Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Identity Theft" novella available as audibook

"Identity Theft" -- my Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated / UPC Award-winning hard-boiled detective novella set on Mars -- is now available as downloadable audiobook from the good folks at -- with physical media coming soon, too.

Publisher is Blackstone Audio, and narrator is Anthony Heald (pictured). "Identity Theft" is about 25,000 words long, or one-quarter the length of one of my novels; the audibook runs about two and half hours.

A motion-picture version of "Identity Theft" is in the works from Snoot Entertainment in Los Angeles.
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M&M's and attention to detail

The rock band Van Halen used to insist that there be no brown M&M's in the bowls of M&M's backstage. They weren't just making outrageous demands to wield power, but they wanted to insure a level of attention to detail by the people behind the scenes, so that nothing actually important would get overlooked.

Just sayin' for me it's always a red flag when some group or other wants me for something, then can't even get my byline right, dropping the initial as if it didn't matter. It always means other details are being sloppily attended to, as well.


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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Yay for the American Heritage English Dictionary

One of the reasons I love The American Heritage English Dictionary, Unabridged, is the extensive notes on word origins. This is from the entry on "Wednesday."
We say the names of the days of the week constantly, but for most of us they are nonsense syllables.

The seven-day system we use is based on the ancient astrological notion that the seven celestial bodies (the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn) revolving around stationary Earth influence what happens on it and that each of these celestial bodies controls the first hour of the day named after it.

This system was brought into Hellenistic Egypt from Mesopotamia, where astrology had been practiced for millenniums and where seven had always been a propitious number.

In A.D. 321 the Emperor Constantine the Great grafted this astrological system onto the Roman calendar, made the first day of this new week a day of rest and worship for all, and imposed the following sequence and names to the days of the week: DiEEs SOHlis, "Sun's Day"; DiEEs Lunae, "Moon's Day"; DiEEs Martis, "Mars's Day"; DiEEs MercuriI, "Mercury's Day"; DiEEs Iovis, "Jove's Day" or "Jupiter's Day"; DiEEs Veneris, "Venus's Day"; and DiEEs SaturnI, "Saturn's Day."

This new Roman system was adopted with modifications throughout most of western Europe: in the Germanic languages, such as Old English, the names of four of the Roman gods were converted into those of the corresponding Germanic gods.

Therefore in Old English we have the following names (with their Modern English developments): Sunnandaeg, Sunday; MOHnandaeg, Monday; TIwesdaeg, Tuesday (the god Tiu, like Mars, was a god of war); WOHdnesdaeg, Wednesday (the god Woden, like Mercury, was quick and eloquent); Thunresdaeg, Thursday (the god Thunor in Old English or Thor in Old Norse, like Jupiter, was lord of the sky; Old Norse ThOHrsdagr influenced the English form); FrIgedaeg, Friday (the goddess Frigg, like Venus, was the goddess of love); and Saeternesdaeg, Saturday.
Now you know. :)
Robert J. Sawyer online:
WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsgroupEmail no longer carrying Tor Books

Holy crap! See this coverage from The New York Times.

Tor is the publisher of the current North American editions of my novels Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner, End of an Era, Frameshift, Factoring Humanity, FlashForward, Calculating God, Hominids, Humans, Hybrids, Mindscan, and Rollback, all of which are still in print.

This really, really sucks. I'm not pointing any fingers here (as Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the director of SF&F Publishing for Tor has said, "Tor is part of Macmillan, but I have no more idea what’s actually going on than you do. And yes, I’m not thrilled with that fact"), but it is an awful state of affairs.

Update: Letter from Macmillan's CEO.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Once again, folks: do not self-publish your science-fiction novel

An email I received today:
I wondered if I could pick your brain. Firstly, I am about to self-publish a book I have written and wondered what format I should choose, size, paper weight, etc. for a Science Fiction book. I have read about them being about 100,000 words and 288 pages in a 8-1/2" x 5-1/2 or 5-1/4 size however, my first is closer to 150,000 words. I also plan to launch it as an e-book once I have figured out what to do about cover art. Do you have some suggestions or have you always used publishers?

I think I need to publish my first on my own and if the publishers come knocking after that, I will take a look. Because I am retired, I cannot put out feelers to publishers for the next ten years hoping to get something off the ground. I am a later in life writer when it comes to books and I have some fifteen in different genres to launch so I have to get things started.

Any input you would be kind enough to give me would be greatly appreciated.
My reply:
My advice: DO NOT self-publish, full-stop. Self-publishing does NOT work for science-fiction novels. You would be throwing your money away.

Seriously: if you want advice on the questions you're asking, find someone who has successfully gone the self-publishing route with an SF novel, and ask him or her. The point is: no such person exists, and so you won't be able to find him or her.

Don't do this.
Update: And, of course, my post above generated the usual round of idiocy, to which I have replied thus:
I never said this would "never" work in the future, Charlie Jane Anders. You are wrong to say that I did. I said that the person thinking RIGHT NOW of self-publishing a science-fiction novel should point to the actual current successful examples of others doing that before he opens his or her checkbook. For Pete's sake, I was talking in print about the "post-publisher economy" back in 1998.

As for Anne Gilbert, EVERYONE knows that publishing is in a fluctuating state. The question was whether self-publishing a science-fiction novel right now was likely to succeed. It isn't.

You know, you guys who say "Oh, go ahead and do it -- spend your money that way; it's a GOOD idea!" never seem to be around when the poor sap ends up heartbroken at the end with a book that no one has read.
Another Update: The very savvy Kirstin Morrell, former small-press managing editor, has posted a wise rebuttal to Anne Gilbert, which I'm reprinting here:
First, be careful. Don't conflate "self-publishing" with "e-publishing" and "independent publishing" (or the one you didn't mention, "small-press publishing"). Sawyer is a huge proponent of the e-book revolution. He's the one who introduced me to e-books and he owns literally hundreds of bought and paid for e-books.

And he's been a tireless supporter of the small press. Ask the people of Edge Press or Red Deer Press or Bundoran Press.

And actually, he does not say that you can't find an SF writer who has self-published, just that you can't find an SF author who has self-published and was successful.

Now, let's define success. To me, it would be someone who makes a full-time living from writing SF novels, novellas, and/or short stories, without living below the poverty line. That's success as I would define it. And I don't know one SF author who self-publishes who would meet my criteria for success.

Maybe if you were to set your sights sufficiently low, you might be able to be "successful" by going that route. Just lower the bar until you can get over it. But is that really success?

He doesn't say that this might not be a valid way of going in the future. He said what he said, which is that a successful, self-published SF writer does not exist.

Yes, Mr. Sawyer is completely aware of all the arguments you've made. He mentors many beginning writers and many of his students have gone on to real, money-in-the-bank publishing experiences.

Sawyer's not going to end up with a red face. His statements, as he made them, are all factually true. You act as if you don't know that he's part of the push to make e-book publishing mainstream. If you don't, read his site or his blog a bit more.

So it's almost like you're boxing with shadows. You're refuting arguments he never made by characterizing his argument as something that it is not, then saying he'll be embarrassed when what he never said becomes untrue. Very strange.

So let's talk about his actual argument. Let's talk about successful, self-published SF authors, people who actually make a living from their self-published books. Name a few and let's talk about them.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad

So different: e-ink vs. backlit LED; dedicated ebook reader vs. multipurpose device. Not sure which one I want -- may have to get both! :D
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A great article about ebooks

I've been trying to find time to write a tirade about the quality failure of most ebook editions (recent travesties in books I've bought from commercial publishers: the entire book being centered in one, no indenting or blank space between paragraphs in another)

But it doesn't have to be that blatant to still result in an unsatisfying experience. Publishers and ebook retailers: read this article by Kassia Krozser. It explains why so many serious book readers just walk away from the disappointing experience they have with ebooks. They may not be able to articulate what they don't like, but Kassia Krozser does a great job of explaining what's wrong.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

United Nations Secretary-General Stephen Lewis

I received an email today from a person in South Korea who had just read FlashForward, my novel which is the basis for the ABC TV series of the same name, pointing out that I use the names of many real people in the novel, but for some reason changed the name of the UN Secretary-General from the real 2009 incumbent, Ban ki-moon ("a hero in Korea"), to Stephen Lewis, a name she took to be fictitious; she expressed fear that this would offend Korean readers.

My response:
Many thanks for your kind words. Please note that I wrote the novel FlashForward in 1998 (and it was published in 1999); at that time Kofi Annan was Secretary-General of the United Nations, having assumed office in 1997.

Since no Secretary-General has ever served more than two five-year terms, it was clear Annan would no longer be holding that role in 2009, when the novel was set, and, lacking a flashforward of my own, I had no way of knowing that Ban Ki-moon would become Secretary General in January 2007 -- and so I proposed a likely candidate.

Stephen Lewis, the person I named as Secretary-General in FlashForward, is a real person, and just as Ban is a hero to many South Koreans, Lewis is a hero to many of my fellow Canadians.

Lewis was a distinguished Canadian politician (leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party from 1970-1978), was Canada's ambassador to the United Nations (1984-1988), and was deputy director of UNICEF (1995-1999). From 2001 to 2006 he was United Nations Special Envoy for AIDS/HIV in Africa. His name has been suggested repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I invite you to read more about him and his work.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes remake

My friend David Widdicombe sent me this link. Pant-hoot!
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

R.I.P, Paul Quarrington

Great writer, great person. A real loss.
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SF novels that should be taught in schools

SF Signal asked a bunch of experts for recommendations for science fiction books to be taught in schools. To my delight, Jack McDevitt recommended Wake and Prof. Paul Levinson recommended Rollback.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Student video interview

Last month, some high-school students (and the mother of one of them) dropped by my home to interview me for a class assignment (they were studying my novels FlashForward and Humans), and they've put two videos of that interview up on YouTube:

Part One (8 minutes)
Part Two (7 minutes)

(The sun is setting outside my penthouse windows as the interview goes on ... and the image gets darker and darker.)
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Suppose Earth had Saturn's rings

A really nice video.

Thanks to Arwen Rosenbaum for the link!
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Amazon's 70% royalty

Sounds pretty good -- but note that Tor (well, its parent corporation, but Tor has to toe the line) recently cut ebook royalties paid to author to 20% of net proceeds. Which frankly sucks.

So, for a $9.99 eBook sold on the Kindle under this new scheme:

Tor's share: $5.60
Amazon's share: $3.00
Author's share: $1.40

Other publishers are offering 25% of net as royalties, so:

Publisher's share: $5.25
Amazon's share: $3.00
Author's share: $1.75

Of course, those figures ignore Amazon's deduction for "electronic delivery costs," whatever that amount might be. You think Whispernet is free? It isn't; it's paid for by the publisher and author when you buy a Kindle eBook.

And the above assumes that the publisher doesn't farm out its ebook-making to third parties (Tor does), further reducing the claimed net proceeds, and thus further cutting the author's income.

As we transition ultimately to ebooks, is it really true in a world of no shipping to bookstores, no warehousing, no physical product at all, that the lion's share should still go to the print publisher? Yes, it's probably fair now, but it won't be forever.

Ah, but the publishers cry, we pay advances to authors! True, true, but many publishers have cut their average advances, and I have friends -- names you'd all know, Hugo winners included -- who have not seen their advances rise in over a decade, despite always earning them out.

Okay, many authors need advances to write books. But it'd be interesting to see for authors with a track record (those who could actually get a bank loan), how the numbers would crunch comparing simply getting a bank loan equal in size to the advance they're now receiving, using a portion of that to hire a freelance editor for the novel (going rate is roughly $3,000, give or take), and then pay back the loan with interest from the proceeds of the sale of the ebooks? How much further ahead would an already established author come out?

(And, of course, if you didn't need the advance up front, just cut out all that stuff about the loan.)

And, no, I'm not advocating self-publishing, and especially not for beginning authors (although imagine how well an ad hoc collective of Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees could do with their own electronic imprint); the best way to sell your new book is to have an established audience from your previous ones. But we do live in interesting times.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Toro interviews RJS

"Unlike James Cameron, Sawyer seems to believe in the positive possibility of artificial intelligence, but that was just one of the subjects we touched on in this very involved conversation."

Check out the full interview.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

30th anniversary of my first sale

Thirty years ago today -- Friday, January 18, 1980 -- I made my first writing sale, launching my career as a professional science-fiction writer. All the details about that first sale are here.
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Review of Steel Whispers

... a novel by my gifted writing student Hayden Trenholm. See the review here.

Steel Whispers is published by Bundoran Press, and is eligible for the Aurora Award.
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Peter Anthony Holder on FlashForward

Peter Anthony Holder, a famed Montreal broadcaster and blogger, just sent me this wonderful email about my novel FlashForward, which is the basis for the ABC TV series of the same name, and, with his kind permission, I'm posting it here:
As I mentioned to you I decided that it was high time that I read FlashForward. Needless to say, it was fantastic!

I was halfway through the book yesterday (Saturday) when it just grabbed my by the throat and I couldn't put it down. I paused briefly for a late dinner, did a little bit of work and later stopped to watch Saturday Night Live. It was my intent at 1am to read a couple more chapters for about an hour or so and head off to bed.

The end result was I just stayed up all night and sometime around 6am I finally got to the last page. WOW. WHAT A RIDE!

I am so glad I decided to read the book before the return of the television show in the spring and I am going to urge any and everyone who is a fan of the show to grab the book NOW and enjoy it!

It's not often when reading a novel, that I pause briefly to think about my own existence, but FlashForward is a book that actually makes you do that. WHAT A READ! WHAT A READ!

I was thinking of saying "congratulations" on the success of FlashForward but that seems like a hollow word here. The book has been successful for a decade and is now a hit television series, so some sort of validation from me is pointless.

So what I will say is "thank you." Thank you for allowing me to see the future through your eyes, enjoy a good read and even think about my future, past and present in the process.

Everybody should read FlashForward and I will now go out and tell them so!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Going offline to work on my FlashForward script

You won't be hearing much from me here for the next little while. I'm going into heads-down mode to work on my script for FlashForward. I'm writing the 19th episode, scheduled to air Thursday, May 6, 2010. Ciao!

Photo: Robert J. Sawyer and FlashForward showrunner David S. Goyer

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Keith Olbermann on Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robinson

Testify, Keith! Keith Olbermann clip.

Amen, brother.
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Hominids got legs!

Tor was going to put my 2002 Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids into trade (large-format) paperback this year, which is the format to which they retire older books that had been in mass-market but aren't selling as briskly as they once were. But I just got this email from my editor, David G. Hartwell ("mm" is mass-market paperback):
Due to the continued notable success of Hominids in mm paperback, we have not yet scheduled it in trade paper. The sales are too good to pass up in this market.
Go, Ponter, go!
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Ingram now distributing Robert J. Sawyer Books

January 14, 2010 -- Ingram Publisher Services Inc. (IPS), the full-service book distribution company of Ingram Content Group Inc., today announced a new distribution agreement with well known and award winning Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Under the terms of the agreement, IPS will provide Fitzhenry & Whiteside and its wholly-owned associate publishers, Fifth House Publishers, Red Deer Press, Stoddart Kids, and Robert J. Sawyer Books with comprehensive distribution in the United States.

In addition, Fitzhenry also represents selected other Canadian and European publishers, including Thistledown Press, Hades Publications, Edge and Telos Publishing. These houses will also benefit from the increased American distribution possibilities that IPS offers.

"At Ingram, we are committed to offering our clients best-in-class solutions that will deliver long-term success for both them, and the book industry," said Mark Ouimet, Vice President and General Manager, IPS. "We are pleased to add Fitzhenry & Whiteside to the IPS family of distribution clients, and to expand the reach of their excellent list of titles throughout the US marketplace."

Fitzhenry & Whiteside is best known for its highly acclaimed lists of educational and children's titles, and its strong line of Canadian specialty titles. Just recently, Greener Grass: The Famine Years by author Caroline Pignat, a historical children's fiction title from Fitzhenry & Whiteside, was awarded the Governor General's Literary Award winner 2009. The Governor General Literary Award is one of Canada's most prestigious literary awards administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Fitzhenry & Whiteside currently has over 1300 titles in print. In addition to working with IPS, Fitzhenry & Whiteside is exploring print on demand options with Ingram's Lightning Source to bring back into print, many of the firm's out of print titles still under copyright.

About Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Based in Markham, Ontario, and in Brighton, Massachusetts, Fitzhenry & Whiteside is a second generation family company, founded in 1966 by Robert I. Fitzhenry, former Vice President and Sales Director for Harper & Row, and by Cecil Whiteside, former Vice President of Sales for Musson Books. The house specializes in geology, nature, history, biography, poetry, reference and children's and young adult titles. Our books have been honored with many awards, including the Governor General's Award, the Sheila Egoff Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, and the Silver Birch Award, among others. Visit our website at for more information.

About Ingram
Ingram Content Group Inc. provides a broad range of physical and digital services to the book industry. Ingram's operating units are Ingram Book Company, Lightning Source Inc., Ingram Digital, Ingram Periodicals Inc., Ingram International Inc., Ingram Library Services Inc., Spring Arbor Distributors Inc., Ingram Publisher Services Inc., Tennessee Book Company LLC, Coutts Information Services, and Ingram Marketing Group Inc. For more information, visit or

Keel Hunt
(615) 321-3110

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More Foxit eSlick / eReader woes

Trying to read the book The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, purchased from Fictionwise, locks up the Foxit eSlick (a dedicated ebook reader using e-ink technology, sold by Fictionwise and Foxit). You can turn pages until you reach the page with the dedication (page 8 at the default font size in portrait mode), and then the unit locks up.

Checking the same book with the Windows version of eReader, I see that the next couple of pages are a hyperlinked table of context. Of course, the eSlick doesn't support hyperlinks (since it has no way to select text in eReader books), but it should not crash when it encounters them.

It took a reset to get my eSlick functioning again.

So far, I've tried to actually read three books on the eSlick, and two have failed. The first, Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier, was unreadable because it dropped words or lines at the end of the page every time a bulleted list was included in the book.

The one I could read at least didn't lock up the machine, and did display all the text, but, of course, with the myriad awful formatting errors the eSlick exhibits with every eReader book (plus a new one I hadn't noticed before: the last line of each paragraph before an illustration was centered rather than flush left):

The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal

I see now why the eSlick firmware can't return you to the last page you were reading when you power-up; if it did, you'd never be able to get out of a book that locked it up. So, instead, it takes you to a higher-level menu, and only then lets you select the book you just read for re-opening, at which point it does take you to the page you left off at.

(That whole process, by the way, takes an irritating 23 seconds from hitting "on" to getting back to the page you were last reading, whereas on my Palm OS Sony Clie TH55 or even an ancient Rocket eBook, it's instantaneous. In the TMI department, I like to read on the toilet, and was keeping my eSlick in one of my washrooms -- but I now keep it on my desk so that I can start the boot up as I walk with it to the washroom, and have it be just about ready for me by the time I'm -- ahem -- seated.)

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Cheeky devil

An email exchange I had over the last day (an NDA is a "nondisclosure agreement"):

Him: "I have a screenplay that is written. My project would be very close to what seems to be at the heart of everything you are seeking to accomplish in your writings and if you are interested in reading it with the idea of collaboration, I would be happy to email it to you in exchange for a simple NDA."

Me: "No, thanks. Best of luck, though!"

Him: "Just out of curiosity, why wouldn't you want to explore what it is before saying no to it?"

Me: "Because (1) I've got way too many projects of my own; (2) you asked me to sign an NDA -- which means you're litigious, which means if I ever do anything remotely similar to what you're doing, you're going to claim it's an infringement, and I'd rather not have a complete stranger staking out territory in my life."

So there.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Five questions

A grade-ten student named Ryan wrote to me today to see if I'd be willing to answer some questions for a paper he was writing for school. I said sure:
1. About how long have you been writing?

I've written stories ever since I was a little boy; my mother has one I wrote when I was seven that I bet she's going to put on eBay someday. I started getting really serious about writing fiction when I was 15, submitted my first story to a magazine when I was 17, and made my first sale when I was 19, in 1979. I've been a full-time writer since I was 23, and a full-time novelist for 17 years now.

2. Here's a fun one: what kind of ethical concerns are related to the field?

Science fiction obviously deals with questions of our relationship to technology, and whether it improves our lives, of biotechnology, of definitions of personhood and who is entitled to rights; those questions are explicit in many works of science fiction. Beyond that, any issue can be explored in a science-fiction novel; my novel Frameshift came out in 1997, for instance, and it explored the exact same ethical issues surrounding John Demjanjuk and the search for justice related to Nazi war crimes as Demjanjuk's current real-life trial is exploring -- with Demjanjuk himself a character in my book.

3. Is the "phi" part of the "phi-fi" ["philosophical fiction"] always as apparent as you make it, or is it often lurking in the background without the author even realizing it?

I think most ambitious authors know exactly what they're doing; ask them, and they'll tell you, and they'll be insightful. This myth that authors are out of touch with what they're creating has been foisted on us by university English departments because it gives them a reason to exist. But the definitive source for what Rob Sawyer is doing is Rob Sawyer, not any academic. Now, yes, the author may be subtle so that the philosophical point of the story is not immediately obvious, but there's a world of difference between "subtle" and "clueless."

4. Do deeply religious characters often seem as crazy in novels as real people think atheists do, or is that just a coincidence?

Religious people will always seem crazy to many atheists; Richard Dawkins calls religious belief "the God delusion," after all. Meanwhile, those who firmly believe they have spiritual experiences often think it's crazy that others can't see the same things they do. Crazy is in the eye of the beholder.

5. The one thing that I get hit hard by most is detail. Is there a special way that it needs to be thrown in, or do I just need to throw it in willy-nilly?

There's a term for details that are aptly chosen: they are called "telling details" because they tell us something we need to know without actually coming out and saying it. A person who eats Kraft Dinner every night does so not because that's a random choice, but because it's cheap and therefore he's poor; a person who holds the door for a stranger does so not because it's a random choice but because he is kind; a room that has a musty smell is one that's been unoccupied for some time. Decide what we need to know, then choose details that lead us to conclude the things you want us to think.

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Total Recall RJS nod

Woohoo! Just started reading the book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell (with a forward by Bill Gates), and what should I find on page 16 but this:
But themes of Total Recall have been explored in science fiction for decades. In Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer imagines the citizen of the future sporting a body-implanted "companion" computer that transmits information about his or her location, as well as three-dimensional images of exactly what he or she is doing, to an "alibi archive." The archive protects against false accusations.
Needless to say, so far I'm quite enjoying the book!

(Although I do admit to being much more surprised to find myself quoted in The 4-Hour Workweek -- but this is still way cool.)
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And while we're talking politics

A great op-ed from John D. Dingell, the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history, on the current health-care debate in the United States. Well worth reading the whole thing, but here's how it ends:
Let me close with a personal note. I make an effort to treat each class of Congressional interns to a lunch in the Member’s dinning room. During that lunch, I take questions about any topic they want to discuss. Almost every time, these interns – many of whom regard Ronald Reagan as ancient history – ask me about votes like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In my more than 50 years here, I’ve cast ten to fifteen votes which are repeatedly revisited by the general public, both young and old, because they have such a dramatic impact on the world we live in today. And while public mood may color their sentiments or the way they ask the question, the basic premise behind the interns’ questions are always the same:

When history called, what did you do?

Without a doubt, the vote on this bill will join the list. I will tell my fellow members, when you explain a vote like this one to the generations that live with the consequences of these decisions there is no poll, not even an election result, that can justify your decision. You will be asked about this vote until the day you die. Years from now, none of these things we put so much stock in now will matter. All anyone will want to know is: did you do the right thing when history called on you? It is time for health care reform. We can’t afford to wait. We can’t afford to think small. We can’t afford to fail.

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The Age of Empathy

Speaking of putting political views into one's writing, I found the following from the book I'm currently reading very well said. It's from The Age of Empathy: Nature's. Lessons for a Kinder Society by primatologist Frans de Waal. He writes:
What confuses some is that fairness has two faces. Income equality is one, but the connection between effort and reward is another. Our monkeys are sensitive to both, as are we. Let me explain the difference by contrasting Europe and the United States, which traditionally emphasize different sides of the same fairness coin.

When I first arrived in the United States, I had a mixed impression: On the one hand I felt that the United States was less fair than what I was used to, but on the other hand it was more fair. I saw people living in the kind of poverty that I knew only from the third world. How could the richest nation in the world permit this? It became worse for me when I discovered that poor kids go to poor schools and rich kids to rich schools. Since public schools are financed primarily through state and local taxes, there are huge differences from state to state, city to city, and neighborhood to neighborhood. This contrasts with my own experience, in which all children shared the same school regardless of their background. How can a society claim equal opportunity if the location of one's birth determines the quality of one's education?

But I also noticed that someone who applies him- or herself, as I surely intended to do, can go very far. Nothing stands in their way. Envy is far from absent, and is in fact somewhat of a joke in academia ("Why do academics fight so much? Because there's so little at stake!"), but generally speaking, people are happy for you if you succeed, congratulate you, give you awards, and raise your salary. Success is something to be proud of. What a relief compared to cultures in which the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, or my own country, with its fine Dutch expression, "Act normally, which is crazy enough!"

Holding people back from achievement by hanging the weight of conformity around their necks disrupts the connection between effort and reward. Is it fair for two people to earn the same if their efforts, initiatives, creativity, and talents differ? Doesn't a harder worker deserve to make more? This libertarian fairness ideal is quintessentially American, and feeds the hopes and dreams of every immigrant.

For most Europeans, this ideal takes a backseat to the advice from Dolly Levi, played by Barbra Streisand in the 1969 movie Hello, Dolly!, who exclaimed: "Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around." I have seen European newspaper editorials argue that television personalities should never earn more than the head of state, or that CEO salaries should never rise by a greater percentage than worker payment. As a result, Europe is a more livable place. It lacks the giant, nearly illiterate underclass of the United States, which lives on food stamps and relies on hospital emergency rooms for its health care. But Europe also has less of an incentive structure, resulting in a lower motivation for the unemployed to get jobs or for people to start a business. Hence the exodus of young entrepreneurs from France to London and other places.

U.S. CEOs easily earn several hundred times as much as the average worker, and the Gini index (a measure of national income inequality) of the United States has risen to unprecedented heights. The proportion of income owned by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans recently returned to the level of the Great Depression. The United States has become a winner-take-all society, as Robert Frank called it, with an income gap that seriously threatens its social fabric. The more the poor resent the rich, the more the rich fear the poor and retreat into gated communities. But an even greater burden is health: U.S. life expectancy now ranks below that of at least forty other nations. In principle, this could be due to recent immigration, lack of health insurance, or poor eating habits, but the relation between health and income distribution is in fact not explained by any of these factors. The same relation has also been demonstrated within the United States: Less egalitarian states suffer higher mortality.

Richard Wilkinson, the British epidemiologist and health expert who first gathered these statistics, has summarized them in two words: "inequality kills." He believes that income gaps produce social gaps. They tear societies apart by reducing mutual trust, increasing violence, and inducing anxieties that compromise the immune system of both the rich and the poor. Negative effects permeate the entire society:
It seems that the most likely reason income inequality is related to health is because it serves as a proxy for the scale of social class differentiation in a society. It probably reflects the scale of social distances and the accompanying feelings of superiority and inferiority or disrespect.
Now, don't get me wrong: No one in his right mind would argue that incomes should be leveled across the board, and only the most die-hard conservatives believe that we lack any obligation to the poor. Both kinds of fairness -- the one that seeks a level playing field and the one that links rewards to effort -- are essential. Both Europe and the United States pay a steep price, albeit different ones, for stressing one fairness ideal at the expense of the other. After having lived for so long in the United States, I find it hard to say which system I prefer. I see the pros and cons of both. But I also see it as a false choice: It's not as if both fairness ideals couldn't be combined. Individual politicians and their parties may be committed to either the left or right side of this equation, but every society zigzags between these poles in search of an equilibrium that offers the best economic prospects while still fitting the national character. Of the three ideals of the French Revolution -- liberty, equality, and fraternity -- Americans will keep emphasizing the first and Europeans the second, but only the third speaks of inclusion, trust, and community. Morally speaking, fraternity is probably the noblest of the three and impossible to achieve without attention to both others.
Bravo, Frans de Waal! (The entire book is excellent, by the way -- as are the many others by de Waal I've read over the years.)
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Fan letter of the day: "theological whiplash"

Now here's a particularly nice and thoughtful fan letter; great way to start the day!
I picked up Far-Seer back when it first came out back in '92. I was intrigued by the cover and the concept.

<shame>It sat unread on my shelf until a couple of months ago.</shame>

I don't know why I never got around to it. No idea whatsoever. I just never did.

Flash forward (pun intended) to 2009, and the launch of the television series FlashForward. Was hooked on the series from the word go. <shame>But I was still clueless...</shame>

Walked into a bookstore near the end of October and saw a novel on the shelf titled FlashForward. "Gee, that was fast, they already have a novelization out.... oh, wait the series is based on the novel!"

Blew through the novel in a little over a week (given the limited time I have for reading for pleasure, less than a month is now considered "blowing through" a book), enjoyed it thoroughly, and have been wondering how the series (which seems to have a bit more of an action/adventure spin on the premise) is going to modify itself to fit on television - and leave an opening for a second season...

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized that the reason the name "Robert J. Sawyer" sounded so familiar was because I already owned a book by the same author... that I had been (passively) putting off reading for over a decade...

Knocked that one out in a couple of weeks too. And have been metaphorically kicking myself for not having read it sooner ever since. Then to find out it is the first in a trilogy...

I felt even more stupid when I discovered that I had read and greatly enjoyed "You See But You Do Not Observe" in a time travel anthology (I'm a sucker for time travel stories) several years ago and hadn't made the connection to Far-Seer.

When I got a gift certificate to a bookstore for Christmas/Hanukkah, I knew exactly what I was going to spend it on - whatever other Robert J Sawyer books they had on the shelf. Picked up Calculating God and Hominids.

A few minutes ago, I finished Hominids (having polished off Calculating God week before last). You've become the latest annual "addict my dad to yet another writer".

I really am intrigued by the dichotomy of the anti-theist stance of Far-Seer and the pro-theist stance of Calculating God and the anti-theist stance of Hominids. (I'm now suffering from theological whiplash. My existential insurance company will be sending you a bill...) As someone who feels strongly about the debate, I appreciate the way in which you handled both sides of the argument in each of the books. But even more, what I really like about your books (so far) is that the plot resolutions aren't so much about accomplishing something, or defeating something, as they are about healing the suffering of the characters.

As an American with a Canadian wife, I also appreciate the lack of US-centric thinking.

Great stuff! Thanks for writing it!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Politics in fiction

An email I received today concerning my Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids:
Mr. Sawyer.

I picked this book up at the library because I was intrigued by the premise of the storyline. I'm still intrigued by the concept, however, I found myself rolling my eyes at the insertion of your personal political views in and around the story.

I know it's your book and you can write what you wish, but you might find a broader fan base if you limited your story telling to ... well ... story telling.

Not all Canadians find capital punishment repugnant as you infer in this story. Not all Canadians subscribe to the assertion that Mike Harris decimated the health care system in Ontario. Personally, I believe it was the health care union workers who decimated health care in Ontario, but that happened decades before anyone ever heard of Mike Harris.

You definitely have a gift for writing and story telling. I enjoyed the fictional aspects of your book.

First, let's look at the passages in question:
"You know I'm delighted that he is well," said Singh, "but, really, I would like to discharge him. We don't have enough hospital beds as it is, thanks to Mike Harris." [31 words out of 100,000]
Mary's back stiffened. Like most Canadians, she was against capital punishment -- precisely because it was possible to execute the wrong person. All Canadians lived with the shame of the wrongful imprisonment of Guy Paul Morin, who had spent ten years rotting in jail for a murder he didn't commit; of Donald Marshall, Jr., who spent eleven years incarcerated for a murder he, too, didn't commit; of David Milgaard, who spent twenty-three years jailed for a rape-murder he also was innocent of. Castration was the least of the punishments Mary would like to see her own rapist subjected to -- but if, in her quest for vengeance, she had it done to the wrong person, how could she live with herself? And what about the Marshall case? No, it wasn't all Canadians who lived with the shame of that; it was white Canadians. Marshall was a Mi'kmaq Indian whose protestations of innocence in a white court, it seemed, weren't believed simply because he was an Indian. [165 words out of 100,000]
Singh, the character making the comment in the first excerpt, is a medical doctor; thousands of doctors in Ontario (where Mike Harris was premier) would say exactly what Singh said. Under Mike Harris's administration 5,200 acute-care hospital beds were eliminated in Ontario.

Mary, the character thinking the thoughts in the second excerpt, is a liberal Canadian academic, living in Toronto. Her views are exactly the sort of thing many liberal Canadian academics living in Toronto hold (and the majority of Canadians are against capital punishment; see here and here).

In other words, I did my job precisely correctly: I accurately captured the thoughts of these characters; they said or felt things that their real-life counterparts would have said or felt.

That said, as to my correspondent's apparent criterion for acceptable fiction -- that authors should keep their politics or beliefs to themselves -- one wonders if anyone would remember Starship Troopers or Farnham's Freehold today if Heinlein had done that, or The Forever War if Joe Haldeman had purged any parallels with Vietnam, or Catch-22 if Joseph Heller had taken out the political commentary, or To Kill a Mockingbird if Harper Lee had politely left out the whole racism-is-bad thing, or The Da Vinci Code if Dan Brown had decided, hey, let's not make any value judgments here about the way the Roman Catholic Church has treated women, or ...

Also, my correspondent's assumption is that authors write with one goal in mind: to have the largest possible number of readers. I most certainly don't do that. I don't want to be blandly acceptable to a large number of people; I want to be one of the favourite authors of a narrow segment of the population.

From time to time, my editor at Tor used to say, "This will cost you some readers," to which I always replied, "Yes, I know," and we both moved on, leaving the material intact. My editor knew, and my correspondent should learn, that authors write to say things.

My correspondent's point is ridiculous on the face of it. He's either saying I should only state opinions that all Canadians (or whatever group I'm talking about) hold (such as, oh, I don't know, it's generally colder in Canada in winter than in summer) or I should give equal weight to minority opinions (because otherwise I'm saying something that not every single person agrees with).

Me, I'd rather challenge preconceptions. If it really bothers you to read things that you don't agree with, then read somebody else; I'm not writing for you.
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Here's the right way to do it

This also appeared in my inbox today:
Hello, all, Suzanne Church here.

First of all, please forgive me if you're received this request more than once.

I am particularly proud of my story, "The Tear Closet" which appeared in Tesseracts Thirteen, from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, in September of 2009. The story is eligible for the Aurora Awards, an annual Canadian Science Fiction/Fantasy award. My category of eligibility is: "2009 -- Publications in English: Short Stories"

I would be honoured if you would take the time to read my story. You can find a consideration copy at [link].

If you agree that "The Tear Closet" is worthy of a nomination, then, please, nominate it, and any other eligible works using the web pointers below.

For a full list of all eligible works, go to: Canadian SF Works Database.

Anyone who is either a permanent resident of Canada or a Canadian citizen can submit a nomination form for the Aurora Awards. You may select up to 3 nominees in each category. All selections will be given equal weight. There is no fee to nominate. The top five works in each category with the most nominations will be placed on the final ballot.

Mail-in nominations must be postmarked by February 5th, 2010. On-line nominations close Feb 15th, 2010.

For the mail-in nomination form: [link]

For the online nomination form: [link]

Feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who loves to read Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Thank you for your consideration,


Suzanne Church

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Aurora hustling

Update 13 January 2010: After some gentle nudging by Aurora administrator Clint Budd, the scheme described below has been withdrawn by the author and her friend, and, rather than have this lapse of judgment haunt them forever, I've removed identifying details from the body of this post. However, I do think the fact that this was tried, and that this sort of thing is strongly discouraged, should be noted for the record, and so I'm not deleting the entire post.
I pointed out to author XXXXX XXXXX that her friend's attempt to "motivate" people to nominate her for an Aurora by offering prizes was in bad taste, but she is happy with it, writing to me, "What's wrong with a contest? I get stuff like that from other authors all the time! It's motivation, not bribe!"

Well, I think it's in incredibly bad taste. It's one thing to alert people to the fact that you have a work eligible for the Auroras (and it's fine to make that work freely available so that people can judge it for themselves). But it's quite another to have someone instruct people to vote for you, and ask them to hustle others to do the same -- and then offer them a chance at a prize for voting for you, and more chances at a prize for hustling on your behalf.

But that's precisely what the message from XXXXXX XXXXXX's friend that appeared in my Facebook inbox today asked, and, since the author herself approves of it, here's the message (which, incidentally, suggests all sorts of reasons for nominating her book that have nothing to do with the quality of the book):

Yes, there is still time to GO VOTE ONLINE and support a Canadian Author!!!!

It is very important that you take 5 minutes to do this!

Show XXXXX XXXXX you appreciate her an artist, friend, author, Canadian, or simply a human being!!! Whatever rocks your boat!

Literary Aurora 2010
The Prix Aurora is an award for Canadian sf books based on fan-voting. [link]

If you haven't figured it out yet, her novel "YYYYYYYYYY" fits in the BEST LONG-FORM Work In English - 2009

YES, since some of you need motivation, we are giving out three sample booklets of PART III, ZZZZZZZZZZ as a taste of things to come.

All you need to do is go online and vote, forward your Prix Aurora Awards confirmation email to CONTEST@XXXXXXX.COM, add your mail-in address and voilà!

Your name will be written down on a paper, shuffled in a hat, and drawn on Feb 15, 2009.

If you wish to earn more ballots, invite your friends, check who said "yes" to the event, and send us (or simply me) the names. We will check. One ballot is earned for every 5 friends. If they click "yes" and don't get to the website, don't worry, you still get your ballot as a thank you for trying!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

ECTACO jetBook - Lite firmware apparently fixed

It's gonna be a few days before I have time to play around with doing a firmware upgrade, but over at the ECTACO forum, user JeePea reports that the various problems I and others have reported with the ECTACO jetBook - Lite handling ebooks in eReader format (Fictionwise and Barnes and Noble's DRM ebook format) have been fixed by the new firmware released today -- so, yay! Here's what JeePea has to say:
This firmware update seems to solve several problems. First, there is no text loss at the end of the page for DRMed PDB from Second, there is now an option for changing the alignment from full justification to left aligned. And third, I think they've fixed the problem with having to enter unlock information for each book. I tried this with three different books and was only asked for the information for the first one. I say this with the caveat that I've played with these books for a while and may have opened them previously. Hopefully someone else can confirm this. There may be other changes but I haven't found them yet.
UPDATE by RJS: Okay, I couldn't resist. I've now done the update myself. Jeepea is right: the ECTACO jetBook - Lite now DOES remember your credit card number, so you only have to enter it once; other books open right up without you having to re-enter it or your name.

Justification on/off, works, too, but defaults to ON for every new book you open.

Still no dictionary support when reading eReader files (there is a dictionary for plain text files), no text searching when reading eReader files (although this feature is offered for plain text files), no highlighting, and no annotations. But it's now usable, and the hardware is quite nice, I must say. :)
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fan letter of the day: Far-Seer

The least read of all my books are my novels Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner -- collectively, the "Quintaglio Ascension" trilogy.

(Lots of people just can't seen to be able to get past the covers -- the one part of the books I had no control over! The art is spectacular on its own merits -- and I own the original Far-Seer cover painting -- but plainer covers would have served this series better, I think.)

Anyway, I'm always particularly pleased to get fan letters related to that trilogy (the three volumes of which were first published in 1992, 1993, and 1994), and a very nice one arrived today:
I've enjoyed your writing since I first discovered your work, and just went back through my sf collection and stumbled across Far-Seer.

I am about half-way through re-reading the trilogy and am impressed all over again at the depth and three dimensionality of the world you created with the Quintaglios.

I wanted to send you my kudos on a series of books that still hold my interest -- years later -- and seem as fresh today as when I first read them.

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Wake is #2 on BookBanter's 2009 Best-of-the-Year List

W00t! Wake by Robert J. Sawyer is #2 on BookBanter's list of the best books of 2009.

#1 is Drood by Dan Simmons
#2 is Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
#3 is Under the Dome by Stephen King

The full list is is here, and BookBanter's review of Wake (originally published in the Sacramento Book Review) is here, and BookBanter's podcast interview with me is here.
"From an author who has written a number of books and has won just about every award a science fiction author can comes one of the most original and fascinating novels to be published in a long time. It’s one of those books that has just as much right to be on a fiction shelf with other literature classics." --Alexander Tealander, BookBanter

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Friday, January 8, 2010

FlashForward return delayed until March 18th

Instead of coming back on March 4, 2010, FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, will return two weeks later, on March 18.

We're being pushed back two weeks to keep our return from having to go head-to-head with Fox's American Idol juggernaut; this will also let the DVD release of the first ten episodes of FlashForward have a little more time to draw in viewers for the new ones.

We'll still have 13 new hours of the show, but it'll be packaged as a two-hour spring premiere on March 18, 2010, and a two-hour season finale on May 27, 2010, with single hours -- without repeats or pre-emptions -- in between.

They're keeping us at our Thursday at 8:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. Central timeslot, which means they do expect us to perform well; TV advertising sells for the highest cost on Thursday nights.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Year of Matthew Johnson

I'm always super-proud when my writing students do well, so let me tell you about Matthew Johnson:

Matthew had his first novel published in 2009: Fall from Earth was issued by Bundoran Press, the wonderful publishing house in Prince George, BC, run by Virginia O'Dine.

And Matthew also had a great short story published last year: "The Coldest War" (Asimov's SF, February 2009), which you can read online here.

Both Fall from Earth and "The Coldest War" are eligible for the Hugo and Aurora Awards -- and nominations are open now.

(Matthew was my writing student at the University of Toronto in 2005.)

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beware of Science Fiction!

That's the message of this guy. Holy shit -- um, so to speak. 
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Writers' Confessions

I'm in nine episodes of the new season of the TV series Writers' Confessions (including the first one), which premieres tomorrow -- Thursday, January 7, 2010 -- on Bravo! Canada, Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. EST. Proudcer and director is Michael Glassbourg.
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Wake is Bakka-Phoenix's top selling hardcover for 2009

Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto's science-fiction specialty bookstore (and the oldest extant SF bookstore in the world), has just released their list of the bestselling books for the entire year of 2009:

Hardcover Bestsellers
  1. Wake, Robert J. Sawyer
  2. Makers, Cory Doctorow
  3. Enchantment Emporium, Tanya Huff
  4. Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett
  5. Give Up the Ghost, Megan Crewe

Trade Paperback Bestsellers
  1. Wondrous Strange, Lesley Livingston
  2. Black Man, Richard Morgan
  3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
  4. Cast in Silence, Michelle Sagara
  5. Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, Adrienne Kress

Mass Market Bestsellers
  1. Ages of Wonder, Julie E. Czerneda & Robert St. Martin, eds.
  2. Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
  3. Anathem, Neal Stephenson
  4. On the Edge, Ilona Andrews
  5. Tyrant, Christian Cameron
Not quite as good as 2003 when I had the #1 hardcover (Humans) and the #1 mass-market paperback (Hominids), but it still makes me happy. (I also had the #1 bestselling hardcover for the entire year in 2007, for Rollback.)

Bakka-Phoenix is located at 697 Queen Street West in downtown Toronto.

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Kindle DX comes to Canada -- and the world -- on January 19

The large-screen Kindle DX from is now available for pre-order for Canada (and other countries around the world); it has a 9.7-inch screen compared to the regular Kindle's 6.0-inch one. (Until now, only the regular Kindle has been available outside the US -- and even that's a recent occurrence.)

The Kindle DX Global Wireless edition will be released on January 19, 2010, for US$489.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Free Sherlock Holmes short story

In honour of the new Sherlock Holmes movie, I'll just point out that my science-fiction Holmes story "You See But You Do Not Observe" has long been available for free right here.

It's also available in several anthologies, starting with Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, edited by Mike Resnick and Martin Harry Greenberg (DAW), for which it was commissioned, and most recently as the concluding story in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books). And it's in my own short story collection Iterations and Other Stories.

This story, which I think is one of my very best, won France's top SF award, Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire.
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Wake is a 2009 book

My novel Wake, which was published in the US by Ace and Canada by Viking and the UK by Gollancz, all in 2009, actually had its first appearance as a serial in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the world's bestselling English-language SF magazine.

It was serialized in four parts, with installments in the November 2008, December 2008, the combined January-February 2009, and March 2009 issues.

But, just so there's no ambiguity, it is a 2009 book. Under both the Hugo and the Nebula rules, a serial is considered published in the year in which its final installment appeared, so Wake is eligible for the Hugo to be given in Melbourne later this year

Anyone who had a membership in last year's Worldcon in Montreal, or this year's in Australia, may cast a nominating ballot.
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Monday, January 4, 2010


Those who've read my novel Wake know that an orangutan named Virgil figures in the plot. My Virgil is named for the character played by Paul Williams in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and, according to the nifty Yahoo! Groups Planet of the Apes group (of which I'm a member), he'll be named Time magazine's Simian of the Year in 2018!
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Calling all NASFA members!

I'm hoping Google searches will bring some people here:

On October 16, 1975, Robert J. Sawyer, Richard Gotlib, and Ted Bleaney founded NASFA, the Northview Association for Science Fiction Addicts, based at Northview Heights Secondary School in Willowdale (later North York; later still, Toronto), Ontario, Canada.

We're having a 35th anniversary reunion party on Saturday, September 25, 2010, at the home of Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, starting at 3:00 p.m.

All past members of NASFA ("Nasforians," as we called ourselves) are invited and encouraged to attend. (And we're defining "members" loosely here: if you were an occasional attendee or just fondly remember the NASFA gang from your days at Northview Heights, you're more than welcome to attend!)

For address and directions, email Rob at

NASFA was a major part of my life: I met my wife there, as well as and many of the people who are still my very best friends, a fact attested to by how many of my books are dedicated to NASFA members:Our staff sponsors were Robert E. Howley and Joe Marcynuk; Joe phoned me recently to confirm that he'll be attending the party.

(The photo above shows Bob Howley and Rob Sawyer at Northview's 50th reunion in May 2007.)

NASFA also had a spinoff / alumni group for several years called SST: The Society for Speculative Thinking. All former SST members are welcome at this reunion, as well!

NASFA organized three one-day science-fiction conventions in Toronto:
  • NASFACON, in 1977, with Judith Merril as one of the Guests of Honour;

  • NASFACON TWO, in 1979, with Phyllis Gotlieb as a GoH;

  • and NASFACON THREE, in 1982, with John Robert Colombo among the GoHs.
And on September 25, 1982, Ted Bleaney, Thomas P. Nadas, and I presented NorthStar, the first ever SF conference devoted to Canadian science fiction, with GoH Donald Kingsbury; this reunion party falls on the precise anniversary of that event (and the reunion is the day before Toronto's annual Word on the Street book fair).

By the way, the 20th anniversary NASFA reunion is where I got the idea for my novel FlashForward, which deals with people having foreknowledge of what their lives will be like 20 years in the future.

If you're a former member of NASFA or know any NHSS alumni from that era (1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983), please help spread the word.

Oh, and a trivia question: I'm one of two people who attended Northview Heights to have won the World Science Fiction Society's Hugo Award. Who's the other one? (Answer in the comments.)

Here are some of my reminiscences about NASFA, taken from a 10,000-word autobiography of me published in Gale's Contemporary Authors in 2004:
In October 1975, when I was beginning Grade 10, I made friends with a guy named Rick Gotlib, who was in my Latin class (yes, Latin was an oddball choice — but I thought it would help me to understand scientific terms; I was planning on becoming a scientist). We both had an interest in science fiction, and spent one lunch period trying to stump each other with trivia questions. Rick and I figured there had to be other science-fiction fans in the school, and so decided to start a science-fiction club: the Northview Association for Science Fiction Addicts, or NASFA (Afsan, the main character in my novels Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner, is NASFA spelled backwards).

The first meeting was a great success, and, to our surprise and delight, a large number of pretty girls joined the club — an unexpected bonus. I'd never really had female friends prior to this — the street I'd grown up on was filled with boys — but suddenly I did. Most of the people who joined the club were older than Rick and I were (back then, Ontario High School went to Grade 13, meaning some of our members were eighteen at the beginning of the year, and nineteen by the time it ended).

And then a miracle occurred: the teachers went on strike. For months, Northview Heights Secondary School — and all the other high schools in Ontario — were closed. But we decided to keep holding NASFA meetings anyway during that period, once a week at different people's houses.

It was an unusual situation: a couple of Grade 10 boys hanging out with boys and girls in Grades 11, 12, and even 13. But since there were no classes to worry about during the strike, we were treated as equals; all that mattered was how clever or funny we could be. Indeed, to my astonishment, I soon found myself dating a gorgeous girl named Lorian Fraser who was two grades ahead of me — quite a heady experience for a guy who, in junior high, had been very awkward around girls.

I'd hung around with some bad kids in junior high, but had avoided getting entangled in the smoking, drinking, and drugs they were experimenting with. There's always been something in me that was averse to peer-group pressure: when bell-bottomed pants came into style in the late 1960s, I refused to wear them, making my mother drive me all over town looking for stores that still had straight legs. And, until I was in my 20s, I never wore blue jeans, despite the fact — or more precisely, because of the fact — that everybody else was wearing them.

But the science-fiction crowd in high school never got into trouble. Not one of us smoked, no one was using drugs, and only a few occasionally drank. (Robert Charles Wilson, another SF writer and one of my closest friends, noted recently that I've never developed adult vices: to this day, I don't drive and I don't drink, but I've got a real fondness for chocolate milk, potato chips, and pizza.)

Still, we members of NASFA had incredible amounts of fun, and I felt intellectually stimulated all the time. Several members of the club talked about wanting to write science fiction, but it seemed clear that I was the only one who was really serious about it, and in the summer after grade ten, I made my first-ever submission to a science-fiction magazine. The story, quite rightly, was rejected, but I wasn't discouraged. On the contrary, I was rather impressed by the simplicity of the process: anyone, anywhere, could send in a story, and it would be seriously considered for publication.
If you were a NASFA member, come to the reunion. Until then, live long and prosper!

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FlashForward DVD box art

The DVD of the first 10 episodes of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, comes out on February 23, 2010. Here's what the box art looks like (click the image for a larger view).
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader

The Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader for Windows is a new wrapper around the long-standing eReader Pro for Windows software, with some new features, and some old ones removed. It's mostly a very nice ebook-reading platform for Windows, but I sent three notes to B&N tech support today with comments and suggestions:
I like the Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader for Windows, and, of course, recognize that it's adapted from eReader Pro for Windows. But the B&N version is missing one very important feature of the original: the ability to set the background color of the page. eReader Pro allows any background color the user might desire, but "Settings | Reading Preferences" allows only foreground colors to be set. A bright white background is much too harsh on my eyes. Please add the ability to set the background color. Thanks! (I'm using the latest version of your software.)
Using Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader for Windows, I see that you can add only one book at a time to the "my stuff" subsection of "my library." I have hundreds of books from your subsidiary that I'd like to add, but it will take forever adding them one at time (especially since the file browser doesn't remember the previous folder location you looked at). Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader is modified from eReader software, and eReader allows the bulk importation of titles. Please add this feature. Thank you!
I note that in the documentation for Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader for Windows, you have retired several features (listed under "8 - Retired Features" in the manual). Please bring back: 1) Bookshelves, 2) Hot Keys, 3) Two Page Reader View, and 4) Exporting Annotations. In particular, "Two Page Reader View" is important to emulating the paper-book experience, and separate bookshelves are crucial for organizing a large library. Thank you!

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