Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vanity request: FlashForward screen grab

Now that the first 10 episodes of FlashForward are out on DVD, I have a favour to ask. Could somebody please send me high-resolution screen captures of my two credits from the ending credits (from any of the 10 episodes)?

My first credit is the first one in the ending credits, and says "Based on the Novel by Robert J. Sawyer." My second one is about half-way through the end credits and is a shared card with three other people; my part of the card says, "Consultant: Robert J. Sawyer."

For some reason, my own attempt at capturing the credits has failed (watching the DVD on my PC, and hitting Ctrl-PrintScreen, which normally copies the screen contents to the Windows Clipboard, just gets me an all-black rectangle).

I'm frankly delighted to see the DVDs, because ABC squeezed-and-teased the end credits into oblivion during broadcast (grrrr!).

("Squeezed and teased" means they pushed the credits down to the bottom -- or sometimes on other shows to one side -- and ran a promo for something else (in our case, our next episode) on most of the screen; the credits appear full-screen on the DVDs.)

Many thanks to anyone who can help!
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Aurora Award finalists 2010!

I'm delighted and thrilled to be on the 2010 Aurora Award ballot twice: in the "Best Long Form English" category for Wake, published by Viking (Penguin) Canada, and in the "Best English Other" category for Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction, which I edited for Red Deer Press.

The full list of nominees is here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

FlashForward is coming back in style

ABC remains totally committed to FlashForward, the TV series based on my novel of the same name, and we'll be having a massive relaunch in March:

On Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right after Lost, ABC will be airing a one-hour clip show summarizing our first ten episodes.

Two days later, on Thursday, March 18, 2010, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, two new episodes are airing back-to-back in a two-hour block.

Two days later, on Saturday, March 20, 2010, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern ABC repeats those episodes

That's five prime-time hours devoted to FlashForward in one week. It's a a major relaunch, folks. :)

Why the clip show? Easy.
  • Because it's been three months since we were last on the air and we want to remind our loyal viewers of what's happened to date in the storyline;

  • Because we're hoping to entice some of Lost's audience, who might not have yet given us a try, to see what we're all about;

  • Because we're hoping that those who haven't watched us before because we're an 8:00 p.m. show and they're 10:00 p.m. viewers will discover us;

  • Because we want to herald the arrival of new episodes, starting just two days later, as effectively as possible;

  • Because this, and the fact that ABC is also repeating our first two new episode justs two days after they first air, signals to the industry that ABC is still 100% behind, promoting, and supporting FlashForward, and that we all intend to be back for a second year.
Still can't wait until March? Read FlashForward, the Aurora Award-winning novel that started it all.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Toward a Science of Consciousness

I'm giving a keynote at this upcoming conference, my great friends James Kerwin and Chase Masterson will be on hand to talk about their quantum-physics noir movie Yesterday was a Lie, and Chase will be singing songs from Star Trek on Wednesday night. Join us!

Toward a Science of Consciousness 2010

April 12-17, 2010

Tucson Convention Center and Hotel Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Sponsored by the Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona

The program for the ninth biennial interdisciplinary conference ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness 2010’ is complete. Held in even-numbered years since 1994, the Tucson conferences are the major world gatherings on a broad spectrum of approaches to the fundamental question of how the brain produces conscious experience, a question which addresses who we are, the nature of reality and our place in the universe. An estimated 700 scientists, philosophers, psychologists, experientialists, artists and others from 43 countries on 6 continents will participate in 400 presentations included in 17 Pre-Conference Workshops, 12 Plenary or Keynote sessions, 21 Concurrent Talk sessions, 2 Poster Sessions, 3 Art-Tech interactive sessions and special evening performances. Abstracts for all presentations will be posted at

Plenary Program Overview

Highlights of the 2010 Plenary Program will include Keynote speaker Antonio Damasio, the esteemed neurologist and best-selling author on how the Self arises from layers of processes from brainstem to cortex. Other Keynotes include psychiatrist/neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth on new technologies revealing brain circuits of the conscious mind, and Robert J. Sawyer, award-winning science fiction writer whose works (FlashForward, Mindscan, Hominids, etc.) feature various science-based aspects of consciousness.

Twin Keynotes by two prominent neuroscientists will present opposing views of an essential question arising from functional brain imaging: how does brain activity measured in the absence of sensory inputs relate to consciousness? Marcus Raichle describes this brain Dark Energy (see his cover piece in the March 2010 Scientific American) as default networks mediating thinking and daydreaming, toggling back-and-forth with stimulus-related processing and tasks. Robert G. Shulman contends that the underlying activity is a foundational substrate for all conscious processes which require critical levels of brain energy. A related Plenary Session is Mindwandering, conscious activity independent of sensory stimuli (Jonathan Schooler, Malia Mason, Jonathan Smallwood).

In Bodily Consciousness, Henrik Ehrsson will discuss and extend his well-known work on inducing out-of-body experiences in normal subjects, while Frederique de Vignemont

will distinguish different forms of conscious body awareness. Multi-Modal Experience will include synesthate and author Patricia Lynne Duffy describing her personal experience with fused and cross-wired senses, as well as how synesthesia affects and enables artists, writers, performers and scientists. Other speakers (Barry Stein, Casey O’Callaghan, Michael Proulx) will address the neuroscience and philosophical analysis of synesthesia, and how clinically-induced cross-modal perception can help blindness and other sensory defects.

Consciousness and Transformation will review long-term changes induced by meditation (Cassie Vieten), and analyze claims of enlightenment, mystical and transcendental experience (Jeffrey Martin). The session concludes with Za Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama recognized in 1984 by the Dalai Lama as the sixth reincarnation of Zachoeje Lama. Author of Backdoor to Enlightenment, Za Rinpoche will discuss Buddhist perspectives on consciousness, enlightenment and reincarnation.

Machine Consciousness will feature IBM researcher Dharmendra Modha on efforts to simulate the brain through neuron-by-neuron reconstruction, and philosopher David Chalmers discussing prospects for a technological Singularity, the idea that human-level artificial intelligence (AI) will rapidly spiral to superintelligence. AI researcher Ben Goertzel will describe mobile bubbles of executive function moving through computer architectures.

Theories of Consciousness features Sid Kouider summarizing and critiquing prevalent neurocognitive theories, and Marc Ebner with simulations of consciousness as a mobile zone of synchrony moving through the brain. Philosopher Galen Strawson will address philosophical theories of consciousness, focusing especially on panpsychism.

New Directions in Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC) Research is a panel of fresh ideas from young researchers. In the context of default networks, Michal Gruberger will discuss the use of deep trans-cranial magnetic stimulation inhibiting prefrontal cortex in human subjects, with alterations in measures related to the sense of self. Philosophers Adrienne Prettyman and Stephen Biggs will analyze the claim that default networks represent the baseline state of the brain. Moran Cerf will report on recordings from single neurons in conscious human subjects, showing how activity in medial temporal lobe can regulate sensory entry into conscious awareness. Finally, Anirban Bhandyophadyay will discuss molecular ‘nanobrains’, and new experimental results suggesting microtubules are the missing fourth circuit element.

The William James Centennial session will open the Plenary Program as a tribute to the father of American psychology and philosophy who died in 1910. Eugene Taylor will discuss James in the context of modern approaches, Bernard Baars will describe how James’ disillusionment led to behaviorism which banished consciousness from science for seven decades. Bruce Mangan concludes with what James termed the fringe, cognitive information just outside consciousness which, Mangan argues, illuminates insight and mystical experience.

For further information, see
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Hungarian cover for FlashForward

That's the cover for the Hungarian edition of FlashForward, my novel that's the basis for the TV series of the same name, published by Galaktika. I think it's terrific.

For more about the Hungarian edition, see the publisher's website.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

FlashForward DVD on sale today

The first ten episodes of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, are now available on DVD.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Come join me for a weekend of book chat in Banff

The weekend of May 28-30, 2010, at the Banff Centre, it's the 49th annual Banff Book Discussion Weekend, this year featuring Robert J. Sawyer and his Aurora Award-nominated novel Wake, with Rob in attendance, plus discussions of three other books. Banff is a gorgeous ski-resort town in Alberta (although skiing season will be long over -- but it's lovely in the spring!).

See the website here and the PDF brochure here.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

B&N nook: There's no justification for this!

It's bad enough that the Barnes & Noble nook forces text to be fully justified left and right, whether the user wants that or not, but it does an atrocious job of producing that justification -- among the worst I've ever seen on any e-reading device (and I've been using such devices for nine years now).

To justify properly, you first have to break the line properly. And when deciding where to break a line of text (wrapping what follows to the next line), the rules are simple. Lines should wrap at these characters:
  1. after a space (with the space itself disappearing beyond the right margin);

  2. either before or after an em-dash (the long dash—like this—often used in typesetting);

  3. after an internal hyphen in a word.
The nook obeys only the first of these rules (the bare minimum for wrapping text at all), producing aesthetically awful pages (Figure 1):

Look two-thirds of the way down the above page. See that line that says "antecedents of particular" with gigantic spaces between each word? That's a result of the nook failing to apply rule 2: the break should have been either before or after the em-dash in the following line (so that "behaviors—" stayed on the previous line). Instead, the nook treated all of "behaviors—especially" as a single word.

(If only "behavior," but not the em-dash, would have fit on the line above, then just "behavior" should have been retained on that line, and the em-dash should have wrapped around to start the next line.)

Note, too, by the way, that the last line of the page is short: it isn't quite fully justified, but instead stops about a half-character-width shy of the right margin. We'll see that error on every page we look at; it's yet another flaw in the nook's rendering of justified pages.

Let's look at another example (Figure 2):

See the second last line, the one that says "about it. Shortly after the," with massive spaces between each word? That's the result of the nook failing to apply rule 3, breaking words at embedded hyphens.

Now, as it happens, in this example, the phrase "big-mammal-scavenging" is really three words strung together to form a compound adjective, but the nook makes the same mistake with single words that have an embedded hyphen (such as the way some people spell "micro-organism" or "co-operation"). The text should wrap after the last hyphen that will fit on the line: if all of "big-mammal-" would have fit, that should have stayed on the line above; if only "big-" would have fit, it should have stayed on the line above.

Oh, and above we see the em-dash wrapping problem again: just below the middle of page, the text should have wrapped after the em-dash in "wise—emerged," which would have eliminated the huge spaces in the preceding line.

As before, the final line on the screen (which is not the final line of a paragraph; yes, it's true that you don't right-justify the last line of a paragraph, but that's not what's going on here) comes up a short of the right margin.

And we discover yet another bit of nook-fail here: see the "the" at the end of the line "sapiens sapiens—wisest of the"? Note that the "e" is slightly clipped; its right-hand edge is trimmed off. We'll see that error repeatedly, too: the cause is that the nook's justification algorithms don't take into account the slanting of italic text, and the italics earlier in the line ("sapiens sapiens") have pushed the final "e" off the active part of the screen.

The "e" is only slightly clipped above, but we'll see that same flaw more egregiously in the next example (Figure 3):

Look at the fifth line up from the bottom of the screen (starting with "Homo"). That line, and the next two, all contain italics, and all three show the clipping of the final character in the line because of it: the "l" in the first line; the "g" in the second, the "e" -- which is missing half of it width -- in the third.

We also on this page see the failure to wrap at an embedded hyphen, resulting in huge gaps between words: the line "Homo), omnivore plus preferential" should have also included "meat-" from the following line.

Now, just fixing the errors pointed out here (the failure to wrap properly before or after em-dashes; the failure to wrap properly at embedded hyphens; the failure to properly justify the final line on the screen) still wouldn't be enough to give the nook decent full justification, because to do that properly, avoiding huge swathes of white space between words, requires the intelligent insertion of hyphens into words.

Look at any printed, typeset book from a commercial publishing house. It will almost certainly have hyphens inserted at syllable breaks in some words at the ends of lines on each page, so that the words can be broken and wrapped over two lines. That is, words of more than one syllable that fall at the end of a line should frequently break after one of the syllables, with a hyphen added just before the break. This is done so that the spacing between words ends up being approximately the same even with full justification.

Hyphenation is a tricky thing to do right. Mobipocket's original attempt to stake out territory in the ebook marketplace was in part based on their claim to successfully hyphenate words -- but they simply used an algorithm that often got the breaks wrong (putting them within syllables, or between pairs of letters in consonant blends); a quick glance at the first Mobipocket book I opened just now showed these incorrect hyphenations within the first few pages: "sta-gnant," "remai-ned," "silen-ce," and "wal-ked" and "deadli-nes."

The only really good way to do it is by having the algorithm hand-coded with the correct syllabification points of many common words, and having it consult a dictionary interactively for uncommon ones. As it happens the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most commonly used reference for the niceties of preparing text for the printed page, recommends Merriam-Webster's Collegiate for this purpose, which is the dictionary already built into the nook.

Finally, please note that one of the big sales points for ebook devices is that they can be used by those who need large print. But the larger the print gets, the worse full justification looks. By forcing it on at all times you take one of the great strengths of ebooks (user-selectable type sizes) and turn it into one of the great weaknesses (aesthetically ugly pages).

Fixes I'd suggest:

Dear Barnes & Noble, first and foremost, make full justification a user-selectable option; let us turn it off if we don't like it. This already is an option in many versions of the eReader software that underlies the nook, including the Palm version, the Windows versions (both eReader for Windows and BN Reader), the iPhone version, and more. Don't force those of us who dislike full-justification to have to look at it.

Second, if you are going to do justification, do it properly.

What we have here is a classic example of what's wrong with many ebook platforms: a failure to actually look at how it's done in printed books. If you're doing it a different way than it's done in print, ask yourself why. There are millions of guides -- millions of printed books -- you can consult as samples of how it should be done. Please do consult them; please do get it right.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Monday, February 22, 2010

YouTube video of my ebook reader collection

My first-ever YouTube video, recorded Saturday, February 20, 2010: a survey of nine different devices I've used over the years to read ebooks.
"You're looking at in aggregate at about $3,000 worth of ebook-reading hardware here, and my own personal use almost nine years now of using devices to read ebooks. I'm an absolute convert to the concept of electronic-book readers. I just hope that we actually get the ideal hardware device, a decent price point, and the ability to share the content [between devices]." -- Robert J. Sawyer
Devices shown and discussed (with the dates I acquired them and the price I paid):
  • October 19, 2001: Handspring Visor Neo (Cdn$299)

  • October 20, 2001: Franklin eBookman 911 (US$229)

  • December 20, 2001: RCA REB 1100 (US$249?)

  • January 22, 2003: Sony Clié PEG-SJ20 (Cdn$269 -- not shown in the video))

  • September 7, 2004: Sony Clié PEG-TH55 (US$259)

  • September 26, 2006: eBookwise 1150 (US$115 with 64MB SmartMedia card)

  • May 3, 2008: iRex iLiad (a gift, list US$699)

  • December 18, 2009: ECTACO jetBook - Lite (U$149)

  • December 19, 2009: Foxit eSlick (US$259)

  • February 13, 2010: Barnes & Noble nook (US$259)
You can watch the video here.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Steady growth: the name of the game

I've had seven different new mass-market paperback releases in the last decade. Here they are, in Canadian besteller order (from most copies sold to least):
  1. FlashForward (published in mass-market 2000)

  2. Rollback (2008)

  3. Mindscan (2006)

  4. Hominids (2003)

  5. Calculating God (2001)

  6. Hybrids (2005)

  7. Humans (published 2004)
Of course, FlashForward -- the oldest book on the list -- is an outlier, because it's had a huge boost in sales in the last six months thanks to the TV series based on it.

Setting it aside, this is pretty much exactly what one would hope for: my sales have risen steadily with each new standalone book over the past decade: Rollback (my most-recent mass-market paperback) did better than Mindscan, which did better than Hominids, which did better than Calculating God.

Humans and Hybrids suffered a bit from being the second and third volumes of a trilogy -- not everyone who read the first book (a Hugo winner) came back for the other two. I suspect Humans, the second volume, showing lower sales than the third is an artifact of Tor foolishly letting it go out of stock for an extended period (but it's back in print in mass-market now).

And now on to the mass-market paperback for Wake, which comes out at the end of next month.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Foxit eSlick: poor line justification

I'm getting tired of high-priced ebook readers that are brought to market without anyone who knows anything about book layout and design having vetted the software they use.

Have a look at this photo, which shows a Foxit eSlick ebook-reading device displaying a .PDB eReader book from Barnes and Noble's under the new 2.0.1 build 0205 firmware. The eSlick retails for US$259, the same as the Kindle and the nook.

Every line shows the same error: instead of justification putting an equal amount of space between each word on a line, there is always more space just before the last word on each line.

It's not a LOT of extra space -- but it's enough to be visually irritating. You can clearly see it on this line: "purpose of this book, then, is to educate. It is a."

There is way more space between "is a" than there is between "It is."

Or look at the last line: again, there's way more space between "reality the" than there is between "in reality."

This happens with every eReader DRM format (.PDB) commercial ebook I've tried.

I've already complained to Foxit that there should be an option to turn justification off altogether, but when the device does fully justify lines, it needs to do it properly.

On why users should have the option to turn justification off: One of the big sales points for ebook devices is that they can be used by those who need large print, but the larger the print gets, the worse right justification looks. By forcing it on at all times you take one of the great strengths of ebooks (user-selectable type sizes) and turn it into one of the great weaknesses (aesthetically ugly pages).

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Not even close, guys

Often, Amazon's recommendations are reasonably useful, but this one isn't even close. Come on, guys! If the recommendation feature decays into nothing but noise, it's self-defeating. I'm sure someone said, "Hey, if we make the recommendations more general, we'll sell more books." Nope; if I get a few more like this, I'll just turn on an email filter that deletes Amazon recommendations unread:
Dear Customer,

As someone who has purchased or rated "Deke!: An Autobiography" by Donald K Slayton or other books in the Engineering > Aeronautical Engineering category, you might like to know that "Multi-Sensor Data Fusion with MATLAB: Theory and Practice" is now available. You can order yours at a savings of 20% by following the link below.

Multi-Sensor Data Fusion with MATLAB: Theory and Practice by Jitendra R. Raol

List Price: CDN$ 160.95
Price: CDN$ 128.76
You Save: CDN$ 32.19
For those who don't know, Deke Slayton was a key figure in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Friday, February 19, 2010

Public Lending Right 2010

I've been telling other writers about Canada's Public Lending Right system for 18 years now, and it always amazes me that some Canadian authors still haven't bothered to register.

The Public Lending Right compensates (to some degree) Canadian authors for the loss of royalty income they have because their books are in public libraries. Most Western countries have a variant of this system, but, as in so many things, conspicuously not the United States.

Here's my report for 2010, which arrived in today's mail along with a cheque for Cdn$3,486.00, the maximum amount an author was entitled to this year. (If there had been no maximum imposed, my share would have been Cdn$5,840.54.)

(The 1992 article linked to above says that they survey 10 libraries; that's an old figure -- the current figure is 7 libraries.)

For all my posts about the PLR, see here, and the PLR website is here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Julian Jaynes news

Since I'm a keynote speaker at both these conferences, and since Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind figures prominently in my novel Wake, I pass on this message from Marcel Kuijsten, Executive Director, of the Julian Jaynes Society:

Dear Friends and Members of the Julian Jaynes Society,

Here is an update on related upcoming conferences in 2010:

Toward A Science of Consciousness
April 12-17, 2010, Tucson, AZ

We are pleased to announce that we have arranged for a four-hour pre-conference workshop at the 2010 "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conference. There will also be several talks related to Jaynes’s theory during the conference.

Four Hour Pre-Conference Workshop

Prof. Brian J. McVeigh & Marcel Kuijsten - "Voices, Visions, and Dreams: Explaining Anomalous Neurological Phenomena through the Work of Julian Jaynes"

This interactive 4-hour pre-conference workshop will take place Monday, April 12th from 2pm–6pm. The workshop will be like an intensive Jaynes "mini-conference," so be sure to attend. The workshop can be attended separately from the main conference.

Topics covered will include the transition to consciousness in geographical areas not covered by Julian Jaynes, visual hallucinations, the most recent neurological evidence on psychosis and the bicameral mind, and an in-depth discussion of bicameral vs. conscious dreams.

Jaynes-Related Conference Talks

In addition to the pre-conference workshop, there will be several talks given by Julian Jaynes Society members during the conference:

Robert J. Sawyer - "Consciousness in Science Fiction"
Science fiction writer Robert Sawyer will be one of the keynote speakers. Mr. Sawyer incorporates Jaynes's ideas into two of his novels: WWW: Wake and Mindscan.
Sat., April 17, 11:00am

Brian J. McVeigh - "The Unconscious in History: Why Did It Appear When It Did?"
Dept. of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona
Evolution of Consciousness Session, Fri., April 16, 4:30-6:30pm

Carole Brooks Platt - "Voices from the Other Side: Neuroscience, Attachment Theory and the Creative Self"
Evolution of Consciousness Session, Fri., April 16, 4:30-6:30pm

Gary Williams - "What is It Like to Be Unconscious?"
Dept. of Philosophy, Louisiana State University
Poster Session

For information on registration and accommodations see:

Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness
July 29–31, 2010, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Call for Papers: Please send abstracts (500–750 words) to the conference coordinator Prof. Scott Greer at by April 15, 2010.

The Keynote speaker will be science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer.

This is a general consciousness conference dedicated to the memory of Julian Jaynes (not all talks will be related to Jaynes's theory).

The conference was created as part of the Julian Jaynes Memorial Endowment at the University of Prince Edward Island. This fund was established to create a lasting tribute to the late Princeton professor and author, and long-time PEI resident, and to fulfill his legacy to support and encourage the study of consciousness.

For more information, please visit the conference website: jaynesconference2010.html

Other items of interest:

Read the latest issue of The Jaynesian:

Read Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (now in 28 countries)

Discuss Jaynes’s theory on the Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum (it’s free!):


Marcel Kuijsten
Executive Director
Julian Jaynes Society

More on self-publishing

An interesting exchange took place on my Facebook wall recently (starting on 8 February 2010). Facebook content scrolls away and is very hard to access after a few days, so I thought I'd reproduce some of it here. There were 109 messages posted in the exchange, but the first two were the first two below, and the rest of the ones quoted here were interspersed in the remainder; they are a conversation between me and a self-published author, hereafter referred to as SPA [slightly redacted, out of kindness, to obscure SPA's identity]:

RJS: You know, the mindless cheerleaders for self-publishing 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.

SPA: Unless the poor sap is savvy enough to avoid vanity publishers, uses POD technologies, with excellent distribution, hires the services of an excellent editor, and markets the hell out of the book.

RJS: Not to be mean, and I know you're a big advocate of doing it this way, but what do you mean by "with excellent distribution"?

I happen to know that you're a Canadian author. Canada's largest bookstore chain is Chapters/Indigo, and Canada's largest city is Toronto. So I just popped over to, looked up your latest book and asked for a display of store stock in Toronto.

The site served up 25 locations, and every single one -- all 25 -- shows "Quantity available: 0" for your book.

There may come a day when the vast majority of books are not sold in retail outlets, but that day is a ways off yet, and until then anything that doesn't include getting physical books into bookstores can't be meaningfully called "excellent distribution."

[SPA then replied to some other people, repeatedly using the term "legacy publishers" to refer to the traditional publishing houses.]

RJS: "Legacy publishers." *snort*

You know, we started calling serial and parallel interfaces on computers "legacy ports" when people stopped using them; when they no longer represented the dominant, current paradigm; when they had fallen out of fashion.

To call -- as an example -- Penguin Canada, my own current Canadian publisher, which is a $100,000,000 (one hundred million dollar) per-year operation, with books in thousands of retail outlets coast-to-coast PLUS all the other places you've referred to, a "legacy publisher" is to reduce the debate to precisely the kind of mindless cheerleading I was decrying in the post that started this thread. You may want established publishers and the existing business models to fall out of fashion, but they have not.

The number one publicity source for books: being on bookstore shelves. All this talk about disintermediation ignores the fact that most people buy books because they can reach out and touch them, leaf through them, and carry them away.

Publicity is, in many ways, the easy part (if by publicity you mean online promotion); distribution is the hard part. So the flaw in the argument that "if you have to do your own publicity anyway, then why not do the rest" is the assumption that you CAN do the rest.

You're a case in point: despite all your hard work, and the fact that you are a good writer, you haven't been able to do the one thing that so-called legacy publishers would consider an absolute necessity for being a publisher: getting books into the big bookstore chains.

SPA: Some of you may find this blog post of interest.

[In response to which, Jim C. Hines chimed in on the truth about Amazon rankings, to which I added:]

RJS: To add to Jim's very cogent analysis, the big flaw with Amazon numbers is that they give the impression of an ordered array from best selling to worst selling. But in fact Amazon doesn't move enough physical units of most books for the rankings to be meaningful once you get down the list a bit.

You might think that the book that's ranked 200,000 sold better than the book ranked 200,001 -- but in fact they almost certainly sold identically. Indeed, rank 200,000 and rank 800,000 might all have sold equally well, which is to say hardly at all, and rank 1,000,000 to 6,000,000 might very well have never sold a single copy on Amazon (and almost certainly didn't in the last year).

I always get antsy when people touting new paradigms refuse to cough up hard numbers. They say, oh, look, my free online book had XXX,XXX downloads and now it's in its nth printing -- see?

Yeah, well, even in mass-market a printing might only be 2,500 copies these days [and the most-frequent-citer of the "printings" statistic has never had a book in mass market], and in trade it could be 1,000 copies or much fewer (and of both those, perhaps half the copies will actually sell).

And now we have a case of, look see!, these Amazon ratings prove my point.

Marcello Truzzi said (and Carl Sagan frequently quoted): "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

The people making the claims have access to or can find out the numbers of copies sold (and printed); they know precisely how many copies their print publisher actually sold or how many they shipped of their self-published book to Amazon.

But they don't tell us; they instead have us look at numbers that could mean just about anything while crowing, "See! See!" Sorry, but those numbers don't prove a thing.

[SPA was not heard from again.]

Robert J. Sawyer online:


The scandalous state of ebooks

An email I received this morning from my colleague Jamie Todd Rubin:
I ran into the same problem with the Kindle that you reported with the Nook regarding hyphenation. They implement full justification without adherence to any hyphenation rules and that makes some lines look awkward (4 words, widely spaced).

The other thing I've noticed, and I don't know if this is Amazon or the publisher, but in numerous books that I've read on the Kindle, there are substantial typos that appear to be the result of some kind of OCR import. The word "t-u-r-n" appears as "t-u-m" from time-to-time, but it's not consistent. There are other minor errors that I don't find in the printed text and I wonder if copyeditors look at the eBook text before it goes live.
Those are the three great scandals of the ebook industry:

1) The people designing the way pages are presented on screen seem to know nothing at all about typography. This ranges from the outrageous (the eSlick until last week's firmware update thinking that it was okay to break lines at the embedded apostrophe in words, or before the closing quotation mark) to the merely incompetent: the insistence on right justification ("because that makes it look like a book, see!") without understanding or doing any of the work required to make right justification aesthetically appealing.

2) The complete lack of proofreading or even spot-checking of ebooks before they are put up for sale. For example, I recently bought the eReader-format ebook edition of The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley, a book published by a major publisher (HarperCollins), and every line on every page throughout the book was centered -- no one had so much as glanced at the book after converting it.

3) The use of OCR as a way to get books into ebook format. For instance, Tor Books offers my Golden Fleece for the Kindle and the nook. For the print edition they typeset from my computer files, but for the ebook edition, they used a scan of the printed pages, and ran it through optical-character recognition. Page one proudly lists other books by "Rohert J. Sawyer."

Print publishers keep arguing that they have to charge high prices for ebooks in part because of the care and expense that goes into proofreading and laying out a printed book's text, but if that's just thrown out the window -- if not one dime of the money spent for that is actually reflected in the ebook edition -- then it's a specious argument to say that those costs need to be reflected in the ebook's price.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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nook suggestion: swap page buttons

I sent this suggestion to Barnes and Noble tech support today, and posted it on the nook discussion forum:
To my way of thinking, the page-forward and page-backward buttons are in the reverse of where they should be, given the weight and design of the nook.

If you hold the nook with your thumbs over the page-forward buttons (on either side), it's top heavy, and has a tendency to fall backward, and I'm always afraid it will drop backward out of my hands.

But if you hold the nook with your thumbs over the page-backward buttons (which are higher up, near the device's center of gravity), the nook is balanced nicely in your hands, but you have to reposition a hand every time you want to change a page.

Obviously, going to the next page in a book is a very common operation, whereas going to the previous page is something rarely done.

Because of this, I'd be grateful for an option to swap the function of the page-forward and page-backward buttons, so that the one labeled ">" went to the previous page, and the one labeled "<" went to the next page.

(By the way, a decade ago, the old Rocket eBook and its successor, the RCA REB-1100, offered this very option; they called it "reverse paging".)

Thanks for considering my suggestion.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Why the aesthetics of ebooks suck

A perfect example of why ebook readers are so crappy at formatting these days: the people who make them don't even have a rudimentary familiarity with typography. As I observed in my review of the Barnes & Noble nook, the algorithms used to justify text there are atrocious, making for awful-looking pages.

The Foxit eSlick does a better job at justification, because at least it breaks words and compound phrases that have embedded hard hyphens in them at the embedded hyphens (instead of wrapping the all the text to the next line).

But on both devices, there should be an option to turn justification off, because on narrow lines and at large type sizes, many people find it hard to read.

But typographic niceties apparently aren't even discussed by ebook makers. Here's an exchange I had with Foxit tech support today:
RJS: Previously, eReader books on the eSlick had right-justification turned off. Firmware 2.0.1 changes that to right justification on -- with no way to turn it off. This is not a trivial change; it should have been noted in the change log -- but wasn't.

I much prefer right justification to be off; a ragged right margin, with even spacing between the words, is easier for me to read than lines that have different sized spaces between words (and often ridiculously large spaces, especially at larger font sizes).

Please put in an option to turn right justification off (as is found in eReader implementations on many other platforms).
Foxit Tech Support: Do you mean the enlarged page margins on both side?

2.0.1 firmware does not turn right justification on, it only leaves 10 pixel margins on both side.
RJS: No, I do not mean that. I mean that for eReader books, prior to version 2.0.1, the text was flush left, ragged right; now it is justified (flush left and right). Please see this explanation in Wikipedia.

Please provide an option to select "flush left" or "unjustified" text, instead of forcing justified text; that is, please provide an option to provide a ragged right margin.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of pixels that are not used at the left and right side of the screen; that's a completely different issue.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Neanderthal Parallax began 10 years ago today

It was ten years ago today, on Thursday, February 17, 2000, that I wrote the first words for what became Hominids, the first volume of my "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy.

That day, I wrote the opening below -- not one line of which made it into the final book -- leading up to establishing the setting as Sudbury, Ontario, where the nickel mines exist because of an asteroid impact:
Everyone has heard about the asteroid that may have felled the dinosaurs, and how if it hadn't hit, we might not be here.

But there have been many other asteroid impacts in Earth's past, and when this one crashed into Earth, the dinosaurs weren't yet even a twinkle in God's eye. If it hadn't hit, we would probably still be here, but they -- the others -- would not. This flying mountain, a hunk of detritus left over from the formation of the solar system that measured between one and three kilometers wide, brutally slammed into --

Into what? How to describe the rocks that bore this assault? Today, most of the world calls them the Canadian Shield, a vast horseshoe shaped region covering half the nation we refer to as Canada -- but when the impact occurred, Canada, and every other human construct, was still 1.8 billion years in the future.

Of course, in Canada, where everything would naturally be Canadian-this or Canadian-that, these rocks are sometimes called the Precambrian Shield instead, but --

But everything was Precambrian back when this colossal boulder, moving at fifteen kilometers per second, slammed into our world, setting it ringing like a giant bell in space. Although Earth had hosted life for two billion years by that point, none of it was yet multicellular. The first worms were another billion years in the future; jawless fish, the first vertebrates, were still 1.3 billion years away; and the first mammals -- ancestors to us, yes, and to them as well -- wouldn't appear for an additional three hundred million after that.
Carolyn didn't like that much, and the next day, Friday, February 18, 2000, I completely revamped the opening:
The darkness was absolute, more obsidian than Hitler's heart, darker than a rapist's soul.

Two kilometers beneath the Earth's surface, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory waited patiently. At its core was a vast acrylic globe twelve meters across, its walls 2.5 centimeters thick, filled with 1,100 tonnes of heavy water, on loan from Atomic Energy Canada Limited; the globe was made up of XX curved pieces each measuring XXX -- the largest size that could fit down the mine shaft leading to the observatory.

Surrounding that sphere was a geodesic of photomultiplier tubes -- 9,600 of them, each cupped in a reflective parabola, each aimed inward toward the sphere. And surrounding that was a giant barrel-shaped container, ten stories tall, filled with ultrapure regular water.

The two kilometers of Canadian shield overhead protected the heavy water from cosmic rays. The shell of regular water absorbed the natural background radiation from the uranium and thorium in the granite gabbro, preventing any of it from reaching the heavy water. Indeed, nothing at all could penetrate into the heavy water except neutrinos; trillions passed through the Earth every second, and any one of them could travel through a block of lead a light-year thick with only a fifty-percent chance of hitting anything.

Heavy water is just like regular water in taste (or lack thereof) and appearance, and it behaves virtually identically in most chemical reactions.
Of course, that lacked any character or drama. The final, published version of Hominids, which came out in 2002, began thus:
The blackness was absolute.

Watching over it was Louise Benoît, twenty-eight, a statuesque postdoc from Montreal with a mane of thick brown hair stuffed, as required here, into a hair net. She kept her vigil in a cramped control room, buried two kilometers -- "a mile an' a quarder," as she sometimes explained for American visitors in an accent that charmed them -- beneath the Earth's surface.

The control room was next to the deck above the vast, unilluminated cavern housing the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Suspended in the center of that cavern was the world's largest acrylic sphere, twelve meters -- "almost fordy feet" -- across. The sphere was filled with eleven hundred tonnes of heavy water on loan from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

Enveloping that transparent globe was a geodesic array of stainless-steel struts, supporting 9,600 photomultiplier tubes, each cupped in a reflective parabola, each aimed in toward the sphere. All of this -- the heavy water, the acrylic globe that contained it, and the enveloping geodesic shell -- was housed in a ten-story-tall barrel-shaped cavern, excavated from the surrounding norite rock. And that gargantuan cavern was filled almost to the top with ultrapure regular water.

The two kilometers of Canadian shield overhead, Louise knew, protected the heavy water from cosmic rays. And the shell of regular water absorbed the natural background radiation from the small quantities of uranium and thorium in the surrounding rock, preventing that, too, from reaching the heavy water. Indeed, nothing could penetrate into the heavy water except neutrinos, those infinitesimal subatomic particles that were the subject of Louise's research. Trillions of neutrinos passed right through the Earth every second; in fact, a neutrino could travel through a block of lead a light-year thick with only a fifty-percent chance of hitting something.

Still, neutrinos poured out of the sun in such vast profusion that collisions did occasionally occur -- and heavy water was an ideal target for such collisions. The hydrogen nuclei in heavy water each contain a proton -- the normal constituent of a hydrogen nucleus -- plus a neutron, as well. And when a neutrino did chance to hit a neutron, the neutron decayed, releasing a proton of its own, an electron, and a flash of light that could be detected by the photomultiplier tubes.

At first, Louise's dark, arching eyebrows did not rise when she heard the neutrino-detection alarm go ping; the alarm sounded briefly about a dozen times a day, and although it was normally the most exciting thing to happen down here, it still didn't merit looking up from her copy of Cosmopolitan.

But then the alarm sounded again, and yet again, and then it stayed on, a solid, unending electric bleep like a dying man's EKG.
You can read more of the published opening here.

Hominids went on to win the 2003 Hugo Award for best novel of the year, and it was the first volume of a trilogy. I'm very proud of the finished book, and pleased to look back on its humble origins a decade ago.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Rick Wilber's Rum Point

My great friend Rick Wilber has a new novel out called Rum Point: A Baseball Novel.

Rick is well known in SF circles for (among other things) being the administrator of the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, associated with Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.

But he's also a life-long baseball fan (and his father was major-league player Del Wilber) and an accomplished writer of mystery fiction, and he combines those two things wonderfully in this masterful novel. Check out the reviews:
"(Rick) Wilber has the kind of voice that makes the writing transparent, in that the reader connects directly with characters and emotions. His vibrant sense of wonderful locales is that much gravy." --Tim Dorsey, author of Nuclear Jellyfish

"Rick Wilber is the sort of writer lots of us like to turn to at the end of a long day: relaxed, inventive, knowledgeable, good-humored, and honest right down to the core. This man tells you the truth, a quality that may be unsettling sometimes, but is never less than absolutely refreshing. Wilber knows how to do justice to the nuances of a complex story, and he deserves a huge readership." --Peter Straub, author of Lost Boy, Lost Girl

"Set in hometown St. Petersburg and the Cayman Islands, Rick Wilber's Rum Point is a taut thriller/mystery in which a brave young woman cop and her baseball manager father battle to stop a violent pair of CIA types from building a drug-smuggling empire. The characters are compelling, the plot intricate, and Wilber even tosses a little baseball into the mix. Don't miss it." --Peter Golenbock, author of George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire

"Wilber will exhilarate, startle, and dazzle you." --Michael Bishop, award-winning author of the baseball fantasy Brittle Innings

"With Rum Point, Rick Wilber has given us a police thriller with an intriguing heroine, a likable TV evangelist, and a rousing mix of curves and fastballs." --Jack McDevitt, award-winning author of Time Travelers Never Die

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

FlashForward DVDs land one week from today

Over on my Facebook page, I noted the above fact, and someone popped up to say, "Anybody else remember when they sold whole seasons on DVD?"

My response:
Sure, but we're competing now with Hulu and online viewing and the whole darknet, where episodes are available pirated the day they're broadcast. There's a market out there that doesn't want to wait until the end of the season to get to watch shows -- and if you do want to wait, you can; that market is served, too.

The half-season FlashForward set is $19.99 at -- two bucks an episode, with the later ones on the disk available just two months after they were broadcast; I don't see a gouge there.

And, if you want to wax all nostalgic, remember when shows were released one or two episodes at a time on pricey VHS cassettes? Or maybe, you'd like to wait until demand somehow magically rebuilds for a show that's gone? The Gods are smiling on you, then: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the complete sixth season, came out on DVD last week as a single set -- thirty-four years after the episodes were first broadcast. So much better, right? ;)

Robert J. Sawyer online:


A nook of the north!

Last weekend, in Chicago, I bought a Barnes & Noble nook ebook reader. Since they're not for sale in Canada, I probably have one of the very few units in all of Canada now -- a nook of the north! (Yes, it was worth the US$259, just to get to make that pun.)

My initial thoughts:

The nook seems to have no trouble loading my content in eReader format from Fictionwise, and sampling and buying content wirelessly from Barnes & Noble seems to work fine.

The display is beautiful, but right-justification is forced to on, and the justification algorithms are terrible: even words with embedded hyphens (such as "middle-class") don't break at the hyphen (instead, the whole thing wraps to the next line), and em-dashes are treated as parts of words--frustratingly meaning that even if, in this sentence, "words," or "words--," would fit on one line, all of "words--frustratingly" wraps to the next line. That leaves huge gaps between words in the previous line. It is distracting and mars the aesthetics of an otherwise nice display.

(And the nook doesn't do hyphenation of its own -- which really is required if one is doing justification; look at any print book or magazine that has fully justified text, and see what a difference the hyphenation makes to the word spacing in the lines.)

Also missing is the ability to do a folder hierarchy (separate "Fiction, "Nonfiction," "Biography," or whatever you wish folders) in either main memory or on an expansion card, and the expansion card is very awkward to put in and remove; you won't be using it as a standard way to add new content.

The page-forward and page-backward buttons are in the reverse of where they should be, given the weight of the device. If you hold it with your thumbs over the page-forward buttons (on either side), it's top heavy, and has a tendency to fall backward; if you hold it with your thumbs over the page-backward buttons (which are higher up), it's balanced nicely in the hands, but you have to reposition a hand every time you want to change a page.

But except for those things, it works quite nicely.

It does not have a backlight for the main screen. Having the color LCD screen below the main screen (which is used for navigation and menus) light up in the dark (which it did once spontaneously on me last night) does starkly remind one of this lack.

Page turns (with the new 1.2 firmware, which came preinstalled on my unit) are fast; and the nook wakes up from hibernation very quickly, leaving you right at the page you were last reading.

It's substantially heavier than the Foxit eSlick -- the other e-ink device on the market that supports Fictionwise's eReader format -- and the eSlick does support folders. Also, the eSlick supports landscape mode, and the nook does not.

But the nook wins hands-down because you're back to reading your book in 2 seconds after picking up the device if it's hibernating (and only have to hit the power button to get there), versus 23 or so with the eSlick (and on the eSlick you have to re-select your book from a menu after powering up).

The nook does have a built-in dictionary (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate -- a very good one), but the interface for selecting a word on the e-ink screen is very awkward and time-consuming; the eSlick has no dictionary support.

The nook is a nice device, and I'm glad I bought it, but it needs at least one more firmware upgrade. The justification issue has to be fixed (first, it should be user-selectable whether it's on or off; second, it should obey the rules of typography when on). A better interface for selecting words for dictionary lookup (and highlighting) needs to be devised. And I'd like to see the ability to swap the functions of the page-forward and page-backward buttons.

But it is a great example of what an e-ink device can be.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Letter in The Mail on Sunday

Britain's The Mail on Sunday (which has a circulation of 2.2 million copies) solicited a Letter to the Editor from me about the forthcoming Apple iPad and its science-fictional precursors. Here's what I had to say in full; a shorter version appears in today's (14 February 2010) print edition of the newspaper:
Once again, science fiction has become science fact. The Apple iPad brings us very close to the portable flatscreens on which the astronauts in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey watched the BBC World News -- and read their documents.

Even before that, the original Star Trek had characters reading books and manuals on their computer screens, and in one episode Elisha Cook, Jr., guest starred as a Luddite lawyer who, much to Captain Kirk's amusement, still used paper books.

But as the cover note on the most famous ebook of all -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- proclaims, "Don't panic." Marshall McLuhan was wrong; the medium is not the message, and a book is a book even if it's displayed on a Kindle, an iPad, a smartphone, or a desktop computer.

-- Robert J. Sawyer, Toronto

Sawyer's novel FlashForward -- available in print and as an ebook -- is the basis for the TV series of the same name.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New showrunners at FlashForward

The new showrunning team at FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, is: Jessika Borsiczky, Lisa Zwerling, and Timothy J. Lea.

Jessika -- who is from Montreal -- was the person who first read my novel a decade ago, and pursued getting it made as a TV series; that's her pictured above with Courtney B. Vance, who plays Stanford Wedeck. (Jess's last name is pronounced Bor-shees-key.)

Let me underscore this: Jessika Borsiczky has been behind this series from the very beginning, and she's been executive producer since day one; there is absolute continuity of vision here.

Lisa has been with the show since the beginning, too (and before that worked on ER). Tim joined the show in November (in fact, his first day was one of the days I was working in the writers' room), and immediately brought wonderful insights to the room; he's previously worked on CSI: NY and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

They're all terrific people, and the show is indeed in very good hands.

You can read more at Variety and Zap 2 It.

FlashForward returns with all-new episodes on Thursday, March 18, 2010.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Monday, February 8, 2010

Toronto Life profiles RJS

Toronto Life, a glossy newstand magazine devoted to the finer things in Canada's largest city, profiles Robert J. Sawyer in the March 2010 issue; as a subscriber, I received my copy in the mail today.

It's a terrific article; I'm absolutely thrilled with it. And it's accopanied by an amazing photo of me in my office. The article is by Sheena Goodyear, and the photo is by Finn O'Hara.

An excerpt:
Sawyer's fast-paced prose blends adventure and philosophical exploration, riveting readers to implausible narratives populated by talking space dinosaurs; dimension-shifting, bisexual Neanderthals; and six-legged aliens (who infiltrate the ROM). They're also meticulously researched examinations of modern culture in the face of world-altering progress. He pits spirituality against pragmatism and shows characters at their most vulnerable, usually within recognizable Canadian settings. It's like CanLit on meth, and he has made addicts out of thousands of middle-aged sci-hards.
"Like CanLit on meth." I like that.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Short stories: five years after giving them up

It was five years ago today that I finished writing my last short story. That story, "Biding Time," was written for the DAW Books anthology Slipstreams, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and John Helfers.

I guess I went out with a bang. The story was reprinted in the prestigious Penguin Book of Crime Stories and (after some on-stage drama!) won the Aurora Award. And the film option on it (and its prequel, "Identity Theft") was just renewed for a fourth year.

I had a nice little career as a short-fiction writer: 44 stories published (all now collected in two handsome volumes available from Red Deer Press), two Hugo nominations, one Nebula nomination, a Bram Stoker Award nomination, four short-story Aurora Award wins, plus winning France's top SF award for best foreign SF story, as well as winning Analog magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award, Science Fiction Chronicle's Reader Award, and the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award, all for best short story of the year.

I gave up writing short fiction because I just didn't really enjoy writing it, and life's too short to spend on things that aren't fun.

I also gave up writing it, to be honest, because short fiction pays abysmally poorly. Six cents a word is a super rate for short science-fiction stories from the traditional SF markets (and those rates haven't gone up in the 30 years since I sold my first short story), which works out to about $250 for a typical 4,000-or-so-word short story; a while ago, I did a treatment for a miniseries, which was also 4,000 words long, and was paid $25,000 -- or six dollars (one hundred times as much) per word, and I had a blast doing the treatment.

And I gave it up because, frankly, after 19 years of publishing novels, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have ever said they first discovered me through my short fiction instead of my books.

All of which leads to a rather ironic announcement: I've just made my first sale ever to Canada's venerable Tesseracts anthology series. I'll be in Tesseracts 14, edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory. Did I relent, you ask? Nope, not really. The work that's appearing in that book, coming this fall, is not a story but a prose-poem (one I performed for a very appreciative audience last year the the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal).

In the intervening five years since I finished writing "Biding Time," I've turned down numerous commissions to write more short stories, including several dollar-a-word ones from glossy publications. I'm quite content about the decision; what I really enjoy doing is writing novels and scripts ... and I should get back to that right now. Toodles!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Just to prove I'm not clueless: see this weekend's TV Jumble

TV Jumble by David L. Hoyt is a syndicated puzzle from Tribune Media Services, Inc., that appears in countless newspapers, including The Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulation paper.

This weekend's jumble has, as the answer to its puzzle the name of a TV show I'm involved with. The cartoon illustration that's part of the puzzle shows a woman watching a TV set and thinking, "I can picture myself watching this show in the future." And beneath that it says:
Clue: This show is based on a Robert J. Sawyer novel published in 2000.
How cool is that!

Note that this is the TV Jumble dated 7 February 2010, which is tomorrow: that's when it'll be in most American newspapers; Canadian newspapers have their big weekend editions on Saturday, not Sunday. In The Toronto Star, it's on the inside back cover of Star Week, the TV-listings section.

Thanks to my old pal Hugo-winning fanzine publisher Mike Glicksohn for alerting me to this.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Friday, February 5, 2010

FlashForward staff writers

The Hollywood Reporter has now posted a comment from David S. Goyer about him stepping down as showrunner of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name: "As my feature projects have started ramping up again, I felt I was being pulled in too many directions. I'm proud of the show and excited about the relaunch. It's in great hands."

And indeed it is. FlashForward has a fabulous team of staff writers, all of whom are still hard at work on the show:

Byron Balasco
Scott Gimple
Ian Goldberg
Seth Hoffman
Tim Lea
Barbara Nance
Quinton Peeples
Dawn Prestwich
Nicole Yorkin
Lisa Zwerling

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Amazon reinstates sales of Macmillan titles

After six days of being unavailable for purchase there, paper editions of Macmillan books -- including Tor Books such as my novels FlashForward, Hominids, and Rollback -- are now back on sale at
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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David S. Goyer steps down as FlashForward showrunner

David S. Goyer has stepped down as showrunner (head of the writing staff) on FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name.

The Hollywood Reporter has a brief notice here. David is extremely talented, and he ran the writing room with verve, panache, courtesy, and intelligence.

Above, left to right: David S. Goyer, Robert J. Sawyer, and Brannon Braga in Los Angeles
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Film option on The Terminal Experiment renewed

Toronto's Divani films has renewed its option on Robert J. Sawyer's Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment for a fifth year. Pictured above: the new Canadian paperback edition, in stores now!

And Terminal Experiment director Srinivas Krishna's latest film, Athletes in Motion, premieres on Canadian TV this Saturday. Says Srinivas:
A series of short films I produced have been packaged into an hour-long special called Bravo!FACT Presents: Athletes in Motion that will premiere in HD on Saturday, February 6 at 4 p.m. on CTV.

Inspired by winter sports and Olympic athletes, these 11 entertaining, moving, cutting-edge shorts combine the brightest directors, actors, musicians, cinematographers, designers, animators, and choreographers with world-class Canadian athletes to create two-minute films that celebrate their passion. Featuring talents such as Jason Priestley, Gord Downie, Liz Manley, Douglas Coupland, Jennifer Jones, and more, the films were shot in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec last summer and fall.

Musical artists contributing scores/soundtracks include Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash, Deadmau5, and JUNO award-winning bass guitarist/music producer Orin Isaacs. Additionally, one of the shorts features CTV’s “The Hockey Theme” while another features fashions from Canadian designer Paul Hardy.

In addition to the shorts, the one-hour special, hosted by CTV’s Seamus O’Regan, includes commentary and introductions by both filmmakers and athletes, as our cameras go behind-the-scenes to capture athletes and artists collaborating in action.

ATHLETES IN MOTION has already made it’s mark internationally -- the 11 shorts recently won the Best Drama/Fiction Award at the 2010 European Video and Mobile TV Forum in Paris.
Encore presentations will air on Bravo!:

Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
Feb. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT
Feb. 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT
Feb. 12 at 8:00 a.m. ET / 8:00 a.m. PT

You can also catch a half hour version of the show on CTV’s ‘A’ Channels on Feb. 13:
-8:30 p.m., London , Vancouver Island and Barrie
-11:00 p.m. Ottawa and Vancouver Island .

In addition, you can check out on going commentaries and enjoy multiple viewing opportunities for the shorts outside of television online at along with bonus interactive elements including bios, photos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. For full film synopses and to download hi-res photos, visit

The Globe and Mail has published a story in today’s edition, read it on-line here.

Finally, catch Kurt Browning chatting about AHLETES IN MOTION tomorrow, Friday, evening on ETalk ( 6 p.m. ET on STAR! and at 7 p.m. on CTV ) .

ATHLETES IN MOTION is produced by Divani Films and Crowsnest Films in association with Bravo!FACT and CTV Inc. with the participation of CFC/Telus Innovation Fund, Rogers Telefund and the Alberta Film Development Corporation. Producers are John Kerr and Srinivas Krishna.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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A polite reminder: Distant Early Warnings is eligible for the Aurora

This major reprint anthology -- containing stories, poems, a lightning round of short-shorts, comprehensive biographical and bibliographical notes on each author, and an exhaustive list of award-winning Canadian SF&F is eligible for nomination for the Aurora Award in the Best Work in English (Other) category:
Distant Early Warnings, edited by Robert J. Sawyer. Robert J. Sawyer Books.
Distant Early Warnings contains stories by Hugo Award winners Spider Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Robert Charles Wilson, Hugo nominees Paddy Forde, James Alan Gardner, Nalo Hopkinson, and Peter Watts, and Aurora Award winners Julie E. Czerneda and Karl Schroeder, plus poetry by Carolyn Clink and David Livingstone Clink. The fabulous cover painting is by James Beveridge.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Remember when Danny Partridge slipped a tape player under Reuben Kincaid's toilet stall?

An email I sent this morning:
My little line of books can only publish Canadian authors, so there's nothing I can do for you. But, trust me, hyping your book as a "mass market dream" and hoping that it's somehow going to drive sales that you started writing as a teenager are statements that will just turn other editors off. They hear hype like that all the time, and what you're actually doing is insulting: it's their job, not yours, to assess the market potential of a manuscript; why tell them their business?

Seriously, you say you're a chemistry student, so you must understand something about the need to present data to support claims -- and you've presented none, just fervent hucksterism. It'll work on no one.

And, for God's sake, saying, "I completely understand that this is probably not how you normally talk with authors, but I feel the query process really doesn't show how motivated and serious I am about my work" and so just going ahead and bypassing how it's normally done, is wrong, wrong, wrong. The only way publishers can deal with the volume of manuscripts they receive is by having an established process; if you choose not to participate in that process, you're dead from the start.

Biggest problem with your proposal? Science fiction and fantasy are separate categories; mixing them willy-nilly makes your book hard to market (later in your career, you can do whatever you want; early on, you have to be categorizable). Choose one, write the best book you can, and submit it exactly and precisely according to the publishers guidelines. I wish you the best of luck.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey, Fictionwise! Use this book for your in-house testing!

Although eReader is a very robust application on Palm OS devices, and the Windows implementation isn't bad (although the B&N Reader version has lots of bugs, and many features stripped out), other recent implementations have left much to be desired, especially when dealing with complexly formatted ebooks.

The Foxit eSlick, as I observed before, can't even properly format basic text properly. The ECTACO jetBook - Lite does a much better job with eReader-formatted books, but still isn't anywhere near as good as the Palm implementation (for instance, hyperlinks for tables of contents and footnotes don't work).

I hereby suggest that Fictionwise and Barnes & Noble (owners of the eReader format), and Foxit, ECTACO, and others making hardware designed to interpret that format, use the following book as one of their standard in-house-testing samples:

Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene

Why? Because it is a great example of what the electronic edition of a print book should be, and it incorporates features that will put any ebook-rendering software through its paces:

* Hyperlinked table of contents

* Chapter headings and subheadings coded to be in different text sizes

* Bulleted lists

* Block quotations set off from the main text

* Numerous footnotes (including often more than one on a single page/screen)

* Foreign-language characters (including Hebrew and Greek) embedded in the text

* Numerous illustrations

* Captions for these pictures

* Proper typography (including em-dashes and smart quotes).

It is, in fact, a joy to read on a Palm -- and should be a joy to read on all platforms.

As an example of work still to be done, when reading this book with the ECTACO jetBook - Lite implementation of eReader software, subheadings appear in the same text size as normal text (on the Palm, the render at a size intermediate between Chapter headings and normal text); pictures that are small enough to show on screen render properly, but larger ones don't (instead they show as just a black square), and all hyperlinks and footnote calls are dead.

Indeed, on the ECTACO jetBook - Lite, depending on the dimensions of the picture, the picture may show properly when using the device in portrait mode but not in landscape, or vice versa.

Now, as it happens, this is also a truly fascinating book, and I'm enjoying it immensely -- but that's not the point.

The point is that Fictionwise clearly hasn't been testing eReader sufficiently on new platforms (and particularly not on platforms that they are actually selling as the single most expensive things available for purchase on their site). Testing the software in-house with this book would be a good start.

Oh, and hats off to Penguin/Viking, the publishers of Reading in the Brain in both print and electronic editions, for doing the ebook version right. (On the other hand, a pox on whoever set the price for the ebook edition; $27.95 is crazy.)
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Amazon has not backed down; Times and Post are wrong

First The New York Times and now The Washington Post have reported that Amazon gave into Macmillan's demands, and it's been flashing all over the web that this is the case for four days now.

But check the source. The only reference is to this unsigned anonymous post buried deep on the site; that's the one and only bit of evidence to support the belief that Amazon has changed its tune.

The reality is that there's been NO public surrender by, NO change in their policy, and NO announcement by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and, as of right now, Macmillan books are still not for sale in either electronic or paper editions from

How much weight should we give to the anonymous blog post cited above? Here's a test. Go to the main page, and try to follow a chain of links to get to that supposedly big, important, game-changing public announcement. Go ahead, try. You'll never find it.

Amazon is based in Washington state. That unsigned blog post went up at 2:22 on a Sunday afternoon Pacific time, when no one in real authority was likely in the building. It's either a case of some clueless eager beaver deep in the bowels of the hierarchy speaking up when he had no authority to do so, or -- if you want to take a more sinister approach -- a brilliant bit of misdirection, knowing that the little posting would go viral (and then be picked up by lazy old-media reporters), and so any planned boycott or collective action by customers or authors against Amazon would dissipate, with everyone saying, "Whew, glad that's over!"

But it isn't. Nothing has changed in the standoff. The books are still off-sale, Amazon has reached no agreement with Macmillan, and authors are getting hurt.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DAW is the new Tor

Used to be, back in the day, if you wanted to buy science fiction and fantasy by Canadian authors, you turned to Tor Books: they had tons of Canadian authors on their lists: Charles de Lint, Candas Jane Dorsey, Ed Greenwood, Phyllis Gotlieb, Terence M. Green, Matthew Hughes, Karl Schroeder, Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Charles Wilson, Peter Watts, and more. A few of those are still doing new books with Tor, but it certainly can no longer be called the go-to house for Canadian SF&F.

DAW, on the other hand, has been quietly building a major list of Canadian authors, including Julie E. Czerneda, Tanya Huff, Fiona Patton, Michelle West, Edward Willett (last year's winner of the long-form English Aurora Award), and more. And DAW's on-going commitment to original short-fiction anthologies has provided the home for many a story that has gone on to be nominated for an Aurora Award (and has produced four Aurora winners).

And so it's wonderfully appropriate that Keycon 26, which has been designated this year's Canadian National Science Fiction Convention, has just announced DAW's Sheila Gilbert as its Editor Guest of Honour. Not only is Sheila a terrific person and a terrific editor, but she's done an enormous amount for Canadian science fiction and fantasy authors.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Hot New Models

I suggested to the coordinator for this conference that she stop using that subject line in emails -- I thought it was a come-on for a porn site! But it isn't. It's the title of the 2010 Book Summit coming up in Toronto. The full name is: "Hot New Models: the amazing transformation of business and culture in the world of books." The event will take place at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on Friday, June 18 2010.

I"m thrilled to be the only author (as opposed to publisher, editor, or agent) invited to give a solo presentation at this event. I'll be presenting this 75-minute workshop from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m.; I'll put up registration details when I have them:
The 21st Century Author
Robert J. Sawyer

Today's savvy authors are taking the lead in building their personal brands through social media, their own touring, and other initiatives; they're also increasingly marketing themselves as media pundits and keynote speakers, all in service of generating buzz for their books.

Bestselling novelist Robert J. Sawyer (whose FlashForward is the basis for the ABC TV series) was the first science-fiction author in the world to have a website, pioneered the notion of giving away sample chapters online, and has been blogging since before the word was invented. Join him for a case-study analysis of what works and what doesn't for writers in the 21st century -- and a spirited discussion of whether authors will continue to need traditional publishers.
"Hot New Models" is presented by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council in association with Authors at Harbourfront Centre; my workshop is sponsored by Simon & Schuster Canada.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wake review roundup

Since we're in the thick of Hugo, Nebula, and Aurora Award-nominating season, forgive me for this roundup of reviews of my 2009 novel Wake (published in the US by Ace as WWW: Wake).

"The thought-provoking first installment of Sawyer's WWW trilogy explores the origins and emergence of consciousness. The thematic diversity — and profundity — makes this one of Sawyer's strongest works to date." —Publishers Weekly (starred review, denoting a book of exceptional merit)

"Extremely well written and complex making Tron look like pre-school, this is a terrific first tale in what looks like will be a great trilogy." —

"Wake was serialized in Analog recently; those who read it in these pages don't need me to tell them what a good book it is.

"For many years now, Robert J. Sawyer has been turning out imaginative, thought-provoking science fiction novels set in the present day and dealing with the impact of science and technology upon relatively ordinary people. A typical Sawyer tale brings together multiple diverse elements from popular culture, psychology, physics, and philosophy; stirs together plausible advances in science with appealing characters; adds some realistic depictions of actual scientists at work and a generous helping of old-fashioned sense-of-wonder; and filters the whole mix through a distinctly Canadian filter. Wake is no exception.

"Caitlin is an appealing enough character, and the premise is fascinating: a girl, blind from birth, gains the ability to see the structure of the Internet from within. A lesser writer would go with this story, following Caitlin as she learns to deal with this new, expanded world. But this is Sawyer, and there's much, much more going on.

"Along the way, Sawyer raises fascinating, complex questions about the nature of consciousness and self-awareness, of communication between disparate intelligences, and compassion across huge gulfs. This is a book that you'll still be thinking about for weeks after you finish reading it." —Analog Science Fiction and Fact

"Wake provides a refreshing intersect of science and real life, of consciousness and perception, of imagination and potential. Sawyer puts the science back in science fiction and does it with panache." —Bitten by Books

"Sawyer's take on theories about the origin of consciousness, generated within the framework of an engaging story, is fascinating, and his approach to machine consciousness and the Internet is surprisingly fresh." —Booklist

"A very entertaining read. Sawyer has written a pretty fast paced novel with Wake. Deceptively so in fact. Although it does not slow the story down he has packed the text with references to developments in information technology, mathematics, physics, linguistics and a number of other fields. Parts of the novel read like Oliver Sacks writing science fiction." —Bookspot Central

"While this is clearly a novel of big ideas, the author never neglects the individual characters. Caitlin, her parents, Dr. Kuroda, and even the kids at school all seem very realistic. Allowing us to follow Caitlin's story from her point of view works perfectly. She's a teenager, so she's moody and very human; but she's a very smart girl, applying knowledge to new situations and grasping abstract concepts with relative ease. She's a great character, with flaws and a sense of humor." —CA Reviews

"I shouldn't be shocked that Sawyer has done has homework and is able to predict things that could happen in the near future. He's had a long, distinguished career of doing just that and his new novels are always those I look forward to reading next. Wake is no exception.

"While the book is full of big ideas, those ideas are grounded in identifiable characters. The main focus of the story is Catlin and her journey from lack of sight to her new ability to see. Sawyer ably puts the reader inside the mind and experience of Catlin, making us see how she works within the world while being blind and how she must learn to adapt to a world where she can see. Catlin's story will have you feeling her joy, her frustration and her curious nature in how she relates to the world." —The Dragon Page

"I love the fact that Robert J. Sawyer is smarter than me. There is a breadth to his concepts and ideas in his latest novel,

Wake, that is exhilarating, if not exhausting. In the hands of a less skilled and less focused author, it would be like tab-surfing Wikipedia. Wake, however, is an engrossing, fascinating and, yes, challenging novel to read. Wake has more great and intriguing ideas, philosophies and concepts interwoven throughout the plot than should be allowed in a single novel.

"Wake is founded on theories that communication, in any form, is not just a way of sharing information, but is the central construct for all education, for true emancipation as well as the vehicle of all empathy and understanding. This is why Sawyer's Wake succeeds; his unabashed optimism and hope for a shared future that is no longer bound and tethered by tyranny, petty opportunism and fear." —FFWD, aka Fast Forward Weekly (Calgary, Alberta)

"Wake by Robert J. Sawyer is another delight from the pen of an author who knows how to romp through the kind of speculation which makes science fiction most fun. Definitely give this one a try." —Fort Morgan Times (Colorado)

"Robert J. Sawyer's books are for me among a select group. When there's a new Robert J. Sawyer book available, all other leisure activities go on hold until it's read. Robert J. Sawyer writes science fiction that makes you think. His books often tackle the philosophical questions of our time, and the philosophical questions we may need to confront at a future time.

"The main human character in [Wake] is Caitlin Decter. She's 15, a mathematics wizard, a frequent blogger on her LiveJournal — and a blind user of JAWS. It's rare to find novels where the main character is blind, let alone when where the research has clearly been so meticulous." — Jonathan Mosen, Vice-President of Blindness Hardware Product Management, Freedom Scientific [makers of JAWS]

"Wake often feels like a counterargument, both in style and content, to Neuromancer. One hopes that the next two volumes will step out of Gibson's long, dark shadow and build on the solid foundation laid in the first book. If Sawyer succeeds in this, the final nail will be hammered into Cyberpunk's coffin and the world will have a new way to write about the Internet. ... Wake is a major work by one of SF's heavyweights.

"Reading this book feels like watching a magic trick. Sawyer starts with a few pieces of string, shows you what's up his sleeves — nothing — and then starts tying them together. He steps back, gives the ropes a good yank and — Ta-Da — you have a tidy knot in the shape of a brain.

"The literati could very well be, to a person, too bloody stupid to see any of this. They seem to think that a tight plot construction and a clear prose style are inartistic. Sawyer gets a lot of well-deserved respect as a storyteller and as a science pundit but not enough as a prose stylist. It should not be overlooked that he is a science fiction writer. Sawyer attacks the novel from different points of view, using different styles and narrative tools; creates suspense while never employing an antagonist, tells history through a symbolic representation of consciousness and creates a character out of nothing. He does all of this so well and layers in so much page-turning, forward thrust, that the extent of his style is invisible." —The Grumpy Owl

"Robert J. Sawyer is widely considered one of the most inventive and popular writers in the science fiction genre, and here's why: he imagines things that are wildly fanciful, and he makes them seem not only plausible, but downright inevitable. Sawyer has a knack for taking realistic characters and plunking them down in stories that might seem far-fetched, if they weren't so vividly imagined and elegantly told. He's an excellent storyteller, and you catch him here at his very best." —Halifax Chronicle-Herald

"Sawyer continues to push the boundaries with his stories of the future made credible. His erudition, eclecticism, and masterly storytelling make this trilogy opener a choice selection." —Library Journal

"Wake is a marvelous story [with] a convincing narrative from the AI perspective. What I like best about this novel is Sawyer's casual dropping in of various bits of history that I know, and other bits of current fact that I haven't paid attention to. Eye openers on Chinese politics and insights into research into communicating with chimpanzees make this novel an eclectic reading SF fan's delight.

"Sawyer's SF story of an Artificial Intelligence dawning in the World Wide Web has the emotional impact of Buffy fighting demons from another dimension." —Jacqueline Lichtenberg in The Monthly Aspectarian

"Wake is about as good as it gets when it comes to science fiction. In Caitlin, Sawyer has created a likable and sympathetic hero. She's smart, sure, but also full of sass, which lends itself to some wildly entertaining reading. Sawyer's combination of writing skill and computing background come together marvelously in this book. The characters are rich and realistic, while the ideas are fresh and fascinating." —The Maine Edge, Bangor, Maine

"Unforgettable. Impossible to put down." —Nebula Award-winner Jack McDevitt

"When I am asked what my favourite science fiction novel is, invariably the answer is: `The last one by Robert Sawyer.' With the publication of Wake,

Rollback must sadly make way for the new title holder. Wake is, in the words of its heroine, made out of awesome." —McNally Robinson, Canada's second-largest bookstore chain

"Sawyer's treatment of the awakening of a consciousness from a man-made construct (in this case the web) coupled with the awe and wonder of a blind person's journey to sight is brilliant.

"Without revealing the ending, I have to say it had one. So many authors of multi-volume works don't bother tying up enough of the loose ends to keep the reader satisfied at the end of any but the last volume. When we have to wait at least a year for the next installment, I think the author owes us one. Sawyer came through with a most satisfying ending -- not even rushed.

Wake also ends with a perfect last line. But no peeking!" —MostlyFiction Book Reviews

"Sawyer is one of the most successful Canadian writers ever. He has won himself an international readership by reinvigorating the traditions of hard science fiction, following the path of such writers as Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein in his bold speculations from pure science. Clashes between personalities and ideologies fuel [Wake's] plot, but they're not what the book is about. It's about how cool science is.

"Sawyer has marshalled a daunting quantity of fact and theory from across scientific disciplines and applied them to a contemporary landscape — with due regard to cultural and political differences, pop culture, history, economics, adolescent yearnings, personal ambition and human frailty." —National Post

"Sawyer paints a complete portrait of a blind teenage girl, and imagines in detail — from scratch — the inside of a new being. Almost alone among Canadian writers, he tackles the most fundamental questions of who we are and where we might be going — while illuminating where we are now." —The Ottawa Citizen

"A superb work of day-after-tomorrow science fiction; I enjoyed every page." —Hugo Award-winner Allen Steele

"From an author who has written many 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.

"Sawyer has done a fantastic job of researching the science, but also throws in lots of references that any savvy Internet user will recognize, appreciate, and be amused about; as well as putting the readers in the mind of a blind person and how they do the amazing things they do each day." —Sacramento Book Review

"Sawyer's fascination with the birth of consciousness and the relationship of consciousness to humanity makes this more than your typical `the machine is alive' story. Likewise, his compassionate writing lets us avoid the trap of assuming monstrosity in difference. As Caitlin and the consciousness of the Web learn to communicate, readers can easily begin to question what it is that makes us human — and whether or not that is enough to make us special, or just one variation among all consciousness, artificial or natural. Like all great science fiction, Sawyer's work ultimately stirs up philosophical questions, and Wake is no exception." —Sacramento News & Review

"A fast-paced and suspenseful story full of surprises and humour." —The Saskatoon StarPhoenix

"Wake is a gripping story with a novel premise and almost flawless execution." —Science Fiction and Fantasy Insider [Night Owl Reviews]

"Emotionally satisfying and intellectually stimulating. Along with William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's

Snow Crash, Robert J. Sawyer's Wake presents a unique perspective on information technology. I eagerly await its sequels." —SFFaudio

"Sawyer is a brand name in the genre and rightfully so. The book [Wake] was very enjoyable; I highly recommend it!" —SFFWorld

"A brilliant look at interspecies communication with some remarkable insights into the future of artificial intelligence; one of Robert Sawyer's best efforts and one that will open your eyes to new possibilities. He's likely to score a hit with everyone from Gibson and Stephenson's crowd to science oriented YA readers of both genders looking for a summer read." —SFRevu

"I'm impressed. Sawyer's story-telling style is almost invisible to the reader; he doesn't get in the way of his own story, and writes short, punchy chapters that keep the reader saying `just one more.' (It's the type of book I love when I've finished, but hate while I'm reading, because I can't put it down.) His characters are fully realized, and I always finish his books wanting more." —SFScope

"Once again, Robert J. Sawyer explores the intersection between big ideas and real people. Here the subject is consciousness and perception — who we are and how we see one another, both literally and figuratively. Thoughtful and engaging, and a great beginning to a fascinating trilogy." —Hugo Award-winner Robert Charles Wilson

"Now, the idea of a digital intelligence forming online is not a new one, by any means. But I daresay most of the people tackling such a concept automatically assumed, as I always did, that such a being would not only have access to the shared data of the Internet, but the conceptual groundings needed to understand it. And that's where Robert J. Sawyer turns this into such a fascinating, satisfying piece. In a deliberate parallel to the story of Helen Keller, he tackles the need for building a common base of understanding, before unleashing an education creation upon the Web's vast storehouse of knowledge.

"More than that, Sawyer is an author who's not afraid to make his readers think. The topics invoked in this book cover a wide range, from math to theories of intelligence, from what it's like to be blind, to cutting edge technology. He incorporates the myriad resources available online, including Livejournal, Wikipedia, Google, Project Gutenberg, WordNet, and perhaps the most interesting site of all, Cyc, a real site aimed at codifying knowledge so that anyone, including emerging artificial intelligences, might understand. He ties in Internet topography and offbeat musicians, primate signing and Chinese hackers, and creates a wholly believable set of circumstances spinning out of a world we can as good as reach out to touch. There's quite a lot to consider, and Sawyer's good at making it accessible to the average reader.

"Sawyer has delivered another excellent tale." —SF Site

"It's refreshing to read a book so deliberately Canadian in a genre dominated by Americans, and it's easy to see why Sawyer now routinely wins not only Canadian science fiction prizes but also international accolades. His fans won't be disappointed, and readers picking up his work for the first time will get a good introduction to a writer with a remarkable backlist." —Winnipeg Free Press

More about Wake

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Looking for a new blog-hosting tool

My blog is currently hosted by Blogger, which is owned by Google. I use their FTP blogging service so that the URL of my blog can be hooked to my SFWRITER.COM domain:

But now Google is eliminating that service -- yup, just yanking it, poof, gone. Anybody know of a blogging solution that will let me import my existing entries and put new ones at the same URL?

Here's the notice from Google:

Dear FTP user:

You are receiving this e-mail because one or more of your blogs at are set up to publish via FTP. We recently announced a planned shut-down of FTP support on Blogger Buzz (the official Blogger blog), and wanted to make sure you saw the announcement. We will be following up with more information via e-mail in the weeks ahead, and regularly updating a blog dedicated to this service shut-down here:

The full text of the announcement at Blogger Buzz follows.

Last May, we discussed a number of challenges facing[1] Blogger users who relied on FTP to publish their blogs. FTP remains a significant drain on our ability to improve Blogger: only .5% of active blogs are published via FTP — yet the percentage of our engineering resources devoted to supporting FTP vastly exceeds that. On top of this, critical infrastructure that our FTP support relies on at Google will soon become unavailable, which would require that we completely rewrite the code that handles our FTP processing.

Three years ago we launched Custom Domains[2] to give users the simplicity of Blogger, the scalability of Google hosting, and the flexibility of hosting your blog at your own URL. Last year's post discussed the advantages of custom domains over FTP[3] and addressed a number of reasons users have continued to use FTP publishing. (If you're interested in reading more about Custom Domains, our Help Center has a good overview[4] of how to use them on your blog.) In evaluating the investment needed to continue supporting FTP, we have decided that we could not justify diverting further engineering resources away from building new features for all users.

For that reason, we are announcing today that we will no longer support FTP publishing in Blogger after March 26, 2010. We realize that this will not necessarily be welcome news for some users, and we are committed to making the transition as seamless as possible. To that end:

    • We are building a migration tool that will walk users through a migration from their current URL to a Blogger-managed URL (either a Custom Domain or a Blogspot URL) that will be available to all users the week of February 22. This tool will handle redirecting traffic from the old URL to the new URL, and will handle the vast majority of situations.
    • We will be providing a dedicated blog[5] and help documentation
    • Blogger team members will also be available to answer questions on the forum, comments on the blog, and in a few scheduled conference calls once the tool is released.

We have a number of big releases planned in 2010. While we recognize that this decision will frustrate some users, we look forward to showing you the many great things on the way. Thanks for using Blogger.


Rick Klau
Blogger Product Manager
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Let's hear it for art directors!

I posted this on Lou Anders's Facebook wall, in a conversation about making sure cover artists get credited, but want to share it here, too:

And let's not forget the ART DIRECTOR. Rita Frangie, the art director for Ace, has done absolutely amazing design work for me, Joe Haldeman, Allen Steele, Charles Stross, and others, but because she doesn't blog or party at cons, no one in SF fandom knows her name. But she's a frickin' genius.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Is it a cop-out that the Neanderthals never had religion?

A minister wrote to me over the weekend to say it was a "cop-out" that my Neanderthals in Hominids and its sequels never had any religion; oh, he could understand a story about a kind of humanity that had turned away from religion, but not one that never had it; he said a lack of religion betrayed a fundamental lack of curiosity about their origins on their part. My reply:
Thank you for your very thoughtful letter.

Indeed, a man of the cloth might say it's a cop-out to not explain why the Neanderthals don't have religion and are incapable of the same leap you yourself have taken, but the point I was making was the opposite: the rational position based on looking at the evidence around you is that we're just here.

It is not a lack of curiosity to say that, and then try to fathom the random mechanisms -- from quantum fluctuations in a vacuum to evolution through natural selection -- that might have led to that; indeed, the lack of curiosity, if I may be so bold, is in positing some magical cause that requires no other explanation.

That is, rather than asking how do the Neanderthals possibly justify their lack of belief, the books ask how we possibly justify the presence of our belief. :)

Thanks again for taking the time to write me! I really appreciate it.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Amazon vs. Macmillan: increasing jeopardy and rising stakes

Last week in Montreal, I gave a talk about how one structures a story. I spoke about how the stakes should get higher and higher with each subsequent plot revelation. This weekend, we encountered a perfect real-life example of that structure:
  • First revelation: my books are no longer on sale at (personal jeopardy)

  • Second revelation: OMG, it's not just me; all Tor authors have had their books pulled from (people the main character cares about are in jeopardy, too).

  • Third revelation: it's not just Tor, which is a small operation in the grand scheme of things, but the whole vast Macmillan publishing empire that's affected (the whole nation is in jeopardy).

  • Fourth revelation: Holy crap, the entire future of the publishing industry is at stake (the whole world is in jeopardy).
The Authors Guild explains it well, in this press release entitled THE RIGHT BATTLE AT THE RIGHT TIME:
February 2, 2010. Macmillan's current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by removing the buy buttons from all Macmillan titles (with some exceptions for scholarly and educational books), in all editions, including all physical book editions. Thousands of authors and titles are affected; hardest and most unfairly hit are authors with new books published by Macmillan that are in their prime sales period.

Yet if Macmillan prevails, the eventual payoff for its authors (and all authors, if a successful result ripples through the industry) is likely to be significant and lasting.

For those of you who may have missed it, here's the story so far:

Last Thursday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent informed Amazon that beginning in March, it would offer Amazon access to a full range of e-book titles only if Amazon were willing to sell books on an "agency" model that would pay Amazon 30% of e-book proceeds and allow Macmillan to set its own retail price for e-books. (Currently, Amazon buys e-books as a reseller at a discount of 50% off the retail list price and sells at the price it chooses.) Macmillan's price under its agency model, in many cases, would be higher than the $9.99 ceiling that Amazon has been seeking to impose on the industry.

If Amazon didn't find the agency model acceptable, Sargent said Macmillan would expand its "windowing" of e-book editions. "Windowing" is the practice of waiting until a particular edition of a new book has been on the market for a while before making cheaper editions available. Publishers have for decades waited until the hardcover sales window has closed before opening the sales window on paperback editions, for example. This helps protect the sales channels for hardcover books. Windowing e-books is similarly believed to help protect a publisher's sales channels for physical books. The risk with windowing is that some owners of e-book devices are angered that low-priced e-book editions aren't available as soon as books are released in hardcover form.

This was a bold move by Macmillan. Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball. When it doesn't get its way with publishers, Amazon tends to start removing "buy buttons" from the publisher's titles. It's a harsh tactic, by which Amazon uses its dominance of online bookselling to punish publishers who fail to fall in line with Amazon's business plans. Collateral damage in these scuffles, of course, are authors and readers. Authors lose their access to millions of readers who shop at Amazon; readers find some of their favorite authors' works unavailable. Generally, the ending is not a good one for the publisher or its authors -- Amazon's hold on the industry, controlling an estimated 75% of online trade book print sales in the U.S., is too strong for a publisher to withstand. The publisher caves, and yet more industry revenues are diverted to Amazon. This isn't good for those who care about books. Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.

Macmillan's move is timely because, at the moment, the e-book market is still far smaller than the physical book market, but the e-book market is growing quickly. The longer Macmillan waited, the more difficult the transition.

Amazon didn't wait for March, when Macmillan's new policy is slated to go into effect; it decided to hit Macmillan immediately and comprehensively, removing the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles, in all editions. This is a direct attempt to use its clout in the physical book industry to enforce its business model in the e-book industry. In some ways, it was an unusual exercise of power for Amazon. The company has used the tactic of turning off buy buttons on several occasions before, but, with major publishers it's usually selective, and doesn't turn out the lights on nearly all titles. That treatment is reserved for smaller publishers. (Authors receive no advance warning of Amazon's treatment of their titles, nor can they do anything about it.)

Amazon, it appears, overreached. Macmillan was a bit too big a foe, and Amazon's bullying tactics were a bit too blatant. (For a flavor of media reaction, see this story in Fast Company.)

Sunday evening, Amazon announced that it would have to "capitulate" to Macmillan, "because Macmillan has a monopoly over its own titles." (By this definition, nearly every company exercises a monopoly over its products.) We're all still waiting for that capitulation: Macmillan's books still weren't available on Amazon on Monday evening.

If Macmillan does indeed prevail, the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however.

You'll be hearing more from us on this matter soon.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Monday, February 1, 2010

eBook pricing

Scott Westerfeld says it well in his blog:
All discussions of [the Amazon/Macmillan war] will draw commenters who think they magically know how books should be priced, and who say there is no reason for electronic editions to be more than $9.99. A quick note to them: You don’t know what you’re talking about. Seriously, your back-of-the-envelope calculations are crap. The printing costs of a book are generally between 3% and 10% of list price. So in most cases, 10% should be your “first-printing” e-book discount, not 50%. That may seem weird to you, but that’s because all the cheap stuff on the internet is backlist (like Baen Books), subsidized/coerced (like Amazon), self-published (no editing or marketing costs), or promotional.

Robert J. Sawyer online: