Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Some recommended books

by Rob - July 5th, 2010.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

In April 2009, I was asked by Cosmos, Australia’s leading science magazine, to contribute to their “Bookmark” column. Normally, that column has scientists recommending books; for the first time ever, they asked a science-fiction writer to do it instead. My suggestions appeared in issue 27:

Robert J. Sawyer is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science-fiction writer in Toronto. His latest novel Wake is the first of a trilogy about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness; his website is

The book I’m reading right now:

Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ by Richard Dooling (2008)

A glib take on Vernor Vinge’s concept of the Singularity — the end of the human era when machines become more intelligent than us. Given that Dooling heavily mines science fiction for his ideas, he takes a few too many cheap shots at the genre, but he does provide a good overview of the issues.

My most influential books: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1985)

A masterpiece that explains more about the inequalities in our world than any dozen other books; a brilliant tour of topics ranging from the origins of language to the domestication of animals. Diamond manages to be simultaneously both humbling and uplifting.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl (1978)

For my money the best science-fiction novel ever written, because it pays wonderful respect to both halves of the term, dealing with the weird physical phenomena that occur near a black hole — and spinning a very human story of guilt that arises from them.

Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness by Roger Penrose (1996)

Mathematical physicist Penrose is probably wrong that microtubules in the cytoskeletons of brain tissue are the seat of consciousness, but that doesn’t matter: his book is an amazing tour de force of ideas, and is far more emotionally and intellectually satisfying than other books that attempt to dismiss consciousness as meaningless or an illusion.

The book I want to read next:

Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong (2009)

As a science-fiction writer, my job is thinking about where we’re going, but the only way to effectively extrapolate forward is by knowing where we came from. Johanson discovered the australopithecine Lucy in 1974, and 35 years on he tackles the vexing questions that still ignite passionate debate among paleoanthropologists.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

2 Responses to Some recommended books

  1. Loved, loved, loved “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” That was an incredibly illuminating book on the path that civilization took. Have you read any of his other works?

  2. Can’t help but comment on the artwork on the Cosmos cover, sorry. I know, art often transcends reality, and there is artistic freedom, but a science magazine might be careful not to put forth ideas that are just plain wrong. Never mind the impossible proximity of the background body. But rings in planes offset from the center of the sphere are physically impossible. Of course, visually appealing. Just as the god concept is intellectually appealing to some.

    Thank you for your books. All of them are wonderful.

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