Saturday, October 31, 2009

And where do the main characters on FlashForward live? Why, on Sawyer Court, of course!

This week's episode of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, not only added a whole lot of physics to the show but also revealed where Mark Benford and Dr. Olivia Benford live: at 25696 Sawyer Court. We see the above address label in the flashforward vision of Dylan Simcoe, son of Lloyd Simcoe, in episode 6, "Scary Monsters and Super Creeps," and the street name is spoken repeatedly in dialog.

Cool! Almost as cool, in fact, as my cameo in the first episode, "No More Good Days" (below).

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NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow

I won't be a formal participant in National Novel Writing Month -- indeed, I'll be spending much of November working on my script for FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name. But I do think NaNoWriMo is a cool idea. Check it out.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

David S. Goyer discusses Robert J. Sawyer's upcoming FlashForward script

David S. Goyer, executive producer and showrunner of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, discusses (among other things) my involvement with the series and the episode that I'll be writing (episode 17) in this 1 minute 46 second YouTube interview.

For a larger picture or HD version, go here.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Toronto subway posters advertising Wake

They're finally up! Penguin Canada's subway poster advertisements for my novel Wake are now up on some subway cars on the Yonge-University-Spadina (main north-south) route in Toronto.

Toronto's subways are operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). I'm in Calgary right now, but sightings of the ads this week have been made by longtime SF fan Hope Liebowitz, Romanian SF writer Costi Gurgu, and Kari Trogen, sister of former Asimov's SF intern Brittany Trogen. That's Kari's snapshot below; click it for a slightly larger version.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

R.I.P., Made in Canada

The Aurora Award-winning webiste MADE IN CANADA -- Don Bassie's elaborate and detailed repository of information about Canadian science fiction and fantasy -- is no more. It had been hosted on Yahoo's Geocities service, and, in a spectacular act of online genocide, Yahoo wiped out all free Geocities sites on 26 October 2009.

Don's site had been an enormous asset to us all, and it's terrible that it's gone. For the record, the URL for it was

Don had stopped updating the site -- which won Auroras in 2000, 2003, and 2004 -- some time ago, but it was still an enormously valuable historical resource.

Thank God for the Internet Archives. The most recent version from there, dated August 2004, can be accessed here. Sadly, it only contains bits and pieces of the now-gone full site, though.
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Warning: if you're a complete Star Trek geek like me ...

... reading this discussion thread will eat hours of your time. It's a fascinating, hyper-detailed look at every prop that ever appeared more than once in classic Star Trek. Tons of great pictures and screen captures.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Covers for new Canadian editions of The Terminal Experiment and Illegal Alien

Coming December 1, 2009, from Penguin Group Canada: new premium mass-market editions of two of my novels: The Terminal Experiment, which won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of Year for 1995, and Illegal Alien, which the Globe and Mail's mystery-fiction reviewer Margaret Cannon said was "the best Canadian mystery of 1997."

Premium mass-market is the format used for most bestselling fiction paperbacks these days; it's about an inch taller than regular mass-market (and has bigger type); Penguin Canada's paperback edition of my latest hardcover, Wake, coming in March 2010, will also be done in premium mass-market.

Ace Science Fiction in the United States has separately acquired US rights to these titles, and will be producing their own editions, with their own covers, later.
SF Site on The Terminal Experiment: "Robert J. Sawyer won the Nebula Award with this novel, and I would have voted for it. There is so much of interest in this book -- artificial intelligence, a good murder mystery, a nicely realized near-future, and, as I've come to expect from Sawyer's novels, thought-provoking philosophy."

The Washington Post on Illegal Alien: "Innovative, imaginative, and pioneering — not just excellent sf but also excellent popular literature. A fast-paced, exciting book that shows the imaginative heights to which science fiction writers can climb when they combine sf with something else."

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jessika Borsiczky on adapting my novel

A nice video interview with Jessika Borsiczky, executive producer of FlashForward, the TV series based on my novel. (Jessika's last name is pronounced Bor-shees-key.)

Tune in tonight for episode 5, "Gimme Some Truth." I was on the set for much of the filming of this one, and enjoyed having lunch with guest star Glynn Turman. (I'll be watching it in a hotel room in Winnipeg.)
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why I'm not going to the World Fantasy Convention this year

Answer: because they don't sell memberships at the door, and they cap sales for pre-registration.

This weekend, I have to be in Vancouver, British Columbia, as a presenter at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Sometime shortly after that -- but the date is yet to be precisely nailed down, but it might be Friday, October 30, and it might be Monday, November 2 -- I have to go to Los Angeles, to do some work on FlashForward, the TV series based on my novel of the same name.

So, what's in between Vancouver and Los Angeles, and is taking place between the dates I have to be in those two places? Why, San Jose, and this year's World Fantasy Convention, which is being held there.

But I can't buy a ticket now, unless I hunt around to find someone who isn't going and is willing to sell theirs, and I can't buy one at the door at any price. I understand that World Fantasy wants to keep out last-minute local goths and vampire-junkies who might get wind of the convention through the media as it's happening, but the effect of their membership-cap and no-at-the-door-sales policies is to keep me away.

Surely the same effect of keeping outsiders out could be accomplished by limiting at-the-door sales to publishing professionals (employees of publishing companies, active members of SFWA, etc.)? And surely a handful of at-the-door sales to people who obviously belong couldn't really overrun the convention's capacity?

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Flashing back to FlashForward

In honor of the release of the new tie-in editions of my 1999 novel FlashForward, which is the basis for the hit ABC TV series, I wrote a little essay about the book for Here it is.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

First-season Star Trek episodes in production order

FlashForward -- the TV series based on my novel of the same name -- is a serial drama: it's meant to be watched in sequence, and the episodes are being filmed in the order in which they will air.

But the original Star Trek (and, indeed, most nighttime television for decades) was an episodic drama, with little changing between episodes, and, in theory, the episodes could be watched or aired in any order. In fact, for classic Trek the original broadcast order bore little resemblance to the sequence in which the shows were produced.

But now that I'm working my way through the series again on Blu-ray (where it looks amazing), I've decided to watch the episodes in the order they were produced, so that I can trace the development of ideas. For the record, this is the production order for the first (1966-67) season:
  1. The Cage (unaired pilot)
  2. Where No Man Has Gone Before
  3. The Corbomite Maneuver
  4. Mudd's Women
  5. The Enemy Within
  6. The Man Trap
  7. The Naked Time
  8. Charlie X
  9. Balance of Terror
  10. What Are Little Girls Made Of?
  11. Dagger of the Mind
  12. Miri
  13. The Conscience of the King
  14. The Galileo Seven
  15. Court Martial
  16. The Menagerie (Parts I and II)
  17. Shore Leave
  18. The Squire of Gothos
  19. Arena
  20. The Alternative Factor
  21. Tomorrow is Yesterday
  22. The Return of the Archons
  23. A Taste of Armageddon
  24. Space Seed
  25. This Side of Paradise
  26. The Devil in the Dark
  27. Errand of Mercy
  28. City on the Edge of Forever
  29. Operation: Annihilate!

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Should you do a book tour?

I got asked today by a new writer if it was worth touring for a second book, and whether I'd done that for my own second novel, Far-Seer. My reply:

The first thing to remember is that Far-Seer came out 17 years ago: before the World Wide Web, or any of the social media associated with it. I might well do things very differently today. But even back then, I did not tour for Far-Seer.

Here's the dirty little secret of book tours: you do them mostly to get local media coverage. A news story helps sell your book in every store in town for several days; a specific book-store event helps sell it for one hour in one store (although, yes, the signed stock you leave behind will also sell well in that store after you're gone).

But a local paper, radio program, or TV show won't cover a story without a local angle: an appearance by the author in town is a local angle, so that's why you do it, but, that said, "Author visits town" is not in itself a news story. And that brings us to why most book tours for fiction fail.

Those that succeed do so because the newsworthiness is intrinsic to the topic of the book. As I wrote in an article for The Writers Union of Canada: "The best way to have a hook, of course, is to build it in to the book from the outset. When John Grisham or Michael Crichton set out to create a novel, they decide what issue they're going to tackle -- what hook the book is going to have -- before writing the first sentence. Whether it's the controversy around capital punishment (Grisham's The Chamber) or the perceived problems with biotechnology (Crichton's Next), they give the media something to sink their teeth into."

My touring started taking off when I started writing books that interested the media because of their subject matter: science vs. religion (Calculating God), constant monitoring of our lives (Hominids), medical efforts to arrest and reverse aging (Rollback), the future of the World Wide Web, young girls and math, the potential for a bird-flu pandemic, etc. (Wake).

So, if your second book is one that the media will note because of its theme or topic, then maybe a tour is worthwhile. But otherwise, it probably isn't worth doing, especially if you're paying for it from your own pocket.

Ask yourself this: have you ever bought a book because you have stumbled on a desperate-looking author trying to hawk it to all and sundry at a bookstore? Most tours attract existing fans to your events.

The best-bang-for-the-buck in promotion these days is probably doing stuff online. Here's an article on that topic that happened to come to my attention today. Unless you've got a news hook, I wouldn't tour, but I would do everything I can to attract positive attention to the book online.
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#2 Bestseller storewide at!

Holy crap! My novel FlashForward -- basis for the hit TV series -- is currently the #2 bestselling book store-wide at, the UK's second-largest online retailer. Here's the list:

Congratulations to Simon Spanton and the team at Gollancz, my British publisher, for getting the book out there with such success.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

McNally Robinson interviews Hayden Trenholm

McNally Robinson's Chadwick Ginther interviews Aurora Award-winning Canadian SF writer Hayden Trenholm, whose SF-crime novel Steel Whispers is just out from Bundoran Press, here.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

"Come All Ye Faithful" now a free podcast

Thanks to the fine people at Escape Pod, there's a wonderful free podcast of my short story "Come All Ye Faithful," first published in the anthology Space Inc., edited by Julie E. Czerneda, and available in my collection Identity Theft and Other Stories, published by Red Deer Press. The reading by Mike Boris is absolutely terrific.
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Charity auctions and SF conventions

More and more science-fiction conventions have taken to asking authors to donate things to charity auctions, which, on its surface, seems like a great idea: let's see if we can raise some money for this cause or that.

The problem: conventions that don't have the turnout, or don't do the hustle at the con, to actually get the fair value of the things being auctioned. (Many charity auctions turn out to be "silent auctions," with bidding sheets hidden away somewhere and not promoted much or all during the convention; others have real auctioneering, but with tiny turnouts.)

At one recent con, a copy of The Bakka Anthology -- one of only 400 in existence, signed by me (and containing the first appearance of my Hugo-nominated story "Shed Skin"), Tanya Huff, Michelle Sagara West, Fiona Patton, Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson, Ed Greenwood, and others, went for just $10, a fraction of its original cover price, let alone what it's worth now.

Another con recently got me to donate a Tuckerization [naming a character after a real person] in one of my upcoming novels -- something I might agree to do once per book, maybe -- and then managed to raise just 25% of what the last Tuckerization I let be auctioned off went for, because the con was so small.

Memo to con-runners: there aren't an endless number of such goodies out there, folks. Think twice before you decide to mount a charity auction; it's real work to do one properly, and they don't do well at small cons. If you're not coming close to realizing the actual value of the things you've gotten authors and others to donate, please note that you are likely taking those things away from other conventions that might have managed to actually raise some real money for charity with them. Just sayin'.
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Don Sakers of Analog reviews Wake

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the world's top-selling English-language SF magazine, recently changed book reviewers.

Of course, all of us long-time Analog readers have been curious to see what sort of approach the new reviewer, Don Sakers, was going to take, and so I turned with interest to "The Reference Library" section of the October issue, never expecting to see my own latest novel, WWW:Wake, reviewed there.

After all, before Sakers had come on board at Analog, that magazine had serialized the entire book in four parts, in the November 2008, December 2008, combined January-February 2009, and March 2009 issues.

But, lo and behold, Don Sakers does review Wake in the October issue, and indeed starts out by commenting on the fact that my novel was serialized in the same magazine:
Wake was serialized in Analog recently; those who read it in these pages don't need me to tell them what a good book it is.
He then goes on to do just about the best one-paragraph synopsis of the kind of book that I write that I've ever seen:
For many years now, Robert J. Sawyer has been turning out imaginative, thought-provoking science fiction novels set in the present day and dealing with the impact of science and technology upon relatively ordinary people. A typical Sawyer tale brings together multiple diverse elements from popular culture, psychology, physics, and philosophy; stirs together plausible advances in science with appealing characters; adds some realistic depictions of actual scientists at work and a generous helping of old-fashioned sense-of-wonder; and filters the whole mix through a distinctly Canadian filter.
He notes that Wake is no exception to the above, and goes on to say:
Caitlin is an appealing enough character, and the premise is fascinating: a girl, blind from birth, gains the ability to see the structure of the Internet from within. A lesser writer would go with this story, following Caitlin as she learns to deal with this new, expanded world. But this is Sawyer, and there's much, much more going on ...

Along the way, Sawyer raises fascinating, complex questions about the nature of consciousness and self-awareness, of communication between disparate intelligences, and compassion across huge gulfs. This is a book that you'll still be thinking about for weeks after you finish reading it.
Needless to say, I think Stan Schmidt, Analog's redoubtable editor, has made a great choice for his new book reviewer. :)

You can read Don Sakers entire October "Reference Library" column online here.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Front page lead story in Kingston Whig-Standard

Look who's the cover boy on today's Kingston Whig-Standard!

The Whig-Standard is the major daily newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, and the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in Canada.

Today's cover story is in honour of my appearance yesterday at Queen's University, located in Kingston, where I gave a public talk sponsored by Queen's Faculty of Applied Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, arranged by Dr. Michael Greenspan, the ECE Department Head.

You can read the full article from the 15 October 2009 edition of the Whig here, and see a lager, different shot of me and Deep Green, the pool-playing robot, here.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

#22 storewide at

The UK edition of the FlashForward novel by Robert J. Sawyer hit #22 storewide at today; has moved up to #5 in genre; and is holding strong at #1 in science fiction.

(And the book has now spent nine days in the top 100 at -- yay!)

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FlashForward picked up for full season

ABC today announced that it has renewed FlashForward, the TV series based on the novel of the same name by Robert J. Sawyer, for a full season. On top of the initial order of 13 episodes, another 11 will be produced this season, for a first-season total of 24. The ABC press release is here.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

From book to screen

Lots of people have commented on the ways in which the TV series FlashForward has deviated from my novel of the same name upon which it is based. And, indeed, in some ways it has, but, to me, it's still very much my story, and I'm pleased with the adaptation.

For instance, last night (in North America), the third episode, "137 Sekunden," aired, and it has a scene in which John Cho's character receives a call from a woman with unsettling news; that scene clearly traces its roots to this scene from Chapter 5 of the FlashForward novel:
Theo returned to his office, the darkness of night visible through his window. All this talk of visions was disturbing — especially since he himself hadn't had one. Could Lloyd be right? Could Theo be dead a mere twenty-one years from now? He was only twenty-seven, for God's sake; in two decades, he'd still be well shy of fifty. He didn't smoke — not much of a statement for any of the North Americans to make, but still an achievement among Greeks. He worked out regularly. Why on earth should he be dead so soon? There had to be another explanation for him having no vision.

His phone bleeped. Theo picked up the handset. "Hello?"

"Hello," said a female voice, in English. "Is this, ah, Theodosios Procopides?" She stumbled over the name.


"My name is Kathleen DeVries," said the woman. "I've been mulling over whether to phone you. I'm calling from Johannesburg."

"Johannesburg? You mean in South Africa?"

"For the time being, anyway," she said. "If the visions are to be believed, it's going to be officially renamed Azania sometime in the next twenty-one years."

Theo waited silently for her to go on. After a moment, she did. "And it's the visions that I'm calling about. You see, mine involved you."

Theo felt his heart racing. What wonderful news! Maybe he hadn't had a vision of his own for whatever reason, but this woman had seen him twenty-one years hence. Of course he had to be alive then; of course, Lloyd was wrong when he said Theo would be dead.

"Yes?" Theo said breathlessly.

"Umm, I'm sorry to have bothered you," said DeVries. "Can I — may I ask what your own vision showed?"

Theo let out air. "I didn't have one," he said.

"Oh. Oh, I am sorry to hear that. But — well, then, I guess it wasn't a mistake."

"What wasn't a mistake?"

"My own vision. I was here, in my home, in Johannesburg, reading the newspaper over dinner — except it wasn't on newsprint. It was on this thing that looked like a flat plastic sheet; some sort of computerized reader screen, I think. Anyway, the article I was reading happened to be — well, I'm sorry there's no other way to say it. It was about your death."

Theo had once read a Lord Dunsany story about a man who fervently wished to see tomorrow's newspaper today, and when he finally got his wish, was stunned to discover it contained his own obituary. The shock of seeing that was enough to kill him, news which would of course be reported in the next day's edition. That was it; that was all — a zinger, a punch line. But this ... this wasn't tomorrow's paper; it was a paper two decades hence.

"My death," repeated Theo, as though those two words had somehow been missed in his English classes.

"Yes, that's right."

Theo rallied a bit. "Look, how do I know this isn't some scam or prank?"

"I'm sorry; I knew I shouldn't have called. I'll be —"

"No, no, no. Don't hang up. In fact, please let me get your name and number. The damned call display is just showing `Out of Area.' You should let me phone you back; this call must be costing you a fortune."

"My name, as I said, is Kathleen DeVries. I'm a nurse at a senior citizens' home here." She told him her phone number. "But, really, I'm glad to pay for the call. Honestly, I don't want anything from you, and I'm not trying to trick you. But, well — look, I see people die all the time. We lose about one a week here at the home, but they're mostly in their eighties or nineties or even their hundreds. But you — you're going to be just forty-eight when you die, and that's way too young. I thought by calling you up, by letting you know, maybe you could somehow prevent your own death."

Theo was quiet for several seconds, then, "So, does the — the obituary say what I died of?" For one bizarre moment, Theo was kind of pleased that his passing had been worthy of note in international newspapers. He almost asked if the first two words in the article happened to be "Nobel laureate." "I know I should cut down on my cholesterol; was it a heart attack?"

There was silence for several seconds. "Umm, Dr. Procopides, I'm sorry, I guess I should have been more clear. It's not an obituary I was reading; it's a news story." He could hear her swallow. "A news story about your murder."

Theo fell silent. He could have repeated the word back to her incredulously. But there was no point.

He was twenty-seven; he was in good health. As he'd been thinking a few moments ago, of course he wouldn't be dead of natural causes in a mere twenty-one years. But — murder?

"Dr. Procopides? Are you still there?"

"Yes." For the time being.

"I'm — I'm sorry, Dr. Procopides. I know this must come as quite a shock."

Theo was quiet for a few moments longer, then: "The article you were reading — does it say who kills me?"

"I'm afraid not. It's an unsolved crime, apparently."

"Well, what does the article say?"

"I've written down as much of it as I remember; I can E-mail you it, but, well, here, let me read it to you. Remember, this is a reconstruction; I think it's pretty accurate, but I can't guarantee every word." She paused, cleared her throat, then went on. "The headline was, `Physicist Shot Dead.'"

Shot, thought Theo. God.

DeVries went on. "The dateline was Geneva. It said, `Theodosios Procopides, a Greek physicist working at CERN, the European center for particle physics, was found shot to death today. Procopides, who received his Ph.D. from Oxford, was director of the Tachyon-Tardyon Collider at —"

"Say that again," said Theo.

"The Tachyon-Tardyon Collider," said DeVries. She was mispronouncing "tachyon," saying it with a CH blend instead of a K sound. "I'd never heard those words before."

"There's no such collider," said Theo. "At least, not yet. Please, go on."

"... director of the Tachyon-Tardyon Collider at CERN. Dr. Procopides had been with CERN for twenty-three years. No motive has been suggested for the killing, but robbery has been ruled out, as Dr. Procopides's wallet was found on him. The physicist was apparently shot sometime between noon and 1:00 p.m. local time yesterday. The investigation is continuing. Dr. Procopides is survived by his ..."

"Yes? Yes?"

"I'm sorry, that's all it said."

"You mean your vision ended before you finished reading the article?"

There was a small silence. "Well, not exactly. The rest of the article was off-screen, and instead of touching the page-down button — I could clearly see such a button on the side of the reading device — I went on to select another article." She paused. "I'm sorry, Dr. Procopides. I — the 2009 me — was interested in what the rest of the story said, but the 2030 version didn't seem to care. I did try to will her — to will me — to touch the page-down control, but it didn't work."

"So you don't know who killed me, or why?"

"I am sorry."

"And the paper you were reading — you're sure that it was the then-current one? You know, the October 23, 2030, one."

"Actually, no. There was a — what would you call it? A status line? There was a status line at the top of the reader that said the date and the name of the paper quite prominently: The Johannesburg Star, Tuesday, October 22, 2030. So I guess it was yesterday's paper, so to speak." She paused. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news."

Theo was quiet for a time, trying to digest all this. It was hard enough dealing with the fact that he might be dead in a mere twenty years, but the idea that someone might kill him was almost too much to bear.

"Ms. DeVries, thank you," he said. "If you recall any other details — anything at all — please, please let me know. And please do fax me the transcript you mentioned." He gave her his fax number.

"I will," she said. "I — I'm sorry; you sound like a nice young man. I hope you can figure out who did it — who's going to do it — and find a way to prevent it."

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RJS Winnipeg bestsellers

Fall-out, no doubt, from the wonderful launch party for the FlashForward TV series at McNally Robinson Polo Park in Winnipeg, and from my appearance promoting Wake at Thin Air: Winnipeg International Writers Festival:

This week, Wake is the #5 bestselling hardcover fiction title at McNally Robinson's Winnipeg stores, and FlashForward is the #3 bestselling mass-market title.

And last week -- the week the TV series based on my novel debuted -- FlashForward was the #2 bestselling mass-market title there.

Here are the full lists (PDFs):

Week of September 27, 2009

Week of October 4, 2009
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CERN terrorist?

My novel FlashForward is set at CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- and deals specifically with the Large Hadron Collider, so the breaking news -- just this past hour -- that a particle physicist working on the LHC at CERN has just been arrested as a possible terrorist with links to al-Qaeda has caught my interest, to say the least. See the Associated Press and the BBC.

Nobel prizes also figure prominently in my novel, so the news today that Barack Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize also is of interest.
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Talking Turkey!

Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving, and CBC Radio One will be interviewing me and three other Canadian authors that afternoon, starting at 4:00 p.m. (4:30 in Newfoundland). It's a special program of the best podcast interviews from CBC's Online Book Club, hosted by Hannah Sung (pictured with me above). The interviews are:

First half-hour:
Lawrence Hill
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Second half-hour:
Will Ferguson
Robert J. Sawyer

(My novel FlashForward was the CBC Book Club choice last month.)

Tune in and enjoy, or listen online as streaming audio on Monday here.
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Star Trek History is back online

Star Trek History is an amazing site, now new and improved, with all sorts of things I'd never seen before from behind-the-scenes of Star Trek: The Original Series.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mass-market paperback cover for US edition of WWW: Wake

The Ace Science Fiction mass-market edition of Wake will be in stores in April 2010; here's what the cover of their edition will look like. The cover design is by Rita Frangie.
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First Pluto, now the Pliocene!

Fascinating stuff from The Paleoantrhopology Society:

Dear Fellow Paleoanthropologists:

We write to bring your attention to a matter which impacts strongly on all our research. You may be aware that in recent years, there has been a push by some Quaternary stratigraphers to redefine the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary from its accepted position at ca. 1.8 Ma (the start of the Calabrian Stage of the Mediterranean stratigraphic sequence) to a level close to 2.6 Ma (start of the Gelasian Stage), 800,000 years older. This increases the length of the Pleistocene by 45% and makes the Early Pleistocene 70% of the epoch. The argument for this change was that it is a better fit to the paleoclimatic conception of the Quaternary. The International Commission on Stratigraphy ruled in favor of the change, and it was formally approved by the parent body of ICS, the International Union of Geological Sciences.

This change moves into the "Early Pleistocene" numerous important paleoanthropological horizons and events, such as Gona (with the earliest known stone tools); levels between 2.6-1.8 Ma at Hadar, the Middle Awash and the Turkana Basin; Kanjera; and some South African site units [e.g., Sterkfontein, Taung and perhaps parts of Swartkrans and Kromdraai], rendering all recent literature (including our textbooks) at odds with the new definition. Concomitantly, the Olduvai paleomagnetic subchron would no longer lie near the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary, which would instead correlate closely to the Gauss-Matuyama geomagnetic boundary. This action violates 60 years of consistent terminology, based on the 1948 decision by the International Geological Congress to equate the base of the Pleistocene to the base of the Calabrian (since dated to ca. 1.8 Ma).

Stability is the watchword of global accord in chronostratigraphy, as it is in zoological nomenclature, but this action will cause massive instability in our field, among others.

Our view is two-fold:

1) there was no attempt to obtain feedback from the paleoanthropological (or really paleontological) community, although we use the concept of a Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary constantly (and consistently); it really was pushed through quickly by INQUA representatives who acted politically but not collegially.

2) there has been a definition in place for 60 years which included historical, paleontological and climatological underpinnings; the proposed change is comparable to changing the holotype of a species (e.g., Homo habilis) because the original was not perfect, and a better one has been found later; definitions are fixed, and we work around them. Moreover, the IUGS has ruled that no further discussion of this problem may be heard for 10 years, thus undemocratically preventing any response.

We have prepared a formal petition to the IUGS and other international scientific bodies, which a number of colleagues have already "signed" (electronically). We submit this petition for your consideration here. If you wish to sign it, you may do so by clicking on the "I agree to sign" button on the Paleoanthropology Society website, where we have also posted a number of publications related to this situation. Note that the Society is not taking a position on this argument, merely offering a means for us to contact and inform you.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely, Eric Delson and John Van Couvering
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and bestseller: #66 overall, #6 in genre, #1 in SF

The British edition of FlashForward (pictured above), the novel by Robert J. Sawyer upon which the new TV series is based, is a bestseller at, the British version of

It's reached at least as high as sales rank #66 of all titles in the store (and, at this moment is #81).

More: it is currently the #6 best-selling genre-fiction title in the entire store:
  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  2. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  4. The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell
  5. The Shack by William P. Young
  6. FlashForward by Robert J. Sawyer
  7. Hard Girls by Martina Cole
  8. Scarlet Women by Jessie Keane
  9. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
  10. Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
And it's currently #1 on the science-fiction bestsellers list:
  1. FlashForward by Robert J. Sawyer
  2. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli,
  6. High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
  7. Batman: The Killing Joke (Deluxe Edition) by Moore & Bolland
  8. Batman: Dark Knight Returns by Miller & Janson
  9. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  10. Batman: Year One by Miller and Mazzuchelli

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'll take "Clueless" for $1,000, Alex

A query I received in my capacity as an editor for Red Deer Press this morning began thus:
I've got a Fiction Novel of 40,000+ words which I am trying to find a publisher for. Front cover has been designed already and it's on it's way for professional editing.
I stopped reading after that, and sent this reply:
I'm very busy, so consider it a kindness that I'm replying at all.

You're doing everything wrong.

First, you don't query editors en masse -- or, if you do, you don't let us all see each others' names in your "To:" field.

Second, you don't say "fiction novel" -- there's no other kind of novel.

Third, 40,000 words in barely a novel by today's standards; most publishers won't touch anything less than 80,000 words.

Fourth, the job of creating the cover belongs to the art director at the publishing company; it's not your job, and, frankly, you are utterly clueless about what will appeal to the buyers at Borders and Barnes and Noble, which are the ones who the cover is created for. Don't have your own cover designed; leave it to the publishing company.

Fifth, if you need an editor to polish your prose before you submit it, fine -- it means you're not good enough to be a writer on your own, and that is indeed an impediment to a writing career, but, as you've found, you can hire professional help. But, for God's sake, keep that dirty little secret to yourself; don't brag about it in your cover letter. If your book is bought by a publisher, the publisher will assign -- and pay for -- an editor to work with you.

Sixth, never query a publisher until you are ready to submit; you said you're not -- you're still having your work edited. When your book is as perfect as you can make, then query editors one at a time, explaining in your cover letter why specifically you've chosen to approach that publishing house (that is, demonstrate that you've done some market research -- you clearly haven't, as they only thing I publish is science-fiction novels by Canadians, and yet you scattershot queried me, wasting your time and mine).

Seventh, you have to be letter-perfect in what you submit. If you don't know the difference between "it's" and "its," you're not ready to be a professional writer, and if you do know the difference, and just couldn't be bothered to proofread your query letter carefully, then you really aren't being respectful of the people whose time you are wasting.

I wish you the best of luck -- but you need more than that; you need to do your homework before bothering editors again.

Please take this in the spirit it's intended -- one of helping you; I rather suspect just about every one of the 46 other editors you addressed your message to won't bother to reply at all.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Monday, October 5, 2009

FlashForward TV series now sold to 100 territories; translation rights to the novel

The TV series FlashForward, made by ABC Studios in Los Angeles, and based on Robert J. Sawyer's novel of the same name, has now sold to a staggering 100 territories worldwide.

Recent additions: AXN (Central and Eastern Europe), AXN (Japan), Channel 1 (Russia), Fox International Channels (Russia), M-Net (Africa), Orbit Showtime (Middle East), ProSieben (Germany),TF1 (France) and TV4 (Sweden) have all acquired the series.

More information in this article.

Translation rights to the novel FlashForward have sold in numerous languages. but we're always looking to add more. Author Sawyer controls all non-English-language rights; publishers can contact him at and he'll put you in touch with his agents who handle his foreign rights, translation rights, and overseas sales.

The novel won Canada's top SF award and Europe's top SF award, and received a starred review, denoting a work of exceptional merit from Publishers Weekly.

Other reviews of the novel FlashForward:
  • "Great storytelling" --Boston Globe
  • "Fresh and startling" --Library Journal
  • "Intellectually and dramatically satisfying" --Orlando Sentinel
  • "Sawyer manipulates an intricate plot brilliantly" --Denver Rocky Mountain News
  • "Unbelievably cool" --SciFi Weekly
  • "A gripping novel" --SciFi Wire
  • "An excellent novel" --Starlog
  • "An utterly fascinating premise and hard questions about free will and determinism" --Winnipeg Free Press
More reviews of the novel are here, and more about the book is here.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Rob the cover boy

I'm the cover boy on the current issue of the Thornhill Post, a monthly publication distributed for free to affluent homes and in street-corner boxes in Thornhill, Ontario.

Thornhill is just north of Toronto. I don't live there anymore, but I did when my first novel Golden Fleece came out; and I did when I won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year (for The Terminal Experiment), and it's where I wrote FlashForward, the basis for the ABC TV series.

You can read the article here, or browse the digital edition (exactly matching the print one) here (see the cover, plus pages 30 and 31).

The cover caption reads:
This Sci-Fi Shakespeare on his hot new TV show,
his love of Thornhill and why our area is the
best outpost this side of the galaxy
The Thornhill Post is one of the PostCity magazines; I was also on the cover back in 1996, on the occasion of my Nebula win.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

National Post's "Holy Post" on Robert J. Sawyer and religion

See here.
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