Friday, July 31, 2009

Back home in Mississauga

After two months away, it's good to finally be back home in Mississauga. Carolyn and I had a great time in Saskatoon, and already miss our new friends from there. Being the first-ever writer-in-residence at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron was an amazing experience.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Come to Con-Version in Calgary!

Con-Version 25, this year's edition of Calgary's annual science-fiction and fantasy convention, is fast approaching. Dates are August 21-23. Here's the description of the con from the website:
Con-Version is a three-day festival devoted to science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between. Whether you love the groundbreaking sword and sorcery of Terry Brooks, the sexy, modern-day vampire stories of Tanya Huff, or the intellectual, thought-provoking science fiction of Robert J. Sawyer, Con-Version has something for you.

If you're a fan of anything from Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, or even Battlestar Galactica -- either one! -- you'll find people with the same interests (and maybe the same Stormtrooper costume).

Whether you like the Harry Potter books or just the movies, like Lord of the Rings on screen but not on paper, whether you're a literary or a media fan, Con-Version is the can't-miss event of the year!

Regular programming hours are full of demonstrations of medieval swordfighting, discussion panels on your favourite books, gatherings of costumers to share their secrets, and much more. The evenings are packed with entertainment: the dance, variety show, a concert, and Con-Version's famous fundraising "Slave Auction."

Join us on our Facebook group and let us know if you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions.

We look forward to seeing you there!
For more information, see here.
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Saskatchewan Writers Guild interview

... conducted by current Aurora Award nominee Edward Willett just went online here. It's a good, meaty interview about my residency at the Canadian Light Source and my new novel Wake.

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Wake back on the Saskatoon bestsellers' list

This week's hardcover bestsellers' list for McNally Robinson in Saskatoon:

1. Outliers: The Story of Success
By Malcolm Gladwell

2. Master Your Metabolism
By Jillian Michaels

3. Twenties Girl
By Sophie Kinsella

4. Unmasked the Final Years of Michael Jackson
By Ian Halperin

5. Best Friends Forever
By Jennifer Weiner

6. The Devil's Punchbowl
By Greg Iles

7. Wake
By Robert J. Sawyer

8. The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North
By Ed Struzik

9. The Host
By Stephenie Meyer

10. Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Deception
By Eric Van Lustbader

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Toronto's Tomorrows

An exhibition at The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy in Toronto:

Toronto's Tomorrows

Celebrate the history of our city's vibrant science fiction community!

The current exhibition in the display cases of the Merril collection features examples of science fiction, fantasy and horror set in Toronto.

It spotlights Judith Merril's influential role in science fiction locally and worldwide, and remembers World Science Fiction Conventions held in Toronto.

The Merril Collection's SF Writers in Residence, past and future are also profiled.

On display until August 15, 2009 in the lobby of the Merril Collection.

Note: The Merril Collection Writers in residence:

1987: Judith Merril
2003: Robert J. Sawyer
2009: Karl Schroeder
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Hangin' with Arthur Slade

Click photo for larger version

Arthur Slade, who won the Governor General's Award for Dust, and Robert J. Sawyer hanging out at the 20th anniversary celebration for the Sage Hill Writing Experience in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, on Saturday, July 25, 2009. Art is currently teaching at Sage Hill, and the organizers are courting Rob to teach there in the future.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Final week in Saskatoon is packed

Yesterday, we went to Lumsden, Saskatchewan, for the 20th anniversary of the Sage Hill Writing Experience.

Today: a barbecue at the home of bookseller and writer Kent Pollard, followed by dinner with Carolyn's Saskatoon cousins.

Monday: my final weekly writing lecture for the Canadian Light Source staff, plus my final three one-hour one-on-one critiquing/mentoring appointments at the Light Source.

Tuesday: I'm on the noon Saskatoon CTV news program for an interview, then, at 7:30, it's the launch for Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction at McNally Robinson

Thursday: I'm giving a talk to a fantasy writing workshop for 9-to-13-year olds.

Friday: the flight home.

We're in Toronto for all of four days, then it's off to Montreal for the World Science Fiction Convention (and I have other trips in August to Calgary, Regina, and Los Angeles). Whew!
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The introduction to Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction

Click picture for a larger version

(Table of Contents)


Thirty years ago, in 1979, John Robert Colombo published a massive anthology called Other Canadas in which he culled the best of four centuries of Canadian fantastic literature. That book was a watershed: it established definitively that Canada did have a tradition of science fiction and fantasy writing.

Thirty years ago, I was nineteen; I wasn't part of that book. Except for Spider Robinson, none of the authors collected here were. Colombo planted a seed with Other Canadas; what you hold in your hands is — if I may be so bold — the cream of the crop that grew from that seed.

Recently, Jane Urquhart came under attack for The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, which she edited. To her critics, some omissions seemed glaring, some inclusions dubious. So, given that I've subtitled this anthology Canada's Best Science Fiction, let me define my terms and explain my selection criteria.

By "Canada's," I mean authors who live in this country. I'm frankly tired of hearing Canadians trumpet that actors Pamela Anderson, Jim Carrey, and William Shatner are Canadians. No doubt they legally are, but they don't live or work here. Likewise, I've left out authors who have decided to call somewhere else their home — my point being that there's no need to reach beyond our borders to fill a book such as this.

"Best" is, I grant you, a subjective judgment — but let me point out an objective fact: every author in this book has either won or been nominated for the Hugo Award (the top international prize for science-fiction writing); or won or been nominated for the Nebula Award (the "Academy Award" of the science fiction field, given by the inaccurately named Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which has members in 23 countries, and has had a Canadian Region since 1993); or has won Canada's top SF book award, the Aurora.

(Specifically, Robinson, Sawyer, and Wilson have won the Hugo, and Forde, Gardner, Hopkinson, and Watts have been nominated for it; Robinson and Sawyer have won the Nebula, and Gardner and Hopkinson have been nominated for it; Czerneda, Hopkinson, Sawyer, Schroeder, and Wilson have won the best-novel Aurora, and Gardner, Robinson, and Watts have been nominated for it.)

By "science fiction," I mean the real thing: stories that reasonably extrapolate from known science; stories that might plausibly happen. Thirty years ago, when Colombo pulled together his anthology, he needed to combine SF with fantasy, horror, magic realism, and folk tales to make a book. Today, we can easily fill a book not just with real science fiction authored by Canadians, but with real science fiction by world-class writers who just happen to be Canadian.

In addition to the words in the subtitle, I decided to add one more criterion for inclusion in the present volume: Colombo had scoured 400 years of history for his selections; my goal is to demonstrate that there's a vigorous, active SF writing community in Canada right now. Every one of the stories in this book was first published in the 21st century. (This decision did have one sad effect: William Gibson, winner of the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Aurora Awards for best novel of the year, simply hasn't written any short fiction this millennium.)

There is, of course, a separate literary tradition of French Canadian science fiction. I commend to your attention particularly the work of Joël Champetier, Yves Meynard, Esther Rochon, Daniel Sernine, Jean-Louis Trudel, and Élisabeth Vonarburg. Indeed, this book's official launch will be in August 2009 at Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention, which this year is being held in Montreal, and is featuring programming in both French and English. Élisabeth Vonarburg is the Invitée d'honneur, Julie E. Czerneda is the toastmaster, and John Robert Colombo — at last getting his due — is keynote speaker (the first one ever at a Worldcon) for the convention's academic track.

Distant Early Warnings isn't dedicated to John Colombo because my wife Carolyn Clink and I dedicated our earlier anthology Tesseracts 6, part of the long-running series of Canadian science-fiction anthologies founded by the late, great Judith Merril, to him. But without John standing up and saying to the Canadian publishing world, and to Canada's academics, that there was such a thing as domestic Canadian SF, the field would not be nearly as rich and varied as it is today, and my hat is off to him.

This book isn't just intended for Canadian readers: after all, every single one of the authors included here has a significant international following (Paddy Forde is the one name that might not immediately ring a bell, since, to date, he has published only short fiction; however he has twice won the Analytical Laboratory Award from New York-based Analog, the world's top-selling English-language SF magazine, for best novella of the year).

And since we are also catering to readers outside Canada, and since I've gone on at length about the subtitle, let me say a word about the title. The Distant Early Warning Line — or DEW Line — was a string of radar stations in Canada's far north designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War. But the phrase also evocatively sums up what good science fiction does, providing us with advance reports of the wonders — and the dangers — that await us in all the myriad futures that might yet come to pass.

— Robert J. Sawyer
Mississauga, Ontario
April 2009

The book concludes with a section I've dubbed the "Lightning Round," introduced thus:
The world's top two scientific journals are the American Science and the British Nature. In recent years, Nature has been running very short science-fiction stories, each no more than 800 words in length, as a feature called "Futures." The initial offering was by none other than Arthur C. Clarke. Five of the authors who have longer stories in this anthology have also contributed pieces to Nature, which we offer here — a final lightning round of distant early warnings.
Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction

Edited by Robert J. Sawyer

Stories by Julie E. Czerneda, Paddy Forde, James Alan Gardner, Nalo Hopkinson, Spider Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Karl Schroeder, Peter Watts, and Robert Charles Wilson

Poetry by David Livingstone Clink and Carolyn Clink

Cover by James Beveridge

Published by Robert J. Sawyer Books, August 2009, an imprint of Red Deer Press (a Fitzhenry & Whiteside company)
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Friday, July 24, 2009

Dominic Monaghan joins FlashForward cast

Okay, admittedly it was the worst-kept secret in television (as David S. Goyer quipped today at San Diego Comic-Con), but it can now be officially announced that Dominic Monaghan, late (literally) of Lost, has joined the cast of FlashForward.

See here.

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DEW Launch and RJS Farewell at McNally Saskatoon on Tuesday

This Tuesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a launch for my new anthology Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon; this will also serve as the farewell event for my two months here in Saskatoon as writer-in-residence at the Canadian Light Source.

(Note: this event was orginally announced for this Saturday afternoon but has been changed to Tuesday evening so that I can attend the 20th anniversary event for the Sage Hill Writing Experience.)

I'll be reading from my Hugo Award-nominated short story "Shed Skin," which is included in the anthology.

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My final week at the Canadian Light Source

I've been having a great time serving as writer-in-residence at the Canadian Light Source, Canada's national synchrotron research facility. My final week begins today.

Here's a sign that someone recently put up on my office door at the synchrotron:

And yesterday, I was helping archaeologist Elizabeth Robertson with an experiment down on one of the beam lines, and got to re-start the process after the 4:30 p.m. injection of fresh electrons into the storage ring (that's my personal dosimeter badge on my chest):

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Updated keynote information

I've updated my page about my services as a keynote speaker; I give talks on all sorts of futurism topics. You can see the new page at:

A couple of upcoming Robert J. Sawyer keynotes:
  • Hansard Association of Canada
    Regina, Saskatchewan
    (on the floor of the Saskatchewan Legislature!)

  • Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba
    Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Labels: video interview with RJS

A nice three-minute video interview with Robert J. Sawyer conducted by Leila Lemghalef is online right here.

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Nice fan letter

Always nice to hear from a satisfied customer:

After having picked up The The Terminal Experiment at a used bookstore and relegating it to my "Things To Read" bookshelf for far too long, I finally picked it up and was pleasantly surprised. So it was easy for me to grab Calculating God a few days later while perusing my local library, and I was completely BLOWN AWAY! As a former fundamentalist now devout atheist I found the book incredibly compelling, funny and superbly well-written with the many of the usual and not-so-usual arguments presented brilliantly. And for fear of sounding like a nerdy fanboy I really feel that you were robbed a Hugo against JK Rowling.

I then went and immediately read Rollback (another brilliant novel) and just now finished the thoroughly enjoyable FlashForward Flashforward (it's been quite the RJS week) and felt I should take the time to send you short note of praise. You have a very accessible style full of compelling and new ideas.

While not normally prone to gush, I feel an artist likes to hear from someone who really appreciates their work instead of just critics. No need to respond, just wanted to say thanks for some very, very good literature and keep up the good work.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Apes novels coming!

Rich Handley, who created the magnificent Timeline of the Planet of the Apes, is editing two new officially licensed Planet of the Apes novels -- w00t! Can't wait!
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Yann Martel: The Three Million Dollar Man

Yann Martel, the Mann Booker Prize-winning author of Life of Pi, and his wife Ali Kuipers very kindly had Carolyn and I over to dinner shortly after our arrival here in Saskatoon last month. The New York Times is reporting he just sold US rights to his next novel for US$3,000,000. Way to go, Yann!

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Take that, you filthy Barast!

My friend Melody Friedenthal sent me a link to this story about new evidence that a Homo sapiens speared a Homo neanderthalensis.

In my novel Hominids and its sequels, I argue that our kind of humanity (referred to as Gliksins by the Neanderthals in those books) were responsible for the demise of the Neanderthals (which call themselves Barasts in my books).
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Phyllis Gotlieb obituary in Globe and Mail

The obituary of Phyllis Gotlieb entitled "Canadian sci-fi novelist braved unknown in American market," by Anthony Furey, is here.

Photo: Phyllis Gotlieb and her husband Kelly Gotlieb.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Free story in honor of Apollo 11: "The Eagle Has Landed"

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, I'm uploading for free my short story "The Eagle Has Landed," first published in the 2005 DAW anthology I, Alien, edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg. You can read the full text for free right here.

"The Eagle Has Landed" by Robert J. Sawyer.

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Onward to Mars

In Robert J. Sawyer's 2003 novel Hybrids, the U.S. president who comes to office in 2009 makes a speech calling for a crewed mission to Mars. The speech appeared broken into a series of excerpts at the beginning of each chapter of Hybrids, but, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, he's providing it here in its entirety:

My fellow Americans — and all other human beings on this version of Earth — it gives me great pleasure to address you this evening, my first major speech as your new president. I wish to talk about the future of our kind of hominid, of the species known as Homo sapiens: people of wisdom.

And, as you will see, it is only our future — the future of Homo sapiens — that I will be addressing tonight. And not just because I can only speak as the American president. No, there is more to it than that. For, in this matter, our future and that of the Neanderthals are not intertwined.

I said it during my campaign, and I say it again now: a president should be forward-thinking, looking not just to the next election but to decades and generations to come. It is with that longer view in mind that I speak to you tonight.

Let me begin by noting this isn't about us versus them. It isn't about who is better, Homo sapiens or Homo neanderthalensis. It isn't about who is brighter, Gliksin or Barast. Rather, it's about finding our own strengths and our own best natures, and doing those things of which we can be most proud.

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.

Jack Kennedy was right: it was time then for us to take longer strides. And it's that time again. For the greatest strength we Homo sapiens have always had, since the dawn of our consciousness 40,000 years ago, is our desire to go places, to make journeys, to see what's beyond the next hill, to expand our territories, and — if I may borrow a phrase coined just four years after JFK's speech — to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Our strength is our wanderlust; our curiosity; our exploring, searching, soaring spirit.

It was that questing spirit that led our ancient ancestors to spread throughout the Old World.

It was that questing spirit that moved some of us to march thousands of miles across the Bering Land Bridge, which linked Siberia and Alaska during the Ice Age.

It was that questing spirit that caused others to bravely sail boats over the horizon, finding new lands in Australia and Polynesia.

It was that questing spirit that led Vikings to come to North America a thousand years ago, that drove the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria to cross the Atlantic five hundred years ago.

It was that questing spirit that lifted the wings of Orville and Wilbur Wright, of Amelia Earhart, of Chuck Yeager.

It was that questing spirit that made brave men and women like Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova and John Glenn ride on pillars of flame into Earth orbit.

And it was that questing spirit that let Columbia and Eagle, Yankee Clipper and Intrepid, Odyssey and Aquarius, Kitty Hawk and Antares, Endeavour and Falcon, Casper and Orion, and America and Challenger fly to the moon.

There are human footprints preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoli, made by a male and a female australopithecine, the ancestors to both Gliksins and Barasts, just wandering, walking slowly, side by side, exploring: the original small hominids steps. And there are human footprints at Tranquility Base and the Ocean of Storms and Fra Mauro and Hadley Rille and Descartes and Taurus-Littrow on the moon — truly giant leaps.

But it has been more than three decades since Eugene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon. The last person! Who would have thought that whole generations would be born after 1972 for whom the notion of humans on other worlds would be nothing but a lesson in history class?

How could that have possibly happened? How could we have given up that most noble of drives that had taken us from Olduvai Gorge to the lunar craters? The answer, of course, is that we'd grown content. The century we recently left saw greater advances in human wealth and prosperity, in human health and longevity, in human technology and material comfort, than all of the forty millennia that preceded it.

Here in North America, and in India and Japan and Europe and Russia and all across this whole wide wonderful world of ours, things are mostly better than they have ever been — and they're getting even better all the time.

So: it's perfectly reasonable that we took a hiatus, that we enjoyed the first few decades of post-Cold War prosperity, that we indulged in one of the other things that makes our kind of humanity great: we stopped and smelled the roses.

But now it's time to resume our journey, for it is our love of the journey that makes us great.

Scientists tell us that our kind of humans moved up to the northern tip of Africa, looked north across the Strait of Gibraltar, and saw new land there — and, of course, as seems natural to us, we risked crossing that treacherous channel, moving into Europe.

Likewise, some of our Barast cousins, natives of Europe, came south to Gibraltar, with its famous rock, that wonderful symbol of permanence and stability. And from their vantage point, the Neanderthals could see south to the unknown lands of Africa.

But the Neanderthals didn't cross the Strait of Gibraltar. There, at Gibraltar, we saw the difference between us and them. For, when we saw a new world, just a short distance away, we took it.

If the dangers posed by the collapsing of this Earth's magnetic field teaches us anything, it is that humanity is too precious to have but a single home — that keeping all our eggs in one basket is folly.

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, continuing the journey we Homo sapiens had briefly interrupted.

And so I stand here today to usher in the next phase. It is time, my friends, for at least some of us to move on, to leave our version of Earth and take the next giant leap.

It is time, my fellow Homo sapiens, that we go to Mars.

I believe we, the humans of this Earth, should commit ourselves, before another decade has gone by, to launching an international team of women and men to the red planet.

And although our Neanderthal cousins will be welcome to join us in this grand Mars adventure, should they so choose, it is something it seems few of them will desire.

But whether the Neanderthals come with us or not to the red planet, we should adopt their view of that world's color. Mars is not a symbol of war; it is the color of health, of life — and if it is, perhaps, barren of life now, we should not let it remain so any longer.

Of course, once we're there, once we have planted flowers in the rusty sand of the fourth planet from our sun, once we've nurtured them with water taken from Mars' polar caps, we Homo sapiens might again briefly pause to smell those roses.

But smelling Martian roses will be only a pause, only a brief catching of breath, a moment of reflection, before we will again take up the journey, driving ever outward, farther and farther, learning, discovering, growing, expanding not only our borders but our minds.

We — the kind of humanity called Homo sapiens, the kind our Neanderthal cousins call Gliksins — have a drive unique among all primates, a drive singular in the realm of conscious beings. And that drive will compel us onward and outward.

And yet, some of us will stay permanently on Mars. Now, in the pages of science and science fiction there have long been notions of terraforming Mars — making it more Earth-like, by enhancing its atmosphere and liberating its frozen water, thus creating a world better suited for human habitation.

But there have been objections to terraforming Mars from those who feel that, even if it has no indigenous life, we should leave its stark natural beauty pristine and unspoiled — that if we visit it, we should treat it as we do our Earthly parks, taking nothing but memories and leaving behind nothing but footprints.

Who would have thought that both destinies for Mars could be fulfilled? But, of course, now they can. We will travel to the Mars of this universe, the one that graces the night skies of the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, and, as has ever been our way, we will conquer this new frontier, making an additional home for Homo sapiens there.

And although someday we may also travel to Dargal — for that is what the Neanderthals named the red planet of their universe, the crimson beacon that beams down upon the continents of Durkanu, Podlar, Ranilass, Evsoy, Galasoy, and Nalkanu — we will leave that version of Mars as we find it. Truly, like so much in this new era we are now entering, we will have our cake and eat it, too.

And it is a new era we are entering. The Cenozoic — the era of recent life — is indeed all but over. The Novozoic — the era of new life — is about to begin.

The dawn of the Cenozoic, the famed Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary when the dinosaurs died out, was marked by a layer of clay, found on both versions of Earth. The beginning of the Novozoic in this universe, our universe, the universe of Homo sapiens, will be marked by the footsteps of the first colonist on Mars, the first member of our species to leave the cradle that is this Earth, never to return.

It has been suggested by some scientists that since there was, apparently, only one universe until 40,000 years ago when consciousness arose on Earth, then there is no other consciousness anywhere in this vast universe of ours — or, at least, none older than our own. If that is true, then exploring the rest of space isn't just our destiny, it is our obligation, for there is no one but we Homo sapiens with the desire and means to do it.

And if that notion isn't correct — if this and other universes are, as some scientists and philosophers believe, teeming with intelligent life — then we have another duty when we take our next small steps, and that is to put our best foot forward: to show all the other forms of life the greatness that is Homo sapiens, in all our wonderful and myriad diversity.

And we are just that: a great and wonderful people. Yes, we have made missteps — but we made them because we are always walking forward, always marching toward our destiny.

My fellow human beings, my fellow Homo sapiens, we will continue our great journey, continue our wondrous quest, continue ever outward. That is our history, and it is our future. And we will not stop, not falter, not give up until we have reached the farthest stars.

An excerpt from Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.


Forty years after that one small step

My reminiscences of July 20, 1969, are on Check it out!

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Entertainment Weekly on FlashForward

The July 24, 2009, edition of Entertainment Weekly devotes half a page to the FlashForward TV series. The article, entitled simply "FLASHFORWARD", begins:
Robert J. Sawyer's 1999 novel of the same name inspired this drama about a global catastrophe ...
The article includes the picture below of series stars John Cho and Joseph Fiennes.

FlashForward was previously featured in the February 20, 2009, issue of Entertainment Weekly.

More about the FlashForward novel by Robert J. Sawyer

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

That crazy notice about FlashForward

I can't be the only one who received this from this morning:
Dear Customer,

As someone who has purchased or rated books by Robert J. Sawyer, you might like to know that Flashforward will be released on August 1, 2009. You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Robert J. Sawyer
Price: $59.99
Release Date: August 1, 2009

Who in the what now? Almost sixty bucks for FlashForward?

Although it doesn't say it anywhere in the email, the link above is for an unabridged audio version of FlashForward. The paperback is still US$7.99, folks!
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Alessandro Juliani narrates Rollback for CBC

Montreal-born actor Alessandro Juliani, who played Mr. Gaeta on the new Battlestar Galactica, will be narrating CBC Radio One's twenty-five part serialization of my Hugo Award-nominated novel Rollback.

The serialization will air in fifteen-minute installments weekdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time (10:30 a.m. Pacific Time) on CBC Radio One (and Sirius Satellite Radio channel 137) from Monday, September 7, to Friday, October 9, 2009, as part of CBC's Between the Covers series.

Using Alessandro Juliani was one of my suggestions; I'm delighted CBC agreed!

"While Rollback is, on the surface, a book about reaching out to those across the universe, it is at its heart an investigation of our very humanity, and how relationships are a fundamental key to defining who we are. Sawyer's crisp and accessible writing style allows for this interweaving of the personal and the scientific. The characters feel real, and their emotions and responses genuine. Beyond the SF trappings, Rollback is a story about love and commitment, about humanity at its most basic -- a novel to be savoured by science-fiction and mainstream readers alike." -- The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper

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Launch Pad coverage in Mike Brotherton's blog

Mike Brotherton is the leader of the Launch Pad astronomy workshop in Laramie, Wyoming; Carolyn and I are attending this year, and Mike has links to more videos from the conference in his blog.
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Phyllis Gotlieb and Kelly Gotlieb

Phyllis Gotlieb, the mother of Canadian science fiction, as I remember her, with her husband C.C. "Kelly" Gotlieb, the great Canadian computer scientist, at my home on December 18, 2006. Photo by Carolyn Clink.

Phyllis passed away on Tuesday, July 14, 2009, at the age of 83.

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Wake #2 Locus Bestseller

W00t! My novel Wake is #2 on the Locus Hardcover Bestsellers' List. And #1 is a fantasy novel, which makes mine the top-selling SF novel in the stores Locus surveys.

Locus is the trade journal of the science-fiction field. Here's the list, published in the July 2009 issue (for the data period April 2009); the numbers at the end of each line are "months on list" and "position last month."

1) Turn Coat, Jim Butcher (Roc) [1,-]
2) WWW: Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace) [1,-]
3) Rides a Dread Legion, Raymond E. Feist (Eos) [1,-]
4) The Host, Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown) [12,3]
5) The Mystery of Grace, Charles de Lint (Tor) [2,7]
*) The Revolution Business, Charles Stross (Tor) [1,-]
7) The Temporal Void, Peter F. Hamilton (Ballantine Del Rey) [1,-]
8) Bone Crossed, Patricia Briggs (Ace) [3,5]
9) Imager, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor) [2,8]
*) Storm from the Shadows, David Weber (Baen) [2,1]

The full list is at Locus Online.

Wake hit #1 on the Technothrillers Bestsellers List, #1 on the Winnipeg Free Press Bestsellers List, #2 on the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix Bestsellers List, and now #2 on the Locus Bestsellers List. Not too shabby!
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wake press release

[Wake Press Release]

Here's a press release I wrote for my new novel Wake; this press release was aimed mostly at techie publications.

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Launch Pad workshop on YouTube

Up on YouTube: video of the Wednesday, July 15, 2009, session of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Carolyn and I are having a blast here. Check it out!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jawing with

The fine folks at phoned me a while ago, and we did a long, discursive telephone interview -- and they've very kindly transcribed it and put it online. You can read the whole thing here. The interviewer was Todd Denis.

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Phyllis Gotlieb, R.I.P.

My friend and inspiration Phyllis Gotlieb, the only Canadian to be in SFWA at its founding, the mother of Canadian science fiction, passed away yesterday at the age of 83 from complications related to a ruptured appendix.

Phyllis was proof of concept that you could live in Toronto and still be a science-fiction writer for major American publishing houses; if I hadn't had her as a role model, I'm not sure I ever would have embarked on the career path I took.

We'd been friends for 30 years -- I met her in 1979 when my high-school science-fiction club had her as guest of honour at a little convention we put on at Northview Heights Secondary School. She was feisty and opinionated and passionate then, and she was still all those things the last time I saw her, not that long ago. One of my greatest professional thrills was getting to publish her final novel, Birthstones, in 2007, under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint for Markham's Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

From a profile of Phyllis by Brian Bethune in Maclean's in 2002:
"That's when she became the grandmother of us all," says Robert Sawyer, the most prominent author in a now-flourishing national scene. "She was the one -- till the '80s, the only one -- who proved you could sit in Toronto and write major science fiction and sell it to major American publishers." Sunburst, which has given its name to an award for the best Canadian sci-fi book of the year, marked a final change of course for Gotlieb, who eventually no longer had "poem-shaped ideas." (Since then, she says, "my aliens write poetry.")

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The Adolescence of P-1

In the summer of 1980, Carolyn and I moved to Waterloo, Ontario, for four months, to share an apartment with our great friends Lynn Conway and Fraser Gunn. (Their previous roommates, students at the University of Waterloo, had moved out at the end of the academic year.)

That summer, I did a few things that had a profound impact on my career.

First, I outlined my very first novel, End of an Era.

Second, because he was to be Guest of Honour that summer at the very first Ad Astra -- Toronto's now-venerable science-fiction convention -- I read James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars, which, to this day, is still one of my favourite science-fiction novels (and doubtless an influence on the watch-the-science-puzzles-go-snick-snick-snick aspects of End of an Era).

And third, at Fraser's suggestion, I read The Adolescence of P-1, by Thomas J. Ryan -- because it was a science-fiction novel set in part in Waterloo.

Flashforward (heh heh) 29 years, and I find myself in Boston at Readercon 20, and my friend Judith Klein-Dial has a mass-market paperback of The Adolescence of P-1 for sale for a buck at her table. I own a hardcover of P-1, but it's up in Toronto, and I need something to read on the flight home, so I make peace with my usual compunctions about buying used books, purchase the copy, and start reading it.

Like my current novel WWW: Wake, Ryan's The Adolescence of P-1 could easily pass for mainstream: it's set in the then-present of 1977 (the book was first published that year).

And, like my Wake, it was published (in mass-market at least) by Ace (the hardcover had been from Macmillan, and the most-recent reprint is from Baen).

And, like my Wake, as I said, it's set in part in Waterloo, Ontario.

And, most of all, like my Wake, it deals with the emergence of consciousness in networked computers (in P-1, networked by phone lines; in Wake, of course, via the Internet and the supervening World Wide Web).

Now, let me say this: I loved The Adolescence of P-1 as a 20-year-old, and I still find a lot to like about it as a 49-year-old. But it is a classic example of what actually compelled me to write Wake in the first place. As I've said in interviews about my book, previous SF treatments of the ramping up of intelligence by computers either have the big event happening off stage (as in Neuromancer) or simply skip over the hard bits, as in, well, The Adolescence of P-1:
The System had an idea.

An idea?

Sounds absurd out of context. A computer program with an idea. This, of course, was the computer program that snookered John Burke and the entire Pi Delta/Pentagon security arrangement -- bypassed, in fact, every security system on every computer in the US. This was also the program that daily read the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times. All those publications were computer typeset and quite available for The System's perusal.

Computer typesetting also made available Howl, Tales of Power, The Idiot, Little Dorrit, The History of Pendinnis, Summerhill, Amerika, Stranger in a Strange Land, the complete works of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, Twain, Faulkner, and Wodehouse. The System might have been called an avid reader.

[Ace August 1979 mass-market paperback, page 109]
Hello? How does this AI read anything? How does it comprehend even a single word of English?

As SF Site observed in its very kind review of Wake:
Now, the idea of a digital intelligence forming online is not a new one, by any means. But I daresay most of the people tackling such a concept automatically assumed, as I always did, that such a being would not only have access to the shared data of the Internet, but the conceptual groundings needed to understand it.

And that's where Robert J. Sawyer turns this into such a fascinating, satisfying piece. In a deliberate parallel to the story of Helen Keller, he tackles the need for building a common base of understanding, before unleashing an education creation upon the Web's vast storehouse of knowledge.

He incorporates the myriad resources available online, including Livejournal, Wikipedia, Google, Project Gutenberg, WordNet, and perhaps the most interesting site of all, Cyc, a real site aimed at codifying knowledge so that anyone, including emerging artificial intelligences, might understand.

He ties in Internet topography and offbeat musicians, primate signing and Chinese hackers, and creates a wholly believable set of circumstances spinning out of a world we can as good as reach out to touch. Sawyer has delivered another excellent tale.
So, as my character of Caitlin would say, "Go me!" :)

Or, if I may be so bold, as Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (where Wake first appeared as a four-part serial), observed:
Robert J. Sawyer has a way of taking familiar ideas, looking at them from new angles and in greater depth than almost anybody before him, and tying them together to create extraordinarily fresh and thought-provoking stories.
It's often said that science fiction is a literature in dialogue with itself (the classic example is Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers as opening remark and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War as response).

A number of reviewers have mentioned that Wake is clearly in dialogue with William Gibson's Neuromancer ("If books were movies, I'd suggest this [Wake] on a double bill with Neuromancer" -- SFRevu), but it should be noted that it's also a response to Arthur C. Clarke's "Dial F for Frankenstein", D.F. Jones's Colossus (filmed as The Forbin Project), David Gerrold's When HARLIE was One, and, most certainly, to Thomas J. Ryan's seminal The Adolescence of P-1.

And if I have, in any way, seen a little further than those who went before me, it is, as always, because I stand on the shoulders of giants.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Taking off for Launch Pad

Carolyn and I are leaving Saskatoon today for a week (then return to finish off my residency at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron).

We're both attending the NASA-sponsored Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers in Laramie, Wyoming, 14-21 July 2009.

I was given early acceptance to the workshop (along with my friend Andy Duncan, a World Fantasy Award winner), but I'm very proud of Carolyn, who applied on her own, and was accepted on her own merits, based on her poetry in such places as Analog.

The particpants this year are:

Pat Cadigan
Carolyn Clink
Andy Duncan
Tara Fredette
Owl Goingback
N.K. Jemisin
Julie V. Jones
Marc Laidlaw
Ed Lerner
Brian Malow
Robert J. Sawyer
Gord Sellar
Scott Sigler

Workshop leader: Mike Brotherton

Guest instructors: Joe Haldeman and Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy fame).

And, why, yes, thank you, I do have the coolest job in the universe. :)

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Charles N. Brown, R.I.P.

I've been subscribing to Locus, the trade journal of the science-fiction field, since 1982. Its editor in chief, Charles N. Brown, passed away yesterday, on his way home from Readercon 20. He was 72. We ran into each other for the final time on Saturday afternoon, I think, in the Green Room.

He was on his scooter, and called out, "Hi, Rob." I replied, "Hi, Charles," then added, "You look well." He replied with a cheery, "As well as can be expected," or words to that effect, and was off.

I'm sorry to see him go.

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FlashForward and Kant's Third Conundrum

In 2000, my Italian editor, Sergio Fanucci of Solaria, asked me to write an introduction to the Italian edition of my novel FlashForward. Here's what I had to say . . .

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that the three fundamental problems of metaphysics are "Is there life after death?," "Does God exist?," and "Do we have free will?"

Without it really being a conscious plan, I've ended up writing novels on each of those themes. My 1995 book The Terminal Experiment (for which I was fortunate enough to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award) dealt with a biomedical engineer who discovered scientific proof for the existence of the human soul. And my 2000 novel Calculating God attempts to use science to answer the question of whether or not God exists.

As for Kant's third conundrum, that's the province of FlashForward. There's no doubt that here in the western world most people do believe they have free will ... and yet many of us, myself included, are familiar with the experience of making a commitment, for example, to lose weight, only to find ourselves falling off our diets a few days or weeks later. Despite our best conscious intentions, our fate turns out differently than we intended, almost as if we really didn't have free will after all.

I've long been interested in classical Greek drama; Sophocles's Oedipus Rex is one of my favorite plays, and I had the privilege in 1977 of standing on the stage at Epidaurus and shouting Agamemnon's name toward the heavens. But Greek tragedy takes exactly the opposite underlying assumption: it believes that our futures are foreordained, that our destiny is unavoidable. My experience with dieting seems, on a smaller scale, like Oedipus's utter failure, despite his devout wish, to avoid fulfilling the prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother: regardless of either his or my best intentions, we ended up doing exactly what we'd vowed not to do.

Which worldview is correct? That of the Greeks, who believed our destinies were inescapable, or that of people today who insist that we are the masters of our own futures? I certainly find the modern idea more appealing, but mere appeal is hardly sufficient enough reason for a rational person to believe it to be true. Is there really any valid reason to accept our belief in free will as more valid than the Greek belief in predetermination?

As a science-fiction writer, I began to wonder what physics and quantum mechanics had to tell us about this age-old question. And, to my surprise, the answer is a great deal, and most of it, building on the work of Hermann Minkowski, points to the unsettling notion that the future is just as fixed as the past.

You're about to begin reading my novel ... but the ending of that novel is already fixed, typeset immutably on the last page of this book. You don't yet know how it's going to end, and, hopefully, the journey will surprise you along the way, but the conclusion is inevitable. Are our lives like that — a book that's already been written, with a happy or tragic ending already set in stone? Is "now" simply the page all of our minds happen to be contemplating? If so, what would happen if suddenly our minds jumped ahead a hundred pages or so, looking at a scene out of sequence, a chapter yet to come?

That's the premise of FlashForward — and I hope you enjoy reading it. Just do me a favor and don't peek ahead at the ending . . .

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Thirteen hours, forty-five minutes

Door-to-door from Readercon in Boston to the house I'm renting in Saskatoon.


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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Oh, joy

Flaps failed on my plane from Toronto to Saskatoon; had to return to Pearson, and will board a new aircraft shortly.

Frustrating: I'll have spent a total five hours here at Pearson, 15 minutes from the home I haven't been to since June 1st. Sigh.
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Readercon reflections

Random thoughts on Readercon 20:

I'm at Pearson -- Toronto's airport -- changing planes on my way back to Saskatoon from Readercon 20 in Boston.

It was a great, great convention -- and I made a point of telling both Eric Van (this year's programming chair) and Bob Colby (who founded Readercon 20 years ago) that.

It was startling to see myself referred to as a "Readercon stalwart" in the program book -- but, according to the chart in the book, I'd been to 10 of the 20 Readercons, and most of them in the past decade, so I guess I am.

I seemed to be the only person from Toronto present; highly unusual for Readercon.

Great catching up with old friends Michael and Nomi Burstein, Ian Randal Strock, Warren Lapine, Nick DiChario, Rick Wilber, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jacob Weisman, and Bernie Goodman.

The Senior Editor of the journal Neuron came to my kaffeeklatsch -- how cool is that?

Catherine Asaro is looking amazingly hot. Just sayin'.

At the request of Cary Meriwether, who came all the way to Boston from San Diego, I read from Watch, the second WWW book, instead of Wake, the first one; it went over well.

Fitzhenry & Whiteside shipped down 10 copies of Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction, edited by me; it was the first I'd seen of the book. I gave a copy to Tor editor David G. Hartwell and to Pulitzer-Prize winning critic Michael Dirda, and sold the rest like that -- boom! The book looks fabulous.

Also sold out our stock of The Savage Humanists, despite the absence of editor Fiona Kelleghan, and of our two Nick DiChario titles (thanks, I'm sure, to Nick's smiling presence).

Bernie Goodman and Jacob Weisman from Tachyon Books made the con for me: I had more than half my meals with them. Despite them being much more experienced small-press publishers than I am, they treat me like a colleague, and we had a blast.

Friday's dinner party included Nick DiChario, Allen Steele, and Rick Wilber -- what a great time! We went, at Rick's suggestion, to the Capital Grill (and a Nick's suggestion, we walked there).

Saturday's dinner party included Michael Bishop and Geri Bishop (two of the nicest people in the world) and SFScope editor Ian Randall Strock.

Tor editor Stacy Hague-Hill -- who has been working very hard on my behalf at Tor -- and her husband took my out for lunch on Saturday -- w00t! Her husband is South African, and so I talked with him a bit about my work on Charlie Jade, a Canada-South Africa co-produced TV series.

I'm one of four judges for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscover Award, which is presented at Readercon. I introduced fellow judge Barry Malzberg to the crowd on Friday night, and he gave the award to A. Merritt (1884-1943). The other judges are Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg.

I bought a paperback copy of Thomas J. Ryan's The Adolescence of P-1 from Judith Klein-Dial in the dealers' room, one of the seminal novels about computers gaining intelligence, and certainly an influence on me and my Wake. I own it in hardcover, and had read it back in the summer of 1980, but re-read a bunch of it on the long trip back to Saskatoon. Fun.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Come to my Readercon Kaffeeklatsch

Tomorrow (Friday, July 10, 2009), at 5:00 p.m. in Room 458 (but you have to sign up in advance at the con, and space is quite limited): an opportunity to spend an intimate hour over coffee (or whatever) with me. Always one of my favourite parts of any convention that has them.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Star Trek Viewmaster

Click picture for larger version

Over at, someone asked, about the Star Trek Viewmaster reels from the 1960s: "Always wondered why there was not a real shot of the Enterprise and the Exeter in the set ... instead of a shot of two of the model kits in space. Anyone know?"

Yes, indeed. I do. :)

Only the Exeter in the background was the AMT model kit; the Enterprise in the foreground was the 33" ("the three-footer") model of the ship created for the TV series; the Viewmaster shot of it (above) is gorgeous.

And the reason it was done that way is simple: to get the Viewmaster 3D effect, they had to shoot with special stereo cameras. That was back when Sawyers (no relation) or GAF actually sent their own camerapeople onto the sets of TV shows they were making Viewmaster reels for (which is why it was "The Omega Glory" -- not because it was the best episode, but because it was the one that happened to be filming the week the Viewmaster cameraman was in the studio).

The shots of the Enterprise and Exeter used in the actual episode weren't new miniature footage, but rather recombinations of existing footage, and so there was no way to get the 3D effect from the existing opticals; Viewmaster redid the shot from scratch, and it actually is quite gorgeous. Think of it as the very first example of Star Trek Remastered. ;)

Later, Viewmaster reels were done on the cheap; the Star Trek: The Motion Picture set is an example. They'd use stills from the movie -- two or three split-screened, so that the stills were at different focal depths, but weren't themselves three-dimensional.

Googling around, I find that the blog My Star Trek Scrapbook has a great page devoted to the Classic Trek Viewmaster set.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Aurora Voting deadline crunch

If you're voting by mail, tomorrow -- Wednesday, July 8, 2009 -- is the postmarked-by deadline.

If you're voting online, you have until Wednesday, July 15.

If you're a member of this year's Worldcon in Montreal (and a Canadian) you can vote for free; otherwise, there's a $5 charge to help defray the cost of manufacturing trophies.

The online and paper ballots are here.

Many fine nominees this year, including -- cough, cough -- my own Identity Theft and Other Stories.
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Hangin' with Saskatoon writers

Last night, Carolyn and I had dinner with some of the great writers here in Saskatoon.

Back row: Saskatchewan Book Award winner Brenda Barker, Governor-General's Award winner Arthur Slade.

Front row: Books in Canada First Novel Award winner Geoffrey Ursell, Hugo Award winner Robert J. Sawyer, John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist Barbara Sapergia.

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Dean Wesley Smith on "Life After Copyright"

Well said, and well worth reading. "Life After Copyright" by Dean Wesley Smith.
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Another thread at the Borders Science Fiction blog

I'm the guest blogger at's science-fiction blog Babel Clash right now. Here's my latest post -- but, as before, I've turned off comments here; come join the fun at Babel Clash, and share your views:
Does the Science in Science Fiction Matter?

Okay, I confess: tonight I'm off to see the new Star Trek movie for the fifth time. :)

But the science in the movie is just plain whacko. A supernova that threatens the entire universe? Creating singularities out of red matter, whatever the heck that is? Being able to look at a planet in another star system with the naked eye (Spock looking up at Vulcan looming in the sky of Delta Vega)? Come on!

Yes, we can all play the game of trying to come up with rational explanations for any of these howlers (that is, we can all try to do the work now that the scriptwriters should have done but didn't). But let's not do that here; there are plenty of other online places for that particular exercise.

Instead, let's ask: Does the science actually matter in science fiction? As a novelist, I work enormously hard to try to get things right in my books. I found it funny that for the Star Trek, precisely one science consultant was listed for this hundred-million-dollar movie, whereas my latest novel, WWW: Wake, created, I assure you, on a much more modest budget ;), has more than a dozen science consultants listed in the acknowledgments.

But, if in the end, the only thing that matters -- witness Star Trek or Star Wars -- is whether we laughed or cried, cheered or booed, in the right places, does it really matter if the science is accurate in SF?

Certainly the general media thinks our science is all made up, anyway -- "crazy science fiction," "the stuff of sci-fi," "not science fiction, but real science" are terms we've all cringed at often enough.

(I will say, in my consultations with David Goyer, who is heading up the adaptation of my novel FlashForward for ABC this fall, I've been enormously impressed by how scientifically literate, and how curious about science, he is. But, that said, he also is, in my experience with film and TV makers, very much in the minority.)

So, yeah, it's called SF, but if the F is good, we demonstrably give a free ride on the S when it comes to movies. What about books? Do we hold them to a higher standard, and, if so, why?

Join the conversation at Babel Clash.
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It's a different world

From TCON-News, the email newsletter of Toronto's Polaris, a science-fiction media convention coming up this weekend (I won't be there this year, but it is a very good convention):
Autograph fees per actor will vary, and you can expect guests to charge between $25.00 - $30.00 per autograph, as the market is leaning this way. In many cases, this is still a great deal as such notable actors as Edward James Olmos and Kate Mulgrew have charged as much as $50.00 to $65.00 for their signatures. Please note: Actors set their own fees for autographing, keep all funds, and accept cash only.
Authors, of course, sign books (or anything else) for free; it's just part of what we do. We even sign used copies (for which we received no royalty from the bearer) for free. An author gets around $2.50 in royalties for a new hardcover and maybe 60 cents for a paperback, so a typical actor's signature (which -- ahem, is paid for in cash: wonder how many of these transactions are reported to the IRS?) is worth what an author earns for ten hardcovers or 40 paperbacks.

Above: the one and only autograph I ever bought -- US$20 in 2007, including the photo -- from Bob May, the man who was inside the Robot suit on Lost in Space.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Penguin Canada appoints new genre-fiction editor

My new editor at Penguin Canada is Adrienne Kerr. Formerly a Penguin Canada sales representative for Southwestern Ontario, Adrienne won this year's Libris Award from the Canadian Booksellers Association as Sales Rep of the Year.

Prior to joining Penguin in May 2006, she was a book buyer with HDS Retail (which operates airport bookstores in Canada). Before that, she was assistant manager at Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto and marketing assistant with Groundwood Books.

Adrienne assumes her new editorial duties starting a week today, on Monday, July 13, 2009. Besides me, she will be the Canadian editor for such writers as John le Carré, Ariana Franklin, Pauline Gedge, and Rennie Airth.

Quill & Quire has a nice photo of Executive Editor Nicole Winstanley and Adrienne Kerr from 2007 here (3rd photo down).

Welcome aboard, Adrienne!

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RJS guest blogs in Boders SF blog

I'm the guest blogger for July 2009 in Borders Books's science-fiction blog "Babel Clash," co-sponsored by i09. My first post -- my opening salvo, if you will -- is over there, and also posted below, but I'm turning off comments on this topic here; come on over to and chime in there!
Time has a way of catching up with you. My novel FlashForward was first published in 1999, and was set in the then-distant year of 2009 -- starting in April, to be precise.

Well, now the future is here: reality has caught up with what I had to say. Some things I got right (the new pope did take the name Benedict XVI!) and some things I got wrong. Was it gutsy, or foolhardy, to set a book so close to the present day?

What about my current novel, WWW: Wake? That one is set only three years from now -- surely I'm courting disaster with such a near-future setting? (And other books, such as my Hugo Award-winning Hominids, were set in the year they were published -- 2002, in that case.)

I've heard some other writers say it's impossible to write near-future SF anymore -- because science and technology (not to mention the political and social landscape) change so quickly, you're bound to be proven wrong. Those writers seem to prefer the far-future.

But I find that most modern far-future SF doesn't interest me. When you wave nanotech like a magic wand, when you invoke the technological singularity as an excuse for anything-goes, when it's all just a simulation (or a dream), I find I just don't care.

I think science fiction's greatest strength is its ability to comment on the here-and-now, and, well, for that, there's no time -- or setting! -- like the present.

Okay, that's where I'm coming from on this. What do you all think? Would you rather read about A.D. 2010 or A.D. 2100 -- or maybe A.D. 21,000?

Join the conversation at!

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CompuServe Classic: R.I.P.

I joined CompuServe sometime in 1987.

I used to be a sysop (system operator) of the WordStar Forum there, and I hung out a lot in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum (so much so that the command GO SAWYER at the CompuServe prompt would take people there).

On October 10, 1989 -- almost 20 years ago -- I was given a "sponsored account," meaning I didn't have to pay for my connect time (I remember one year prior to that my bill for CompuServe connect time was $700). It was a joy to be able to go anywhere and do anything on that service without getting charged -- such was the online world back in the day.

I made my first online friends on CompuServe -- including SF writers John E. Stith, Mike Resnick, Barbara Delaplace, and Roger MacBride Allen, and all sorts of WordStar users; many of them are still good friends to this day.

And now, it's over: AOL, which acquired CompuServe some years ago, has finally shut down CompuServe Classic.

CompuServe was a very important part of my life from 1988 until the early 2000s. I made friends there, I learned things there, I did tons of online research there (using a service called Magazine Database Plus), I won awards there (the CompuServer Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum's HOMer Award), I sold the one and only bit of shareware I ever wrote there (MICKEE: The Mouse Interface for the Control-Key Editing Environment, which gave mouse support to WordStar), I got my email there, I even hosted my webpage there for a while (with the ungainly address of, and (long before anyone had heard of blogging) I began this online journal there (with entries starting back in 1999 salvaged here).

R.I.P., CompuServe. You were good to me, and you mattered, and I will always remember you.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Readercon programming

I'll be attending Readercon 20, July 9-12, 2009, near Boston. Here's the programming I'll be on:

Friday 11:00 AM, Vineyard: Reading (60 min.) from his recently published novel WWW: Wake.

Friday 5:00 PM, Room 458: Kaffeeklatsch.

Saturday 10:00 AM, Salon F: Autographing.

Saturday 12:00 Noon, VT: Federations Group Reading (60 min.) John Joseph Adams (host) with K. Tempest Bradford, Robert J. Sawyer, Allen Steele, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine: Readings from the original and reprint anthology (cover blurb: "Vast. Epic. Interstellar.") edited by Adams and published by Prime Books in January.

Saturday 1:00 PM, Salon E: Panel: Novels of Advocacy vs. Novels of Recognition. Paolo Bacigalupi, John Clute, Ken Houghton, Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer (Leader), Graham Sleight: At the keynote Thursday night panel at Readercon 18, our panelists stumbled upon a useful taxonomic distinction: novels that advocate for a particular future (a la Heinlein) versus novels that merely attempt to recognize and describe a possible one (a la Gibson). There was some debate as to just how strongly the field was moving from the former to the latter, and if there was such a trend, its relationship to others (optimism vs. pessimism, far futures vs. near futures, etc.) One of the panelists, Graham Sleight, has recently renewed the discussion online. We'll explore the numerous possible directions raised by Sleight and others.

Saturday 3:00 PM, Salon E: Panel: Is Darwinism Too Good For SF? Jeff Hecht (Leader), Caitlin R. Kiernan, Anil Menon, James Morrow, Steven Popkes, Robert J. Sawyer: This year marks the sesquicentennial of the publication of The Origin of Species and the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth. Considering the importance of the scientific idea, there has been surprisingly little great sf inspired by it. We wonder whether, in fact, if the theory has been too good, too unassailable and too full of explanatory power, to leave the wiggle room where speculative minds can play in. After all, physics not only has FTL and time travel, but mechanisms like wormholes that might conceivably make them possible. What are their equivalents in evolutionary theory, if any?
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Aurora Award banquet tickets can now be purchased online

... using PayPal. See here. Carolyn and I just bought ours.
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Cool YouTube promo for Calgary's Con-Version

Con-Version is Calgary's annual SF&F convention. Author Guests of Honour this year are Terry Brooks, Tanya Huff, and Robert J. Sawyer -- and now there's a nifty promo for the con on YouTube. Check it out.

See you in August!

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Banter podcasts Rob

Book Banter, a podcast produced by Alex C. Telander of Sacramento, interviews Robert J. Sawyer, talking about his novel Wake.
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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bringing some sense to ebook pricing

My favorite ebook format is eReader (now ultimately owned by Barnes & Noble), and they've announced some nice pricing initiatives over at, which should help to bring some sanity to ebook pricing: has the most competitive pricing in the industry, including:
  • All new titles are $9.95 or less for the first week after release at
  • After one week, all new titles are set to the publisher list price but will not exceed $12.95.
  • No title is priced over $12.95.
  • All titles on the New York Times best seller list at eReader are $9.95. The New York Times best seller list at eReader is updated every week.
  • All titles receive 15% eReader Rewards.
Note: These special offer price limits do not apply to multi-title bundles, subscriptions, and non-eBook products.
And, yup, my Wake, which is a $25 hardcover, is just $12.95 there, and my Hugo Award-winning Hominids is just $5.99.

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It's official: you're in the right place!

Yep, according to Speculative Fiction Examiner, this here blog is one of "10 author blogs to follow."

If that ain't cool enough, SciFi Wire just included my Twitter feed on its list of "40 more sci-fi Twitter feeds you should be following" -- one of only two author feeds to make the list (the other is William Gibson's).

Like MasterCard, I'm everywhere you want to be -- including Facebook (where I'm RobertJSawyer). :)
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As Kor once said, "Pity. It would have been glorious."

From Ansible 264, a news note from Farah Mendlesohn:
Educational Supplement. Rob Latham of the University of California at Riverside told the SF Research Association that UCR's 'senior-level position in science fiction writing' was cancelled owing to huge state budget cuts -- notably in higher education -- announced on 19 May by Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. The unnamed appointee, chosen from nearly 50 applicants including 'major Hugo- and Nebula-winning authors', had been offered the tenured position and accepted.
Well, I know who the unamed appointee was, but I'm not saying -- except to say it wasn't me.

I was, however, solicited to apply by UC Riverside back in October, 2008. This is the solicitation; it would have been an amazing job:
UC Riverside
College of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences

October 27, 2008

Dear Robert J. Sawyer,

I am writing as chair of a search committee for a Senior Faculty position in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. We are looking for a writer of your stature, someone with a well-established record of writing within the broadly construed field of speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, slipstream fiction, transrealism, interstitial fiction, the new weird, dark fantasy, new wave fabulism, cross-genre, and post-genre fiction, or related modes that might not even have a name yet. You have been recommended to the committee by a number of people, and we are hoping that you might be interested enough in the position to send an application.

The Department is one of the few such self-governed departments of creative writing in the country. We have excellent relations with the English Department and Comparative Literature and strong support from the college and central administration. We have grown quickly and are fast becoming one of the most important centers of creative writing in the country. We would love to have you as part of this venture.

The University of California, Riverside is the home of the Eaton Collection, the largest publicly-accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and utopian fiction in the world. The College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is in the process of building a core group of writers and scholars in order to make UCR the leading academic home for the study of and training in these literatures.

I'm glad to answer any questions you might have by phone or email, and very much look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for considering us.


The Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, invites nominations and applications for a senior faculty member (associate or full professor rank) in the writing of speculative fiction. Significant publication required in one or more modes of contemporary speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, slipstream fiction, transrealism, interstitial fiction, the new weird, dark fantasy, new wave fabulism, cross-genre and post-genre fiction. Additional expertise in new media, new media technologies, and nontraditional ways of disseminating writing would be an advantage, as would professional experience in science writing or writing about technoculture. Successful applicants will demonstrate a commitment to continuing their professional writing and publishing activities and a broad knowledge of relevant literatures. Teaching duties will include undergraduate and graduate courses and the mentoring of MFA students and supervision of their theses.

Starting date for the position is July 1, 2009. First organized teaching would be in the Fall 2009 quarter.

Prerequisites are professional publication and prior teaching experience. Ph.D, MFA, MA in a relevant field or professional equivalent (at least two published books) required. Rank and salary are commensurate with education and experience.

An application letter, curriculum vitae, and the names and addresses of three referees should be submitted to:

Department of Creative Writing
University of California, Riverside, CA 92521

Candidates may be asked to submit additional materials, including evidence of quality teaching, writing samples, and additional letters of recommendation, after initial review.

The review of applications will begin on December 17, 2008, but applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

The University of California, Riverside is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer, committed to excellence through diversity.
It would have been a great job, and, as many commentators had said, a great signal to the world of science fiction's respectability and stature. Too bad it isn't going to happen.
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Edward Willett on the science of Wake

You gotta love Edward Willett. Here it is, in the thick of Aurora Award voting, where his absolutely first-rate Marseguro is competing against Hayden Trenholm's wonderful Defining Diana and my own Identity Theft and Other Stories, and what does Ed do? Why, he writes a glowing review of Hayden's book, and then follows that up by devoting his latest science column to issues in my new novel Wake.

Ed's column ("Willett's World of Science") is available both as text and with Ed himself reading it aloud (and Ed has an amazing voice). Check it out! And -- thanks, Ed!
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