, has been cast to play Lloyd Simcoe in ABC's pilot based on my novel Flashforward, and, in honour of that, Carolyn and I, and our friends Nick DiChario and Bev Geddes, watched the first two episodes of Coupling this evening. Carolyn and I had seen the whole series previously, and loved it -- and, I've got to say, it's just as good on a second viewing, and Jack Davenport is fabulous (as is Susan Walker, pictured with him above).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Ho, ho, ho!

Christmas has come and gone, and Carolyn and I had pleasant times visiting both her family (on the 25th) and mine (on the 26th).

For those who are curious, among the goodies we got were:

  • Casino Royale
  • Cloverfield
  • The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (special edition)
  • Ironman
  • Sex and the City, the movie
  • The Big Bang Theory, Season One
  • Doctor Who, Season Three
  • Heroes, Season One
  • Mad Men, Season One

Dan Falk and Larry Hill are friends of mine, so I'm particularly pleased to have received their books.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, December 25, 2008

eReader 1.3 on the iPhone

I had a chance to play extensively today with eReader 1.3 on an iPhone, and I must say I am very, very impressed. The iPhone version is a terrific implementation of the eReader software (much, much nicer, say, than the version of Mobipocket on the iRex iLiad).

eReader is my favorite e-reading software, in part because it has a much better DRM system for commercial books than does Mobipocket. This new version of eReader for the iPhone includes most of the key capabilities of the versions long available for Palm and Windows Mobile devices: the ability to toggle justification, dictionary lookup, and the option to invert the screen (black background with white letters, instead of vice versa).

Text renders beautifully in both Georgia and Helvetica typefaces (although providing Marker Felt was an odd third choice; I'd like to see Verdana). It's an extremely pleasant reading experience, and the combination of an iPhone or iPod Touch with eReader would make a very good ebook-reading platform.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008: A good year for Neanderthals

My friend Berry Kercheval drew this article entitled "2008: A good year for Neanderthals" from New Scientist to my attention. Cool!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Why orangutans will end up on top

In the Planet of the Apes movies, the reigns of power in the far future are held by orangutans. And now we know why.
Dr. Zaius: Tell me, why are all apes created equal?

Taylor: Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Flash Forward update

Tony Award-winning actor Brian F. O'Byrne has joined the cast of ABC's Flash Forward, based on my novel. And we have a new date to start filming: Saturday, February 21, 2009 (two days later than originally announced -- it's easier to get one of our locations on a weekend).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Christmas Eve and Apollo 8: 40 years ago today

Bill Anders: We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."

Jim Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Frank Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you -- all of you on the good Earth.


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Rob & Carolyn's 2008 Christmas Letter

Rob and Carolyn's 2008 Christmas Letter
Robert J. Sawyer & Carolyn Clink

Rob's second short-story collection, Identity Theft and Other Stories, was published earlier this year. Said the American Library Association's Booklist, "At every opportunity, Sawyer forces his readers to think while holding their attention with ingenious premises and superlative craftsmanship."

In its March cover story, Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, named Rob one of the 30 most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing." Only two other authors made the list: Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland.

Rob was special guest at San Diego Comic-Con this year. At 140,000 people, it's the world's largest pop-culture event. They treated Carolyn and Rob fabulously.

Carolyn and Rob also had a great time at the World Science Fiction Convention, which this year was held in Denver in August, and at the World Fantasy Convention, which this year was held in Calgary at the beginning of November. During the Denver trip, we got a wonderful behind-the-scenes tour of the NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Audible.com is now offering six of Rob's novels as unabridged audiobooks.

Rob is hosting the 17-part half-hour documentary series Supernatural Investigator for Canada's Vision TV; it airs Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, starting on January 27, 2009.

Rob's next novel, Wake, comes out in hardcover on April 7, 2009, in the U.S. and a week later in Canada.

ABC is making a pilot for an hour-long TV series based on Rob's novel Flashforward. The pilot script was written by David S. Goyer (who wrote Batman Begins) and Brannon Braga (who worked on the last few Star Trek series); filming is scheduled to begin in Los Angeles on February 17, 2009, and, if the pilot is a success, the series should be on the air in September 2009.

Carolyn continues to enjoy the Algonquin Square Table poetry workshop at the University of Toronto. This year, she published seven poems and ran the poetry open mic at the World Fantasy Convention. She's just been named an assistant poetry editor at Chizine.com. She only golfed once, but did take yoga classes in the fall.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, December 22, 2008

Frost/Nixon is terrific

Ron Howard's new film adaptation of Peter Morgan's stage play Frost/Nixon is absolutely terrific. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their Broadway roles as Richard M. Nixon and David Frost. It's an amazing piece of filmmaking, and the performances by the two leads are Oscar calibre. The film is only in limited release right now (to establish its Academy Award eligibility for 2008); it opens wide soon.

I didn't see the Broadway production, but it's astonishing to think that Langella and Sheen manage to do such subtle performances on the big screen (the kind of subtlety you just can't do on stage when no one can see your face in close-up) after previously having played the parts more broadly. (Yes, it's ironic that the big screen requires smaller acting.) Brilliant, captivating performances -- and Ron Howard pulls off the same trick he managed with Apollo 13: taking a story that all of us who lived through know the outcome of and still make it edge-of-your-seat suspense.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

RJS Decade in Review

I had a need to pull together a document covering my professional achievements over the last 10 years. If anyone's interested, that document is here as a PDF.

A few highlights:

In March 2008, Canada's publishing trade journal Quill & Quire names Robert J. Sawyer one of the 30 "most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing."

Photo: Rob receiving the Galaxy Award -- China's top honour in SF -- for "Most Popular Foreign Author," August 2007.

Photo: Rob receives an Honorary Doctorate from Laurentian University, June 2007.

Photo: Rob receives the $2,500 Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award at the black-tie Book Lovers' Ball in February 2007.

Rob named editor of Robert J. Sawyer Books, the science-fiction imprint of Calgary's Red Deer Press, September 2003.

Photo: Rob receives the Best Novel Hugo Award for Hominids, August 2003.

Robert J. Sawyer's novel Flashforward, which goes on to become a series pilot for ABC TV, is published, June 1999.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace Declaration

Every year since 1947, with the exception of 1950, the mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, has issued a Peace Declaration on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city. This is the text of the 2008 Peace Declaration:

[Hibakusha: victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including those who survived the blasts.]

Another August 6, and the horrors of 63 years ago arise undiminished in the minds of our hibakusha, whose average age now exceeds 75. "Water, please!" "Help me!" "Mommy!" ― On this day, we, too, etch in our hearts the voices, faces and forms that vanished in the hell no hibakusha can ever forget, renewing our determination that "No one else should ever suffer as we did."

Because the effects of that atomic bomb, still eating away at the minds and bodies of the hibakusha, have for decades been so underestimated, a complete picture of the damage has yet to emerge. Most severely neglected have been the emotional injuries. Therefore, the city of Hiroshima is initiating a two-year scientific exploration of the psychological impact of the A-bomb experience.

This study should teach us the grave import of the truth, born of tragedy and suffering, that "the only role for nuclear weapons is to be abolished."

This truth received strong support from a report compiled last November by the city of Hiroshima. Scientists and other nuclear-related experts exploring the damage from a postulated nuclear attack found once again that only way to protect citizens from such an attack is the total abolition of nuclear weapons. This is precisely why the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Court of Justice advisory opinion state clearly that all nations are obligated to engage in good-faith negotiations leading to complete nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, even leaders previously central to creating and implementing US nuclear policy are now repeatedly demanding a world without nuclear weapons.

We who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons are the majority. United Cities and Local Governments, which represents the majority of the Earth''s population, has endorsed the Mayors for Peace campaign. One hundred ninety states have ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. One hundred thirteen countries and regions have signed nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. Last year, 170 countries voted in favor of Japan's UN resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Only three countries, the US among them, opposed this resolution. We can only hope that the president of the United States elected this November will listen conscientiously to the majority, for whom the top priority is human survival.

To achieve the will of the majority by 2020, Mayors for Peace, now with 2,368 city members worldwide, proposed in April of this year a Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol to supplement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This Protocol calls for an immediate halt to all efforts, including by nuclear-weapon states, to obtain or deploy nuclear weapons, with a legal ban on all acquisition or use to follow by 2015. Thus, it draws a concrete road map to a nuclear-weapon-free world. Now, with our destination and the map to that destination clear, all we need is the strong will and capacity to act to guard the future for our children.

World citizens and like-minded nations have achieved treaties banning anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. Meanwhile, the most effective measures against global warming are coming from cities. Citizens cooperating at the city level can solve the problems of the human family because cities are home to the majority of the world’s population, cities do not have militaries, and cities have built genuine partnerships around the world based on mutual understanding and trust.

The Japanese Constitution is an appropriate point of departure for a "paradigm shift" toward modeling the world on intercity relationships. I hereby call on the Japanese government to fiercely defend our Constitution, press all governments to adopt the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, and play a leading role in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons. I further request greater generosity in designating A-bomb illnesses and in relief measures appropriate to the current situations of our aging hibakusha, including those exposed in “black rain areas” and those living overseas.

Next month the G8 Speakers' Meeting will, for the first time, take place in Japan. I fervently hope that Hiroshima's hosting of this meeting will help our "hibakusha philosophy" spread throughout the world.

Now, on the occasion of this 63rd anniversary Peace Memorial Ceremony, we offer our heartfelt lamentations for the souls of the atomic bomb victims and, in concert with the city of Nagasaki and with citizens around the world, pledge to do everything in our power to accomplish the total eradication of nuclear weapons.

-- Tadatoshi Akiba
The City of Hiroshima

For more information, see here and here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hey, Weather Network! Buy yourself some lowercase letters!

This stuff is important, but here's how it reads on the Weather Network website:
Lowercase letters and a few paragraph breaks would help a lot, guys, plus, y'know, a colon is actually two dots stacked vertically not horizontally:
A complex low pressure system will track across Southern Ontario Sunday bringing a variety of adverse weather to the regions.

Snowfall warning: snow will develop near Lake Ontario overnight and over Eastern Ontario Sunday morning. General snowfall amounts near 15 centimetres are forecast with closer to 20 centimetres in easternmost sections. Brisk northeast winds will give blowing snow at times. The snow will taper off over western sections near noon Sunday and over Eastern Ontario in the evening. Areas near western Lake Ontario will also see localized flurries develop this evening well ahead of the main snow area. Some of these flurries will be heavy at times with local blowing snow near the lakeshore.

Wind warning: strong southwest winds of 60 km/h with gusts to 90 will develop over the warned regions Sunday morning then continue through the day. Winds will diminish somewhat Sunday night. Wind chills will also become quite high with values near minus 27 expected over southwestern sections by mid afternoon.

Blowing snow warning: strong and cold westerly winds will develop over the warned regions Sunday morning. These winds combined with periods of snow or flurries will frequent whiteout conditions in blowing snow.

Snowsquall warning: snowsqualls will develop in west to southwesterly winds off lake erie around midday Sunday. These squalls will give local snowfall amounts of 15 centimetres along with extensive whiteout conditions. Motorists should be prepared once again to alter travel plans for tonight and Sunday accordingly.

Travelling conditions will again deteriorate quickly beginning tonight with dangerous winter driving conditions from whiteouts in blowing snow and heavy snow expected to develop. Snowsqualls may also become an issue to the lee of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay Sunday night and Monday. Environment Canada continues to closely monitor this situation and warnings may be issued later today or tonight as this storm draws closer.
People die when we have storms like this. How 'bout making the warnings clear and legibile, instead of like some god-damned disclaimer on a software license agreement? I note that the same warnings are legible and readable at the Environment Canada website, which is the source of the data. Get with the program, Weather Network!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The Economist notes the Worldcon

My father, John A. Sawyer, is an economist -- so, not surprisingly, he reads The Economist every week. And my dad just dropped me an email to say:
The Economist, which has a worldwide circulation, publishes a year-end edition in which there is a calendar of 4 or 5 events in each month of 2009. The first event listed for August is: "Montreal hosts the World Science Fiction Convention, where an author's fantasy can lead to a Hugo Award."
Now that's mainstream respectability!

The Economist's calendar is online here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, December 19, 2008

Timeline of the Planet of the Apes

After my misadventure with Lulu's shipping costs to Canada, I managed to get ahold of a copy of Timeline of the Planet of the Apes via an auction by author Rich Handley on eBay -- and I'm glad I did!

Rich Handley's Timeline of the Planet of the Apes is a magnificent labor of love. He's taken on the staggering task of trying to make sense out of the jumble of contradictory facts and figures -- not to mention temporal paradoxes -- in the five original movies, the live-action and animated TV series, Tim Burton's remake, and more, presenting a fascinating chronology of humanity's downfall, the rise of the apes, and the ultimate fate of our planet.

The book is gorgeously designed, handsomely printed, copiously annotated, and more fun than -- you guessed it! -- a barrel of monkeys. Highly recommended.

More info is here on Rich Handly's site and here at Lulu.com.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Spanish Rollback

Received today copies of the Spanish edition of my novel Rollback, pubished by Ediciones B. The Spanish title is Vuelta Atrás. What a terrific cover!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The Paper Chase on DVD

The study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you -- unlike any other schooling you have ever known before.

You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and, if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer.

--Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr.
Opening class, Contract Law
Harvard University Law School
Woohoo! The Scavanger Hunt finally ends!

My friend (and redoubtable accountant) Larry Hancock just tipped me off that, at long last, Season One of one of my all-time favourite TV series, The Paper Chase, is coming out on DVD. Details about the release are here.

YouTube has long had a grainy video of the opening credits, including the terrific Seals and Crofts theme song.

And -- how's this for a nice coincidence! -- the release date for The Paper Chase Season One is the same date as for my next novel, Wake: April 7, 2009.

There were a handful of TV shows that meant a lot to me when I was growing up, but most of them were science fiction: Fireball XL5, Star Trek, Search, The Six Million Dollar Man. But The Paper Chase, which came out when I was 18, and is based on John Jay Osborn Jr.'s novel of the same name, and the earlier motion picture adaptation which also starred John Houseman, wasn't. But it was about rationalism, about prizing the intellect, about ethical conundrums -- about all the things that I try to infuse into my SF writing.

YouTube also has an iconic scene from the first episode right here:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, December 18, 2008

First Flash Forward TV series fan site!

From the people who brought you Lost-TV.com, there's now a site devoted to the Flash Forward TV series -- that was fast! Among other things, it's aggregating news coverage from other places, including my own blog, and I'm sure it'll grow over time. Check it out at FlashForwardTV.com.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

R.I.P., Majel Barrett

Nurse Christine Chapel in the original Star Trek; Dr. Chapel in the Star Trek movies; Number One in the first pilot "The Cage;" Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation; the voice of the Enterprise's computer, including in the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie; and the voice of Chapel, Lt. M'Ress, and countless guest roles in the animated Trek, Majel Barrett Roddenberry died today of leukemia at the age of 76. May she rest in peace.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Montreal Worldcon membership rates go up January 1, 2009

So join now!

Also, Hugo nominating will begin next month, and you need to be a member to nominate.

(Your membership must be processed online or postmarked before December 31, 2008, to get the current rates.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Busted by Bundoran!

Hee hee! Bundoran Press, the wonderful SF&F publisher in Prince George, British Columbia, has just put the above photo of me on the main page of their website.

It was taken November 10, 2007, at Sentry Box, Calgary's great science-fiction store.

The book I'm looking at is the terrific anthology The Best of Neo-Opsis, culling the top work from one of Canada's major SF magazines, including stories by Suzanne Church (who's in my writers' group), Darwin's Paradox author Nina Munteanu, and Hayden Trenholm (one of my writing students, and author of Defining Diana, also published by Bundoran).

Check out the book, and all of Bundoran's offerings.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

First review of Wake

Niteblade News has weighed in with the first review I've seen of Wake, volume one of my upcoming WWW trilogy. The very kind review, by Aaron Clifford, calls the book "plausible and touching" (and contains no spoilers). You can read the full review here. Wake will be published in April 2009.

(By the way, I have never seen the movie Hackers.)

And, on top of that, I got my very first fan letter for Wake today -- the first feedback I'd had from someone in the general public (a person who had just finished reading the serialization in Analog):
Wow! Yeah! Woohoo! And Oh-my-God! ;-)

Rob, I've said it so many times now, yet it never gets old for me: You write amazing endings! I love that of your books!

Congratulations for Wake! Another master-piece. Very well executed and a fantastic read! I really, really enjoyed it!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RJS at Fictionwise

Got my quarterly royalties today from Fictionwise.com, which reminds me to remind y'all that a whole mess of my short stories are available in every standard ebook format (eReader, Kindle, Mobi, Abode, Sony, PDF, you name it -- all formats for one price, with no DRM) over there. Have a look.

(Also available are ebook edition of my Neanderthal novels.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

David Hartwell is in the house

Or, at least, he was until yesterday morning. Dave, who is a senior editor at Tor Books, comes to Toronto every December to speak at the sales conference for H.B. Fenn and Company, Tor's Canadian distributor.

He stayed over Monday night at our place and we threw a reception in his honour -- and also in honour of the fact that it was Hugo Award-winning author Robert Charles Wilson's birthday.

Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Charles Wilson

Bob Wilson's birthday cake -- yum!

Author Mike Skeet, Lorna Toolis (Collection Head for The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy)

Author Robert J. Sawyer, poet Carolyn Clink

Author Phyllis Gotlieb, computer scientist Kelly Gotlieb

Hugo Award-winning fanzine editor Mike Glicksohn

Bestselling fantasy writer Ed Greenwood and David G. Hartwell sing "Happy Birthday" to Bob

(More pictures are in Costi Gurgu's blog.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The Genesis of Calculating God

My most popular novel seems to be Calculating God, and ten years ago today is when I came up with the idea for it.

On Thursday, December 17, 1998, I was down on the shore of Canandaigua Lake in Upstate New York, borrowing my father's vacation home there. I had a contract to write a novel for Tor called Up to Code (second book on the two-book contract that had also included Flashforward), but it wasn't going well. I noted this in my journal for that day:
Tried outlining more of Up to Code, but it just isn't credible. Meanwhile, received a fan E-mail that praised to the skies my characters and how they integrate with my premises. Of course, I have no real characters at all in Up to Code. Thought seriously about completely revamping the premise.

I first thought of making it more intimate: an alien ship and a human ship have a chance encounter in deep space; I then thought of an idea of an alien coming to Earth just to live with a human family, as a way of assessing the worthiness of our race.

And then it occurred to me to have an alien who was a "paleotheologist" -- someone looking for ancient fingerprints of God (although the word is really "theologian," not "theologist"). Carolyn suggested that maybe the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer is a galaxy-wide phenomenon, and he's come to investigate that.

I figured he could show up and say, look, I'm here to consult with a human paleontologist, and if all the rest of you leave me alone for the year I'll be here, I'll tell you how to cure cancer before I go (which suggests a kidnapping plot by someone desperate to have the cure right now). It's intriguing, anyway ...
And, indeed, it was intriguing, to me and to a lot of other people: Calculating God came out in 2000, has been continuously in print since, was nominated for a Hugo and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, was named the best SF novel of the year by both Borders.com and the Denver Rocky Mountain News, hit #1 on the Locus bestsellers' list, was my first national top-ten mainstream bestseller in Canada, has been translated into numerous languages, is widely taught at universities, and was the only book published as science fiction to make the Chapters/Indigo list of the 100 best Canadian-authored books of all time.

Audible.com recently released an unabridged recording of Calculating God, and in March 2009, Tor is bringing out a new trade-paperback edition of Calculating God with a book-club discussion guide bound in.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

CIO: Larry, Robbie, Nancy, Charlie

CIO, a publication for Chief Information Officers, interviews Larry Niven, Robert J. Sawyer, Nancy Kress, and Charles Stross in this terrific article by Daniel Dern (which you can read here as a single page).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So, Rob, what's up with Flash Forward?

I'm getting asked a lot of questions about the ABC TV pilot based on my novel Flashforward that's about to be filmed in Los Angeles. Here's the response I made today in my Yahoo! Groups newsgroup:
I'm not at liberty to discuss things much.

In fact, it's funny reading the online coverage seeing that no one involved really knows what they're allowed to say. On Wednesday of last week, Fearnet interviewed Jessika Borsiczky Goyer (executive producer of Flash Forward):

Q: Is it a two-hour pilot?
A: I can't comment on that.

The very next day, SciFi.com had an interview with David S. Goyer (director), and it's just tossed off that it is a one-hour pilot.

But, let me say this: David and Brannon have mapped out five seasons of Flash Forward: that's 110 episodes -- and I'm story consultant on every single one.

When David, Brannon, Jessika, and I met in Los Angeles to go over how they intended to adapt my book, I was thrilled and excited about the approach they wanted to take -- and I still am. When I went back to L.A., and read the pilot script (and provided my notes on it), I was even more thrilled; the pilot script is magnificent.

There is a lot of epic sweep to this thing. The people dissecting the pilot (and the many rumors about what it contains) are talking about less than 1% of the story arc for the series. (Not that Lost really is the model, but look at episode one of that in isolation and ask yourself if you really could have told where it was going, or that, say, John Locke would emerge as a major character.)

I'm writing one of the first-season episodes myself and am very comfortable with where all this is heading -- and I believe that most fans of my work are going to be very, very pleased with the series.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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NYRSF on the Neanderthal Parallax

I had cause to look at a back issue of the Hugo Award-nominated The New York Review of Science Fiction today. Richard Parent wrote a fascinating 5,000-word essay about my novels Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids for the June 2004 issue entitled "Double Vision: Robert Sawyer's Utopian Dystopia." Students studying those books will find much meat there. The first paragraph:
Robert J. Sawyer's ambitious new trilogy, The Neanderthal Parallax, presents a provocative challenge to literary analysis -- its hybridized nature brings together utopian, dystopian, and traditional sf tropes. Though genre seepage is not a new phenomenon by any measure, Sawyer's series shifts tone and emphasis at breakneck speed, switching between its personalities with Sybil-like suddenness. What begins as page-turning sf quickly becomes old-school utopia, abandoning all signs of sf. Soon enough, utopia itself is replaced with dystopia, and it is almost as if Bellamy's Julian West, from Looking Backward, had awakened in 1984, not 2000. For the rest of the trilogy, Sawyer flashes moments of each of his three modes before our eyes, never allowing any one of them to become dominant and thus define the series. Even more intriguing than Sawyer's deftness at writing in multiple styles, though, is his ability to make the Neanderthal gestalt an enjoyable read, no matter how much or how often each of the traditions interferes with the others. In this article I will explore the resonance and interference resulting from Sawyer's blending of genres and traditions into a single narrative which, I will argue, gives rise to a revitalized reformation of the utopian tradition.

So there! ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

25 years of using WordStar; Canadian SF 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago today, on Friday, December 16, 1983, I started learning the word-processing program WordStar.

I'd bought my first computer, an Osborne 1 CP/M luggable (24 pounds, the most portable computer in the world back then -- see picture below), for the princely sum of Canadian$1,495, in large measure because it came bundled with WordStar, which was then the reigning champ of word-processing programs.

A quarter-century later, I still use WordStar. I started with WordStar for CP/M 2.26, and today use the final release, WordStar for DOS 7.0 Rev. D (the datestamp on the files for that version is 21 December 1992, sixteen years ago now).

WordStar is still, in my humble opinion, the best program ever written for the efficient and creative manipulation of text, for all the reasons I outline here, and I'm not going to switch.

For my very first writing project involving WordStar, I decided to write an article about Canadian achievements in Science Fiction over the past year.

The previous year, I'd worked at Bakka, Toronto's SF specialty bookstore, and, back then, they did an occasional newsletter called The Bakka Bookie Sheet. I choose this project in part because I had become aware that a lot of stuff was starting to happen in Canadian SF, and also because, with all the boldfacing and italics, it would be a good exercise for learning how to format with WordStar.

That article was indeed published in The Bakka Bookie Sheet -- and here it is, a quarter-century after it was written, an intriguing snapshot of what the field was like here all those years ago ...

1983 in Review: Canadian Achievements in SF&F

In September 1983, Bakka Books published an amusing chapbook entitled Toronto's Fantastic Street Names by John Robert Colombo.

Houghton-Mifflin published The Celestial Steam Locomotive, first volume of Michael Coney's "The Song of Earth" trilogy, in November 1983. Coney makes his home in Sidney, B.C.

Charles de Lint of Ottawa is well-known for his excellent semiprozine Dragonfields, of which the fourth number appeared in 1983. But he has also taken the book-publishing world by storm, selling his first, second, and third novels in 1983: The Riddle of the Wren and Moonheart to Ace and The Harp of the Grey Rose to Starblaze.

Augustine Funnel of Lyndhurst, Ontario, wrote "Viewpoint: A Stroll to the Stars" in the August 1983 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine [IAsfm].

Another fine collection by Phyllis Gotlieb, Son of the Morning and Other Stories, was released by Ace in December 1983.

Terence M. Green made his first appearance in IAsfm with "Susie Q2" in August 1983. He sold another story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction [F&SF]. He reviewed Pauline Gedge's Stargate and Spider Robinson's Mindkiller in the February 1983 Books in Canada. Once again, Terry was an invited reader at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Florida.

Collector R. S. Hadji had annotated horror bibliographies in the June, August, and October 1983 issues of Twilight Zone.

Tanya Huff sold script outlines to a TV series in development stage called "Captain Lonestar." Her fantasy story "Claus Clause" was a runner-up in the annual CBC Radio Drama Competition.

David Kesterton, author of The Darkling, and Robert J. Sawyer both joined the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1983, bringing the total Canadian membership of that organization to 18.

Tsunami by Crawford Kilian of Vancouver was published by Douglas & McIntyre.

That brilliant novel Courtship Rite continued to garner honours for Donald Kingsbury. It was a nominee for the Hugo and Locus named it best first novel of the year. Kingsbury was flown to Balticon 17 in April 1983 to accept the Compton N. Crook Memorial Award. Forbidden Planet bookstore announced Don as winner of their first annual Saturn Award in the Best New Writer category.

Toronto doctor Edward Llewellyn's third DAW Books novel, Prelude to Chaos, appeared in February 1983.

Spider Robinson's "Melancholy Elephants" won the Best Short Story Hugo. He signed autographs at Bakka in November 1983.

In June 1983, CBC-TV produced a version of University of Waterloo alumnus Thomas J. Ryan's 1977 novel The Adolescence of P-1. The show, with screenplay by Barrie Wexler, will be broadcast in 1984 as part of the "For the Record" anthology series.

Montrealer Charles R. Saunders sold an Imaro sequel entitled The Quest for Cush to DAW.

Robert J. Sawyer's article on semiprozines was in the Fall 1983 Canadian Author & Bookman. His story "The Contest" was optioned by Bar Harbour films and his script "Earthfall" won an honourable mention in the annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. His mini-interview with Don Kingsbury appeared in February 1983's Books in Canada and he sold a long Kingsbury interview to Science Fiction Review.

Expatriate Canuck A. E. van Vogt completed a third Null-A book, which so far has only sold in French to a publisher in France. DAW Books published his Computerworld in November 1983.

Andrew Weiner continued his prolific publishing of excellent stories: "One More Time" in the Doubleday anthology Chrysalis 10, "On the Ship" in the May 1983 F&SF, "Takeover Bid" in the June 1983 Twilight Zone, and "Invaders" in the October 1983 IAsfm.

McGill University's Science-Fiction Studies produced issues on "19th-century SF" and "SF in the non-print media." Bill Marks's Vortex had four issues in 1983. A semiprozine called Moonscape appeared, edited by Mogens Brondum of Swan River, Manitoba.

(More such historical notes about Canadian achievements in science fiction are on my website here.)

An Osborne 1 -- Rob's first computer

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, December 12, 2008

Back at SiWC in 2009!

Woot! I've just been invited to be a presenter again next year at the Surrey International Writers' Conference in Surrey (Vancouver), British Columbia. This will be my third year at SiWC. It's a fabulous conference. Dates are October 23-25, 2009.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"As you know, Bob --" Kablooie!

During my lecture on "Showing, Not Telling" at the Surrey International Writers' Conference back in October, I was asked when it was okay in fiction to have one character lecture another, and I said: "When the other character is desperate to know what the first one knows." The example I gave is a speech by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry:
I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
Make all your lectures like that, and your audience won't even notice that it's being lectured to. ;)
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Flash Forward casting

We have the female lead for the Flash Forward pilot now. Sonya Walger, who has had recurring roles on both Lost and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, has signed on.

Also cast in the pilot is Christine Woods, pictured below. She's guested on House and CSI Miami.

The Hollywood Reporter has the news here, and for more about the series pilot, based on my novel, just click on the label "Flash Forward" or "Flashforward" at the end of this post.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TVOntario monologues with Rob and Nalo

TVOntario -- a major Canadian public broadcaster -- has uploaded some two- and three-minute-long monologues by Robert J. Sawyer and Nalo Hopkinson:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Nick DiChario on Kurt Vonnegut

Hugo and World Fantasy Award finalist Nick DiChario -- author of A Small and Remarkable Life and Valley of Day-Glo, both published by Robert J. Sawyer Books -- discusses Kurt Vonnegut in the November-December 2008 issue of Philosophy Now, a magazine I quite enjoy. The article is online here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, December 8, 2008

WTF, Lulu?

So, y'all know how much I love Planet of the Apes. And this guy has just self-published a book outlining his take on the timeline of the movies and TV shows as a trade paperback through Lulu.com, and I figured, okay, what the heck, I'd buy a copy; price is $29.95, plus shipping.

When I went to check out, Lulu ever so thoughtfully took me straight to "enter your credit card" information; I had to click on a thingy to see what shipping charges I was going to be assessed. Holy crap! Lulu had defaulted to "standard shipping" to Canada, which is US$74.26. That's nuts for one trade paperback.

Now, yes, I could have chosen other options. Here are the choices Lulu offers:

* Ground: US$16.43

* Economy: US$29.44 (with a note that "Lulu does not recommend this shipping method")

* Standard: US$74.26

* Express: US$84.50

* Super Fast - Ships Next Day Overnight Delivery: US$99.26

* Super Mega Fast - Ships Today Overnight Delivery: US$134.50

I canceled my order; oh, perhaps if they'd defaulted to ground (overpriced but not obscene), maybe I'd have gone through with it. But this is just freakin' ridiculous.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The design of Rob's website at SFWRITER.COM

Rob's website

An email I received today said in part:
I've read several pages at your Web site. As a well-wisher and a Web programmer, I urge you to consider improving the colour and general design of the site. My kind are cheaper than a dime a dozen but if I can be of assistance, do let me know.
I get comments like that periodically (although I get far, far more praise for the site than I do complaints). My response:
Many thanks for the kind words. They're very much appreciated!

I've looked at other authors' websites, and rarely see one that I like, especially from an accessibility point of view.

I insist on having a site that resizes well to any size screen (including those on mobile devices); that uses actual text, not graphics, for all words (so they can be resized and so that screen-reading software used by the blind will have no trouble with them); that doesn't constrain text sizes or hard-code specific point sizes (so that the user can resize up as much as he or she wishes); and that does not use frames, which I find awkward and clumsy.

The choice of colours is personal, I grant you, but I'm genuinely curious about what general sort of changes you'd suggest given the above constraints.

Now, yes, some have said there are too many words on my web pages, but given that my site's purpose is to drive sales of books that are each around 100,000 words long, it seems that catering to those who don't wish to read very much text would be counterproductive. :)

By the standards of SF author websites, mine excels in terms of depth of content (with over one million words and over 500 pages) and certainly is in the top half in terms of layout and design.

Also, I actually enjoy coding my own site; it's all hand-coded in HTML. I've been doing it since 1995, and I make several changes each week to the site (often small things, but I need to be able to maintain it myself to do that). So, I'm not looking to hire someone to do it for me. But I'm always open for suggestions as to how to make it better.
And I certainly do welcome suggestions. I'll probably give the site a facelift or a spruce-up over the next few months as we gear up for the release of Watch, my next novel. Thoughts?

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, December 6, 2008

RJS on Quirks & Quarks

I was on CBC Radio One's science program Quirks & Quarks today. Missed it? So did I! But the MP3 podcast is already available right here.

The bit with me -- on whether the end of our world might come at the hands of aliens -- starts at 22 minutes 50 seconds and goes for about three minutes.

Pictured: Bob McDonald, the host of Quirks & Quarks.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

The Savage Humanists course adoption

When I commissioned Fiona Kelleghan to edit a critical anthology for Robert J. Sawyer Books, of course my hope was that the book would be adopted for univesity science-fiction courses. And, to our delight, that's beginning to happen.

Fiona's anthology The Savage Humanists is required reading at Philadelphia's Drexel University in the course "Science Fiction" (English 303, section 701, Winter 2008-2009 term) taught by Donald Riggs.

Fiona Kelleghan of the University of Miami

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Science fiction murder mysteries

I saw an academic ask about science fiction murder mysteries today, and sent that person a list of my own works in that area:
Golden Fleece, Warner 1990 (reissued by Tor 1999) -- winner of Canada's Aurora Award for best novel; named best SF novel of 1990 in Orson Scott Card's year-end summation in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Terminal Experiment, HarperPrism, 1995 -- winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel

Illegal Alien, Ace, 1998 -- winner of Japan's Seiun Award for Best Foreign SF novel, and named best Canadian mystery novel of the year by The Globe & Mail, Canada's National Newspaper

The novella "Identity Theft" from the anthology Down These Dark Spaceways edtied by Mike Resnick for the Science Fiction Book Club; nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards; included in Nebula Awards Showcase 2007 and in my 2008 collection Identity Theft and Other Stories

The short story "Biding Time," winner of Canada's Aurora Award for Best Short Story of the Year, from the DAW anthology Slipstreams edited by John Helfers and Martin Harry Greenberg, and included in my collection Identity Theft and Other Stories.

The short story "The Hand You're Dealt," finalist for the Hugo Award and winner of the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Short Story of 1998, first published in Free Space edited by Edward E. Kramer and reprinted in my collection Iterations and Other Stories

Other books by me that are in part murder mysteries: Hominids, winner of the Hugo Award for best novel of the year; Flashforward, winner of the Aurora Award for best novel (and the basis for a TV series pilot for ABC); Frameshift (Hugo finalist, Seiun Award winner), and Fossil Hunter (middle volume of my Quintaglio Ascension trilogy).

I've won Canada's top mystery-fiction award, the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award, but that was for a story called "Just Like Old Times" that didn't in fact involve a murder mystery, and I've won France's top SF award, Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but that, too, didn't actually involve a murder.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, December 5, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman passes

Monday, April 22, 1996: Carolyn and I arrive in Los Angeles for a few days of vacation leading up to the Nebula Awards ceremony. Went to NBC, but arrived too late to get tickets to The Tonight Show and so we drove around in our rental car, looking for somewhere to eat, and found a Sizzler.

Across the room, I recognize a man whose photo I'd seen many times: Forrest J Ackerman, the great science-fiction fan, editor, agent, and collector. He was eating with some friends of his.

I thought, what the heck, I'd go up and say hello:

"Mr. Ackerman, you don't know me, but my name is Rob Sawyer, and I'm visiting from Toronto."


"Yes, and, well, I'm here for the Nebula Awards banquet -- see, my novel The Terminal Experiment is one of the nominees this year, and --"

"Then you must come back to the house!"

My heart almost stopped. "The house," I knew, was the famed Ackermansion: the giant, sprawling home that contained his amazing 300,000-piece collection of science-fiction books, magazines, and film and TV props, costumes, and memorabilia.

When lunch was done, Forry took us to his place, and OMG, it was incredible. He gave us a two-hour private tour of his 18-room home, and it was unbelievable. The robot from Metropolis. A Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica. One of the sets of makeup appliances worn by Kim Hunter as Zira in the original Planet of the Apes. Two different sizes of Martian war machines from George Pal's The War of the Worlds. And so much more.

I remember Forry's wonderful kindness to a young writer he'd never met before. And I remember, all over his mansion, portraits of his deceased wife Wendayne, and how he spoke repeatedly about her with so much love.

I'm not given to believing in such things, but I do sincerely hope they're together now. Forrest J Ackerman passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Busy week!

It's been a busy week! In and around work on my novel Watch, the sequel to Wake, I have:
  • Helped Anne Ptasznik, who was my girlfriend in grade 12, celebrate her mumblety-mumbletieth birthday [that's Annie and me at our high-school reunion last year]

  • Finished going over the typesetting for Wake

  • Attended a long, very pleasant, and very delicious lunch meeting with Sharon Fitzhenry and associates from Fitzhenry & Whiteside about Robert J. Sawyer Books, the imprint I edit for them

  • Gave a 90-minute talk about "The Future of the Book" to the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, a group of campus booksellers and student-union people from across Canada (at which every attendee got a free copy of my latest, book Identity Theft and Other Stories courtesty of the McMaster University bookstore)

  • Spoke for two hours solid at Chet Scoville's class at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, where his students are studying Calculating God

  • Had major phone conversations with my Hollywood agent Vince Gerardis and my New York one Ralph Vicinanza, both with very good news

  • Did a by-email interview for a magazine for Chief Information Officers

  • Swung by the offices of Penguin Canada (my Canadian publisher), and met the sales reps for British Columbia

  • Attended Toronto's monthly First Thursday science-fiction pub night
And the fun continues today with the first of what I'm sure will be a bunch of media interviews about my hosting the upcoming TV series Supernatural Investigator.


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Shakespeare and Sulu to Flash Forward?

Today's The Hollywood Reporter says:
Joseph Fiennes is in negotiations for the lead in ABC's hot drama pilot "Flash Forward," eyed as a potential companion to "Lost."

John Cho is in negotiations to co-star in the project, from David S. Goyer, Brannon Braga and ABC Studios.

Based on Robert J. Sawyer's sci-fi novel, "Flash" chronicles the chaos that ensues after everyone in the world passes out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds and has a mysterious vision of the future that changes lives forever.
Joseph Feinnes, of course, played the Bard himself in one of my favourite movies, Shakespeare in Love, and John Cho is the new Sulu in the upcoming movie version of Star Trek, my all-time favourite franchise. So -- woohoo!

The full article (until The Hollywood Reporter puts it behind the subscribers-only wall) is here, and more about my novel is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flash Forward casting

We have our first actors cast for the TV series pilot based on my novel Flash Forward.

Two-time Tony Award-nominee Courtney B. Vance is best known for his six seasons as assistant district attorney Ron Carver on NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

And my wife Carolyn is over the moon, because Jack Davenport, whom she has had a big crush on since he starred as Steve in the British sitcom Coupling, is playing Lloyd Simcoe. Jack played Norrington in three Pirates of the Carribean movies, and recently starred in CBS's Swingtown.

The coverage from The Hollywood Reporter ("Vance, Davenport cast in ABC pilot: 'Flash Forward' is based on Sawyer's sci-fi novel") is here.

Filming of the pilot is scheduled to begin in nine weeks in Los Angeles, on February 19, 2009. More about the pilot is here.

(Photos: Courtney B. Vance, Jack Davenport)

Flash Forward / Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer, published by Tor Books, New York.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Monday, December 1, 2008

In charge of programming at Con-Version in 2009: Kirstin Morrell

Con-Version, held each year in Calgary, is one of my favourite science-fiction conventions.

The brilliant and beautiful Kirstin Morrell -- chair of Con-Version last year, former managing editor of Robert J. Sawyer Books and Red Deer Press, and now Communications Officer for Alberta's Informatics Circle of Research Excellence (iCORE) -- has just been named Head of Programming for next year's Con-Version, which will be held August 21-23, 2009. Guests of Honour are Terry Brooks and Tanya Huff.

It's fair to say that over the years the quality of literary programming at Con-Version has waxed and waned, but there's no doubt that it'll be first-rate at Con-Version 25 next year. I'll be attending for sure.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site