[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Survey Form for Biolog of Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

This isn't the actual "Jay Kay Klein's Biolog" that appeared of me in the Mid-December 1994 issue of Analog. Rather, this is the text of the survey form I filled out in April 1994 for Jay to help him prepare that Biolog.

The text below refers to Hobson's Choice — that's the title under which the novel that was later published in book form as The Terminal Experiment was serialized in Analog.

[Robert J. Sawyer] Name / Born; raised / Past Places of Residence:

Robert J. Sawyer ("Rob") was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 29, 1960. He grew up in Toronto, and now lives just north of that city with Carolyn Clink, his wife of ten years. Rob and Carolyn met in their high-school SF club, of which Rob was co-founder.

Education / Areas of Study:

Rob has an unusual educational background for a hard-SF writer. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto's Ryerson Polytechnic University.

This perhaps-odd choice of major came about during Rob's last year of high school. From age five, he had never wavered in his career ambition: to be a paleontologist. Those who've read his popular Quintaglio trilogy (Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner, all published by Ace), which tells of the intellectual coming of age of a race of intelligent dinosaurs, or his most recent novel, the just-published [November 1994] End of an Era, a time-travel story about a journey back to the closing days of the Cretaceous, can see that he maintains an interest in paleontology still. From an early age, Rob also thought he'd like to write SF, but figured it would always have to be merely as a hobby.

Well, in his final year of high school, a great truth dawned on him: there are only two dozen people in the entire world who make their living studying dinosaurs. Meanwhile, there are a couple of hundred who make their living writing SF. Although becoming an SF writer had always seemed the impractical goal, it turned out in fact to be more practical — and to have a higher chance of success — than setting out to become a dinosaur hunter.

And so Rob decided to pursue his writing career. But, ever the practicalist, he figured it was best to still learn a trade, as well — and so he studied broadcasting, with an emphasis on scriptwriting. He occasionally does broadcasting for CBC Radio — including writing and narrating five one-hour documentaries about the SF genre. He also studied psychology at Ryerson Polytechnic; his March 1994 novel Foreigner, which put an alien into Freudian psychoanalysis, came directly out of that experience.

Full-time/Part-time writer:

Rob has been a full-time writer since 1983. In fact, he's only had two regular jobs since finishing school. He worked for a while at Bakka, Canada's oldest SF specialty bookstore, and he spent a year back at Ryerson Polytechnic as an instructor/demonstrator. However, it wasn't until 1990 that Rob became a full-time SF writer; throughout the 1980s he wrote about computers and high technology for Canadian magazines and newspapers, and did writing for high-tech companies and government offices. All the while, he was writing SF stories, and selling them at the blistering rate of about one a year.

His first SF sale was to the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York, which adapted one of his short stories as part of a dramatic starshow trilogy that ran during the summer of 1980.

Rob's first SF publication appeared in, of all places, The Village Voice: The Weekly Newspaper of New York, January 14, 1981, and his first appearance in a regular SF magazine was in the March 1987 Amazing Stories. His current serial, Hobson's Choice, marks his first appearance in Analog, a magazine that has been a part of his life as a reader for twenty-one years now.

Genres other than SF:

Although all of Rob's work to date has been published as SF, much of it, including Hobson's Choice, crosses over into the mystery field. His first novel, Golden Fleece (which Orson Scott Card chose as the best SF novel of 1990 in his review column in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) was a murder mystery set aboard a Bussard ramjet starship, and one of his short stories ("Just Like Old Times" from the DAW anthology Dinosaur Fantastic, edited by Mike Resnick) was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award. He's also got a short story coming up in the anthology Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (DAW, early 1995).

Hobbies / Interests / SF fan:

Rob's hobbies include fossil collecting, stargazing, and trivia (he's a past team captain for a pub trivia league; his team was called "The Clavins," after the barroom know-it-all on Cheers). He's past moderator of the Ontario Science Fiction Club (1981-82), and co-chaired four SF conventions in the Toronto area in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

New Books / Forthcoming:

Rob's next book will be Starplex, forthcoming from Ace. It deals with cutting-edge cosmology, dark matter, and alien life.

Writing and other awards:

Rob's Golden Fleece won Canada's Aurora Award for Best SF Novel of 1990/91, and Far-Seer won the CompuServe SF Forum's Homer Award for Best SF Novel of 1992.

On writing SF:

So how does a guy with an arts degree end up writing hard SF? Through being a voracious reader of science books (both popular and technical) and magazines. He finds the weekly magazine Science News invaluable for keeping current. In fact, research is one of the things Rob enjoys most about being a writer. He's currently immersing himself in the Human Genome Project, dark matter, the causes of aging, and paleoanthropology — all of which will find their way into books he's currently working on. A generalist in a world of specialists, Rob loves to mix areas of study that aren't normally combined, and he finds his stories ideas coming out of that mix.

In constructing a story, Rob likes to bring together disparate elements (such as artificial intelligence and theology in Hobson's Choice, or astronomy and paleontology in Far-Seer). But he's not ready to begin writing until he's found the core philosophical question underlying the material he wants to play with. The book has to be about something significant and relevant — not just mental exercise.

On Canadian SF:

Rob belongs to a very, very small subset of SF writers: he is one of precisely three people who were born in Canada, still live there, and regularly write English-language SF at novel length (the other two are Phyllis Gotlieb, born in Toronto in 1926, and Terence M. Green, born in Toronto in 1947). Rob does see Canadian influences in his work, and they go deeper than just the fact that all his Earthbound stories are set in his home and native land. Canada is much more a collective, rather than individualist, nation than is the United States. Out-and-out heroes and villains are rare in Sawyer's work. Characters in his books are more likely to get caught up in the sweep of events, as Peter Hobson in Hobson's Choice does, than to take charge and set the world right single-handedly.

On SF as social commentary:

Rob believes SF is a potent force for social commentary (anybody who doesn't read his books about the Quintaglio aliens as parables about humanity is missing the whole point, he says). But he firmly believes that the test should not be whether or not SF has successfully predicted certain things. SF is much more important when, by highlighting potential problems, it ends up steering society away from the things it is predicting. Orwell's 1984 was an important novel because it helped make sure that the real 1984 was nothing at all like the world it predicted; without that SF book sounding the warning, things would have ended up a lot worse than they did.

Rob is particularly fascinated by the clash between the two most potent forces in shaping human society — science and religion. He explored that conflict in the Quintaglio trilogy, and does so again here in Hobson's Choice.

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