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St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers
Copyright © 1996 by Robert J.
All Rights Reserved.
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St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (formerly known
as Twentieth Century Science Fiction Writers) is the best
reference work on contemporary SF authors. Published by Gale
Research (the same publisher that produces Contemporary Authors
and Something About the Author, which profiled
me in Volumes 149 and 81, respectively), St. James
Guide pairs an essay by the author with an appraisal of the
author's work written by a major critic (in my case, the
appraisal which is quite insightful was done by Don
D'Ammassa, book reviewer for Science Fiction Chronicle).
The book also includes a comprehensive bibliography for each
author covered, as well as biographical details; in all
St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers gives oodles more info
on each author than does The Encyclopedia of Science
Fiction. You should be able to find
St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers
at large libraries, or you can order it for US$135 from
Information/Reference Group at 1-800-877-4253 or 1-313-961-2242.
What follows is my own essay from the Fourth Edition of
St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, published in January
ROBERT J. SAWYER
I am Canada's only native-born full-time SF writer, and I
take that very seriously: although Canadian fantasy writers have
often set work in Canada, very little SF has had identifiable
Canadian content. I've undertaken to rectify that: my novels
The Terminal Experiment and
End of an Era take
place entirely in Canada (and the latter's time-travel mission is
a decidedly Canadian low-tech, low-budget affair), and the lead
human characters of Golden Fleece
and Starplex (to
be published by Ace Books in 1996) are Canadians. To my delight,
American editors and readers have embraced this warmly; to my
chagrin, Canadians continue to remark, "You know, Americans
aren't going to understand those references . . ."
My work often crosses the boundaries between science fiction and
mystery, and has been hailed by readers in both genres. For
instance, my short story "Just Like Old Times," about a serial
killer sentenced to die in the prehistoric past, won both the
Aurora, Canada's national SF-writing award, and the Arthur Ellis,
its national mystery-writing award. Some people have reacted
with surprise to my mixing of the genres, but to me SF and
mystery, which both prize rational thought and tell stories that
hinge on the way things really work, are much more closely allied
than the traditional pairing of SF and fantasy.
Golden Fleece and
The Terminal Experiment are equal
mixtures of SF and murder mystery, and
Fossil Hunter has a
prominent murder-mystery subplot. Even so, I'm not particularly
interested in writing about murder except as a way of
illuminating morality (a topic that endlessly fascinates me).
But I am very intrigued by the rational intellectual process (and
why people sometimes shy away from it), so, besides its overt
murder plot, Golden Fleece also involves deciphering an
alien radio message; Far-Seer deals with
mystery; Fossil Hunter with a geological conundrum; and
Foreigner treats psychoanalysis as an exercise in
Reviewers often remark on the old-fashioned sense of wonder in my
work, and they also often praise my characterization. Writers
traditionally excel at one or the other; if I've got any special
strength as a writer, I'd like to think that it's the ability to
combine the transcendent and the very human. Indeed, although
many SF writers (especially those whose work is labeled "hard
SF," as mine usually is) give short shrift to characterization, I
think SF's most important role is not technological prediction,
nor sounding warning bells about dangerous trends, but rather to
allow us to examine what it means to be human by using a suite of
literary tools unavailable to writers in other genres.
One of the most powerful of those tools is the ability to look at
the human race from outside. That's why Golden Fleece is
told from the point of view of a computer;
The Terminal Experiment has dialogs with three computer simulations of
modified human minds; and the Quintaglio Ascension trilogy has no
humans in it at all but, of course, is intended to be read as
a parable about humanity.
Some SF writers will spend days working out a problem in
celestial mechanics to the thirtieth decimal point as if that
were important and meaningful but then populate their stories
with characters who behave as no real person ever would. Anyone
can use a calculator; the tricky job is getting characters'
reactions to both the mind-boggling and the mundane to ring true.
The key to that, I believe, is understanding that real people are
studies in gray. Fantasy and much space opera often assumes the
existence of absolute good and absolute evil. I prefer to
explore the subjective nature of morality; there are few
clear-cut heroes and villains in my books. Indeed,
was an attempt to have conflict between two very
different points of view that of the human Aaron and the
computer JASON without it ever being clear which one was in
the right. In End of an Era,
I contended that the only
truly immoral position is to not take responsibility. And in
The Terminal Experiment, I attempt to identify the actual
cause of human morality.
The book of mine that I'm proudest of is
The Terminal Experiment; the one I enjoy
the most is End of an Era;
and my favorite character is Dybo, a supporting player from the
Quintaglio Ascension. Unlike many characters in SF, Dybo is
rather dim intellectually, but he struggles to do the right
thing. He's a being of the heart in a hard-SF setting, a
personification of the themes I try to bring to my writing.
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