Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Toronto book-launch party for Watch

Join me for the Toronto book-launch party for Watch, the second book in the WWW trilogy, this Tuesday, Apirl 6, 2010, at 7:00 p.m. at The Dominion on Queen pub, 500 Queen Street East (East, not West), Toronto, with book sales by Bakka-Phoenix Books, and the unveiling of the new Watch book trailer!

Admission is free and everyone is welcome!
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FlashForward by the numbers

Okay, I won't kid anyone by saying the ratings for the return of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, were what we'd hoped for. But let's bring some clarity to the discussion. Here's a good analysis of how we did from RBR.COM (Radio Business Report / Television Business Report -- "the Voice of the Broadcasting Industry"):
“FlashForward” (8:00-10:01 p.m.)

Returning to ABC’s schedule for the first time in 3-1/2 months, opposite stiff competition from CBS’ NCAA Basketball Tournament and NBC’s original 2-hour comedy block, freshman “FlashForward” drew an average audience of 6.5 million viewers during its broadcast.

The No. 1 non-sports program in its regular 8:00-9:00 p.m. time period with Total Viewers, “FlashForward” (6.5 million) topped its original competition in the hour, besting NBC’s comedies (“Community”/”Parks and Recreation”) by 35% (4.8 million). The ABC rookie also defeated its regular competition in the opening hour of prime in Adults 25-54 (2.4/7) and key Women (W18-49/W25-54).

In its usual 8:00-9:00 p.m. time slot, “FlashForward” attracted ABC’s biggest overall audience (6.5 million) since January and its highest Adult 18-49 non-sports number (1.9/6) since December – since 1/21/10 and 12/3/09, respectively.

Despite facing the College Basketball Tournament, “FlashForward” held steady among Adults 18-49 from its first to second hour, building 5% in its final half-hour at 9:30 p.m. (1.9/6 to 2.0/6). The drama also gained audience from its first to second hour among Adults 25-54 (+4%) and across all key Men: M18-34 (+7%), M18-49 (+7%) and M25-54 (+5%).

TV’s top freshman gainer this season with young adult viewers via DVR playback, “FlashForward” surges from its first-reported overnight numbers by 1.8 million viewers and by 9-tenths of an Adult 18-49 rating point (+31%), from the Live + Same Day ratings to the Live + 7 Day DVR finals.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Monday, March 22, 2010

New edition of Starplex is gorgeous

Received my author's copies today of the new Red Deer Press edition of Starplex, my 1996 novel that was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula and won the Aurora Award. I gotta say this is one gorgeous-looking trade paperback! W00t! It'll be in stores across Canada shortly, and out in the US in October 2010 (having the US release later is the norm for Red Deer Press's parent company, Toronto-based Fitzhenry & Whiteside -- sorry about that!).
"An epic hard-science adventure tempered by human concerns. Highly recommended." -- Library Journal

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Canadian academic conference on science fiction

Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, has issued a call for papers for an academic conference entitled "Social Science on the Final Frontier." Guest authors at the event: Robert J. Sawyer, Karl Schroeder, and Julie E. Czerneda. Dates: Monday, August 23, to Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

Sudbury, of course, is where my novels Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids are set, and in 2007, Laurentian University gave me an honorary doctorate. I can't wait to go back!
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Friday, March 19, 2010

Quantum computing in the Neanderthal books and real life

Great blog post from Canadian computing trade journal ComputerWorld Canada about quantum computing in the novels of Robert J. Sawyer -- and now in reality. W00t!
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jim C. Hines's publishing survey

Jim C. Hines's survey results on how writers broke into print is well worth looking at. Among Jim's conclusions: "To those proclaiming queries and the slush pile are for suckers, and self-publishing is the way to land a major novel deal, I have bad news: only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher."
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Kuroda

I revealed in this blog post that the character of Kuroda, the information theorist from my WWW trilogy consisting of Wake, Watch, and Wonder, is named for the PROBE Control telemetry specialist Kuroda from the 1972 TV series Search, which had a big influence on me.

But I should note that there's another Kuroda in science fiction: the man known as "The Last Kamikaze" from the episode of that title from The Six Million Dollar Man. The Kuroda on Search was played by Byron Chung; the Kuroda on SMDM was played, absolutely brilliantly, by John Fujioka. For those who thought SMDM nothing but mindless action adventure, I commend "The Last Kamikaze" to your attention: I can't watch it without getting tears in my eyes. You can read all about the SMDM character in the Bionic Wiki here.

Judy Burns wrote "The Last Kamikaze" (and its sequel, "The Wolf Boy"), and co-wrote the original Star Trek episode "The Tholian Web."
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Flashforwards, Flashbacks, and Me

After a three-month hiatus, FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, returns to television this week. On Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (9:00 p.m. Central), a one-hour clip show entitled "What Did You See?" (a catch-phrase straight out of my novel) airs (immediately following Lost).

And on Thursday, March 18, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (7:00 p.m. Central), a new two-hour episode, "Revelation Zero," airs -- and we'll be on without repeats or pre-emptions every week after that for ten more weeks.

What follows are some of my thoughts about the show and being involved with it.
It's a sweltering day in August 2009, and I'm in Los Angeles, at a location shoot for FlashForward, as we're filming the sixth episode of the TV series based on my novel of the same name.

John Cho (pictured with me above), one of our stars, comes up to me to say hello. We haven't seen each other since filming the pilot, back in February 2009, and he's been wanting to ask me a question since then: "What happens to my character?"

He's right to wonder. In our first episode, everyone on Earth blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds. Millions died during that time, as people tumbled down staircases, cars smashed into each other, planes crashed as they tried to land, and so on. Those who survived had interlocking visions of what their futures might hold six months down the road.

Except, apparently, for John Cho's character, impetuous FBI agent Demetri Noh. He told the others in the first episode that he'd seen nothing at all -- and, he said, he's terrified that means he'll be dead in just half a year.

The storyline of a guy who has no vision when almost everyone else does is straight out of my novel, so my first thought is to tell John that he should do what fellow series stars Joseph Fiennes (who plays John's partner at the FBI), Sonya Walger, Dominic Monaghan, and Zachary Knighton did: read my book. But instead I decide to immediately put him out of his misery.

I look left and right, to make sure we aren't being overheard, then say, "Well, John, your character is actually lying when he says he didn't see anything. The truth is, six months down the road, Demetri sees himself in a gay bar, and doesn't want to admit that to his macho FBI partner."

John looks skeptical, so I smile and say, "Hey, look, you're the guy playing Sulu now in Star Trek, right? What was the big reveal about the original Sulu, George Takei? Seemed like a good notion to copy."

Of course, that's not the real answer. The truth is hidden in the FlashForward writers' room, which is located on the ABC Studios lot just across a small alley from the writers' room for Lost (from which I hereby deny that we constantly hear anguished screams).

Our room has a giant wall chart divided into twenty-two columns and thirteen rows: one column for each of our first-season episodes, and one row for each character. The actors are forbidden to enter the room, but John's true fate is written there in the appropriate box.

I wish there'd been such a board for my own life. My novel FlashForward was first published in 1999, and I had real doubts back then about whether my writing career was going to flourish. I'd have loved a glimpse in 1999 of what my own future would hold; it would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights to know that the crazy gamble of trying to be a novelist was going to pay off.

Yes, by the time FlashForward was published I'd already won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year, but I'd yet to hit any major bestsellers list (that came the following year, with a book called Calculating God). And the biggest prize in science fiction, the Hugo, had eluded my grasp, despite several nominations by that point (I did finally win it in 2003, for my novel Hominids).

But I'm not sure that I'd have believed this future had I seen it. FlashForward isn't just any TV show; rather, it's the hottest new dramatic program of the year in the US, and it's already sold to a staggering 100 territories worldwide. The juggernaut that FlashForward has become is, frankly, overwhelming.

Working on a big-time TV series (I'm writing episode 19, and serving as consultant on all of them) is new for me. Likewise, it was the challenge of doing something different, I'm sure, that attracted big-name actors to this project. John Cho is known for comedic roles in movies (he's Harold in the Harold & Kumar films), but in FlashForward he's getting to show the world what an incredibly fine dramatic actor he is.

Indeed, all our actors are playing very tough material. I have a tiny cameo in the pilot as "Man on Cell Phone" behind Sonya Walger while she's talking about the worldwide disaster with Joseph Fiennes's character on her own mobile; Sonya was so intense during our little scene together that director David S. Goyer had to keep reminding her to blink.

Joseph Fiennes is known for his Shakespearian work, including playing the bard himself in Shakespeare in Love. During the filming of the pilot, I loved watching Joe bop between doing a tough-guy American voice for his FlashForward character of Mark Benford, and then, as soon as director Goyer called "Cut!," immediately switching to a foppish British voice and reciting lines from Cyrano de Bergerac, as he rehearsed for his role in Trevor Nunn's production of that play this past summer. Joe put Sally Field's back-and-forth transformations in Sybil to shame.

As I look back on it, I'm still stunned that this particular future for me has come to pass. It's been a long road getting to where the show is now. In Hollywood, everything is about who you know -- and my agent there, Vince Gerardis, has long known producer Jessika Borsiczky. As soon as the FlashForward novel was published, Vince gave Jessika a copy, and she got her friend (and later husband) David S. Goyer to read it. They immediately agreed that they wanted to adapt my novel for film.

Later, when David teamed up with Brannon Braga of Star Trek fame to work on a 2005 TV series called Threshold, Brannon -- who was independently a fan of my books -- said that FlashForward would be even better as a TV show, and together David and Brannon wrote the pilot script.

My mother taught statistics at the University of Toronto; all my life, I've been calculating odds, and never figured I'd beat them. Maybe one novel in a hundred has its film or TV rights optioned (most of mine have at one point or another), but then only one in a thousand of those ever actually gets made. I never expected any of mine to be filmed, and I certainly never expected anything on this scale.

When we got the go-ahead to make the pilot -- and at ABC, no less! -- I was gob-smacked; I felt like I'd won the lottery. (And, to my delight, David Goyer told my hometown paper, The Toronto Star, that "I felt like I'd won the lottery of television writers" when he read my novel.)

When the series was picked up by ABC for its initial 13-episode order (now extended to 22), David said, "This will change your life." And it has -- and not just because the darn phone won't stop ringing. Still, it's strange knowing, at 49, that when my obituary does eventually run, the fact that FlashForward was adapted into a TV series will be the thing I'm most noted for.

Looking back on it, it's amazing from how small a seed a global phenomenon can spring. FlashForward grew out of my high-school reunion at which everyone -- and I mean everyone -- said the same thing: if I'd only known back then what I know now, my life would be better. They were sure they'd have avoided marrying that jerk, taking that dead-end job, or making that bad investment.

Well, as a science-fiction writer, I couldn't hear that without wanting to explore it with a thought experiment: what if people really did know their futures? Would attempts to alter that future actually work?

(You don't need a $100-million TV series to test that proposition, though; just ask yourself, whether, with all your good intentions and conscious will, you've managed to keep your New Year's resolutions.)

In my novel, I make the analogy that time is like a movie: the frame that's illuminated is "now," and the stuff before it is what you've already seen. But what's to come later is already established, as well; it just hasn't been revealed yet.

Well, for FlashForward, I have seen the future; I know what tomorrow holds. But I'm not telling. You're going to have to watch -- and, I hope, read! -- to see how it all unfolds.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is Wake a YA novel?

I received this note from a Canadian academic today:
Interestingly enough, WWW: Wake is filed at my local library as a young-adult book, presumably because the protagonist is 15. I'm just curious: do you consider Wake to be a YA novel? And if so (or not) why?
Here's my response:

Am I a young-adult author -- and is this a new thing?

Yes to the former, and no to the latter.

I made the New York Public Library's prestigious "Best Books for the Teen Age" YA list (yes, that awkward wording is the actual title, for historical reasons) for 1992 for my novel Far-Seer. The whole "Quintaglio Ascension" trilogy, of which Far-Seer is the first volume, is often viewed as YA (and the protagonist of the first book is clearly an adolescent). The books were very favourably reviewed in the standard book-recommendation sources used by YA librarians, VOYA ("Voice of Youth Advocates") and KLIATT: Young Adult Paperback Book Guide (including starred reviews, denoting works of exceptional merit, for both Far-Seer and, the second volume, Fossil Hunter).

And in creating Wake, the first volume of my current WWW trilogy, I consulted on what was appropriate for YA novels with my great friend Elisabeth Hegerat, a YA librarian in Alberta; it was absolutely my intention to appeal to both the adult and YA markets with the WWW trilogy.

That said, what I do is simply write books; it is for others to categorize them. For instance, Wake had a nice run on the Technothrillers bestsellers list, including hitting #1; I didn't consciously craft it as a technothriller, nor did my publisher market it as such, but others did categorize it that way.

On the other hand, I do think of myself as a writer of utopian fiction, both with my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy of Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, and the WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder, but so far few others have classified my work that way (with Richard Parent in The New York Review of Science Fiction being a notable exception).

I'm sure many writers fancy the same thing, but I rather like to think my books are mostly sui generis: they are in their own category, rather than being attempts to squeeze into, piggyback on, or emulate the work of others. For that reason, one of my all-time favourite reviews of my own work was Mark Graham's assessment in The Rocky Mountain News (Denver) that he likes my books because "[Sawyer] doesn't imitate others or himself."

Certainly in Canada where I've had considerable success as a mainstream author, and as part of the non-genre Canadian literature scene, it's true that large numbers of my readers don't consider themselves science fiction readers -- or young-adult readers, for that matter. They're Robert J. Sawyer readers -- and that, rather than where the books might fall in some abstract taxonomy, is all that ultimately matters to me.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"I've got a blowout, damper three!"

"Get your pitch to zero!"

"Pitch is out. I can't hold altitude."

"Correction, alpha hold is off. Trim selectors -- emergency!"

"Flight Com! I can’t hold it! She’s breaking up, she’s break --"
One of the reasons I'm thrilled to have my novel FlashForward adapted for television on ABC is that one of my favorite shows when I was a teenager -- The Six Million Dollar Man -- was on ABC, and it, too, was adapted from a novel: Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

But I realized that in all my collection of science-fiction toys and memorabilia, I didn't have anything to commemorate my fondess for the adventures of astronaut Steve Austin.

And so I bought the wooden model pictured above. It's a NASA/Northrop HL-10 lifting body. In the episode "The Deadly Replay," the craft that Austin crashed in, costing him an arm, both legs, and an eye, was identified as the HL-10, and the real HL-10 was used in the pilot and that episode (although the actual tumbling crash shown in the opening credits is a different lifting body, the M2-F2; the HL-10 is only seen in the opening credits in the shot of it from above as it drops from a B-52's wing accompanied by the words "We have separation").

I bought this from Builderscience on eBay; his asking price was US$68.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Saturday, March 6, 2010

FlashForward pub night in Toronto

Sponsored by Ad Astra, Toronto's SF convention:

FlashForward Pub Night

Celebrating the Success of our Guest of Honour Robert J. Sawyer

Type: Party - Movie/TV Night
Date: Thursday, March 18, 2010
Time: 7:00pm - 11:00pm
Location: Scruffy Murphy’s
Street: 225 The East Mall
Etobicoke (Toronto), Ontario, Canada

So you *think* you know what the future holds?

FlashForward, based on Rob’s book of the same name, returns for the Part 2 of Season 1

On March 18th, at 8pm

Join us for a special pub night around the big screen.

Admission – No charge

Scruffy Murphy’s
225 The East Mall
Etobicoke, On
M9B 6J1


Pre-Reg Convention Memberships will also be available.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Friday, March 5, 2010

On FlashForward set watching the episode I wrote being filmed

I'm in Los Angeles, on the sound stage for FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name, and they're filming the episode I wrote. Woohoo!

My episode, entitled "Course Correction," airs Thursday, May 6, 2010. Above, that's me with Christine Woods, who plays FBI agent Janis Hawk.

Pictured: Christine Woods and Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Monday, March 1, 2010

Fingering your nook

A suggestion for Barnes and Noble re the nook ebook-reading device:

The very first Palm Pilot going back all the way to 1996 and the original Rocket eBook from 1998 allowed you to do handwriting recognition (on Palms, using the Graffiti or Graffiti 2 system, the former of which used simplified characters, the latter of which recognized fully formed characters; on the Rocket, using the similar Allegro system).

I know in these post-iPhone days it's supposed to be old-fashioned to use a stylus, but for inputting short notes or words to look up, it's much faster to use a stylus than a tiny pop-up keyboard.

The handwriting recognition on these devices turned the characters you drew into text, just as if you'd typed them. Since the nook (unlike the Kindle) does NOT have a physical keyboard, why not take full advantage of the touch-screen interface and allow Graffiti-style handwriting input (as well as the on-screen keyboard)?

The idea that ONLY allowing fingertip input instead of optionally also allowing the fine control of a stylus is like only allowing finger painting instead of using a brush. It's fine for kids the first time they're doing it, but for adults who actually do need to frequently enter text (for annotations, searches, and so forth), it's a clumsy method -- and one to which the nook could easily offer an alternative.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Full list of 2010 Aurora nominees

The nominees for Canada’s 2010 Aurora Awards are as follows. Winners will be announced at KeyCon 27/Canvention 30 during the May 21-24 weekend.


The Amulet of Amon-Ra, by Leslie Carmichael, CBAY Books

Druids, by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy

Wake, Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada

Steel Whispers, Hayden Trenholm, Bundoran Press

Terra Insegura, Edward Willett, DAW Books


Le protocole Reston. Mathieu Fortin, (Coups de tête)

L’axe de Koudriss. Michèle Laframboise, Médiaspaul

Suprématie. Laurent McAllister, (Bragelonne)

Un tour en Arkadie. Francine Pelletier, Alire

Filles de lune 3. Le talisman de Maxandre. Élisabeth Tremblay, (De Mortagne)


“Pawns Dreaming of Roses”, Eileen Bell, Women of the Apocalypse. Absolute Xpress

“Here There Be Monsters” Brad Carson, Ages of Wonder, (DAW)

“Little Deaths” Ivan Dorin, Tesseracts Thirteen

“Radio Nowhere” Douglas Smith, Campus Chills

“The World More Full of Weeping” Robert J. Wiersema, ChiZine Publications


«Ors blancs» Alain Bergeron, (Solaris 171)

«De l’amour dans l’air» Claude Bolduc, (Solaris 172)

«La vie des douze Jésus» Luc Dagenais, (Solaris 172)

«Billet de faveur» Michèle Laframboise, (Galaxies 41)

«Grains de silice» Mario Tessier, (Solaris 170)

«La mort aux dés» Élisabeth Vonarburg, (Solaris 171)


Women of the Apocalypse (the Apocalyptic Four) Editor, Absolute Xpress

Ages of Wonder Julie E. Czerneda, & Robert St. Martin, Editors, DAW Books

Neo-Opsis Magazine, Karl Johanson, Editor

On Spec Magazine, Diane Walton, Managing Editor, The Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Distant Early Warnings: Canada’s Best Science Fiction Robert J. Sawyer, Editor, Robert J. Sawyer books


Critiques. Jérôme-Olivier Allard, (Solaris 169-172)

Revue. Joel Champetier, éditeur, Solaris

Le jardin du general, Manga. Michele Laframboise, ,Fichtre, Montréal

Rien à voir avec la fantasy. Thibaud Sallé, (Solaris 169)

Chronique «Les Carnets du Futurible». Mario Tessier, (Solaris 169-171)


Kari-Ann Anderson, for cover of “Nina Kimberly the Merciless”,Dragon Moon Press

Jim Beveridge, “Xenobiology 101: Field Trip’” Neo-opsis #16

Lar de Souza, “Looking for Group” online Comic

Tarol Hunt, “Goblins”. Webcomic

Dan O’Driscoll, Cover of Steel Whispers , Bundoran Press


Jeff Boman, The Original Universe

Richard Graeme Cameron,WCFSAZine

Dale Speirs, Opuntia

Guillaume Voisine, éd. Brins d’Éternité

Felicity Walker, BCSFAzine


Renée Benett, for “In Spaces Between” at Con-Version 25

Robbie Bourget, and René Walling, Chairs of “Anticipation”, the 67th WorldCon

David Hayman, organization Filk Hall of Fame

Roy Miles, work on USS Hudson Bay Executive

Kirstin Morrell, Programming for Con-Version 25


Roy Badgerow, Astronomy Lecture at USS Hudson Bay

Ivan Dorin, “Gods Anonymous” (Con-Version 25 radio play)

Judith Hayman and Peggi Warner-Lalonde organization, Filk track @Anticipation

Tom Jeffers and Sue Posteraro, Filk Concert, Anticipation

Lloyd Penney, Fanwriting

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