Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Calgary event: "How To Be a Kick-Ass Writer"

Mark your calendars:

An event is being planned for Saturday, August 14, 2010, in Calgary, Alberta, called "How To Be a Kick-Ass Writer," at which guest speakers (including Robert J. Sawyer) will discuss how Canadian genre writers can succeed in a global print and film market. More details as they become available.
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Kirstin Morrell for the Aurora

There is an Aurora category for "Fan Achievement - Organizational." If you enjoyed the programming at Con-Version 25 this past year in Calgary (which was some of the best in years), don't forget to nominate Kirstin Morrell in that category.

She did an amazing job -- a job that was all the more remarkable because she was simultaneously also helping to run the annual iCORE Summit at Banff for her work.

Please nominate:
  • Morrell, Kirstin. Programming for Con-Version 25
The nominating ballot is here; all Canadians may nominate and there is no charge to do so.

Kirstin Morrell

(That's Kirstin making a last-minute adjustment to the master programming schedule)
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Aurora Award nominations now open

Nominations are now open for the 2010 Aurora Awards, honouring science fiction and fantasy work from 2009. Any Canadian may nominate, and there's not cost to do so.

The nominating ballot is here, and a reminder of what works are eligible can be found at the Canadian SF Works Database.

My novel Wake is eligible in the Best Long Form Work in English category (and, cough, cough, I'll point out that it's been ten full years since I last won in that category; my last novel to win the Aurora was 1999's FlashForward):
  • Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Viking Canada.
And the anthology I edited, Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction, is eligible in the Best Work in English (Other) category:
  • Sawyer, Robert J. Distant Early Warnings, Robert J. Sawyer Books
The 2010 Aurora Awards will be given out at KeyCon in Winnipeg over the May 22-24 weekend.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

McNally Robinson Toronto and Winnipeg Polo Park stores close

The Toronto store, which opened earlier this year, was gorgeous, and I had many friends who worked there. And the Polo Park store will always have a special place in my heart, because the premiere party for FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, was held there on Thursday, September 24, 2009.

My heart goes out to all the fine booksellers who lost their jobs today.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Canadian SF publishers and writers: Get with the program

Judging by the entries in the Canadian SF Works Database, there were all of five stories published in On Spec this past year, and just two in Neo-opsis, and just two in Tesseracts Thirteen. That's all that are listed in the wiki that many Canadian nominators rely on in filling out their Aurora and Hugo ballots.

Oh, and the magazines On Spec and Neo-opsis, plus the anthologies Tesseracts Thirteen and Women of the Apocalypse aren't listed, either. And apparently Edge, Canada's largest SF publisher, issued just one book last year.

It would behoove the publishers of these works to update the listings. Any Canadians who published any science fiction, fantasy, or horror in 2009 should get their works listed in the wiki; you can, and should, enter your own works. Come on, folks. It's a public Wiki, and no one is going to do this for you.

(Hats off to whoever put up the complete listings for Campus Chills and the titles published by Bundoran Press. The rest of you: get with the program!)

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Friday, December 25, 2009

The gift I enjoyed giving the most

I gave inscribed copies of the anthology Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction to four very special ladies today. The book. which is edited by me, carries this dedication:
For My Nieces

Melissa Jasmine Beckett
Megan Rose Beckett
Annabelle William Clink
Abigail Maria Clink

Canada's Future

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rob and Carolyn's 2009 Christmas Letter

The huge news for 2009 was the debut of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on Rob's novel of the same name. The series is produced by ABC Studios in Hollywood, and airs Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. Central) in the US and Canada. FlashForward has sold to over 100 markets worldwide.

Carolyn and Rob have now made three trips to Los Angeles to visit the filming, and Rob spent two weeks in November working with the show's staff writers.

FlashForward has been renewed through the end of the season, for 24 episodes. Rob is writing one of the episodes himself.

Speaking of TV, Rob also had fun hosting Supernatural Investigator, a 17-part documentary series that aired on Canada's Vision TV starting at the end of January.

In April, Rob's 18th novel, Wake, first of his WWW trilogy, was published by Ace Science Fiction in the United States and Penguin in Canada. Penguin Canada sent Rob on a cross-country book tour.

The second volume of the trilogy, Watch, comes out in April 2010, and Rob spent most of this year working on the final book, Wonder.

In December, Penguin Canada released lovely new editions of Rob's Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment and his Seiun Award-winning Illegal Alien.

In February, we went to Turkey and had a fabulous time. In April, we went to Las Vegas, where Rob was guest of honor at a science-fiction convention.

In June and July, Rob was the first-ever Writer-in-Residence at the Canadian Light Source, Canada's national synchrotron; we moved to Saskatoon for those two months, and had a great time.

Also in the summer we both spent a week at Launch Pad, an astronomy workshop for writers sponsored by NASA and held at the University of Wyoming. It was very competitive to get into the workshop, and we're proud that Carolyn made it on her own merits, based on her poetry.

The audiobook of Rob's Calculating God (from won the Audie Award for best Science Fiction Audiobook of the Year from the U.S. Audio Publishers Association.

And his new TV pilot script Earthfall won the WILDsound scriptwriting competition, beating out 150 other entries. It had a staged reading at the National Film Board of Canada theatre in Toronto in November.

Carolyn continues to be active (along with her brother David) in the Algonquin Square Table poetry-workshop at the University of Toronto. Their workshop leader, Al Moritz, won the Griffin Award this year, Canada's top prize in poetry.

Carolyn spent two days working on an archeological dig in Saskatoon. She got covered in mud but had an amazing time. She also got to reconnect with some of her cousins in Saskatchewan.

On December 22, Carolyn and Rob celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

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Fictionwise updates ECTACO jetBook - Lite ad

Yesterday, in reviewing the $149.95 ECTACO jetBook - Lite (currently on sale at with a $50 store credit toward ebook purchases), I pointed out that the device does not support dictionary lookup when reading eReader-format ebooks (eReader is Fictionwise's own format), despite the graphic to the contrary, saying, "Really, Fictionwise-folk, you must take down that picture; it is misleading advertising."

Well, they're clearly listening -- sort of. As of Thursday, December 24, 2009, Fictionwise has updated the ad by Photoshopping the picture on their website to remove "Dictionary" from the Function menu. But it's still misleading, because the menu in that graphic is the one you get when reading plain text books, NOT eReader books. The Fictionwise / eReader ad still includes "Find" on the menu, which is NOT available for eReader-format books.

The Fictionwise ad originally showed this menu of functions:

[1] Dictionary
[2] Bookmark List
[3] Bookmark This Page
[4] Find
[5] Jump To
[6] Settings

It's now been Photoshopped to remove "Dictionary" and slide all the other choices up the list (leaving a blank space at the bottom):

[1] Bookmark List
[2] Bookmark This Page
[3] Find
[4] Jump To
[5] Settings

But the actual menu available when reading an eReader-format book is missing "Find":

[1] Bookmark List
[2] Bookmark this Page
[3] Jump To
[4] Settings

There is no "Find," and there is no "Dictionary."

Since we're looking at the menus available when reading an eReader-formatted book, let's walk through them:

"Jump To" displays this dialog box:

Jump To
Please, enter page number (1 - 691)
Current page: 46

And "Settings" displays these the choices:

[1] Font Size
[2] Auto Turn Page
[3] Rotate

Choosing "Font Size" gives you six choices (measured, I think, in pixel-height not points): 12, 16, 18, 20, 24, 32.

Choosing "Auto Turn Page" gives you 7 choices: Never, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 60 seconds.

Choosing "Rotate" turns the screen to landscape mode by rotating the display 90 degrees to left (counterclockwise).

By the way, the ad also claims that the jetBook - Lite come with "Pre-loaded CIA World Factbook." The one I received didn't have that, or any other sample book.

Anyway ... last night I started reading a plain-text version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from on my ECTACO jetBook - Lite, and I have to say I am favorably impressed by the hardware; the screen is lovely, and the ergonomics are very good, with three different ways to change pages. With a firmware upgrade to properly support eReader format, this might be a very nice ebook reader indeed.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sawyer to present keynote at Julian Jaynes conference

Those of you who have read my novel Wake, about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness, know how prominently Julian Jaynes's famous book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind figures in the book.

In fact, my main character, Caitlin Decter, even posts a review of the book (under her online name of Calculass) on, as part of the story:
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful:
***** A fascinating theory
By Calculass (Waterloo, ON Canada) - See all my reviews

Jaynes makes an intriguing case that our sense of self emerged only after the left and right sides of the brain became integrated into a single thinking machine. Me, I think being self-aware emerges when you realize that there's someone other than you. For most of us, that happens at birth (but for an exception, see The World I Live In by one H. Keller, also a five-star read). Anyway, Jaynes's theory is fascinating, but I can't think of a way to test it empirically, so I guess we'll never know if he was right ...
So, I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be giving the keynote address at the 2010 Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness.

The conference, held every two years by the Department of Psychology at the University of Prince Edward Island, attracts scholars of Jaynes and consciousness from all over the world. It will take place July 29-31, 2010, in Charlottetown.

More information about the conference

More about me as a keynote speaker

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ECTACO jetBook - Lite and eReader

Here's my experience after two hours with the ECTACO jetBook - Lite, an AA-battery-operated dedicated ebook reader with a very nice black-and-white non-backlit LCD sceen (instead of an e-ink display). I bought this specifically to read eReader-formatted books from; Fictionwise is promoting this reader on their site.

Despite Fictionwise's ad here, which shows "Dictionary" as the first menu choice [same graphic as above], dictionary lookup is not supported with eReader files. It only works with plain text files (or maybe with some other formats -- but NOT with eReader (whether DRM'd or not).

Really, Fictionwise-folk, you must take down that picture; it is misleading advertising.

Now, here is the un-effing-believable part: you have to enter your eReader unlock code [the credit-card number used to purchase the book] for each book (and it's a pain in the ASCII to do so, since the device has no keyboard, virtual or otherwise). It remembers the code for books you've already opened, but you have to enter it for each new book.

It took me about 90 seconds to enter my name (after I figured out how to do it); the credit-card number wasn't nearly as hard, but still the whole process takes about two minutes in total, and is VERY frustrating. I have never seen a device that supports eReader format that requires you to re-enter the exact same name and credit card information for each commercial book you open.

Features found in eReader software on other platforms that are not supported by the ECTACO jetBook - Lite:
  • dictionary lookup
  • highlighting
  • annotating
  • word search
  • hyperlinked table of contents
  • seeing how many pages/screens are in the current chapter
  • setting margin widths (and they're way too narrow by default)
  • toggling justification on/off (it is stuck ON for eReader files; it can be toggled for plain text files, though)
Font choices: Arial (sans-serif) or Verdana (also sans-serif) in various sizes. No serif face available.

Features the device does have:

Portrait and landscape: supported.

Auto-page turn: supported.

Actual formatting of books seems fine (well, ellipsis points that are coded as three periods with spaces between them sometimes split over two lines, which is wrong); none of the unbelievably bad formatting errors found with eReader books on the Foxit eSlick are in evidence on the jetBook. Forcing justification on is wrong, though; it should be a user-choice (justified lines look particularly bad on small screens, such as this device has).

The physical device is actually quite nice with decent enough ergonomics, and it's comfortable in the hand.

The screen is very good -- and one forgets how annoying the slow screen change on an e-ink device is until one sees something with a similar-looking screen that does it instantly. One also forgets how irritating the ghosting on e-ink devices is until using one that doesn't exhibit that behavior.

The poor eReader support -- no dictionaries, no way to turn off justification, making you enter your credit-card number every time you open a new book -- makes this pretty irritating as a device for reading premium content from Fictionwise.

As a plain ASCII text viewer (Project Gutenberg, anyone?), it's actually rather nice: justification on/off as you please, and dictionary support. But for eReader DRM'd books? Ugh -- I can live with the other deficiencies for the time being, but the need to enter my credit card number for every new book is a show-stopper.

For those in Canada, like me, ECTACO ships from a Canadian warehouse, by the way, so you avoid customs hassles (Americans get the device from the US warehouse). That's nice (and shipping was cheap).
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foxit eSlick and eReader ebooks

I've just received my Foxit eSlick, a dedicated ebook-reading device, under the current Fictionwise promotion. Delivery was very fast, even to Canada.

I've waited a long time for an e-ink ebook-reading device that supports secure eReader format. This device does, but with some major deficiencies.

These eReader features, standard on other platforms, are NOT supported:
  • dictionary lookup
  • highlighting
  • annotating
  • adding your own bookmarks
  • word search
  • seeing how many pages/screens are in the current chapter
  • setting margin widths
  • toggling justification on/off (mercifully, default is off)
Also missing: any way to change typeface (the only choice is Times Roman, or something similar; there is no sans-serif choice)

Features that ARE supported:
  • change font size
  • portrait and landscape reading
Biggest single problem:

The implementation of eReader software on the eSlick does an atrocious job of formatting text (and I mean atrocious -- was this beta-tested AT ALL?):

Periods, commas, question marks, and other punctuation wrap on their own to the beginning of new lines:
end of sentence
. Beginning of next

Or this sentence
, which has a comma

? That looks odd.
A phrase like "A U.S. senator" ends up as:
.S. senator
Also, line breaks are allowed after opening quotation marks:
"And so," he said, "
it's time to say hello."
Incredibly, line breaks are allowed after apostrophes within words:
I really don'
t know what they
Line break are also allowed midword, if a word contains an accented character: the o in the following is actually o with an umlaut:
dinger's cat
Other things that are irksome:

The middle button on the five-way navigator brings up "Go to Page" [by page number, with no buttons for first or last] which is silly (how often will you use that?), and, even sillier, is having it come up with the number "5" highlighted on the little keyboard, instead of "OK," meaning if you press the middle button by accident (and you will -- the navigator is a bit finicky) it's four keypresses to get out of it (down, down, left, center).

The software uses the term "Bookmark" on the menu when it means "Table of Contents." Fortunately, though, if the book has a hyperlinked table of contents, it does work on the eSlick.

No way to set margin widths -- and, in my view, the default is way too narrow: if your lighting source is off to one side, the first or last character in each line often ends up in the shadow cast by the bezel around the screen.

(I bought a black unit, but suggest you get white -- the crowding of the text toward the edge of the screen might not look as bad with a lighter casing.)

The file directory: on the plus side, it supports folders.

But the file directory shows only the filename, not any metadata (author's name, publisher, year), and only shows the often confusing filenames that Fictionwise assigns to ebooks, which sometimes include numerical strings at the front, or, evn worse, contain nothing but numerical strings. For instance:
A Thousand Words for Stranger.pdb
The one beginning 9780 is David Brin's The Uplift War, and the one beginning 9781 is my own FlashForward -- but there's no way at all you could tell from the eSlick's library listing. And, of course, if the filename begins with "The," the book is alphabetized under the Ts, instead of where it really belongs.


The good news is that the firmware in the Foxit eSlick is user-flashable. Let us hope a new software release, with much better eReader support, is coming soon.

UPDATE 16 February 2010: Well, they finally did update the firmware, and supposedly the problem with wonky line breaks is fixed -- but I, and many others, have reported on the official Foxit eSlick forum that the update will not install for us. The reports have been going up for six days now, and no one from Foxit has deigned to reply.
UPDATE 17 February 2010: On my sixth try, I finally got the firmware update to install, and to my great disappointment discover that they've turned the default from ragged-right margins to flush right with no way to turn it off. I'm very disappointed; this change was not documented anywhere, and, as with most small-screen displays, fully justified text looks crappy on the eSlick

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Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes

There's a great article in today's Calgary Herlad about the new anthology Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by my friends J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolic. You can read it here.

(The Herald has the photo caption backwards, by the way. That's Jeff on the left and Charles on the right.)

More about the book is here.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sci-Fi Talk interviews Robert J. Sawyer

Sci-Fi Talk interviews Robert J. Sawyer, about FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, my new novel Wake, my love for classic Star Trek and Search, and more. You can listen to the 40-minute podcast, recorded in October 20, 2009, here.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Huge changes at

I've long been a customer of, which was recently purchased by Barnes & Noble. But there's been a huge change in Fictionwise policy, and the only announcement I've seen is a notice at the very end of the pro forma receipt email you're sent after making a purchase there:
NOTICE: You should download your purchases as soon as possible. Fictionwise will maintain your purchases on your bookshelf for at least three months, and longer if we can, but that is not guaranteed. Make sure you back up your files.
This goes to the heart of two basic parts of Fictionwise's appeal.

First, many Fictionwise books, including the electronic versions of Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, and Interzone, are offered in what Fictionwise calls "Multiformat" -- you pay one price, and you get the books in all the formats Fictionwise offers, whenver you wish to download them: Mobipocket/Kindle, Sony Reader, eReader, PDF, iSilo, Rocket, ePub, and more.

The beauty of buying Multiformat was that you could go back and get the same book or magazine later in a different format without paying for it again. Except now apparently you either download ALL the formats (14 for each book) within three months of purchase, or you risk losing the very flexibility you paid for.

And there's a hint that Fictionwise is going to phase out those formats. Fictionwise has changed, again without any fanfare, the description of Multiformat books. Although all the formats are currently available, Multiformat is now described as:
Fictionwise MultiFormat titles are unencrypted eBooks that can be read with the FREE eReader application that you can download by clicking here. The eReader software is compatible with the following devices: Palm OS, Windows Mobile Pocket PC (Professional), Windows Mobile Smartphone (Standard), Symbian Series 60 or Symbian UIQ. You can also read eBooks on a Windows PC/Notebook, Apple Macintosh or an OQO Ultra Portable Computer.
And what about eReader, Fictionwise's DRM format? It's tied into your credit-card number -- and it used to be that you could go back at any time and update that number, and get a new version of the book that would be unlocked by the new number. But if the book disappears from your bookshelf after 90 days, you won't be able to do that; you'll be stuck with unlocking books with various numbers -- and I believe eReader software has a limit on how many different credit-card numbers it will accept.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

FlashForward coming to DVD 23 February 2010

ABC and Disney are releasing the first 10 episodes of FlashForward, the TV series based on my novel of the same name, on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 (Region 1 DVDs, wide-screen). Included:
  1. No More Good Days
  2. White To Play
  3. 137 Sekunden
  4. Black Swan
  5. Gimme Some Truth
  6. Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
  7. The Gift
  8. Playing Cards with Coyote
  9. Believe
  10. A561984
Just in time for your own catch-up marathon before the series returns to broadcast TV on Thursday, March 4, 2010.
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Boneheaded Facebook anti-creation-science petition

I've written before about how the skeptical movement has all the PR savvy of the New Coke team (and how they end up making people who otherwise might be sympathetic to their position simply find them unpleasant and unlikable).

Here's another such boneheaded move: a new Facebook group entitled, Can we find 10.000.000 people that oppose "Creation Science" by 25 Dec?

Nothing wrong with a petition of people who oppose so-called creation science, of course, but why, oh, why, make the deadline for the petition Christmas day? There are hundreds of millions of Christians who don't subscribe to creation science, so why pin this protest to one of their most important holidays?

A positive approach might have been: Let's start the new year -- and the new decade -- on a rational note with 10,000,000 people standing up and saying "No" to Creation Science.

But no. Despite the Facebook group claiming, "This is not an issue of whether or not you believe in God, it’s an issue of addressing the future of education in the U.S. and the rest of the world," they tie it into a religious holiday (and one that has nothing to do with Genesis, for that matter).

Once again, the self-styled Brights aren't the brightest bulbs on the tree ...

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Canadian editions of The Terminal Experiment and Illegal Alien

In stores now across Canada: new premium mass-market paperback editions from Penguin Canada of the Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment and the Seiun Award-winning Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer. (For American readers, Ace Science Fiction recently acquired reprint rights to these titles, and will be doing their own editions later.)

The Globe and Mail on The Terminal Experiment: "A terrific mix of science, technological derring-do, and murder. A great story; a crackerjack novel."

The Globe and Mail on Illegal Alien: "This is one fine courtroom drama, with enough twists in the plot to keep any mystery fan flipping the pages; it puts Perry Mason and John Grisham to shame. The novel is far too good to attempt to summarize; let's just say that Sawyer delves into all sorts of strange and wonderful conflicts, including the war between science and belief, and just what God may or may not be. Illegal Alien is the best Canadian mystery of the year."

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Book Reviews with Simon Mayo on BBC 5

Tomorrow -- Thursday, December 17, 2009 -- at 10:00 a.m. Eastern / 3:00 p.m. GMT, authors Robert J. Sawyer (FlashForward) and Michael Morpurgo (The Kites are Flying) will be the guests on Book Reviews with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live (and a podcast will eventually be available here).

I just finished reading Michael's book today, by the way; it's a very touching children's story about the Palestine situation; brought tears to my eyes as I tried to describe it to Carolyn.

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311-page free holiday book sampler: Sawyer, Hamilton, Doctorow, 9 more!

Books make terrific holiday gifts, but finding perfect books for friends and family can be a time-consuming challenge. If only if the bookstore could come to us.

Thats the idea behind this In the Nick of Time! holiday sampler PDF. Inside are excerpts from a dozen new novels and nonfiction books by these bestselling authors, successful entrepreneurs, and wickedly talented storytellers:DOWNLOAD THE IN THE NICK OF TIME! HOLIDAY SAMPLER

Spot a great gift opportunity? Order from online retailers directly from the PDF, or print the order form at the end of the document and present it to your local bookseller. Helpful staff will find what youre looking for.

From high adventure to savvy business advice, youll find something special for the special someones on your holiday list — including you. You’re also welcome to share this free sampler with friends and family. Click here to download the In The Nick of Time! holiday sampler — and have the happiest of holidays!
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My new local pub

I have a nice new pub in my neighbourhood, in a renovated, century-old house. Been there twice now (both times with Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist Nick DiChario), and both times it's been very good.

If you also live in Mississauga, give 'em a try -- a new business has a hard time getting a foothold in this economy, and I'd like to see them stick around: Scruffy's Irish Pub, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
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Free Microsoft-compatible office suite

A year ago, the fine folks at SoftMaker in Germany were giving away their terrific SoftMaker Office Suite 2006 for free; I blogged about it here. They're repeating the offer -- except this time it's the newer SoftMaker Office Suite 2008 that's free. It's well worth grabbing -- and SoftMaker makes a donation to charity for each download. (This isn't their latest version; that's SoftMaker Office Suite 2010, and it costs money.)

For WordStar users like me, the included TextMaker wordprocessor optionally supports the WordStar keyboard interface. Just select Tools, Customize, Keyboard Mappings and switch from "Default" (Word-like) to "Classic" (WordStar-like).
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peter de Jager receives Lifeboat Foundation's Guardian Award

I am a proud member of the Advisory Boards of the Lifeboat Foundation, which is dedicated to ensuring that humanity survive the advent of artificial intelligence and other perils. In that capacity, I was asked to nominate a potential recipient for the organization's highest honour, the Guardian Award. I submitted this nomination:
On this tenth anniversary of Y2K, I nominate Peter de Jager, who wrote the seminal article "Doomsday 2000" for ComputerWorld magazine, which first alerted the world to the potential disaster that might have occurred on January 1, 2000, and mobilized the world to take the steps necessary to avoid that fate. The Lifeboat Foundation would do well to honor this man, and this example of how foresight and preparedness can indeed avert catastrophe as technology marches ahead.
I am thrilled to report that the Lifeboat Foundation has taken my recommendation and today bestowed the Guardian Award on Peter de Jager of Brampton, Ontario, Canada. You can read the press release here.

I've long been pushing for Peter to get the recognition he deserves. In my 2007 Hugo Award-nominated novel Rollback, my characters discuss his work (Chapter 7):
Don and Sarah had had another discussion about SETI, a year before the original Sigma Draconis signal had been detected. They'd been in their late forties then, and Sarah, depressed about the failure to detect any message, had been worried that she'd devoted her life to something pointless.

"Maybe they are out there," Don had said, while they went for a walk one evening. He'd gotten religion about his weight a few years before, and they now did a half-hour walk every evening during the good weather, and he used a treadmill in the basement in winter. "But maybe they're just keeping quiet. You know, so as not to contaminate our culture. The Prime Directive, and all that."

Sarah had shaken her head. "No, no. The aliens have an obligation to let us know they're there."


"Because they'd be an existence proof that it's possible to survive technological adolescence — you know, the period during which you have tools that could destroy your entire species but no mechanism in place yet to prevent them from ever being used. We developed radio in 1895, and we developed nuclear weapons just fifty years later, in 1945. Is it possible for a civilization to survive for centuries, or millennia, once you know how to make nuclear weapons? And if those don't kill you, rampaging AI or nanotech or genetically engineered weapons might — unless you find some way to survive all that. Well, any civilization whose signals we pick up is almost certainly going to be much older than we are; receiving a signal would tell us that it's possible to survive."

"I guess," Don said. They'd come to where Betty Ann Drive crossed Senlac Road, and they turned right. Senlac had sidewalks, but Betty Ann didn't.

"For sure," she replied. "It's the ultimate in Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. Just detecting it, even if we don't understand it, tells us the most important thing ever."

He considered that. "You know, we should have Peter de Jager over sometime soon. I haven't played go in ages; Peter always likes a game."

She sounded irritated. "What's Peter got to do with anything?"

"Well, what's he best remembered for?"

"Y2K," said Sarah.

"Exactly!" he said.

Peter de Jager lived in Brampton, just west of Toronto. He moved in some of the same social circles as the Halifaxes did. Back in 1993, he'd written the seminal article "Doomsday 2000" for ComputerWorld magazine, alerting humanity to the possibility of enormous computer problems when the year 2000 rolled around. Peter spent the next seven years sounding the warning call as loudly as he could. Millions of person-hours and billions of dollars were spent correcting the problem, and when the sun rose on Saturday, January 1, 2000, no disasters occurred: airplanes kept flying, money stored electronically in banks didn't suddenly disappear, and so on.

But did Peter de Jager get thanked? No. Instead, he was excoriated. He was a charlatan, said some, including Canada's National Post, in a year-end summation of the events of 2000 — and their proof was that nothing had gone wrong.

Don and Sarah were passing Willowdale Middle School now, where Carl was just finishing grade eight. "But what's Y2K got to do with the aliens not signaling their existence?" she asked.

"Maybe they understand how dangerous it would be for us to know that some races did manage to survive technological adolescence. We got through Y2K because of lots of really hard work by really dedicated people, but once we were through it, we assumed that we would have gotten through it regardless. Surviving into the year 2000 was taken as — what was your phrase? — `an existence proof' that such survival had been inevitable. Well, detecting alien races who've survived technological adolescence would be taken the same way. Instead of us thinking it was very difficult to survive the stage we're going through, we'd see it as a cakewalk. They survived it, so surely we will, too."
The National Post article I referred to is real; I sent in a letter to the editor about it (which was published as the lead letter in the December 26, 2000, edition):
I was appalled by the snotty tone in Christopher Shulgan's profile of computer expert Peter de Jager ("The sky fell on him," Saturday, December 23, 2000). The Y2K computer problem was very, very real, and credit for disaster being averted rightly belongs to de Jager. Instead of cheapjack potshots, Canada -- and the world -- should be honouring this man. He surely deserves the Order of Canada for his tireless, selfless work; indeed, he should be lauded as one of the most important Canadians of the twentieth century -- because without his efforts, there was a real possibility that we wouldn't all be here to enjoy the twenty-first.
And now, at last, Peter is getting some of the credit he's due. Congratulations, Peter!

Winners to date of the Guardian Award:

2009: Peter de Jager
2008: Stephen Hawking
2007: James Martin
2006: Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Bill Joy
2005: Ray Kurzweil
2004: Sir Martin Rees
2003: Prince Charles
2002: Warren Buffett
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RJS on Twitter

Just FYI, I'm also on Twitter as RobertJSawyer.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

New edition of Starplex coming in March 2010

Red Deer Press (a Fitzhenry & Whiteside Company) is re-issuing my 1996 novel Starplex in trade paperback in March 2010. Starplex won the Aurora Award, and was the only novel of its year to be nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula. The cover for the new edition is shown above.

More about Starplex
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Best SF&F of -- 1999!

Here's an interesting historical artifact: Barnes and Noble's list of the top science fiction and fantasy books of the year -- from 10 years ago: Best SF&F of 1999
  1. Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon
  2. Neil Gaiman, Stardust
  3. Robert J. Sawyer, Flashforward
  4. Michael Crichton, Timeline
  5. Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow
  6. Elizabeth Haydon, Rhapsody
  7. Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, Dune: House Atreides
  8. Brian Jacques, Marlfox: A Tale from Redwall
  9. L.E. Modesitt Jr., Gravity Dreams
  10. Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium
  11. George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
  12. Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky
  13. Richard Bowes, Minions of the Moon
  14. Elizabeth Hand, Black Light
  15. Frank M. Robinson, Waiting
  16. Terry Goodkind, Soul of the Fire
  17. Ken MacLeod, The Cassini Division
  18. Brendan DuBois, Resurrection Day
  19. Ben Bova, Return to Mars
  20. Sean McMullen, Souls in the Great Machine
  21. Thomas Harlan, The Shadow of Ararat
More about FlashForward and the ABC TV series based on it is here.
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String Theory for Dummies

Recently, I blogged about the new anthology Women of the Apocalypse, containing wonderful stories by my writing students Eileen Bell and Ryan T. McFadden. I said that nothing gives me more joy than when my students do well.

Now, to my delight, another of my students has a book out: Andrew Zimmerman Jones, the Physics Guide for, has just published String Theory for Dummies.

As Andrew's site says:
String Theory for Dummies is an accessible guide to the most complex scientific theory ever created. Told in the traditional "For Dummies" style, the book explores the scientific implications of this attempt to reconcile general relativity and quantum physics to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe, including black holes and dark matter.
Andrew was my student at the Banff Centre (in the ski-resort town of Banff, Alberta) in September 2005, in a distinguished group that contained acclaimed YA writer Karleen Bradford; this year's best-novel Aurora Award-winner Edward Willett; and Kirstin Morrell, who went on to be managing editor of Red Deer Press (and its Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint).

I'm touched to be mentioned in the Acknowledgments to Andrew's book: "Also to author Robert J. Sawyer, for his mentorship and friendship over the years." And I'm pleased to have received an autographed copy with this inscription: "Rob, You get my first autograph! Congrats!"

You can get the book in any bookstore, or from

I've just posted a 5-star review at (although, as of right now, it hasn't gone public yet):
Andrew Zimmerman Jones, who is the Physics Guide for, does a fabulous job of making the most complex scientific theory ever devised absolutely understandable. This is a first-rate introduction to the field. One would almost think it impossible to make something as recondite as sting theory clear to laypeople, but Jones pulls it off with wit and panache. Despite being part of the well-established "For Dummies" publishing franchise, this book is a worthy companion to Hawking and Mlodinow's A Briefer History of Time. Highly recommended.
Years before he was my student, Andrew did an interview with me, which you can read on his site here.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is atheism a religion? Is the many-worlds interpretation pseudoscience?

In response to my op-ed piece "A Bright Idea for Atheists" (expanded from a speech I gave at the grand opening of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario), and the essay "Science and God" I wrote for Borders Books to help promote the release, back in 2000, of my novel Calculating God, a friend wrote to me to object to two points I make.

First, he objects to this statement: "Atheism is no more a religion than not playing chess is a hobby."

Second, he objects to my citing of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which, coincidentally, Lloyd Simcoe discussed in last week's episode of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name).

My reply:
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It all comes down, to me, to what a religion is. For me (codifying here in words off the top of my head what I believe) the defining characteristics of a religion are:

(1) a belief in a supernatural sentient being or beings, whether extinct or extant, that has or had an influence on our own existence, and

(2) a systematic undertaking to communicate with, get the attention of, worship, avoid the wrath of, or otherwise interact with or act in response to the existence of said supernatural being or beings.

I freely admit that others have their own definitions of religion, but for me atheism fails to meet either of the above criteria and therefore is not a religion. (It may be a movement, a club, a cult, a lifestyle, or a community, but it is not a religion.)

And I gently disagree on the possibility of alternate realities, many-worlds, or multiple universes being "a pseudoscience that is not falsifiable and can never be 'proven' nor 'disproven' since the theory itself demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes."

I invite you to cite where the theory demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes; it's true that there's no current mechanism for that, but except for the argumentative sleight-of-hand that says "I insist that this theory and all iterations and variations of it have this defining characteristic [that no information can ever be exchanged between universes] because insisting on that characteristic is necessary for me to be able to dismiss this theory as unprovable pseudoscience," I'm unaware of any laws of physics that prevent individual universes within a multiverse ever exchanging information.

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Jagster lives!

My latest novel, Wake, postulates a competitor for Google named Jagster. As the novel says:
In the tradition of silly Web acronyms ("Yahoo!" stands for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle"), Jagster is short for "Judiciously Arranged Global Search-Term Evaluative Ranker" -- and the battle between Google and Jagster has been dubbed the "Ranker rancor" by the press ...
And now a technology using very much the sort of system I described for Jagster is being employed in the UK to search to gauge the degree of online piracy. (I make no comment here about the ethics of what's happening the UK, but the technique of actually analyzing every packet in the datastream to determine who is looking at what is very similar to the technique I proposed for Jagster.)

Read about it at The Register and New Scientist.

(Seekrit RJS trivia: I really named Jagster in honour of my great friend, Hugo-nominated SF writer James Alan Gardner, whom I often affectionately call "The Jagster.")

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Op-ed piece in today's Ottawa Citizen: Science decade in review

Today's (Wednesday, December 9, 2009) Ottawa Citizen -- the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada's capital city -- contains a commissioned op-ed piece by Robert J. Sawyer entitled "The Future Disappoints," looking back at the progress in science and technology over the last decade.

This is the first of a series of decade-in-review op-eds that will be appearing in the Citizen; I'm honoured to have been asked to kick off the series.

Above is how it appears in today's print edition; you can read the full text (sans italics -- I wish the Citizen would fix that problem on their site!) here.

(An op-ed piece is an opinion piece or essay that appears opposite the editorial in a newspaper -- it's a featured opinion piece by someone other than the newspaper's staff editorial writer.)

And (ahem) I'll just point out the biographical note that appears at the end:
Robert J. Sawyer's Nebula Award-winning science-fiction novel The Terminal Experiment has just been reissued by Penguin Canada.
Previous op-ed pieces by me:
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Chronic Rift interviews Robert J. Sawyer

The Chronic Rift: Spotlight on Robert J. Sawyer. Check it out. (35 minutes MP3.)
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Star Trek: The Motion Picture 30 years on

Today, December 7, 2009, is the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. has a nice appreciative essay.

In tribute, I offer this sneak peek at a scene from Watch, the second volume of my WWW trilogy, coming in April 2010 from Ace (US), Penguin (Canada), and Gollancz (UK); in this scene, Caitlin, her father, and Webmind watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. If you haven't read Wake, the first book yet, note that this contains some spoilers for that book.
"Another movie?" suggested her dad.

"Sure," said Caitlin.

Perhaps another one about AI, Webmind sent to her post-retinal implant.

"Webmind wants to see something else about artificial intelligence," Caitlin said.

They stood by the thin cabinets containing his DVD collection. Her father's mouth curved downward; a frown. "Most of them are negative portrayals," he said. "Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Matrix, The Terminator, 2001. I'll definitely show you 2001 at some point, only because it was so influential in the history of artificial intelligence -- a whole generation of people went into that field because of it. But it's almost all visuals, without much dialog; we should wait until you can process imagery better before having you try to make sense out of that, and ..."

The frown flipped; a smile. "... and they don't call it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture for nothing," he said. "Let's watch it instead. It's got a lot of talking heads -- but it's also one of the most ambitious and interesting films ever made about AI."

And so they settled on the couch to give the Star Trek movie a look. This was, her father explained, the "Director's Edition," which he said was much improved over the tedious cut first shown in theaters when he was twelve.

Caitlin had read that the average length of a shot in a movie was three seconds, which was the amount of time it took to see all the important details; after that, apparently, the eye got bored. This film had shots that went on far longer than that -- but the three-second figure was based on people who'd had vision their whole lives. It took Caitlin much more time to extract meaning from a normal scene, and even longer when seeing things she'd never touched in real life -- such as starship control consoles, tricorders, and so on. For her, the film seemed to zip by at ... well, at warp speed.

Even though Webmind was listening in, her dad turned on the closed-captioning again so Caitlin could practice her reading.

The film did indeed make some interesting points about artificial intelligence, Caitlin thought, including that consciousness was an emergent property of complexity. The AI in the film, like Webmind, had "gained consciousness itself" without anyone having planned for it to do so.

Fascinating, Webmind sent to her eye. The parallels are not lost on me, and ...

And Webmind went on and on, and suddenly Caitlin had sympathy for her dad not liking people talking during movies.

Very interesting, Webmind observed when the film suggested that after a certain threshold was reached, an AI couldn't continue to evolve without adding "a human quality," which Admiral Kirk had identified as "our capacity to leap beyond logic." But what does that mean, precisely?

Caitlin had to keep the dates in mind: although the film was set in the twenty-third century, it had been made in 1979, long before Deep Blue had defeated grand master Garry Kasparov at chess. But Kirk was right: even though Deep Blue, by calculating many moves ahead in the game, ultimately did prove to be better at that one narrow activity than was Kasparov, the computer didn't even know it was playing chess. Kasparov's intuitive grasp of the board, the pieces, and the goal was indeed leaping beyond logic, and it was a greater feat than any mechanical number crunching.

But it was the subplot about Spock, the half-human half-Vulcan character, that really aroused Caitlin's attention -- and apparently Webmind's, too, because he actually shut up during it.

To her astonishment, her dad had paused the DVD to say the most important scene in the whole film was not in the original theatrical release, but had been restored in this director's cut. It took place, as almost the whole movie did, on the bridge of the Enterprise. Kirk asked Spock's opinion of something. Spock's back was to him, and he made no reply, so Kirk got up and gently swung Spock's chair around, and -- it was so subtle, Caitlin at first didn't recognize what was happening, but after a few seconds the image popped into clarity for her, and there was no mistaking it: the cool, aloof, emotionless, almost robotic Spock, who in this movie had been even grimmer than Caitlin remembered him from listening to the TV shows with her father over the years, was crying.

And, although they were facing almost certain destruction at the hands of V'Ger, a vast artificial intelligence, Kirk knew his friend well enough to say, in reference to the tears, "Not for us?"

Spock replied, with infinite sadness. "No, Captain, not for us. For V'Ger. I weep for V'Ger as I would for a brother. As I was when I came aboard, so is V'Ger now." When Spock had come aboard, he'd been trying to purge all remaining emotion -- the legacy of his human mother -- to become, like V'Ger, like Deep Blue, a creature of pure logic, the Vulcan ideal. Two heritages, two paths. A choice to be made.

And, by the end of the film, he'd made his choice, embracing his human, emotional half, so that in the final scene, when Scotty announced to him, in that wonderful accent of his, that, "We can have you back on Vulcan in four days, Mr. Spock," Spock had replied, "Unnecessary, Engineer. My business on Vulcan is concluded."

"What did you think?" Caitlin asked into the air as the ending credits played overtop of the stirring music.

Characters flashed across her vision: I'm a doctor, not a film critic. She laughed, and Webmind went on. It was interesting when Spock said, "Each of us, at some time in our lives, turns to someone -- a father, a brother, a god -- and asks, 'Why am I here? What was I meant to be?'" Most uncharacteristically, Webmind paused, then added: He was right. We all must find our place in the world.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

How not to sell your book

This showed up in my inbox this evening, in my role as editor of Robert J. Sawyer Books, the science-fiction imprint for Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside. It violates two of the cardinal rules for trying to sell a book to a commercial publisher. The first is: don't query until you're ready to submit; she queried me years ago, and had nothing to submit after I expressed interest. What possible point is there in querying a publisher if you don't intend to immediately follow up with a manuscript submission if you get the go-ahead to send on in?

The second rule I address in my response.
Hello Robert,

A few years ago I sent you an email to see if you were interested in publishing my first novel. You were interested but I did not follow up because I was still working on it. Finally it is complete, and I will soon have it posted on

If you would be interested in reviewing this work for me I would be extremely grateful. If you would be interested in publishing it, I would be even more grateful.
My response:
No commercial publisher is going to be interested in picking up a self-published book unless you can show massive sales in the self-published format. So, sorry, but no; no way I can even consider it for my line now that you've published it yourself. Other publishers will feel the same way, I'm afraid.
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FlashForward hiatus a good thing

Doubtless, you've all heard that FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, is off the air until March 4, 2010.

A lot of people are spinning this online as a bad thing, or a sign of lack of faith in the show on the part of ABC. I suspect the announcing of the scheduling change could have been handled better, but, in fact, it's a very good thing overall.

See, below is what the air-date schedule was to have looked like for FlashForward, followed by what it will be now (at least as I map it out looking at a calendar).

As you can see, the new schedule, with the final 14 hours running without preemptions, really lets us get our momentum going in a way that the old schedule just wouldn't have:


December 3, 2009: Episode 10 airs
December 10, 2009: Preempted
December 17, 2009: Preempted
December 24, 2009: Preempted
December 31, 2009: Preempted
January 7, 2010: Preempted
January 14, 2010: Episode 11 airs
January 21, 2010: Episode 12 airs
January 28, 2010: Preempted
February 4, 2010: Episode 13 airs
February 11, 2010: Episode 14 airs
February 18, 2010: Episode 15 airs
February 25, 2010: Episode 16 airs
March 4, 2010: Preempted
March 11, 2010: Preempted
March 18, 2011: Episode 17 airs (RJS written)
March 25, 2011: Episode 18 airs
April 1, 2001: Episode 19 airs
April 8, 2010: Preempted
April 15, 2010: Preempted
April 22, 2010; Episode 20 airs
April 29, 2010: Episode 21 airs
May 6, 2010: Episode 22 airs
May 13, 2010: Episode 23 airs (two-hour season finale)


December 3, 2009: Episode 10 airs
December 10, 2009: Preempted
December 17, 2009: Preempted
December 24, 2009: Preempted
December 31, 2009: Preempted
January 7, 2010: Preempted
January 14, 2010: Preempted
January 21, 2010: Preempted
January 28, 2010: Preempted
February 4, 2010: Preempted
February 11, 2010: Preempted
February 18, 2010: Preempted
February 25, 2010: Preempted
March 4, 2010: Episode 11 airs
March 11, 2010: Episode 12 airs
March 18, 2011: Episode 13 airs
March 25, 2011: Episode 14 airs
April 1, 2001: Episode 15 airs
April 8, 2010: Episode 16 airs
April 15, 2010: Episode 17 airs
April 22, 2010: Episode 18 airs
April 29, 2010: Episode 19 airs (RJS written)
May 6, 2010: Episode 20 airs
May 13, 2010: Episode 21 airs
May 20, 2010: Episode 22 airs
May 27, 2010: Episode 23 airs (two-hour season finale)

Note that, because of some calendar dates we want to reference in-story, and the availability of one of the actors we want to use, the episode I'm writing has been moved from #17 to #19.

There probably was no ideal solution to the scheduling issues, and getting fuller information out earlier might have been helpful, but I like the idea very much of us letting our last half of the season unroll like the juggernaut it is without interruptions.

And, besides, if you really need a FlashForward fix over the next three months, you can always read the the novel it's based on. :)
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