Saturday, February 28, 2009

CTV in trouble

CTV is the parent corporation of Space (Canada's science-fiction specialty channel) and Discovery Channel Canada. The are predicting a $100 million loss from their broadcast TV operations this year.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site statement re Kindle and text-to-speech released this statement on Friday:

Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights-holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Customers tell us that with Kindle, they read more, and buy more books. We are passionate about bringing the benefits of modern technology to long-form reading.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site



Y'all know I submitted Watch, the second volume of my WWW trilogy to my editors (in Toronto, New York, and London) on Monday of this week.

And just before midnight tonight (Friday), I finished up the only other outstanding project I had. I can't tell you much about it, except to say it's a TV project, and has nothing to do with Flash Forward, but I've now finished my work on that, too -- and I think it turned out quite well (not to mention the fact that I had a blast doing it).

And so I acutally get to take a day off: Saturday. And it'll be a fun day, too: my family is getting together to celebrate my mother's 84th birthday.

On Sunday, it's back to work: off to Paris, Ontario, for the wrap up of "One Book, One Brant." Monday and Tuesday will be spent doing research reading for Wonder, the third WWW book. And then on Wednesday, it's off to Los Angeles to watch part of the filming of the Flash Forward TV pilot. Whew!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Rocky Mountain News folds

The Rocky Mountain News, a major daily newspaper in Denver, Colorado, one of the few US dailies to routinely and intelligently review science-fiction novels over the years, is gone.

Mark Graham, the usual SF reviewer there, had been very kind to me. For instance, on Calculating God, he wrote:
"I always look forward to Robert J. Sawyer's books. One reason is that Sawyer is just about the best science fiction writer out there these days: compelling stories, believable scenarios, science and fiction that really interact. But the main reason is that after reading and reviewing several Sawyer novels, I know that each book he writes will be unique.

I think it is safe to say that no book of popular science fiction exists that is remotely similar to Calculating God. In an effort to convince Tom Jericho of God's existence, Hollus uses scientific laws and the mathematics of probability. His arguments are the most convincing I have seen since Thomas Aquinas — maybe more so.

I have always thought that a good novel keeps readers turning the pages to find out the fate of characters they care about. But for fiction to be called literature, the story should stay with readers and keep them thinking about it long after the book has been put away. It is safe to say that Sawyer has accomplished both with Calculating God
The paper went on to name Calculating God the best SF novel of the year -- giving it the paper's Rocky Award -- and included it on their list of the year's best books of any type.

And on me in general:
"Here are a few of the things I like about Robert J. Sawyer: His novels are fast moving and tightly constructed; his characters are developed so that I care what happens to them; the science in his science fiction is intrinsic to the plot but not so arcane that readers have to be nuclear physicists to understand it; and he doesn't imitate others or himself."
Robert Charles Wilson and I had a wonderful lunch with Mark Graham at last year's Worldcon in Denver (Mark's a big fan of Bob's books, too), and when I was in Denver on book tour for Rollback, Mark gave the introductory comments about me at my event at The Tattered Cover.

The Rocky Mountain News published its last edition today, 55 days shy of its 150th birthday. They will be sorely missed by the science-fiction publishing industry.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Patrick Rothfuss's blog

I said very nice things about Patrick Rothfuss's first novel on the book's dustjacket:
"Hail Patrick Rothfuss! A new giant is striding the land. The Name of the Wind is an astonishing novel that just happens to be the writer's first. The bestsellers' lists and the award ballots are beckoning toward Rothfuss, and readers will be clamoring for more of the riveting life story of Kvothe. Bravo, I say! Bravo!" -- Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids
We are indeed clamoring, but Pat is behind schedule on the second book, and his long blog post today (with cartoons!) about that makes fascinating reading.

Among other things, Pat says:
I say that as a joke, but like most jokes it has a grain of truth to it. That's the reason I've turned the comments off for this blog. I know they would break down roughly like this:

30 considerate, supportive comments.
20 touching, heartfelt comments.
15 funny comments
10 comments saying, "Meh, I already knew."
5 passive-aggressive snarks masquerading as one of the above.
1 comment from some anonymous frothy dickhole.

And you know which comment I'd focus on? Yeah. The last one. It would sit there like a steaming turd in my bowl of cereal. It doesn't matter how delicious the cereal is. It could be Fruity Pebbles, or even Cookie Crisp. But in a situation like this it doesn't matter. You can't just eat around it. All you can do is focus on the turd.
Man, I know exactly how he feels. I turned off anonymous commenting in my blog many months ago because of that. I wonder why people choose to be nasty and snarky and I wonder if they know just how small they are for doing so anonymously or under a pseudonym?

(Tip 'o the hat to Virginia O'Dine for drawing Pat's post today to my attention.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


To serialize a sequel?

Over in my Yahoo! Groups newsgroup, Martin Bennedik wrote:
I read Wake on my phone by downloading the ebook version of Analog from Fictionwise. Not only was the novel excellent, but I found this was a good way to get the book early and in a format which allowed me to take it with me on my commutes.

So I wonder if there is any chance for Watch being serialized in Analog, too?
Thanks for asking. I'm not planning to offer Watch to Analog. It was great publicity for launching the series to have the first volume serialized there (I did the same thing with the first volume of my Neanderthal Parallax series, Hominids), but I'm not sure it makes business sense to cannibalize overall book sales of the entire series.

Analog has about 26,000 readers (paid circulation in 2008); if they all bought the paperback (not the hardcover, just the paperback) of Watch, my income would be $18,000 in royalties ... whereas Analog would pay $4,000 (at 4 cents a word) for serialization rights.

Of course, not all Analog readers will love Wake enough to want to buy Watch, but some number will. Still, even with relatively conservative numbers, it might in fact be best for me personally to sell the serialization rights (assuming they'd want them) to Analog. Some plausible sounding numbers:

1 out of every 10 Analog readers decides they liked Wake well enough that they want to read Watch, too. Of those 2,600 people, three-quarters are content to wait for the paperback and one-quarter spring for the pricier hardcover.

Then the math looks like this (my paperback royalty from Ace is 70 cents a copy; my hardcover royalty is $2.50, on the first 5,000 copies and more thereafter):

((2,600*75%)*$0.70)+((2,600*25%)*$2.50) = $2,990

But that's what I get. What about my publishers (Ace in the US, Penguin/Viking in Canada, Orion in the UK)? What's their share? On serialization rights? Nothing at all. On book sales, well, they doubtless make at least as much profit as me per book sold (even after they bear all the expenses, too -- printing, distribution, promotion, editorial costs, etc. etc.).

Yes, I could sell the serialization rights without their permission, but my publishers have advanced me a lot of money for the book rights, and I owe it to them to help them earn that money back. :)

(I do think that serializing the first book is good for everyone -- me, Analog, and my book publishers, because we have 26,000 people who have read the book now before it comes out, and they can provide good word-of-mouth for the series when the first volume starts appearing in stores next month. But I'm not sure it makes sense to serialize later volumes.)

However, fear not: unlike Tor, which has been crappy about getting my books out as ebooks, Ace is vigorous on that front, so you'll certainly be able to read Wake, Watch, and Wonder electronically.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Publishers Weekly starred review of Wake online

Over at Publishers Weekly, you can read all of this week's reviews, including the full text (no spoilers) of their review of my upcoming Wake.

(There are a lot of reviews on that page; do a search on "Sawyer" to find the Wake review.)

I notice -- cough, cough -- that Wake is the only SF&F title to get a star this week, and one of just seven starred titles out of the 51 works of fiction of all types reviewed in total. Woot! (A starred review "denotes a book of exceptional merit.")

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tim Hortons: the modern Canadian inukshuk

So this Sunday, I'm appearing at the library in Paris, Ontario, as the concluding event of this year's One Book, One Brant community-wide reading program; the book they're doing this year is my Rollback.

If you're in the area, come on out this Sunday, March 1, 2009, for a lively reading, Q&A, and more, at the Paris Public Library, 12 William Street, Paris, Ontario, at 1:30 p.m.

Just now, the library sent me directions to the library, and I thought to myself all Canadian directions contain the same landmark: the local Tim Hortons. They've become the modern Canadian inukshuk! For anyone else making the trip from the Toronto area, here are the directions:
  • Take Hwy 403.
  • Past the Brantford exits, you'll come to Hwy 2 Paris Rd exit
  • Stay in right lane -- sign will say to Paris
  • Follow on Paris Rd until you get to the 2nd set of stop lights. (Tim Hortons on the corner)
  • Turn left onto Dundas St. stay in right lane
  • Take Willow St. exit towards downtown
  • Go to stop sign turn left on William St. stay in left lane
  • Go through the main intersection (stop lights) and the library is one block over on your right.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Consumer protection laws and cell phones

Yeah, yeah, we all know Rob's into big government :) so feel free to tune this out, but here's a guy who just got a $6,000 phone bill for using his iPhone in Mexico. And, yeah, sure, we can all smugly argue that this particular guy should have known better -- but stories like this crop up all the time.

The billing formulas your cell-phone provider uses are known ... to them. And although they're rip-offs, the math behind the rip-offs is trivial. Cell-phones should have to display the current-cost-per-second on their screens, should have to display an alert when you've gone over your plan's monthly maximums, and should have to display a running tally of your bill.

More: they should require specific user authorization (just punch in an acknowledgement to continue) when your monthly bill is exceeding a pre-set amout (which, by default, should be something low, like $100, but easily setable to whatever threshhold the user wishes).

We have laws that keep credit-card companies from charging you more than $50 if your card is used fradulently. We need laws that keep cellular providers from surprising us with what our bills are going to be. They know -- or should know -- what we're being charged as we're racking up the charges; there's no reason for them not to tell us. If they can text me to wish me a happy birthday or tell me about their latest sale, they can certainly inform me of how much money they're sucking out of my wallet right now.

And, geez, isn't one of the prime rules of business to never make the customer regret having chosen to do business with you? A business model that's based on making the customer livid when he sees his or her bill is just nuts.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Brockport revokes NAFTA

In response to my posting about being unable to publish any further non-Canadian authors under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint, Marcos P. Donnelly sent the following:

BROCKPORT, February 26 -- In a surprise response to complaints by the Canada Council for the Arts concerning the publication of U.S. works by Robert J. Sawyer Books, the upstate New York town of Brockport announced its unilateral revocation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"That's it, we're done, we've had it!" fumed town supervisor Nat O. Lester, who declared the revocation late Thursday. "We're shipping back all the Labatt's in town, and we're closing our portion of the Erie Canal to Canadian boaters."

Town merchants voiced initial support of the NAFTA overturn. "I'm sick of those foreigners sneaking in here with their funny-looking money," said Lorenzo Villaguarde, owner of Lorenzo's Mexican Market in downtown Brockport. "You know how hard it is to convert from Canadian dollars to American dollars to Mexican pesos to Colombian pesos? Madre de Dios, the exchange fees are killing me! Seal the border!"

Reaction from Washington was guarded.

"As the, uh, new guy here in the Oval, uh, Office, I'm not fully ... fully certain whether Brockport has, uh, the legal right to reverse, um, NAFTA," said one Washington official who declined to be identified due to his high rank in the administration. "The Canadians seemed ... pretty nice to me. Didn't they seem, uh, nice? I think they're nice."

But as Washington waffled, Brockport bustled to rid their town of all things Canadian. Bulldozing of the local Tim Horton's began at 8:00 p.m EST, and the local Wegman's announced it would now refuse any checks drawn on Scotiabank or Toronto-Dominion.

"In addition, I'm encouraging Brockport citizens to send testy emails to Canadian political leaders," supervisor Lester said, although he later admitted he couldn't identify any of those leaders by name.

In an ironic twist to the Brockport NAFTA revocation, local author Marcos P. Donnelly discovered that the Canadian engine of his Chevrolet Cavalier had been removed from his car and deported.

"Great," Donnelly muttered. "Now how the fuck do I get to work tomorrow?"

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Q10: cool little clean-screen text processor

Over on my Facebook page, Kelly John Rose recommended Q10, a nifty little full-screen text processor that's totally free. Install, press F1 for help. Gives you a clean, empty monitor to write with (suppresses all the usual Windows gewgaws). Download the second version -- the one with the spell checker (I missed seeing it the first time I visited the page).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


How much do novelists make?

I'm lucky, and I know it; most of my colleagues aren't.

Gary Karbon discussed this last year in the blog Culture Feast:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

RJS Books: Canadian authors only from now on

Sharon Fitzhenry, the publisher of Fitzhenry & Whiteside, parent company of Red Deer Press, which publishes my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint, just called.

The Canada Council for the Arts has objected -- probably quite rightly, from their point of view -- to me publishing Americans under my imprint while the Canada Council helps to subsidize the costs.

So all future books under the Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint will be by Canadian authors only.

In the past, I published the absolutely brilliant Letters from the Flesh by Marcos P. Donnelly of Brockport, New York; two wonderful novels (A Small and Remarkable Life and Valley of Day-Glo) by Nick DiChario of Rochester, New York; and the terrific anthology The Savage Humanists edited by Prof. Fiona Kelleghan of the University of Miami with (except for a story by me) all American contributors. They're great books, and I'm very proud of all of them.

Next up from Robert J. Sawyer: Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction, edited by me and with 100% Canadian content. That should make the Canada Council happy. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


I love Barenaked Ladies

They broke up today.

Steve Page, the lead singer, has left the band "to pursue a solo career."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

New York Times op-ed: "The Kindle Swindle?"

Today's New York Times has an op-ed piece by Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild, entitled The Kindle Swindle?

The Authors Guild has also put up a web page with demos of the Kindle's text-to-speech (TTS) feature here.

Oh, and by the way, not on this topic, but I occassionally do op-eds myself for major Canadian newspapers. An op-ed piece is an opinion piece or essay that appears opposite the editorial in a newspaper — it's a featured opinion piece by someone other than the newspaper's staff editorial writer. I've been commissioned to do op-ed pieces by both The Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) and The Ottawa Citizen (the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada's capital city):
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Saucer Fleet

OMG, if you like 1950s and 1960s SF movies and TV shows as much as I do, you have to run and buy The Saucer Fleet by Jack Hagerty and Jon Rogers.

It's a painstaking, loving, profusely illustrated tribute to the great screen flying saucers of SF: the C57-D from Forbidden Planet, the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space, the ship from The Invaders, the manta-ray saucers from The War of the Worlds, Exeter's craft from This Island Earth, and more. Tons of detail, tons of screen captures, tons of blueprints, tons of trivia, all in colour on glossy paper -- many hours of reading/browsing pleasure.

List price is $59.95 (and worth it!), but if you're in Canada grab it from for just Cdn$37.77 ( says "this title has not yet been released" -- but it has; my copy arrived from them today.)

By the way, the publisher is Canada's own Apogee Books, famed for its Apollo Mission Reports series (but the book is available worldwide). I love, love, love this book!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Not just hosting but narrating Supernatural Investigator tonight

I don't just host this week's episode of Supernatural Investigator on Vision TV -- I also do the voice-over narration throughout the episode.

Tonight's topic: Mayan crystal skulls. It airs at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time / 7:30 p.m. Pacific.

Pictured: Robert J. Sawyer and the extinct species known as the newspaper book-review section editor

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, February 23, 2009

WWW#2: Watch delivered

I delivered the manuscript today for Watch, Volume 2 of my WWW trilogy, to Ginjer Buchanan at Ace in New York and Laura Shin at Viking (Penugin Canada) in Toronto. The book will be published in April 2010.

This is my 19th novel -- a number that frankly astonishes me. :)

I'm going to reward myself by watching another episode of Battlestar Galactica on DVD tonight ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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PW starred review for Wake

Woot! Woohoo! We just received our first review for my new novel Wake, and it's a rave!

Publishers Weekly has given Wake a "starred review," their highest distinction: starred reviews denote books of exceptional merit. The review, which appears in the February 23, 2009, edition, says in part:
The wildly thought-provoking first installment of Sawyer's WWW trilogy explores the origins and emergence of consciousness. The thematic diversity -- and profundity -- makes this one of Sawyer's strongest works to date.
As my character Caitlin would say, "Sweet!"

(This is my second consecutive starred review in PW; they also gave a star to Rollback.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, February 22, 2009

eReader in beta for the BlackBerry Storm

Woot! eReader, my favourite ebook application -- recently released for the iPhone -- is now in beta for the BlackBerry Storm. Now, if they'd just get a version for an e-ink reader to market ...

eReader has a fair and livable DRM scheme tied to the user, rather than the user's hardware (unlike Mobipocket), and is much less wonky/buggy than Mobipocket (which still can't reliably do something as simple as paging backward through a file).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sequels "R" Us

There's a mini writing retreat going on at Chez Sawyer right now, and it's all about sequels. Hayden Trenholm is here, visiting from Ottawa, and he's working on his laptop at my kitchen table, sprinting towards the end of his revisions on Steel Whispers, the terrific sequel to his hard-boiled SF novel Defining Diana from Bundoran Press. His deadline is eight days away, on March 1.

And I'm doing a final top-down polish on Watch, the sequel to Wake -- and my deadline is (gak!) 72 hours away ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Is it Flash Forward or Flashforward?

Is the title of my book -- and the TV series based on it -- one word or two? I was asked that question in the comments section of this post, but since people keep wondering, I'm putting the answer in its own blog post, too:

It's complicated (sigh). I always intended the title to be one word, Flashforward, since it's a play on the word flashback, which is a single word.

But when designing the book cover, Tor's art department split it into two words on the cover and the spine (without anyone asking me if it was okay), but left it as one on the back cover, and the interior designer left it as one everywhere, too.

David S. Goyer, Brannon Braga and I all discussed this in L.A. back in 2007, and all agreed that the title should be one word logically, but people keep referencing it as two words, because that's what they see on the book cover, and that ended up being the spelling used for the TV series title.

I've given up the fight: I'm now referring to my book as Flash Forward -- two words. But it really was a decison the author, not the art department, should have made.

(For Pete's sake, "Flashforward" as as single word is only one letter longer than "Calculating" and just two letters longer than "Frameshift," both of which they managed to fit on a single line on other covers of mine ...)

More about the novel formerly known as Flashforward is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards

Over at Locus Online, Mark Kelly has updated the indispensable Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards with results through the end of 2008 (and he's also given it a very attractive facelift).

Here's the entry on me.

And nice to see here that I'm in 8th place overall for total award wins in the history of the field, and am in the top 30 overall in total number of nominations.

(And, cough, cough, if you do the math, you'll see that I have the highest ratio of nominations to wins, at 36%, of anyone in the top 30 [that is, 36% of the time when I'm nominated, I win].)

And, why, yes, my mother is a statistician. How could you tell? ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Flash Forward filming starts today

Yup, today, Saturday, February 21, 2009, in Los Angeles, the ABC series pilot based on my novel Flash Forward begins shooting with David S. Goyer directing. Woot!

Carolyn and I aren't down there yet -- I've got a novel to finish that's due on Monday -- but we are going down in 12 days to watch them film the big scene in which the main character discovers that this crazy planet full of apes was Earth all along, and --

Well, actually, no -- and I can't tell you what is being filmed (shh! no spoilers!). But it's all very, very cool ... ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Doctoral thesis on the works of RJS

How cool is this? Just received word that a Ph.D. student in the School of English at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki -- the largest university in Greece -- is doing her Ph.D. dissertation on the works of Robert J. Sawyer.

I have a great fondness for Greece: I love its history, and visited the country in 1978, and, of course, the central symbolism of my first novel, Golden Fleece, is drawn from Greek myth, and the plight of Theodosios Procopides in Flash Forward is a riff on classic Greek tragedy.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


How many dictionaries does it take to tell you how to spell "light bulb"?

The American Heritage English Dictionary says it's two words: "light bulb."

Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary says it's two words: "light bulb."

But Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says it's one word: "lightbulb."

When a book is being copyedited, the copyeditor must specify which dictionary he or she is conforming to, unless (a) the publisher specifies one, or (b) the author specifies one. But regardless of who chooses it, all spellings in a given book are supposed to conform to a single dictionary's usage (and, yes, I know: Emerson was probably right when he said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds").

I always specify in my notes to the copyeditor the one I'm using, and when I was at Tor I got into the habit of specifying Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (first the 10th edition, now the 11th, known in the trade as Web 10 and Web 11 respectively), which was that publisher's preference, and I've carried that over to the WWW trilogy.

And so in Watch, the one and only reference to an incandescent lighting device is going to be spelled as a single word (even though it looks wrong to me). But, man, you'd think we'd have no ambiguity about such a common term at this late date!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, February 19, 2009

There goes the Canadian small-press magazine industry

Quill & Quire Online just reported:
The Harper Tories have promised to maintain existing funding levels for the country’s magazine industry ($75.5-million annually), but guidelines announced this week for the new Canada Periodical Fund could put Canada’s small-run literary magazines in jeopardy.

The new Canadian Heritage-run program merges two other federal funding bodies – the Canada Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program – in an effort to streamline operations and tie support of the periodical sector to “the reading choices of Canadians.” This new system won’t become a reality until at least 2010, but when it does, funds will be allocated using a formula based on paid circulation, and magazines with less then 5,000 annual subscribers will be shut out altogether.
(For my non-Canadian readers, Harper is Stephen Harper, Canada's current prime minister; the Tories are the ruling, but minority, Conservative party.)

What a typically conservative approach: let's give the money to those who need it least.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


One Book, One Brant and Rollback

As I mentioned before, my Hugo Award-nominated Rollback is currently the "One Book, One Brant" reading choice for all of Brant county in Ontario. The Paris Star has a nice article about that in the current edition, which you can read here.

Pictured: Kelly Dinsmore, Mayor Rod Eddy, and Sharon Briggs reading the hardcover of Rollback (click for slightly larger version; photo by Casandra Bellefeuille)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Trilogies everywhere you look!

My friend Melody Friedenthal asked me an intriguing question this morning:
At what point in your creative process did you decide that Wake et al., would be a trilogy? And was it the same point for your first trilogy (or 2nd) or was the first one more of the publisher's choice (as in "this is too long to publish as a single novel; let's break it up into a trilogy")?

Has your plotting evolved over time to be more aware of this sort of thing?
My answer is might be of interest to other writers, so I'm sharing it here:

I've sold twenty novels, and almost half of them -- nine books -- are parts of trilogies:

The Quintaglio Ascension: Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner.

The Neanderthal Parallax: Hominids, Humans, Hybrids

WWW: Wake, Watch, and Wonder.

(As it happens, right now, I'm in the final few hours of polishing Watch before submitting it to my publishers; it's due on Monday.)

Each of these trilogies had a different genesis.

I wrote Far-Seer as a standalone -- no intention of doing a series (I'd even killed off the main character in the last chapter).

When it was done, my agent said let's try to sell a sequel, and we did (as with the first episode of Hill Street Blues, where Hill and Renko were gunned down in cold blood, my character's fatal wounds suddenly became merely serious injuries, although I, at least, had the luxury or rewriting the ending so it was apparent that he'd lived).

And then the publisher decided to ask me for another sequel after the first two were done. But after that, I wanted to write something very different (With humans! On Earth! In the near future!), and so I wrote The Terminal Experiment instead of continuing the series (which I think ended at a fine point, anyway).

For the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, it was actually my then-British publisher who said the only things selling in the UK were trilogies or on-going series, and so my next project should be a trilogy; otherwise, Hominids would have been a standalone. The original working title for the standalone book would, in fact, have been Neanderthal Parallax.)

After I turned in the third book, Hybrids, my editor, David G. Hartwell, said I could go on writing Neanderthal books as long as I wanted to -- but I wanted very much to do something different at that point. (For more on this, see my essay Commiting Trilogy: The Origins of "The Neanderthal Parallax".)

For the WWW trilogy, I actually sold it as a standalone (called Webmind) to Tor, and after struggling with it for over a year found I just couldn't do it as a single book; the idea was too big.

So I had a meeting with David G. Hartwell (my editor) and Tom Doherty (Tor's publisher) and told them that, and said I'd like to fulfill the contract instead with a new standalone, and wrote Rollback instead. I then re-envisioned Webmind as a trilogy (writing an outline for it that now bears very little resemblance to what I'm actually doing -- I really hate doing outlines).

If I had my druthers, I'd never write sequels or trilogies -- at least not one book after another; I much prefer writing standalones. But sometimes that's not what the market wants, and sometimes the idea can't be handled properly in a single book.

On the other hand, part of what I hate about trilogies is working back-to-back on the same project for years: I take a year or so to write a book, and spending three years in a row on any set of characters is enough.

But to my surprise I was recently asked by David Hartwell if I'd consider writing more Quintaglio books (and I might), and I would indeed like to write more about the Neanderthals at some point.

So, who knows about the future? (Answer, according to the Lawgiver in the last Planet of the Apes movie: "Perhaps only the dead." But I digress ...)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Identity Theft producers have new SF film

Snoot Entertainment in L.A. -- the company that has my hard-boiled SF novella "Identity Theft" under option -- has a 3D CGI SF film called Battle for Terra coming up, and the trailer just hit Moviefone today. Check it out!

(Identity Theft will be live action; proudcer Jessica Wu reports that they're working on concept art for it now.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sometimes it's better to leave things as memories

OMG. So, with one of the Chapters gift cards I got for Christmas, I bought Quark -- the complete series -- on DVD. This science-fiction sitcom from 1978 was created by Buck Henry and starred Richard Benjamin. I fondly remembered it, but ...

Wow, is it ever crappy. Obvious, dumb jokes; intrusive laugh track; terrible sets. Holy cow. Television has come a looooong way in 30 years! I've seen way better student films or YouTube videos -- and this was a major network series!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


You know it's real when ...

... they cut the check! I received today the big purchase-price payment from ABC for the TV rights to my novel Flash Forward. Woot!

Filming of the series pilot begins in four days, on Saturday, February 21. Carolyn and I have booked our flights to L.A., and will be going down to watch part of it.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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The Banff Book & Art Den closes

I've often taught science-fiction writing in week-long courses at the Banff Centre in the ski-resort town of Banff, Alberta. I'm sure my students remember The Banff Book & Art Den -- the one bookstore in Banff -- as fondly as I do.

Quill & Quire is reporting that the store closed its doors for good last week ... another great independent gone, but, interestingly, not because of direct in-the-same town competition from a big chain (although, of course, as a resort town, lots of its business was from people who were just passing through and did have options to shop elsewhere). It was a beautiful store, on multiple levels, with lovely, polished hardwood floors. I'll miss it.

(And Calgary -- the nearest big city -- lost one of its great booksellers recently, too.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Hey, this scheme really works! I just got $2,800!

No, it's not a scam -- it's the Canadian government's annual kickback to Canadian writers to compensate them for their lost royalties on copies of their books circulated in libraries.

Just about every Western country except the United States has such a scheme. I've got so many books, I easily get the maximum payout each year (which this year was $2,800), but authors with smaller oeuvres can still count on getting something.

If you're a Canadian author, and you haven't yet registered your books, now is the time. You've already missed out on payment for 2008, but registration for 2009 is on right now, and only goes until May 1.

Official details are here, a lengthy blog post by me from three years ago on this topic is here, and a now-dated article I wrote about this system -- called The Public Lending Right -- is here (the biggest change in the system between what I described in that 1992 article and how it works today is back then they surveyed ten randomly chosen libraries, and now they survey seven).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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25 Random Things About Me

Over on Facebook, there's a meme going around about posting "25 Random Things" about yourself, and tagging 25 other people to do the same. I didn't tag anyone else, but here's the list I posted today:

1. I am, by birth, a dual US-Canadian citizen.

2. My childhood imaginary friend wasn't a person or an animal. It was a magic hook that descended down from the sky on an infinitely long string.

3. I was in a car accident when I was 10. I don't drive. The two facts are connected.

4. My nickname, until I was 10, was Robin. I kind of regret that I rebelled against it; I think Robin Sawyer is a cool name for a writer. No one calls me Bob, but a few close friends call me either RJ, Robbie, or The Robman.

5. When I was a kid I couldn't stand pizza. Now it's my favourite food.

6. My parents wouldn't let me play with toy guns or watch violent TV shows. The Man from UNCLE was banned in our house.

7. I was blind for six days when I was 12.

8. I was raised a Unitarian, and if I'm in one of those situations where you have to name a religious affiliation, and can't say "none," that's the one I specify.

9. When I was in my early teens, I thought Barbi Benton was the most beautiful woman in the world. [That's Barbi above.]

10. My very first publication was a letter to the editor in The Toronto Star in praise of Canada's switch to the metric system. I think I was 14.

11. Until I was 15 or so, I flat-out refused to wear blue jeans, and when bell-bottoms were in fashion, I wouldn't wear them, either; I was adamant about not conforming.

12. My first girlfriend (whom I started dating when I was 15) is now my sister-in-law. (I married her sister.)

13. Up until my last year of high school, I thought I was going to be a paleontologist; I still love dinosaurs.

14. I was my high-school valedictorian, editor of the high-school newspaper, and was the voice (alternating with a female student) that read the school's morning announcements in my last year of high school; I loved high school. :)

15. I don't have my wisdom teeth, but I do have my tonsils.

16. In Grade 11, I wrote an essay for school on "Dramatic Irony in Oedipus Rex," and got an A+. In second-year university, pressed for time, and studying the same play in English class, I handed in the same essay again, and got a B.

17. I have flat feet.

18. These days, I host the TV series Supernatural Investigator on Vision TV -- but even the people at Vision don't know that in 1983-84, I was one of the six people who were part of The Rosewell Group, the consulting team that spearheaded the creation of Vision TV; it was my first big writing contract, and I spent nine months on it. The leader of the group was the Hon. David MacDonald, who had been Secretary of State under Joe Clark.

19. In the 1980s, I was a team captain in The Canadian Inquisition pub trivia league; recently, the league had a round of questions about me -- how cool is that!

20. I had a vasectomy when I turned 40. It was easy and relatively painless.

21. I've never really been a fan of major TV or film stars, but I love character actors, especially from the 1970s. My favourites are Darren McGavin and Alan Oppenheimer -- I'll watch them in anything. And I've always thought William Shatner is a terrific actor -- so there.

22. I am a huge fan of folk singer Pete Seeger (a taste I inherited from my parents); this will become apparent to those who read my next novel, Watch. [That's Pete Seeger's Greatest Hits below.]

23. I sponsor a boy in Guatemala through Foster Parents Plan; his name is Victor Hugo (really!), and I have a picture of him on my refrigerator door.

24. Although I love science fiction, many of my favourite movies aren't SF at all: Casablanca, Judgment at Nuremberg, To Kill a Mockingbird, Born Free, The Candidate, The Paper Chase, and Witness, for instance.

25. I own six Scrabble sets, all different: deluxe rotating, various portable ones, and so on -- and yet I'm lucky if I get to play two games a year. Just no time -- which is the story of my life!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Investing financially and emotionally in an eBook reader

An interesting phenomenon has emerged with discussion of ebook readers. You see it over on the iRex discussion forum, and in the hardware-specific topics on (the Kindle section, the Sony Reader section, and so on), and elsewhere: any criticism of the device (the hardware, the availability of content for it, and so on), is taken as a failing of character on the part of the person making the criticism, with sinister suggestions made about hidden agendas. It actually makes those discussion forums rather less pleasant -- and less productive -- than they should be.

My own take is this: people invest so much money in these devices (a Sony Reader is around US$300, a Kindle around US$350, an iRex iLiad around US$600) that it was a difficult purchase to make financially and psychologically, and they don't want anything said after the fact to instill or enhance regret.

Nothing new about this: we saw it for years in Mac / PC wars, we see it now in iPhone / Blackberry debates, and so on.

As long as the hardware is expensive, people will respond emotionally, rather than rationally, to discussions of the device they themselves have sacrificed to buy.

I hope the hardware prices will come way, way down in the next couple of years so that people will comment on and respond to the actual functioning of the device and not their financial/emotional investment in it.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Hugo and Aurora nominating deadlines are looming

I had dinner last night with my friend Diane Lacey, who is on the Hugo Awards committee for this year's Worldcon in Montreal, and she asked that I remind people that the deadline for nominations is drawing near -- as it also is for the Auroras.

You can nominate for the Hugos here.

And Canadians can nominate for the Auroras here.

Deadline for both is at the end of the month. :)

Oh, and my own suggestions for nominations for the Hugos and Auroras are in this thread.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


What should I write about?

An email I received today from a university student, wanting to write her first novel:
I have just read your advice on writing. I am struggling to come up with what to write about. I am sort of tired of writing about things relating to me. I feel like my head is a confused sea of ideas. Can you help me?
My reply:
For me, ideas to write about come from months and months of research. Pick something that thematically interests you -- the plight of the poor, race relations, the abortion issue, internationalism, whether it makes since to spend money going into space, the question of whether God exists -- and then just immerse yourself in reading nonfiction on that topic looking for ideas and points related to it that lend themselves to dramatic treatment.

Books don't spring full-blown from one's forehead; they are the results of months of research and planning before the first word is written.

Good luck!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, February 16, 2009

And, just in case anyone has any doubts

... I love the Kindle, as I said loudly and clearly right here when it first came out. It's a great piece of hardware, and Jeff Bezos has done a lot to bring pricing sensibility to the ebook marketplace.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Shifting emphasis

An interesting shift over the last little while at Locus Online.

Its subtitle has always been "The Website of The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field," but that used to be best read as "The Website of The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field" -- that is, the site was updated frequently (often several times a day), and the emphasis was on industry news (and not necessarily the same news, or the same reportage of it, that would eventually appear in the magazine).

Now, it seems to be significantly more "The Website of the Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field" -- a site about the magazine (although there's still news posted several times a week).

Of late, the top banner ad has frequently been for Locus magazine (rather than a book), the lead interview right now is with Jonathan Strahan (Locus's book-review editor), they've added a Locus "roundtable," where the staff and regular contributors discuss the content of the magazine (which, over the last several days, at least, has been the main source of fresh content), one of the center-of-page news stories last week was Locus magazine staff profiles, the "Locus poll & survey" (which becomes grist for a future issue of the magazine) is promiently featured, and the main news feed -- labeled "Locus sf&f news" -- is coming directly from Locus's editorial offices in Oakland (and rather irritatingly breaks off each story in the middle of a sentence or even a word: "and the late Algis Budrys are the recipients of the inaugu...").

Still, there's oodles of great content there, and plenty of comprehensive databases you won't find anywhere else.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Alternative Worlds on Calculating God

Harriet Klausner --'s #1 reviewer -- now has a website devoted to science fiction and fantasy reviews, and she's just posted a review of my Calculating God, which says in part:
Although most of this profound science fiction novel is passive as the two scientists debate the existence of God, this is a terrific tale that will have the audience pondering how they would we react if an ET arrived with strong empirical evidence that God exists. The story line mostly focuses on Hollus the believer and Thomas the non-believer who wants to believe as he is dying from cancer. There is also a limited but fascinating look at the reactions of various people from the Intelligent Design crowd to the Darwinists and all sorts in between who have their own agendas. Fans of cerebral science fiction will relish the visit from a theistic evolutionary ET spider.
I'm actually re-visiting Calculating God myself: I'm listening to's Audie-award-nominated audiobook of the novel right now; the reading, by Jonathan Davis, is terrific.

(Oh, and a shout-out to Kirstin Morrell for drawing the Klausner review to my attention.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Entertainment Weekly on Flash Forward

The February 20, 2009, edition of Entertainment Weekly -- the #1 best-selling magazine about entertainment in the United States -- begins this week's "The Hollywood Insider: News and Notes" thus:
Despite the fact that they are weathering stagnant -- or downright dreary -- ratings for dense shows like Heroes and Lost, the networks are still planning on ambitious series with complex mythologies for next fall.

As the drama development season winds up this month, some of the most notable projects include ABC's Flash Forward (an adaptation of the sci-fi novel by Robert J. Sawyer) and Eastwick (based on John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick), NBC's Day One (lots of aliens from Heroes' Jesse Alexander), and Fox's Masterwork (a National Treasure-like tale from Prison Break's Paul Scheuring).

"These are all huge shows," says Endeavor agent Ari Greenburg. "Writers are obsessed with Damages and Lost. They all want to write complex dramas."
Indeed we do -- and it's nice to see Flash Forward at the top of the list!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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And over on Facebook ...

... Jonathan Vos Post just posted this assessment of my latest novel, Wake:
What's not to like? Vivid storytelling with interesting characters, during which we are rocketed through metaphysical exploration of what it is to be conscious (human versus ape hybrid versus web intelligence), lightning flashes illuminate the nature of perception through translucent eyelids and an ape Picasso, 2-D versus 3-D, cellular automata, neuroanatomy, family dynamics, schoolyard dynamics, internationalism, and so much more. Jane Goodal meets Stephen Wolfram at a cocktail party by Lettvin, J.Y. Maturana, H.R. McCulloch, and W.S. Pitts (What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain). A plethora of ideas on every witty page, yet character- and narrative-driven. Superb!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


To get major publisher content for the Kindle ...

... you have to buy from the Kindle store.

Over on, they have a thread entitled "Kindle Myths and Partial Truths," in which the very first claim is this:
Myth: If you buy a Kindle, you are locked into Amazon's Kindle store.

Truth: There are many sources for books that can be read on the Kindle.
And he goes on to site as an alternative.

My reply:

Weeeeelllll, since this thread is about "myth" vs. "truth," the "truth" should be the whole truth, explicitly spelled out.

Yes, it's a myth that you can only acquire content for the Kindle via the Amazon store. However, it's a truth that the only source for a wide range of major-publisher content is the Amazon store: you want a New York Times bestseller -- or even most of the authors you see in a bookstore or library (assuming their work is available as ebooks at all) -- you do have to buy from Amazon.

When someone buys an ebook reader to read novels by James Patterson or Stephen King (or even me) or nonfiction by Malcolm Gladwell or Bill Bryson, to tell them that -- hey, no probs, you can get Jane Austen's Emma over here -- is ducking the question and not really separating myth from truth. :)

Fictionwise's multiformat books available in Mobi format can indeed be used on the Kindle but they are principally titles from small publishers, old and otherwise out-of-print works, or public-domain works.

For a graphic example of the difference, simply go to the main page at The books listed on the left-hand side are the ones you can get there for the Kindle; the ones on the right-hand side are then ones you can't get for the Kindle anywhere but the Amazon store.

Myth vs. truth is useful discourse; obfuscating boosterism isn't. :) It seems "Kindle Myths and Partial Truths" is indeed an apt title for this thread.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kindle 2, the Authors Guild, and the National Federation for the Blind

As I've already said, I support the ability of the blind and visually impaired to be able to use assistive technologies -- including screen-readers -- to access text. Hell, anyone who's read my Wake (recently serialized in Analog), which has a blind girl as the main character, can't have any doubts about that.

My grandfather was blind for most of his adult life, diabetes (a leading cause of blindness) is rampant in my family, and I myself spent six days blind in 1972 (hospitalized with both eyes covered because of a severe eye injury); I am totally, totally sympathetic to the needs of the blind. If you're blind, as I've said in this blog, I think it's perfectly fine for the Kindle (or any other device) to help you access text you've legitimately acquired.

But the market that Amazon is pursuing with the Kindle is not blind users. We need to clearly understand that Amazon did not put text-to-speech in the Kindle as an assistive technology; they put it in so people could have books read to them while driving in their cars, and so on: they put it in to go after the market segment that now buys audiobooks.

You want proof? If it were an assistive technology, then the user interface for the Kindle 2 would also support text-to-speech, and it doesn't. I quote Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, on this very point:
We note, however, that the device itself cannot be used independently by a blind reader because the controls to download a book and begin reading it aloud are visual and therefore inaccessible to the blind.
Now, some have said the text-to-speech quality is so bad that no one but the blind would routinely use it; it's a "GPS voice," as Stephen King called it. But it will not always be so; Amazon is savvy enough to grab the rights now when few will use this technology, rather than waiting until the technology is more mature and widely used.

Authors have ALREADY FOR DECADES NOW waived their rights to income from audio versions of their work made for the blind, whereas Amazon has said nothing about giving away ebooks -- let alone Kindles -- to blind users. We authors are the ones with the established track record of supporting the rights of the blind; let's not forget that: we've been the good guys for decades when it comes to making our content freely available to the blind.

This is not an authors vs. the blind issue, and to paint it as such is unfair and misleading. I fully grant that an accommodation for the needs of the blind and visually impaired has to be found as we move ahead with technology, but an accommodation for authors' rights has to be found, too.

And the bottom line hasn't changed: contracts have been breached, and unless and until we decide that contracts don't matter in our society, that fact should not be glossed over.

Indeed, I bet that if Amazon had approached authors' organizations first and asked if they could do this, they would have gotten permission from authors' groups to do it for free (or, perhaps, on condition that Amazon donate a portion of its profits on the Kindle hardware and the ebooks it sells to the National Federation of the Blind). But they didn't ask. They just took the rights -- and that's wrong.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


The end of the Writer's Digest Book Club?

Twenty-six years ago, on January 4, 1983, I joined the Writer's Digest Book Club. I bought a lot of books from them over the years -- my friend book-collector Jack Brooks once remarked, looking at bookcases in my home, that I had the largest private collection of books about writing he'd ever seen. I let my membership lapse some years ago, though, but thought I'd check out what they were up to these days.

The URL now points to a page labeled Writer's Digest Book Shop, and leads off with a note that says, "Please note that we are no longer accepting new members." So, it looks like they're essentially gone.

It's very hard for book clubs of any type to survive in the era of (which discounts books so much that their prices aren't much different than the special book-club prices, plus offers free shipping). But, still, this was one that I was fond off, and I'm sad to see it go.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Software for writers

Way back in 1985, I got a copy of the CP/M version of Grammatik for my Osborne 1 computer. Grammatik scanned documents for obvious grammatical errors (which I almost never made), homonym confusion ("weight" instead of "wait"), wordiness, and so on. For a year or two, I ran it on every article I wrote (back then, my writing business was mostly magazine articles), and I actually found it useful. I was already a good writer selling a lot of work, but I've never been one to turn down help. In particular, it showed me that I was using many unnecessarily wordy phrases (such as "at this time" instead of "now").

Later on, I got a copy of Correct Grammar for DOS, which was a similar package. I wrote macros for WordStar (which I still use) to let me check blocks of text through either Grammatik or Correct Grammar, and I do sometimes still use them when I have to bang out something for publication and the deadline is so tight I won't have time to proofread in hardcopy.

Of course, these days, Microsoft Word comes with a style checker. What's amazing is how little advanced such software is in 2009 over what was available a quarter of a century ago. Here's a great interview from the New York Times with Bruce Wampler, principal architect of Grammatik, on that topic.

Anyway, an ad showed up in my inbox this week for a standalone package that tries to be a more-modern version of Grammatik. Looking around, I found there are several such programs on the market. I haven't tried any of them, but here are the ones that turned up in my search:
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Friday, February 13, 2009

I joined The Authors Guild today

I figured I should put my money where my mouth is.

The Authors Guild

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Another nice bit of fan mail

Woot! Go me!
Well, it's been almost a year and I have finished reading the last of your books and short stories. I've read every single one!

I'm writing to tell you how much I have enjoyed them all. Your characters are believable. The science in the stories is fascinating. I love the philosophical and theological implications of the tales. The stories stay with me after I have finished them and provide opportunities for further thinking! And discussion... My two teens are tired of hearing me talk about "Robert J. Sawyer". :-)

Actually, my daughter has read three of your books and enjoyed them very much and my son always asks me to tell him about the plot of the book I have just finished.

My favourites have been the Neanderthal trio, Calculating God (my all-time favourite) and, to my surprise, The End of an Era. I was even amazed to find myself enjoying the Quintaglio Ascension. I didn't think I would like dinosaurs as main characters, but you made them believable.

Just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your work.
Which is precisely what I needed to hear as I struggle to finish my new novel Watch, which is due 10 days from now ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Neanderthal genome

In my novels Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, I argued that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens probably didn't crossbreed in nature. At the time I was writing those books, it was a very contentious issue in paleoanthropology, with some vociferously arguing that, in fact, Neanderthals hadn't really gone extinct at all, but that we'd just co-opted them into our own gene pool.

But the first-draft of the Neanderthal genome, released just yesterday, shows that Neanderthals were indeed a distinct species that didn't intermix genetically with us.

I found it intriguing that yesterday, a special US federal court ruled that the case, also vociferously fought, that vaccinations caused autism had no scientific merit.

And, of course, yesterday was Darwin's 200th birthday, and we all know people who have devoted their lives to arguing that he was wrong.

I wrote a story called "Flashes," first published in Lou Anders's 2006 anthology FutureShocks, and since reprinted in my own collection Identity Theft and Fiona Kelleghan's anthology The Savage Humanists, in which SETI succeeds and we receive the long-sought-after Encyclopedia Galactica, and droves of scientists who have spent their careers arguing positions that were totally off base end up committing suicide.

It was a grim little story, but I do wonder how people who spend their whole lives advocating something that turns out to be wrong make their peace with that. (Of course, the answer is that in many cases they don't: they refuse to accept the new evidence, because the cost of accepting it -- and realizing they've wasted so much of their time -- is too much to bear.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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But it's mine!

In the discussion of whether the ways in which an ebook document may be used (for instance, whether the person who has licensed that document can be restricted from printing it out or having text-to-speech software read it aloud), one commenter on this post of mine wrote, "You actually DON'T have the right to tell me what I can do with something that I legally purchased."

This argument -- "I paid for it so no one can tell me after that what I can do with it" -- is simply out of touch with reality.

You can buy a car, but there are countless regulations governing what you may do with it even though it's your property. You can't, for instance, drive it without a license, drive it recklessly, permanently export it to another country, drive it without insurance, allow children to drive it, park your car in my driveway, and so on.

You can buy tobacco or alcohol, but there are countless regulations governing when and where you may consume them, and you can't transfer ownership of either to minors.

You can buy soft drinks but, in many jurisdictions, you can't throw out the containers when you're done but rather must recycle them; same for newspapers and other paper products including paperback books.

You can buy a gun (in some jurisdiction), but you can't use it except under very narrow circumstances.

You can buy a scanner and color printer, but you can't use it to scan and print banknotes (indeed, many scanners and printers have technology built in to prevent them from doing that).

You can buy a model of a spaceship from your favorite TV show, but you can't put it in a movie you're making without a licensing agreement.

You can buy a DVD of a motion picture, but you're not allowed to exhibit it commercially ("licensed for home viewing only").

You can buy a DVD burner and blank DVD media, but you can't legally use it to make and sell copies of commercial software, music, or movies.

You can buy clothes that don't conceal your genitals, but you cannot legally wear them in public in many jurisdictions.

You can buy a boom-box, but you can't run it at full volume in public places or late at night.

You can buy a microwave oven, but you can't use it on a still-alive squirrel you caught in your backyard.

You can buy prescription drugs, but you can't give them to anyone else.

You can buy a tree, but you can't burn its leaves after your rake them up in many jurisdictions.

You can buy a house, but you can't use it for commercial purposes, or turn it into a multi-family dwelling, unless it is licensed for that use.

You can buy a camera, but you can't use it to take pictures of people through their windows.

You can buy a book on a subject, but you can't plagiarize its contents and pass them off as your original research in your essays for school or university.

You can buy a dog, but in many jurisdictions you can't let it run free without a leash.

You can buy software -- such as some Norton products -- that contain advanced data-encryption routines, but you cannot export the software outside the United States or Canada.

You can buy a cat, but most places you cannot kill, cook, and eat it.

You can buy devices that allow you to record phone conversations, but you cannot, in many jurisdictions, use them.

You can buy a police-radar detector, but, in many jurisdictions, you cannot turn it on.

You can win an Oscar -- thus obtaining the trophy legally -- but you cannot then sell that trophy.

You can buy all sorts of property but you can't bequeath ownership of it to your children or someone else without paying estate taxes.

In some jurisdictions, you may own but cannot sell or display Nazi artifacts.

And on and on and on. Society routinely and frequently limits what can be done with things we've bought -- and, indeed, in the specific case of intellectual property, we already have oodles of case law upholding that in fact, yes, indeed, society does have the right to tell people "what they can do with something that they've legally purchased."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Book Lover's Ball ...

... was a great success. I bought a tuxedo, so I wouldn't have to keep renting one:

More on The Book Lover's Ball.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Cough, cough -- my book about Darwin

Today is Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. He's always been a profoundly important figure to me (I visited his home, Down House, in 1995).

My third novel, Fossil Hunter, was my parable about Darwin, telling the story of his counterpart on an alien world, including a riff on his classic voyage aboard the Beagle.
"I'd seriously recommend Fossil Hunter as better than any high school biology text I've seen on classic Darwinian evolution." --Paul Levinson in The New York Review of Science Fiction

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


The Kindle 2 reads books aloud ...

... and the Authors Guild is objecting to this. It's a very interesting point. Traditionally, print rights and audiobook rights are separate. and others have done audiobooks of my novels, and those deals are with me, not the print publisher (in fact, today I just got a nice check from my agent for part-two of's fee for their audio book of my Wake, coming in April).

(The Kindle 2 is's second-generation dedicated ebook-reading device; it was announced this Monday, February 9, 2009, and is expected to ship shortly.)

For the last five-plus years, print publishers have been insisting on grabbing ebook rights along with print rights (Tor threw around terms like "non-negotiable" and "deal-breaker," as apparently mandated by their parent company). But ebook rights are very specifically defined as the right to display text electronically. Amazon recognizes that it can't allow people to print Kindle-edition books, but it has simply gone ahead and allowed them to be read aloud by the device -- turning every ebook into a de facto audio book.

Now, yes, today, the quality is crap, and a professionally performed audiobook is obviously a much better experience -- but that's not always going to be the case; computers will be able to do quite credible readings of even dramatic material in a few years' time. And another significant source of writers' incomes (for me, audio-books were a five-figure part of my business last year) may evaporate ... without consultation, without discussion, without negotiation.

I'm not saying that, ultimately, the right to have text read aloud electronically should be limited; I am saying that the way in which the publishing industry and traditional rights issues are being trampled without consultation -- whether it's Amazon potentially cannibalizing audio-book rights (and the irony that they now own is not lost on me) or Google just goin' ahead and digitizing my books, and everyone else's, without so much as a "May I?," is pernicious. The Authors Guild is right to be objecting, and Amazon was wrong to do this without permission; all stakeholders need to be involved in the discussions -- including authors.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


To quote Carl Sagan ...

"Evolution is not a theory -- it's a fact. It really happened."

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Darwin. You gave us the most profound truth in all of science (and therefore the most profound truth of all). Relativity was interesting, in an abstract way; the Copernican revolution, likewise. But that species originate through natural selection speaks directly to who we are, and how we came to be here.

Tonight, I'll be on Discovery Channel Canada's Daily Planet, talking about evolution. Thank you, Charles Darwin, for the great gift you gave us.
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. -- Charles Darwin

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nine Science Fiction Blogs

I'm absolutely thrilled to be included on this list over at David Halpert's SciFiWatch of "Nine Science Fiction Blogs You Should Keep Track Of." It's a great group to be part of!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Film option on The Terminal Experiment renewed

I'm thrilled to report that Toronto's Divani Films and director Srinivas Krishna have just renewed their option on motion-picture rights to my 1995 Nebula Award-winning novel The Terminal Experiment for a fourth year. Woot!

The movie is being developed with the participation of Telefilm Canada and Astral Media's The Harold Greenberg Fund.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Not safe for work ...

... but my friend Virginia O'Dine drew this clip from Onion News to my attention. LOL!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Interview for Fantascienza: Flash Forward, Neanderthals

In honor of the release of the Italian edition of my novel Humans, second volume of my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Sosio Silvio conducted a by-email interview with me, although many of the questions were actually about the upcoming Flash Forward TV pilot. The Italian version of the interview is online at here, and the orginal English is below.

Your novel Flash Forward has been chosen to be developed into a TV series. Can you tell us something about the idea on which the novel is based?

In 1975, when I was in grade 10, I founded my high-school's science-fiction club. Twenty years later, in 1995, we had a reunion party. We were all amazed at how differently our lives had turned out from what we'd expected. Several members of our group had been married and divorced in the interim, and practically no one had the job he or she thought they were going to get. Me, I'd been planning on becoming a paleontologist; Ted had his sights set on becoming a veterinarian; Rick was going to be a filmmaker; and Bruce was going to be a police officer.

Twenty years later, I was a science-fiction writer. Ted had become a computer programmer. Rick had become a lawyer. And the guy who wanted to be a cop was now a cordon bleu chef.

We all kept saying the same thing about our high-school days: if I had known then what I know now, how much better things would have been!

Well, a science-fiction writer can't hear a comment like that without wanting to put it to the test. And so the novel Flash Forward was born. In it, an experiment goes awry at CERN, the European Center for Particle Physics, causing the consciousness of everyone on Earth to jump ahead twenty-one years for a period of two minutes. Suddenly people know for an absolute fact how their lives, their careers, and their marriages are going to turn out. The novel details the impact such knowledge has, both for good and bad. Of course, a two-minute glimpse can be frustratingly ambiguous. Could you go ahead with a planned wedding knowing that two decades hence you would be married to someone else? How would you greet the imminent birth of your first child if you knew that he'd grow up to be a vicious, surly thug?

As with many of my novels, Flash Forward tries to combine a mind-stretching idea with a very human story. Indeed, I think science fiction is at its best when it lets us examine the human condition under circumstances that no one has ever encountered before -- that's what makes the genre anything but formulaic, and endlessly fascinating to write.

The story has been adapted for the TV series? There are important changes from the original story of the novel?

Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer have put their stamp on it, and, yes, they've made some changes. I've frankly been surprised about how concerned they've both been that I be comfortable with the changes: when you sell something to Hollywood, you give up creative control. But right from our first meeting in 2007, David and Brannon have seemed genuinely concerned that I be happy with what they've done. And, indeed, I am -- very happy.

We're hoping Flash Forward will run five or six 22-episode seasons, so they've had to expand my novel, which, if you filmed every scene in it, might have made an eight-hour miniseries, into over a hundred hours of drama, and I'm delighted with the very clever approach they've taken.

It's the first time that you sell a work to Hollywood?

I've had lots of books optioned before, and good screenplays have been written based on some of my novels, but nothing has ever actually gone into production. I'm absolutely thrilled, and my wife and I are heading down to Hollywood to watch the filming of the pilot.

Have you been involved in the development of the series?

Contractually, I am consultant to the series: I was paid to provide input to the pilot script, and will be paid to provide input to every episode of the series. I'm also contracted to write one of the first-season episodes. The novel is mine, but the series is David and Brannon's. I'm determined to help them realize their vision.

Have you met Brannon Braga? What do you think of him?

Yes, indeed. I was thrilled to meet Brannon. He is extremely intelligent, extremely creative, and a nice guy, to boot. I'm a long-time Star Trek fan, and Brannon, of course, co-authored "All Good Things ...," the finale of Next Generation, and First Contact, arguably the best of the Star Trek movies, so meeting him was a total thrill.

This month in Italy has been published Humans, the second book of the cycle The Neanderthal Parallax. I've really appreciated the first book, Hominids. Can you tell us something about this sequel?

The structure of the trilogy is this: In Hominids, the first book, a modern-day Neanderthal male -- the quantum physicist Ponter Boddit -- who lives in a parallel world where our kind of humanity is extinct, comes to our version of reality.

In the second volume, Humans, a modern day Homo sapiens female -- the geneticist Mary Vaughan -- travels to the Neanderthal version of reality.

And in the third, Hybrids, they try to discover the best of both worlds; ultimately, I think of it as a utopian series.

I hope to see that third volume, Hybrids, in Italy very soon. This is definitely the end of the story?

Yes, indeed. The series was conceived of as a trilogy at the start, and it ends with a definite bang. Some have actually taken me to task for providing definite conclusions: one of the plotlines deals with Ponter's atheism, a trait shared by all Neanderthals, and Mary's Roman Catholicism; another deals with Ponter's bisexuality and polyamory, again, a trait shared by all Neanderthals, and Mary's heterosexuality and monogamy. Those come to very definite climaxes in the third book, which, depending on your points of view, you'll either love or hate -- but, either way, I hope will make you think.

What are you writing now?

A trilogy about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness. The first volume, Wake, will be out in April 2009, to be followed by Watch and Wonder. Many people -- including my New York and Hollywood agents -- seem to think Wake is the best thing I've ever written; following that up with two sequels is daunting, but I'm working hard to make sure the next two books are just as good.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Testing 1-2-3 ...

I went into S-VOX (parent company for Vision TV) to record the voice-over narration for one of the episodes of Supernatural Investigator today. For most episodes I just appear at the beginning and the end, introducing the topic and doing a wrap-up, but for a couple of them the week's expert chose not to do narration, so I'm doing it. The episode I recorded narration for today was about Mayan crystal skulls -- oh, and don't forget that episode 3 of the series airs tonight.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Photos from Turkey

Carolyn and I were in Turkey from Saturday, January 31, through Friday, February 6, 2009, so I could give a keynote address at a business conference there. Of course, we squeezed in some great sightseeing, too! Here are a few photos from the trip.

Inside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

David Gerrold, who was also giving a keynote, and our Istanbul tour guide Mehmet Bozdemir

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Robert J. Sawyer giving his keynote at the "Time to Exit the Labyrinth" Conference at the Conrad Istanbul

Robert J. Sawyer, Erin Brockovich, and Carolyn Clink; Erin also gave a keynote at the conference.

Robert J. Sawyer, conference organizer Pelin Pirnal

On the day after the main conference, Rob and David also gave futurism talks at the headquarters of Garanti Bank in Istanbul

Our private tour of the Greco-Roman ruins Ephesus -- virtually deserted on the day we visited

The Celsus Library at Ephesus

Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink out front of the Celsus Library

Roman bust and Carolyn Clink

Tumbled columns at Priene

Our fabulous private tour guide, Yusuf Savat, as we visited Priene

More of Priene, although we also toured Miletus and Didyma


All in all, an amazingly wonderful trip, and I'm very glad I went.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Talking Turkey (4 of 4)

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses -- so don't expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

Here's the fourth of those four interviews.

1. What went wrong with yesterday's science-fictional predictions for the 21st century?

Science fiction failed in several ways in its predictions for the 21st century. It predicted a secular 21st century, and we have anything but that. It predicted rampant consumerism and a throwaway society (disposable clothes and so on), without considering the environmental impact. It predicted that price would be no object -- we would build cities on the moon, and so forth, simply because we could, without thinking about the economics of that (simply put, science-fiction writers thought everyone would think it was plainly obvious that we should go into space, when, in fact, to most people the case for that has not been made). And it predicted that international competition, instead of international cooperation, would by the driving force behind the economy. Most science-fiction writers saw the US-Soviet Cold War continuing well into this century, and few, if any, saw the emergence of anything like he European Union. Ultimately, humanity is a cooperative animal, but that fundamental truth was missed in most SF.

2. Does today's economic meltdown promise an upcoming green world?

It doesn't promise it, but it suggests that it's possible. With old systems collapsing, we have an opportunity to redefine how we do business. Certainly, we need to reduce our carbon emissions, and President Obama, for instance, has already called for new legislation in the United States to require cleaner automobiles -- he's doing the right thing in recognizing that right now, while we're rebuilding industries, is the time to set new environmentally friendly ground rules.

3. What will determine which managers and government figures will thrive in the future?

The equation is backwards: the lesson to be learned from the current economic crisis is that government leaders who only care whether they themselves thrive are doomed, and corporate managers who only care whether they themselves thrive are doomed. Managers and government figures are custodians of trust: if you are seen as being in it only for yourself, you will quite likely have a spectacular fall; if you are seen as being in it for the good of the company you work for -- its customers, its employees, and its shareholders, all three not just the last -- -- your company will succeed, and you will succeed along with it. Same thing for a nation: Bush-Cheney clearly served only a narrow, rich portion of the US; Obama-Biden has embarked on the path of serving everyone -- if they really mean that, and really do that, they will ultimately thrive in ways that their predecessors could only dream of.

4. Would you name any probable 'ultimate survivors' -- either corporate bodies or countries -- of the post-crisis era?

Google has a corporate slogan: "Don't be evil." That's the motto all corporations should adopt for the 21st century. The days when you can say one thing to your customers and another to your shareholders are past. Google hasn't always lived up to its slogan, but just consider the worldwide adoration that Google enjoys and the worldwide animosity toward Microsoft: both are in fact quite aggressive -- even rapacious -- companies, but one is seen as being responsive, at least to some degree, to public concerns, while the other is seen -- as the continuing EU sanctions against it attest -- as thinking of itself as above the law. We've seen in the US of late what happens in unfettered free markets; there is a role for government regulation and oversight; those nations that recognize that role will ultimately succeed, those who allow greed to be the prime motivation will fail. But even without oversight, the public image that Google and companies like it put forward -- we're in this to be the best -- will triumph over those companies perceived as only being in it to become the richest.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Calculating God nominated for the Audie

Woot!'s unabridged audiobook of my novel Calculating God has just been nominated for an Audie Award. Given by the Audio Publishers Association, the Audies are the top honor in the audiobook industry.

The full list of finalists in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category:
Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer, Narrated by Jonathan Davis, Audible, Inc.

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke, Narrated by Eric Michael Summerer, Audible, Inc.

Ghost Radio, by Leopoldo Gout, Narrated by Pedro Pascal, HarperAudio

Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel, Narrated by David Kelly, Full Cast Audio

Sunrise Alley, by Catherine Asaro, Narrated by Hillary Huber, Blackstone Audio, Inc.
You can get Audible's version of Calculating God here.

(Oh, and I'll just mention in passing that the introduction to one of the other nominees -- Childhood's End -- is by none other than yours truly; I also do an introduction to the Calculating God audiobook, too.)

The winner will be announced at the Audies gala on Friday, May 29, 2009, at the New York Historical Society in New York City.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Rob on Discovery's Daily Planet for Darwin Day

This Thursday, February 12, 2009, is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and Discovery Channel Canada is doing a special episode of its nightly science-news program Daily Planet devoted to Darwin Day. The guests are science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer (author of Hominids) and paleontologist Peter Ward (co-author of Rare Earth).

Checking my records I see that it's been -- gak! -- almost four years since I've been on Daily Planet (the last time was Tuesday, April 19, 2005, talking with astronomer Seth Shostak and comedian Elvira Kurt about SETI). But, nonetheless, this is my 37th appearance on Daily Planet (or, as the series was originally known), and my 267th TV appearance to date.

This episode of Daily Planet airs at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday, 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time Friday, and noon Eastern Time Friday, and will also be online and for sale through the iTunes Store. Daily Planet is hosted by Jay Ingram and Ziya Tong.

Here are some pictures from the shoot, which occurred this morning in my home:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Talking Turkey (3 of 4)

The Office of the Future

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses -- so don't expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

Here's the third of those four interviews.

1. What will the future offices look like?

The major question is whether there will be offices in the future. Telecommuting -- with perfect virtual reality -- may make it unnecessary for people to physically gather together in a single place. If they do, though, I think we'll see an end of cubicles. People complain that workers are less productive today than they were decades ago, and blame that on distraction from the multitude of input sources on their desktops -- but the real distraction comes from the background hubbub of the workplace, and the inability for most workers to close doors and shut all that out so they can concentrate. The cubicle for office workers will go down as one of the great business blunders of the 20th century; we're blaming technology -- the leveraging power of which has given us the ability to get more done -- for reductions in productivity when the real culprit is office-space design.

2. What do you think the use of Internet in our lives and in the offices will be like in the future?

It will be totally immersive; everything will be connected to the Internet -- not just things we traditionally think of as computers, or even communication devices, but all devices; they will monitor their own health and their needs for supplies, and order in repair people or supplies over the net of their own volition. Access to the Internet won't be confined to just when you're looking at a screen in a corner of your office: it will be everywhere, constant, and very high bandwidth; we will work inside a sea of information and instantaneous computing.

3. What do you think about the way of doing business in the future?

All the virtues of the Internet will be applied to business. Businesses must be transparent: potential customers, current customers, employees, and government regulators need to be able to see what exactly is being done. Gone will be the days of doing things without public knowledge or scrutiny. And, of course, business will be global. The notion of Turkish business or Canadian business or Japanese business will all seem equally quaint: the World Wide Web is just that, a net that envelopes all of us, and allows us -- again, in good online fashion -- to collaborate no matter where we might be.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

My weekend for nice fan mail ...

Another nice email today, also prompted by an online book order:
I have to let you know that you have turned me on to reading again. I read a lot through college but in my adult life I have not found anything that makes me make the time for reading until a few weeks ago when a friend at work was reading Flashforward. Since then I've read Flashforward, Mindscan, and Calculating God. I had forgotten that this world is full of rich ambiguity and possibilities; your books are waking up the part of me that wants to explore life by reminding me that we don't know everything just yet. Please keep up the great work!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Talking Turkey (2 of 4)

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses -- so don't expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

Here's the second of those four interviews, this one done for a national news agency in Turkey.

1) According to your point of view, what will be the most important revolution that will change our world in the next decade? What role will science play in this revolution?

The biggest revolution in technology may still come from radical nanotechnology: turning any pile of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms into just about anything we might desire; by the end of this century, that may well be the key to eliminating hunger and material want.

2) The global economic crisis firstly and mostly affected the automotive industry. Besides the financial solutions, would you please tell us other solutions that will help the automotive industry?

Well, first we must consider whether the automobile industry is worth saving. In North America, when I was a kid most families had one car, and some had none. By the 1980s, the middle-class average was two cars -- one for each parent. Now, in the 2000s, an affluent family will have three or more: one for each parent, and one for the teenagers (the legal driving age in most North American jurisdictions is 16).

It's funny that in a world that laments the loss of personal contact -- a world that says we're doing everything online and eschewing the face-to-face -- that we feel we need so many cars. Cars cause pollution, traffic congestion, and so on (not to mention traffic fatalities, which in North America are a leading cause of death of young men).

We also don't tolerate planned obsolescence anymore: cars are expensive, and they should last many years in any climate (such as surviving the harsh winters of my Canada) and decades in milder climates. The notion that making cars would be a growth industry forever was ill-founded, and now that the shaky foundations of that industry have crumbled, it's a once-in-a-century opportunity to redefine our notions of personal transportation. Instead of a saving an industry predicated on the assumption that every person over 16 should own something that weighs thousands of pounds, costs tens of thousands of dollars, and sits idle most of the time, we should invest governments' monies in better public transportation.

3) Digital products have become an important part of our lives: Cameras, PDA's, Navigators. We observe artificial intelligence and house robots in Hollywood movies more often. How do you think our consumption habits will change in the near future?

Convergence is the key: the iPhone is pretty close to being the perfect mode. It's a phone, an Internet appliance, an e-book reader, a music player, a GPS, a personal digital assistant (calendar, contact manager, etc.), and so on. People don't want multiple devices; they want one small, flexible device that does everything.

I love Star Trek, but the most unrealistic thing was that the crew of the Enterprise went down to the planets carrying three pieces of equipment: a phaser, a communicator, and a tricorder. Long before the 23rd century, we'll each be carrying one, and it will do everything.

4) Diseases (AIDS, cancer), terrorism, wars, and most importantly global warming, all have pernicious affects on our lives, and are still unsolved. Do you think that human beings will overcome these issues in the future?

I think we have to, pure and simple. This is the century in which the human race will either go extinct or establish its stability for not just centuries but millennia to come. The diseases will be cured: AIDS, cancer, and others are tractable scientific problems. We lament the slow progress, but, on the other hand, we've only known the structure of DNA for fifty years now, and we've only had a map of the human genome for ten. And, also we finally have computers complex enough to deal with things like protein folding and so forth. In other words, we finally have the tools, after 40,000 years of civilization, to do real medicine; we just got them, but the progress will be rapid --- I'll be astonished if, by the 100th anniversary of Crick and Watson's discovery of the structure of DNA that any diseases continue to be a serious threat to humanity.

Global warming: well, I'm answering this question on Tuesday, January 20, the day in which the world's biggest global-warming denier, George W. Bush, is replaced by an intellectual, a university professor; the tide will hopefully start to turn immediately. Yes, the US is only one part of it (we have to turf out our own irresponsible government in Canada, too -- and it will almost certainly fall in the next few months to a non-confidence motion), but it's like anything: the old guard has vested interests; you can't change them, so you have to replace them. We're very close to the tipping point on climate change; we have to act now, and I do think we are going to do precisely that.

Terrorism is the wildcard. Nothing we've done has been effective at dealing with it; the ridiculous measures taken at airports, for instance, are mere theater -- they don't actually make us substantially safer. Terrorism must end before the terrorists get nuclear weapons and biological weapons. The cure, in my view, is straightforward, but hard to implement. Much terrorism is caused by the disparity between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots; when you are flagrant in your consumption, when you don't care if your neighbor is starving, you invite resentment. It is in everyone's interest to eliminate poverty domestically and abroad; give each person a high quality of life and things worth living for. In other words, instead of spending the rest of eternity trying to thwart terrorist plots, foster conditions now that ultimately will become self-sustaining in which those plots will never be fomented in the first place.

5) In these global-economic-crisis days, should companies resign from their social responsibilities?

The answer is no. If I may be so bold, it was the abandoning of social responsibilities -- the unwritten social contract -- that led to the current crisis. Instead of asking, "What impact will this have on other people?" companies pursued profit at all cost. To say now that it's too expensive to be responsible citizens is misleading; if the corporations and banks had been responsible citizens in the first place we wouldn't be in this mess right now.

Google is, in many ways, a model for a modern company: it has a corporate slogan that is simple: "Don't be evil." The company doesn't always live up to that, but that it even tries to is significant: that a gigantic corporation run by some of the richest people in the world has taken to heart what, for instance, medicine has known for thousands of years, is wonderful. The Hippocratic oath Western doctors swear says "Do no harm" -- it's very similar. Now is precisely the wrong time to be abandoning principles and ethics; we're regrowing industries, and corrupt seeds cannot bring forth good fruit.

6) In business life, this global economic crisis is considered the end of the old world and the starting of a new era. In your point of view, what kind of new era is awaiting the business world?

The global economic crisis has underscored several things: transparency is important, regulation is important, and accountability is important. As we rebuild, again, we have an opportunity to restructure the economic system; we can demand accountability, and we can institute controls. What's astonishing is how little has been learned from past economic collapses: regulation works, transparency works, accountability works; the principles are simple -- we just have to make sure they don't fall by the wayside.

7) Our Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mentioned about transforming economic crises into opportunities. Do you also think that developing countries like Turkey will create opportunities in this global economic crisis?

Absolutely! I spent some time in China in 2007, and the one thing that struck me was how happy most of the people I saw were. And the answer to why was simple: the current year was better for them than the year before, and that previous year had been better than the one that had preceded it. Over very short time frames, they were seeing their prosperity increase, they were seeing their lives shift from drudgery to meaningful work.

Ask a Westerner if his or her life is better today than it was five years ago or ten years ago and the answer might very well be no; in developing countries the arrow is pointing upward. Note, though, that the opportunities for developing countries exist in good times and in bad; things would be looking up even without the economic crisis. And note, too, that developing countries have something the First World did not: the ability to learn from the mistakes of others who have gone through the same things in the past.

Don't try to become Western Europe, or Canada, or the United States; try instead to avoid the mistakes we made -- and they differ from country to country -- and craft a wise solution. The American century is over; this one is still up for grabs.

8) According to the latest unemployment numbers; millions of educated youth struggle with unemployment. However, upcoming generations always lead the future with their dreams. Do you have any recommendations to the unlucky generation of this crisis period?

I graduated from university during an economic downturn myself, in 1982. My degree happens to be in broadcasting, and the year I graduated the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had, for the first time in its history, major layoffs: my classmates and I were competing with people who had ten, twenty, or even thirty years' experience for any job at all. What happened? We created our own jobs; I went off and became a writer -- and that's why I'm coming to Istanbul in February, that's why you're asking me questions now. Education is never wasted; the particular subject doesn't matter -- what university does is train you to think. So, think! You are young, and you have time.

It's not going to be easy -- I went several years making very little money myself -- but it actually can be liberating. In Japan, they have the concept of the salaryman -- a person who gets plugged into a boring, uninteresting office-worker life; he makes a modest living, but will never rise far. Well, those safe, easy solutions -- just plug me into that slot -- are gone; a more interesting, more stimulating life may be possible. Now, more than ever, if I may quote the slogan of the seminar I'm speaking at, it's time to escape the labyrinth.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Seattle Worldcon bid withdrawn

Seattle has withdrawn its bid for the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention, leaving Reno the winner by default. Details are here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Rob reads Chapter 1 of Wake

Now available: Robert J. Sawyer reading Chapter 1 of his forthcoming novel Wake as a 14-minute MP3 file: you can listen to it right here.

More about Wake is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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SF Authors in Second Life

Stephen Euin Cobb has an article entitled Five Famous Authors do Public Appearances in Second Life over at Baen's Universe, including quotes from yours truly. And is it just me, or does Catherine Asaro look really hot in Second Life? (Okay, she's pretty damn hot in real life, too!)

Photo: Robert J. Sawyer in Second Life (screen capture by Stephen Euin Cobb)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Obama's America includes atheists

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said of America, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."

In my 2003 novel, Hybrids, I had the next president of the United States (the one coming to office in 2009) refer to nonbelievers, too:
So, yes, indeed, now is the time to take longer strides. But it's not just time for a great new American enterprise. Rather, it's time, if I may echo another speech, for black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists, and men and women of all faiths, and men and women of none -- for individuals from every one of our 191 united nations, for members of every race and religion that make up our unique, varied brand of humanity -- to go forward together, in peace and harmony, with mutual respect and friendship ... [Chapter 25]
For me, it was key that the first post-Bush president acknowledge the large numbers of atheists and nonbelievers, and I'm delighted to see Obama do just that.

The only appearance by my president in Hybrids is through a series of excerpts from his first major speech, which appear in chunks at the beginnings of each chapter; I didn't explicitly say he was black, but I certainly implied it:
Four decades ago, my predecessor in the Oval Office, John F. Kennedy, said, `Now is the time to take longer strides -- time for a great new American enterprise.' I was just a kid in a Montgomery ghetto then, but I remember vividly how those words made my spine tingle ... [Chapter 5]
I'm very proud of the speech I wrote for the fictitious president (the full text of which is here), but am even prouder, as an often-conflicted American-Canadian dual citizen, that my real president had the courage to acknowledge us nonbelievers in his inaugural address.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Supernatural Investigator on SETI

Now that I'm back from Turkey, I've had a chance to watch this week's (3 February 2009) episode of Supernatural Investigator, which I host for Canada's Vision TV. This was episode 2 of 17, and it was entitled "Life From Other Worlds," with Mac Tonnies as our investigator of the week.

Man, it felt like a family reunion. There was my buddy Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute (Seth and I have appeared together before on Discovery Channel Canada's Daily Planet, I've been a guest on Seth's SETI radio show (talking about my novel Rollback), and Seth invited me to the NASA/Ames conference "The Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos in 2007).

And there was my friend Chris Corbally, one of the Vatican astonomers; back in 2003, I was in the hot seat on another Vision TV series, Valerie Pringle's Test of Faith; the topic was "Could Organized Religion Survive the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life," and Chris was one of the questioners -- a great guy, who, as it happens, did his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.

All in all, I thought it was a terrific episode, and I'm very proud to be part of this series.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Randy McCharles the Writer

Forget all that talk about Randy McCharles the great convention organizer. I'm totally thrilled to announce that Randy McCharles the great writer has just sold reprint rights to his novella "Ringing the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta" from Tesseracts 12 to David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer for the 2009 edition of their anthology Year's Best Fantasy.

(So: don't forget this story when you nominate for the Auroras and the Hugos!)

Randy is my writing student (and my friend!), having taken more writing workshops with me than anyone else. I'm very, very proud of him!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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In England, I'd be a crisp ...

Nice fan note today, which made me smile (actually sent to Carolyn, who handles the business of selling my books online):
Just a quick note to let you know that I've received my books and I'm absolutely delighted with my purchase. From one book lover to another, the care in packing is very much appreciated (all of my rarer editions in the library are all in the same type of form-fitting plastic bags), and I was extremely happy with Rob's personalizations: they were exactly what I was looking for. Please pass along my sincere thanks to the future Grand Master!

I've been thinking about Rob's work for the last little while, as I seem to be going through a small Sawyer Renaissance, reading Golden Fleece, Factoring Humanity, Calculating God and being halfway through Frameshift in the last week or so. I've come to the conclusion that my favorite Sawyer book is whichever one I've last finished, because, and I mean this in only the admiring way, Rob's writing is addictive -- He's the Lay's Potato Chip of Science Fiction: Betcha can't read just one!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Federations table of contents

Holy cow! How often do you get to be betwen the covers with Lois McMaster Bujold, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert Silverberg? Woot!

John Joseph Adams has announced the line-up for his upcoming anthology Federations, and it's terrific (see below). I'm particularly pleased to note that the lead story is Orson Scott Card's "Mazer in Prison," which I'm a big fan of, and that my great friend James Alan Gardner is in the book, too, with a new story.

Here's the full list:
  • "Mazer in Prison" by Orson Scott Card (reprint)

  • "Carthago Delenda Est" by Genevieve Valentine

  • "Life-Suspension" by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

  • "Terra-Exulta" by S. L. Gilbow

  • "Aftermaths" by Lois McMaster Bujold (reprint)

  • "Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy" by Harry Turtledove (reprint)

  • "Prisons" by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason (reprint)

  • "Different Day" by K. Tempest Bradford

  • "Twilight of the Gods" by John C. Wright

  • "Warship" by George R. R. Martin and George Guthridge (reprint)

  • "Swanwatch" by Yoon Ha Lee

  • "Spirey and the Queen" by Alastair Reynolds (reprint)

  • "Pardon Our Conquest" by Alan Dean Foster

  • "Symbiont" by Robert Silverberg (reprint)

  • "The Ship Who Returned" by Anne McCaffrey (reprint)

  • "My She" by Mary Rosenblum

  • "The Shoulders of Giants" by Robert J. Sawyer (reprint)

  • "The Culture Archivist" by Jeremiah Tolbert

  • "The Other Side of Jordan" by Allen Steele

  • "Like They Always Been Free" by Georgina Li

  • "Eskhara" by Trent Hergenrader

  • "The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousnesses" by James Alan Gardner

  • "Golubash, or Wine-War-Blood-Elegy" by Catherynne M. Valente

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Flash Forward: T-minus 2 weeks!

OMG, it's almost here! The ABC TV series pilot based on my novel Flash Forward starts filming in Los Angeles two weeks from today (Saturday, February 21, 2009). Director David S. Goyer is working his tail off getting ready for the shoot.

Carolyn and I won't be there on the first day -- I've got a deadline to meet for Watch, my next novel, the following week -- but we will be heading down for part of the shoot. Woot!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Talking Turkey (1 of 4)

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses -- so don't expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

The first one, below, was for the monthly Turkish magazine Digital Age, described as "a digital business and culture magazine." Here's what I had to say:

1. Is technology really a time-saver for us or just making our lives more complicated and busy?

Absolutely it's a time saver. Remember when you had to retype a whole page of text because you'd made an error? That's a trivial example, but it's also true. The reason we are busier now is that we can do more things: computers have given each of us the ability to become publishers, filmmakers, and so on, and we choose to do those things.

A book that's very popular in North America right now is Outliers, by my fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell. It points out that the thing people innately value most is the opportunity to do meaningful work: important work, work that makes a difference, work that they can take pride in. Far fewer of us work in boring, assembly-line, repetitive manual-labor jobs now than did 50 years ago. We have technology to thank for that. Yes, we're busier -- but we're happier, too.

2. Technology brings less human relationships, I mean humankind is just becoming more selfish (individual) by technology. What will human relationships be in the near future, if technology keeps on improving?

I totally disagree with your first sentence. In fact, technology brings us closer together. In North America, where I'm from, the phone company used to have a slogan for long-distance calling: "Reach out and touch someone." That is, technology made it possible to be in touch with people who didn't happen to live near you.

The most popular technologies are all about communication -- about interacting with other human beings: cell phones, email, text messages, social networking, online communities, Second Life, and so on.

As for what changes we'll see in the future, it'll be more human contact, not less: all that's holding us back now is bandwidth limitations. Soon, we'll be able to see each other in high resolution anywhere in the world; eventually, we'll see each other in three dimensions worldwide.

Technology brings us together no matter where we live: you don't have to be isolated if you live alone, you don't have to feel cut off from the rest of the world. It's called the World Wide Web for a reason: it covers the entire planet, and it ties us all together in wonderful ways.

3. Does technology has a philosophy? How do you define the philosophy of technology?

The scientific name for Humanity is Homo sapiens, which means "Man of wisdom." Historically, we've done a poor job of demonstrating that we deserve the name. I'd rather we were called Homo faber, which means "Man who makes things." Technology allows us to permanently change things, and to do things that will have effects after we ourselves are gone. No other animal can do that, and we can only do it because of our tools. So, the philosophy of technology is this: technology empowers, technology amplifies our abilities, technology gives us the ability to improve the human condition, and technology allows us to create things that will outlast our own lives.

4. What's your all time favorite future prediction (either yours or someone else's)?

Well, in my field of science-fiction writing, there was a popular movement, starting in the early 1980s, called "cyberpunk." It suggested that the future would be controlled by the tiny underground of streetwise youths who really understood computers.

I love that prediction because it was hopelessly wrong: it was lousy extrapolation. It assumed that since only an elite worked with computers in 1980, that it would always be that way. The death of cyberpunk surely came when Time magazine named "You" -- you, me, average people -- its person of the year in 2006 in honor of the way all of us, from toddlers to the most elderly, had embraced the use of computing technology to give themselves and each other joy.

5. What will humankind be in the next 50 years?

We will live longer, possibly much longer -- with projected lifespans of centuries instead of decades.

We will be more healthy: we are starting to recognize just how much human disease is infectious and caused by bacteria and viruses (the breakthrough that ulcers are caused by bacteria rather than stress was just the beginning; new evidence suggests that Alzheimer's may be caused by viruses -- and so may many cancers); we will cure those diseases.

Some may choose to make modifications to themselves (so they can breathe underwater, for instance).

And, most of all, we will be at peace -- because the alternatives are either peace or annihilation, and I believe humanity is wise enough to choose the former. We're not Homo sapiens yet -- but we better become him in the next fifty years!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Creator of Worlds, Chaser of Ghosts

The Brantford Expositor has a cool article headlined "Creator of Worlds and Chaser of Ghosts" by Brian Gorman about the incongruity of a hard-SF writer like me hosting a TV series like Supernatural Investigator. You can read it online here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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