SFWRITER.COM > About Rob > Real-Time Conference
Real-Time Conference with
Robert J. Sawyer
on CompuServe Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature TWO Forum
held Sunday, November 9, 1997, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Robert J. Sawyer won the 1995
Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year
The Terminal Experiment).
His other novels include
End of an Era (which won Japan's
Seiun Award for Best Foreign
Novel of the Year),
Nebula Award finalist),
Frameshift, the just-released
Illegal Alien, and his popular
"Quintaglio Ascension" trilogy:
Fossil Hunter, and
He lives just north of Toronto, Canada, with his wife,
Philip: Hello? Anyone at home <big grin>?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Phil. Looks like you're the first
one here. Thanks for coming by! What time is it where you are?
Philip: Hi Rob! I didn't want to miss this one like I did
with Jeff Carver's. It's 8pm over here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Glad you could make it! It's 3:00 in
the afternoon here and a beautiful afternoon it is,
too. My wife is out at her poetry writing workshop.
Philip: Lousy, damp night over here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Sorry to hear that. Toronto in the fall
is usually crisp and cool, but rarely damp. Do I remember
correctly that you're in London?
Philip: Nah, this is Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Right, Londonderry! A brain malfunction
there for a second.
Philip: I'm in the thick of reading your novels, about
halfway through Starplex at the moment.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'm glad you're enjoying my books.
Starplex and End of an Era are actually somewhat
similar: big ideas, big explanations for big puzzles. You'll
find The Terminal Experiment and Frameshift
different, I think.
Martin: Hi, Rob.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin Crumpton, as I live and breathe!
Welcome, my friend!
Philip: Yeah, End of an Era was a fun read,
'specially as I'm a certified time-travel fan. And as a hard
SF/space opera fan, I'm also finding Starplex riveting
reading. . . . Hi Martin!
Martin: It's a pleasure to be here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'd like to do another book like ERA or
Starplex at some point. I actually think my Sherlock
"You See But You Do Not Observe" falls
into the same big-idea / wild-explanation
category. . . . Martin, howzit going?
Martin: I'm writing hard, Rob. <grin>
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin, keep it up! (The writing, I
Philip: Rob, do you have a deliberate policy of making
each novel very different in theme to the previous one?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, yes. Obviously, the biggest SF
writer in Canada maybe even the world is
William Gibson, and I really think he's been pigeonholed since
Neuromancer. So I've tried hard to stay nimble and do
different things each time. Illegal Alien, for instance,
is unlike anything I've done before it's a courtroom
drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. Lots of fun.
Philip: Rob, I've long since downloaded your short stuff
from CompuServe. It's in the Robert Sawyer subdirectory of my
huge main SFlit directory on my computer.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, thanks! . . .
Bancroft, thanks for joining us! Welcome!
Bancroft: Rob, nice to be here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I really
like doing short fiction,
but find it very difficult it's much harder for me
than novel writing is. . . . Bancroft, I see
you're a hard-SF fan (just peeked at your CompuServe profile).
Glad to have you here!
Philip: Rob, I understand what you mean about short
fiction being harder. It has to have a big punch or twist in the
ending, and completely different pacing and construction. Hi
Bancroft: Hi Phil.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: That's right, Phil. I also find it hard
to write on a small canvas; my natural tendency is toward big
sprawling stories. I actually did my first signing for Illegal
Alien yesterday. It's a treat to finally be able to hold the
book in my hands. This one was a long time coming; Ace has
very long lead times. Illegal Alien was actually
written before Frameshift.
Martin: Rob: Serious question. Did you have a mentor?
What value would you place on a mentor for someone seriously
interested in writing?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Good question, Martin. In a way, I did.
Back around 1987, I showed, with great trepidation, one of my
early efforts to another SF writer,
Terence M. Green. Terry pointed out
problems that no one else had ever mentioned. The mentoring
process didn't last very long really, all it took was
one swift kick in the literary butt to get me going in the right
direction. But having someone who had no vested interest in
saying either nice or nasty things assess my work was a
Philip: Rob I just got a boxload of books from
Andromeda Bookshop, in Birmingham, UK. A couple of anthologies
containing short stories by you: Free Space and
Return of the Dinosaurs.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the story in Free Space is
one of my best. I regret to say that the story in Return of
the Dinosaurs is perhaps a minor effort, although the
Tangent spoke kindly of
it. . . . Martin, are you working with someone
now? You are very talented, but I know how hard it is to
make progress in this game.
Martin: That's enlightening. My problem is I'm lazy
I need kicking. I work best under pressure, but
it's difficult to find a mentor when it's all done virtually, you
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Martin. I think a face-to-face
mentor is best, if you can find one. As for laziness, that's the
one reason I can think of for joining a writing group
it forces deadlines upon you. My wife writes poetry, and she
always finishes a poem just in time for the next meeting of her
Martin: Exactly. My problem or, at least, one
of my problems, is that England is kind of provincial, and
finding a Name author locally is impossible and since
I work away from home . . .. Logistically it's
Philip: Rob I'd say that "Forever" from
Return of the Dinosaurs is a nice little story. Is it
supposed to be an alternate timeline, or just a story pointing
out that some species of dinosaur might have lived after the K/T
ROBERT J. SAWYER: "Forever" isn't necessarily an alternate
time line, but you'll note that the paleontologist quoted at the
beginning is Jacob H. Coin, the same fellow whose alternate
timelines/careers I wrote about in my story
"Lost in the Mail." So it could be an alternate timeline, but I
really do think we don't know enough about the K/T event to say
that dinosaurs absolutely became extinct then. I wouldn't be
surprised at all to learn that some had survived for another few
million years. . . . I sympathize, Martin.
Toronto's got a really great SF community. Lots of other writers,
at various stages of their careers. It's helped me a lot
emotionally over the years. (This profession continues to have
its ups and downs
Philip: Rob I believe that some did survive
after the K/T, but they'd been dying out long before then anyway.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Yes, I suspect the decline was a
little more gradual than the eight minutes I portray in
End of an Era <grin>. . . . Carl,
welcome! Good to see you here.
Carl: I'm sorta here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I have written some
dinosaur-related stories I'm quite proud of, especially
"Just Like Old Times," which won both
Aurora and an
Arthur Ellis Award. The latter is the
Canadian award for crime fiction.
Philip: Rob I haven't got as far as reading
any of the Quintaglio books yet. I gather they are an
alternative dinosaurian timeline?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl sorta? Are you
slipping in and out of reality <grin>. . . .
Phil, actually no. The Quintaglio books are set in our timeline,
but deal with the descendants of fauna transplanted from Earth to
another planet 65 million years ago.
Philip: Rob Not many authors have characters
who cause the Great Extinction <big grin>.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, that's true.
Philip: The Quintaglio books sound really interesting. I
guess you've figured that I'm fond of alternate timelines
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the Quintaglio books are a lot of
fun; I really enjoyed the two years I spent building and writing
in that universe.
Carl: I'm in several realities each hour of every day.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl, ahhh. Well, glad to have you with
us, if even only partially so!
Carl: Thank you, it's good to be here.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, hi! It was a real treat
meeting you at the Worldcon in San Antonio!
Bancroft: Hi, WizMar!
Martin: Marilyn: I love you.
Marilyn: Robert: <smile> Yes, good to meet you in
person. . . . Martin, awww... you say that to all
Philip: Hi Marilyn. And Hi! to you too Carl (nearly forgot
about you while I was yakking <grin>.
Martin: Marilyn: (Just thought I'd say
that) . . . How does the future look for you, Rob?
Will you, as seems likely, continue to make your living from
writing? I sincerely hope so.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Martin. Well, you know I've had
some ups and downs every writer does. That really is
true; it just never ends. Many of my best friends are writers,
and we spend a lot of time providing emotional support to each
other; it's amazing what this field can do to your self-respect
and mental equilibrium. That said, things are going really really
well right now. I've got a new two-book contract with Tor, and
they've more than doubled my advances. So, money is no problem
these days, and I seem to be finding a growing audience.
Carl: Ah, $$advances!!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: But, I'll tell you, if you don't enter
this field with a splash, the way, say William Gibson did in the
mid-1980s or Neal Stephenson did in the mid-1990s, it is a very
slow, incremental process to build some name recognition.
Martin: Rob: Pleased to hear that. In case I haven't
mentioned it before, you're a real gentleman and pleasure to know
in person. Talented too.... <smile>
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Martin! One thing I have learned
is that in this field, the nice guys do finish first.
There's no need to be mean or competitive. The biggest thing a
lot of beginning writers have to realize (not you, of course) is
that one person's success is not at the expense of someone else;
the arts are not a zero-sum game.
Philip: Rob unless you're real lucky, I guess
writing's not exactly a lucrative day-time job.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I'm doing fine financially, and
writing is all I do. Indeed, my wife quit her job five months
ago to come work full-time as my assistant. I'm lucky in that
I've got an aggressive agent, lots of foreign editions earning
money, and have attracted some interest from film companies. But,
yes, I understand how rare it is, and I'm grateful beyond words
for the luck I've had. I'd say most of the SF novelists I know
make under $20,000 a year and no one in this field
makes a million dollars a year. But, I'm comfortable
and that's really all I want: comfort, and some security for my
wife's and my old age.
Philip: Good on yer, Rob! It's great to see you making a
living at something you obviously enjoy doing.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil. And that's the key: I
tell everyone I know that the only reason to pursue a career in
writing is if you can't imagine doing anything else that would
make you happy, because anything else is easier and more secure
than writing is.
Carl: And when you really enjoy what you do, you can't
really call it work.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl, well said! I really don't think
of it as work I think of it as my life, and I enjoy
it most of the time <grin>.
Marilyn: Robert, there's one thing I've noted in reading
your material, which is that although you don't pull any punches
with the level of science you use, the science, although integral
to the story, doesn't intrude.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. Thanks! Me, I absolutely
love science I'm with Fred Pohl, who says science is
the greatest spectator sport in the world. But I try to
understand that science in and of itself doesn't make a story.
The parts that I have to edit back the most are the scientific
explanations and discussions in my books. They usually run two,
three, or even four times as long in first draft as they end up
being in the final version.
Philip: Rob Marilyn's absolutely right about
the unobtrusiveness of the science in your books. Some other hard
SF authors beat you over the head with it, and make their novels
more like dry technical manuals that fiction.
Martin: That's a point; I can't write hard SF because I
don't have the grounding. I concentrate on the social effects,
which may be considered a cop-out. What's your background in
science, Rob? I say that in view of Starplex, which is pretty
hard, by the way.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I wanted to be a scientist
(paleontologist) right up to the end of high school, but then I
copped out and decided to study broadcasting instead. The only
science I've studied at university level is psychology (and you
can see the impacts of that in my novels Foreinger,
Terminal Experiment, and the upcoming
Humanity). . . . Phil, thanks! I like to
think that I may not have the scientific expertise of, say,
Robert L. Forward, but that I can wrap up science in slightly
more digestible fictional packages
<grin>. . . . Martin, you don't know how
long I labored to get the science right in Starplex! That
was real work for me but it was fascinating. I'm
lucky enough to know some real scientists who will give me a hand
from time to time (Starplex is dedicated to one of them,
Dr. Ariel Reich).
Carl: Nice to have a friend in the business, so to speak.
Philip: Rob some hard-SF science authors and
readers forget that it's the story that's important. The
science creates the believable backdrop, but that's what it is:
the background, or possibly even the driving force behind the
story, but not the entire story.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Right now, I'm trying to come up with a
short story set on Dune, for an anthology I've been invited into.
Hard work, that. I've never had so many constraints on what I
can and can't do. . . . Carl, it sure
is! . . . Phil, right you are! It's fiction first,
science second, even if we do normally put the words in the
Marilyn: Robert, working in a universe not your own can be
the toughest constraint of all!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: It can, although I must confess to being
one of those generally against the concept of working in other
people's universes. It's tough not because it's challenging;
rather, it's tough because of the limits imposed by the licensing
Philip: Rob you're doing a story in the Dune
universe? Tell us more!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Frank Herbert's son Brian and Edward E.
Kramer are producing an anthology of stories set on Dune; I've
been invited to contribute, and have been reimmersing myself in
the Dune books to come up with something.
Martin: How much do you consider it important to get the
science right? For instance, I'm working on a novelette that
propounds that the Universe began due to a Mobius
curve rubbish, obviously but not entirely
disprovable. At what point does real science dictate what, say,
readers of Analog, will suspend disbelief? (Loaded
ROBERT J. SAWYER: "Not entirely disprovable" is an ideal
criterion. Yes, Analog readers can be picky (boy, can they
ever!), but there is a wider SF reading audience. After all, once
you put either faster-than-light travel into a story, or time
travel, you're throwing rigorous science out the window, anyway.
At the very least, I want it to be a real challenge for someone
to disprove some of my whoppers <grin>.
Martin: Nice answer. <grin> I guess it's down to
sheer nerve or self-confidence, eh?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: That's right. Be audacious, be daring,
and if someone doesn't like it, say, "I'm sorry it went over your
Martin: It's "under your head" that worries me.
Marilyn: Seems to me that whatever your speculation from
current science is, the chief criteria would be internal
consistency for the duration of the story.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, that's exactly right. In some
ways, every SF story is a self-contained alternative universe; as
long as it works well and predictably according to its own stated
rules, it satisfies me as a reader.
Philip: Rob I have all the Dune books bar
Chapterhouse. It'll be interesting to see Dune stories by
writers other than Herbert.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, actually Chapterhouse has
been declared verboten; we're only aloud to reference the first
three books for this project.
Philip: Rob I like hard SF, but I wouldn't let
extremely rigid science get in the way of a good story. Most
times it's the getting there and the actions and consequences
that are more important than the "how" you got there.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Welcome, Jamie!
Carl: Personally, I believe everything I read
for the duration, at least!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, exactly right. SF is an
experimental laboratory, but principally for testing the human
condition under circumstances we can't replicate in real life.
It's thought experiments in psychology as much as anything else.
Bancroft: Rob, that would apply to much of literature, I
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Bancroft, sort of except you
can really find out if, say, Romeo's reactions are valid; it's
much harder much more experimental to
find out if Robinette Broadhead's (in my favorite SF novel,
Gateway) are. . . . By the way, I had two
good pieces of news this week.
Marilyn: <interested look>
ROBERT J. SAWYER: The first is that Illegal Alien
has been selected as the "Made in Canada" fiction title for
January 1998 by the Chapters chain, Canada's largest books
retailer. Only one novel is selected a month and it's promoted on
a special display as you enter the store (and the book is
discounted 20% for the entire month). It should be a real boost
Martin: Rob: Continue (I like success stories).
Marilyn: Rob, that's great! And the second?
Philip: Rob I have the first three volumes of
Dune in a huge hardback omnibus. Gorgeous. Why are the other
three volumes off-limits?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I'm not exactly sure why they are
off limits which is why I don't like working in other
universes; the arbitrary nature of the rules. (I had an idea for
a Star Trek novel, but was told that three of my
elements the Organians, Sybok, and Arex
were all off-limits.) . . . Marilyn, the second is
this: I will be the featured author for the month of July 1998 on
the books page of USA Today Online, which has
wait for it 35 million hits a day.
Martin: Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: This coincides with the release of my
tenth novel, Factoring Humanity, from Tor. I was stunned
when I got contacted for this. It'll be a month-long promotion.
Part of it will involve readers writing an SF story with me as
their guide. . . . Martin, thanks!
Carl: Another 'overnight' success???
Marilyn: Rob, that's SOME promotion!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, I know. I'm still walking
around in a daze.
Marilyn: Rob, <grin> between the Auroras and
Philip: Rob you say you like Fred Pohl
(writing or personally?). I thought
Mining the Oort was a brilliant novel, as were Man
Plus and the sequel (prequel?).
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I like Fred fine as a human being.
Man Plus is my second-favorite Pohl novel.
George: What is an Arex element?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, George. Arex was the three-armed
navigator from the planet Edos in the animated Star Trek
series; voice by James Doohan. One of my favorite Trek
Philip: Rob I agree with you about writing in
someone else's universe. You no longer have ultimate say/control.
Much safer sticking to your own creations
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, exactly! But I've had great luck
working on projects Ed Kramer has been involved with as editor,
and I don't want to let him down.
Philip: Rob what's your favourite Pohl novel?
Indeed, what would be your favourite half dozen SF novels
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, my favorite SF novels, in no
particular order are:
Gateway by Frederik Pohl;
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke;
Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan;
Needle by Hal Clement;
Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle. My favorite SF short
"Tableau" by James White;
"With Folded Hands" by Jack Williamson;
"Barking Dogs" by Terence M. Green. . . . Marilyn,
yes, it's been a great week! Another bit of good news of
recent vintage: Canadian TV viewers will now get to see me every
second Friday in prime-time. The Canadian version of The
Discovery Channel has hired me to present a view of life in the
"2020 Vision". It'll air as a segment
on their prime-time science-news series "@discovery.ca" (yes,
that looks like an Internet domain, but it's really the title of
the Canadian Discovery Channel's highest-rated show.)
Bancroft: Rob, you are going to get some writing
done, I hope... <grin>
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Brancoft, it HAS been rough. My wife
and I are escaping to my parents' vacation home on a lake in
upstate New York for two weeks next month, just so I can get away
from all the distractions and phone calls.
Martin: With great regret,I have to leave to the
conference (long day tomorrow). As always, Rob, it's a pleasure
to 'meet' you you're a damned fine fellow and a great
author. Until next time?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin, see you! Many thanks for
dropping by, my friend!
Philip: Rob that's a cracking selection. I'm
familiar with all the novels except Needle, although I've
read and enjoyed other books by Clement.
"With Folded Hands" is the only one of the stories I've read, and
it's a corker; Williamson is another author I like. His 1930s
story "The Moon Era" is one of my all-time favourites.
Martin: A real pleasure, Rob. Continued success to you.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Martin! . . .
Phil, Neelde was also published under the bland title
From Outer Space, so you may have seen it under that name.
It's really lots of fun.
Philip: Rob nope, I definitely haven't read
Needle, under any other name.
Martin: BFN, folks.
Philip: Bye Martin!
Bancroft: Bye Martin!
George: I've got to go, too.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Buy Martin when he's high! Sell when
Marilyn: G'night, Martin...!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: George, thanks for dropping by!
Philip: G'night, George.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Well, it's been an hour, folks. Maybe
we should be wrapping up? Any final questions?
Marilyn: Your choice Rob! <smile> We'll stay as long
as you want to chat!
Bancroft: I have to go anyway new BBC
adaptation of "Tom Jones" in about one minute <grin>.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Bancroft, enjoy! Thanks for stopping
Philip: Yeah, Rob, I'm in no hurry to go. Bye, Bancroft!
Bancroft: Nice chatting with you, Rob! ttfn, all.
Marilyn: Rob, as you know, Harry (my husband) really
enjoyed the Quintaglios do you think you'll ever
return to them?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. This is where publishing
realities intervene. The books did well for Ace, but are now all
out-of-print. I'd love to write more about them at some point,
but I'd need either Ace or another publisher to reissue them
first, I think. I've suggested to Ace that they do them as a
single omnibus volume (it would be about the same size as the
Dozois's Year's Best). We'll see.
Marilyn: Rob, I hope they do makes it hard to
sell your older stuff when it's out of print! <grin>
Philip: Rob you mentioned earlier that you
might do sequels to some of your novels (you mentioned
Starplex). Any more thoughts on that?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, at the moment, I've no plans to
write a sequel. Starplex certainly has room for one. If
it had actually won the Hugo, instead of just being nominated for
it, I'd say a sequel would have definitely happened. Now, I have
to wait and see what level of long-term commitment Ace has to the
book. Marilyn, oh, I know! There's nothing more frustrating for
an author than out of print books!
Philip: Rob I agree totally that there's
definitely room for more sequels to Starplex. Maybe
they'll grow to rival Trek or B5. I really do hope you'll do at
least one (or more) sequel.
Marilyn: Rob, here's a serious "what if" what
revolution would have to take place in the book industry so that
books wouldn't go out of print, but new books would get their
ROBERT J. SAWYER: My first priority is to get Golden
Fleece back into print; it's the only one that I really think
didn't get anywhere close to the exposure/attention it deserved.
Warner did a terrible job on it, as they did on just about every
book they published back then. Marilyn, very good question!
Roger MacBride Allen and I have been chatting about it a bit.
Marilyn: Rob, yes, I remember trying to get Golden
Fleece when you and I first met over in the CompuServe
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'm not sure what the solution is. I
don't even mind books going out of print, if you could count on
them being re-released every five or even ten years (the way
Disney re-releases its movies).
Marilyn: Robert, now, that would work, too! <grin>
Get whole new generations of readers hooked!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Printing-on-demand is one technology
Roger and I have discussed, but the problem is, is it really
better for an author to sell a thousand copies a year steadily
rather than to have the book out of print, and then, with pent-up
demand and a promotional push, sell twenty thousand when it's
re-released? I don't know. I'd love for the Web to provide a
solution, too. Could I sell more downloads of Frameshift
at $2.50 a copy (which is my royalty on the printed hardcover)
than I could at $25 in the bookstores? I don't know. I've also
Edo van Belkom about becoming a
distributor. When a new book is published, buy up 1,000
hardcovers, or 10,000 paperbacks, and sell them over the years.
If the warehousing problem could be solved, and you could set up
a consortium of authors who would be willing to risk the books
never selling, it might give all the benefits of traditional
publishing plus much longer availability to readers.
Marilyn: <chuckle> I've been in book retailing
(because I like it) for almost 20 years, and I remember
mentioning printing on demand in the late 70s and getting laughed
ROBERT J. SAWYER: You were a visionary, Marilyn. We
visionaries are always ridiculed in our own time <grin>.
Philip: Rob I'm getting near the end of
Starplex, and enjoying every minute. I wanna
sequel! <very big grin>
Marilyn: I think the Web is one possibility on
the other hand, one of the things which Harry and I have
discussed at length is concern over written material becoming
available only to people with high tech. Even micro-film is
readable with the human eye + a simple magnifying glass, but
magnetic media or CDs are not.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil! Marilyn, yes, I worry
Marilyn: Robert, aye, now the warehousing and
storage is a real problem, especially if the
paperbacks aren't printed on acid-free paper.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I think the Library of Congress should
require acid-free publication, and hard-copy deposit, of
anything that's going to be labeled a "book" (in Ontario, it
would be easy to make this a law; books are taxed less than other
merchandise, and the cost of producing a few bound copies for
library deposit would be minuscule compared to the savings). A
"literary-heritage bill" could tax all non-acid-free printing; it
would change overnight the balance of what's printed in
archivable quality versus what isn't.
Marilyn: Definitely! (says the genealogist's daughter.)
Philip: Rob printing on demand? I dream of the
day we can walk into a bookshop, order a book (that isn't on the
shelves), wait a couple of minutes while a machine under the
cashier's desk prints and binds the book, and you get it in your
hand while it's still warm. No such thing as out of print
Marilyn: Phil, that's MY dream as well you
know I hate disappointing customers!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: My theory, Phil, is that the big book
superstores here in North America, at least, are ramping up for
that. That's the real reason they've got coffee shops
right in the stores; so that people will have a place to linger
while the on-demand printing is done.
Marilyn: Robert, you were saying about technology and
writing availability when I'm afraid I interrupted you.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. That's okay; I think I
made my point which is that some archival,
human-readable copies should be required to be produced. The
other issue, on technology, should be some level of true
standardization in recording formats. Again, the government
could mandate this. The reason color TV took so long to be
introduced was because the government insisted that whatever
color system was adopted be backwards compatible with
black-and-white, so that all the "readers" for TV out there would
still be able to access the new programming, and all the old
programming would still be accessible. Unfortunately, the
government has moved away from that kind of thinking; we now have
landfill sites full of old beta videotapes and 5.25"
disks . . .
Philip: Marilyn, it's my dream too. I'm really glad I was
able to get all Rob's books directly from him, as several of them
are out of print.
Marilyn: Not to mention punched paper tapes! (My Dad's
military service records were lost this way!)
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Yes, indeed!
Philip: Rob what's the technology used by the
big stores for the on-demand printing?
Marilyn: Phil, that was MY next question! <grin>
Philip: Marilyn it's empathy m'dear
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the technology doesn't exist yet.
My point is that the retail environment that they are
promoting bookstores with comfy couches and coffee
shops is READY for the day when on-demand printing
becomes available. It won't be hard to introduce, because the
customers are already used to hanging around in bookshops having
a quiet cup of coffee . . . while the book is
being printed and bound for them.
Marilyn: Robert, they are getting there,
though I was talking to a Xerox rep who now has a
printer/copier... which prints 20 copies a minutes, can do
duplexing on demand, and some (currently limited) binding.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Oh, yes, Xerox has some amazing
stuff in their Docutech line, for instance. Every year, I go to a
big printing-industry trade show with my wife (that's her
professional area) and am stunned by what's being produced.
Marilyn: It takes stuff directly from the computer to do
this. (And the DC-220 is a mere $10,000 not
even the high-end league like the Docutech stuff, which is
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Roger MacBride Allen can do great
on-demand printing of books right now in his own home; the only
problem is speed.
Philip: Marilyn I'm dreaming of the day when
they can hand me something totally indistinguishable from a real
novel, rather than a Xeroxed copy
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, it'll happen, I'm sure.
Marilyn: Phil: <grin> Well, look at the strides
color printers have made in the last couple of years.
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Anyway, guys, it's coming up on an hour
and a half; I probably should be trundling off.
Marilyn: Rob, yeah, get back to writing the stuff for us
to read! <grin>
ROBERT J. SAWYER: I will! (I do want to write another
thousand words today . . .) Thanks, Carl, Phil,
and Marilyn! See you all online!
Marilyn: See you around!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Ciao!
Philip: Rob it's been a pleasure talking to
you. I'll let you know what I think of the other books when I've
finished them. See you soon!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil! Talk to you soon! 'Bye,
Carl: Take care, sir. I enjoyed our little chat!
ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Carl! Bye-bye!
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