Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

30 Years Ago Today: My First SF Publication

by Rob - January 14th, 2011.
Filed under: Milestones, Short Fiction.

The second (and most recent) print edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls begins its entry on me thus:

SAWYER, ROBERT J(AMES) (1960-        ) Canadian writer who began publishing sf with “If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent my Luggage” for The Village Voice in 1981 …

And indeed I did. I’d had an earlier fantasy publication (“The Contest,” in the 1980 edition of White Wall Review, the literary annual of my alma mater, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, edited by Ed Greenwood, who created the “Forgotten Realms” for Dungeons & Dragons), and I’d sold a science-fiction story to be produced as a planetarium starshow), but that was my first science-fiction publication — and it came out exactly 30 years ago today.

That story appeared in the 14-20 January 1981 issued of The Village Voice: The Weekly Newspaper of New York, as a winner in a ten-week contest they were running called “Sci-Fi Scenes,” featured in the “Scenes” column by Howard Smith & Lin Harris.

The rules required a story of exactly 250 words — no more, no less (title words didn’t count, a fact I took full advantage of).

The judges for the contest were Shawna McCarthy, then editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Victoria Schochet, the editor-in-chief of SF at Berkley Publishing, and Robert Sheckley, the fiction editor of Omni. I’d learned about the contest from a poster promoting it that was on display at Bakka, Toronto’s science-fiction specialty bookstore. Each weekly winner won a copy of the first edition of Peter Nicholls’s The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, the forerunner of the work I quote above.

The ten weekly winners, in order of publication, were:

  • Kate Stahl-Clapham (“Just Like a Woman”)
  • Lynn David Goldenberg (“The Complaint”)
  • Susan M. Shwartz (“The Old Man and the C”)
  • Robert J. Sawyer (“If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage”)
  • Dubi Silverstein (“Evolution”)
  • Edward Wellen (“CCLROY”)
  • Sally A. Sellers (“Domesticus”)
  • Paul Proch (“Mondo Typpo (Sic)”)
  • Ted Reynolds (untitled)
  • Laura Bulkin (“Margaret’s Space Journey”)

(The grand-prize winner was the last listed; she won 10 novels of her choice from Gregg Press.)

Of the winners, the only names I recognize as having gone on to further significant publishing in the science-fiction field are Susan Shwartz, Edward Wellen, and Ted Reynolds.

Here’s my 250-word story, as it first appeared 30 years ago today:

If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage

by Robert J. Sawyer

One look at the eyes of that allosaur had been enough: fiery red with anger, darting with hunger, and a deeper glow of … cunning. Those sickle claws may be great for shredding prey, but he can’t run worth a damn on mud.

Come on, Allo-baby, you may have the armament, but I took Paleo 250 with Professor Blackhart!

Damn the professor, anyway. If it weren’t for his class, I’d be on Altair III now, not running for my life across a prehistoric mud flat.

Those idiots at Starport Toronto said teleportation was a safe way to travel. “Just concentrate on your destination and the JumpLink belt will do the rest.”

Hah! I was concentrating, but when I saw that fat broad, I couldn’t help thinking of a brontosaur. So I let my mind wander for half a second: the JumpLink belt still shouldn’t have dumped me here with the dinosaurs. There should be enough juice left for one more Jump, if I can get it to work.

Damn, it’s hard fiddling with your belt buckle while doing a three-minute kilometer. Let’s see: if I re-route those fiber optics through that picoprocessor …

The thwock-thwock of clawed feet sucking out of mud is getting closer. Got to hurry. Thwock-thwock!

There! The timer’s voice counts down: “Four.”

Concentrate on Starport Toronto. Concentrate. Thwock-thwock!


Toronto. The Starport. Concentrate. Thwock-thwock!


Concentrate hard. Starport Toronto. No stray thoughts. Thwock-thwock!


Boy, am I going to give them Hell —


I love the fact that right off the bat I was showing signs of the hallmarks of my career: an abiding interest in dinosaurs and paleontology and being blatantly Canadian even when writing for a New York market.

For a time, I had this entire story reprinted on the back of my business card. In 1987 it was reprinted by a company called Story Cards in Washington, D.C., as a “Bon Voyage” card. The story also appears in my first collection, Iterations and Other Stories.

Click on the first image below for a PDF scan of the story as it appeared in the The Village Voice and the second one below for a PDF scan of my original handwritten two-page manuscript, dated 16 December 1980 (I didn’t get my first computer until three years later, December 1983).

Robert J. Sawyer online:

7 Responses to 30 Years Ago Today: My First SF Publication

  1. What a twisted story.

    One wonders: “The Lady or The Tiger”.

    Thanks for a great short story.

  2. Love it. I laughed out loud at the ending. Aside from the clear signs of creative thought and execution in the writing, as a recent fan of Sawyer’s work, I’m just as pleased by his generosity. The access to his world of writing–an actual PDF of the handwritten work–is amazing.

  3. Great story! I loved your original first line though… very much what I think of as RJS humor.

  4. Thanks for sharing! That was a real hoot – that last line really made me laugh :) Amazing you managed to pack so much into such a short story. Congrats!

    I hope you don’t mind my sharing this with the SciFi_Discussion group (on YahooGroups)… I’m certain they’ll love it!

  5. Boy, am I glad it’s only fiction !

  6. Dubi Silverstein

    Memory becomes hazy after a third of a century, but I do remember that the time between my story inspiration and mailing it in was about two hours, and that I sent it in during the week prior to its publication, so there is a good chance that your story got me going. I remember your ending so well, it’s a hilarious twist.

    So kudos for launching a great career as an SF writer off this 250-word contest. For me, it was my first and last fiction publication — most of the novels I’ve attempted since remain unfinished, the two that are finished remain unpublished, along with a bunch of short stories.

    I’m a fan of your work, have read many of your titles, had no clue that you were a fellow winner of that long-ago contest. How cool that your entry in the Encyclopedia starts with a contest in which you won the the Encyclopedia as a prize.

  7. Hi, Dubi. So great to hear from you! I thought, perhaps, when I made this blog post, that Google might someday lead some of the other winners here. I’m delighted to hear from you, and glad that you, too, fondly remember that long-ago contest.

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