Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Clueless no more!

by Rob - June 21st, 2020

I’m chuffed to be the first clue in today’s Quizword crossword in the Sunday Mirror in the UK (Sunday, June 21, 2020). “6 Across” is “1999 science fiction novel by Robert J Sawyer.” I never foresaw that! ;)

(Click picture for larger version.)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Doctor, doctor, give me the news!

by Rob - June 13th, 2020

Six years ago, on June 12, 2014, the University of Winnipeg — the oldest university in the province of Manitoba, Canada — gave me an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree; former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chréitien also received the same degree that day.

I was nominated for the honorary doctorate jointly by the Dean of Science, Dr. James Currie, and the Emeritus Dean of Theology, Rev. Dr. James Christie, in part in recognition of the thoughtful treatment of the science-and-religion dialogue in my work.

This was my second honorary doctorate; I also hold an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, which was awarded in 2007.

So, does that mean I can call myself “Dr. Sawyer”?

In many contexts, yes, and, indeed, almost always when I speak at a university the professor introducing me does so by calling me “Dr. Sawyer.” Here’s an excerpt from the definition of “Doctor” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

a. A person who has earned the highest academic degree awarded by a college or university in a specified discipline.

b. A person awarded an honorary degree by a college or university.

But I never use the title Doctor, or the abbreviation in front of my name, myself for several reasons:

First, my father worked really hard to get his PhD. Although he was incredibly proud when I received both of my honorary doctorates, him well understanding how rare and special an honor those are, I honor him by not using the title himself earned.

Second, even though my father was indeed Dr. Sawyer, he refused to use the title “Doctor.” We happened to live three doors up the street from an M.D. when I was growing up. My dad once said to me, when I asked him as a kid why he didn’t use “Doctor” that, if someone gets hit by a car out front of our house, he wants the neighbors to run and get Dr. Jacobs, who can help save the person’s life, not Dr. Sawyer, who can explain Keynesian and Neo-Walrasian macroeconometrics to the poor sap while he exsanguinates.

Third, for that matter, my father — and, by osmosis, I — resent the use of the related title my father was entitled to until the day he died by those who don’t have a PhD, namely “professor.” These days, every sessional instructor at a junior college swans around referring to themselves as Professor So-and-so, but professor traditionally an earned title, too, normally reserved for those who have a PhD.

My father earned the even rarer title of Professor Emeritus when he retired, upon recommendation of his colleagues and approval of the dean, meaning his contributions to his university had been of such magnitude that he’d continue to be considered a faculty member, with the privileges thereof (including supervising grad students if he wished) after he’d retired.

Fourth, honestly, I have honors far rarer than either an earned or honorary doctorate. I’m a Member of the Order of Canada, my nation’s highest honor, and a Member of the Order of Ontario, my provinces’ highest honor (and the latter, on a per-capita basis is an even rarer honor than the former).

Only on those extremely rare occasions on which one must peacock (the top line of my C.V., for instance), do I have more letters after my name “Robert J. Sawyer” than there are in my name:

C.M., O.Ont., B.A.A., D.Litt., LL.D.
Still, as I wrote in The Oppenheimer Alternative, when General Leslie Groves is talking with Los Alamos security chief Peer de Silva, who is the first speaker:
“Of course, he figured I couldn’t make head nor tail of them, or of what he was saying about them.”

“The intellectuals’ hamartia,” said Groves.


“My goodness, son, don’t they teach the classics at West Point anymore? Their hamartia; their fatal flaw. Arrogance. They assume that anyone without a string of letters trailing behind his name like pretentious ducklings can’t possibly grasp their thoughts.”

So, as I say to everyone, “Just call me Rob.” ;)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Problem with KOBO edition of Oppie

by Rob - June 7th, 2020

Users of Kobo E Ink reading devices,something has gone wrong at the Kobo servers, and the master file of The Oppenheimer Alternative seems to have been corrupted. I’ve just uploaded a replacement version, and I’ll let you know when it goes live. It was fine on launch day, and I don’t know what happened at their end.

Meanwhile, if you’re having trouble on a Kobo E Ink derived — text running the entire width of the screen left to right and top to bottom; no page breaks at chapter breaks — EMAIL ME at and I’ll get you the correct version immediately.

My apologies!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Day-of-launch interview near Trinity site

by Rob - June 3rd, 2020

Yesterday (Tuesday, June 2, 2020) was the official publication date of my 24th novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative — and where better to launch the book than the place where it all began? I spent an hour in conversation with Mike Shinabery of the New Mexico Museum of Space History on his morning show on KRSY-AM radio.

You can download the full interview as an .mp3 file or stream it, if you prefer, from this .m3u link.

The show starts at the 1-minute mark with Benny Goodman’s “The Glory of Love,” which I use in my novel as the theme for Oppie and Jean Tatlock.

The outro is the great satirist Tom Lehrer singing his atomic-bomb song, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.”

Commercials included, and, as a bonus for Star Trek: Discovery fans, the one at 27:17 is a PSA from Sonequa Martin-Green.

Since Mike and I couldn’t be together for the interview (my planned trip to Alamogordo having been scrubbed thanks to COVID-19), here’s a picture of Mike when he and Nichelle Nichols both flew on NASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) 747 in 2015.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Sawyer interview in a dozen major Canadian newspapers today

by Rob - May 30th, 2020

Calgary Herald

Across Canada today (Saturday, May 30, 2020), the major daily newspapers in 12 cities are running a terrific interview with me by Eric Volmers about The Oppenheimer Alternative.

You’ll find the interview in these newspapers coast-to-coast (in Canada, the major weekend edition of a newspaper is the Saturday one, not the Sunday one):

  • Vancouver Sun
  • Edmonton Journal
  • Calgary Herald
  • Regina Leader-Post
  • Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
  • Windsor Star
  • Chatham Daily News
  • Sudbury Star
  • Kingston Whig-Standard
  • Ottawa Citizen
  • Montreal Gazette
  • Halifax Chronicle Herald

Since Eric Volmers is the books editor for the Calgary Herald, I’m linking to the “home” version of the interview, but it’s also at all those other newspaper’s websites:

In addition, the article is also at, as well:

Robert J. Sawyer’s The Oppenheimer Alternative rewrites war history

The layout is the same in all the newspapers: the top three-quarters of the front page of the book section, with author photo and Canadian book cover.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Frank Drake’s 90th birthday

by Rob - May 28th, 2020

Today is the 90th birthday of SETI pioneer Frank Drake. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Frank several times, and his work makes an appearance in The Oppeheimer Alternative:

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be so bad.” Feynman held up the latest Astronomical Journal, dated October 1959. “But Frank Drake’s got a note in here. He found decimetric radiation coming from Jupiter. Deci, not deca; DIM, not DAM.”

Oppie gestured for Feynman to hand him the journal. Dick had placed a slip of paper in it to mark the page, but Robert was momentarily confused. There were two notes from Frank Drake published in this issue, one after the other. The first was irrelevant, but the second — “Non-thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter” — was the one Feynman was concerned about. It actually had a co-author, which the journal listed as S. Hvatum. Oppie figured the initial was a typo; he knew the first name of Drake’s colleague at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank was Hein.

Sadly, the rest of the brief piece — just three paragraphs, taking up much less than a full page — was harder to find fault with. Drake was a good empirical research scientist: steady, reputable, occasionally brilliant.

And for those of you wondering if any of my signature quotes from Star Trek would make it into The Oppeheimer Alternative, there’s one in the last line above: “A good empirical research scientist: steady, reputable, occasionally brilliant.” Spock describes Dr. Leighton in the same words in “The Conscience of the King.”

Robert J. Sawyer online:

50th anniversary of Beneath the Planet of the Apes

by Rob - May 26th, 2020

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the second film in the series. I gain more respect for that film on each viewing.

There were production choices, dictated by budget I suppose, that bothered me when I first saw it as a kid:

  • the use of so many extras in masks instead of full make-up appliances, especially in the Ursus “Invade” speech scene
  • the ridiculous ape body suits Zaius and Ursus wore in the steambath
  • the terrible matte work when Taylor disappears into the illusory cliff face
  • the fairly crappy looking crash site (even as a kid, I recognized the Jupiter 2’s landing gear)
  • the pretty unimpressive looking Alpha-Omega bomb.

And, even as a kid, the continuity errors bothered me:

  • Brent on a rescue mission for Taylor — why? As far as Earth knows, Taylor is doing just fine, thanks.
  • Zaius calling both Zira and Cornelius “animal psychologists,” when Cornelius is, of course, an archaeologist.
  • Nobody in all the time they were making the film bothering to slap the first reel of the original onto a projector to check what the date meter said in Taylor’s ship so that the year in Beneath is 3955 instead of 3978.

And, of course, I keenly felt the lack of Roddy McDowall and was pissed off that they cut a line out of his resued reading from the Sacred Scrolls before the opening credits.

But I’ve come to appreciate the film more and more:

  • James Gregory is absolutely wonderful as Ursus
  • David Watson’s take on Cornelius is actually fine
  • Of course, Paul Dehn’s dialog is terrific
  • And the mutants and their ceremonies have grown on me over time.

It’s not a magnificent film, but it is a good, thoughtful, and ambitious one, and probably the best they could do given that Heston refused to appear in any more than just a cameo. And, given how graphically violent it is, it’s satisfyingly pacifist in its messaging.

And, as one reviewer noted, it still stands as “the most batshit insane G-rated movie of all time.”

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Science fiction: the literature of intriguing juxtapositions

by Rob - May 26th, 2020

[Einstein's 70th birthday]

There’s just one week left until The Oppenheimer Alternative comes out, so here’s our penultimate real-life chapter-head epigraph from the novel:

“The history of science is rich in the example of the fruitfulness of bringing two sets of techniques, two sets of ideas, developed in separate contexts for the pursuit of new truth, into touch with one another.”

–J. Robert Oppenheimer

Certainly, this is true of the science in The Oppenheimer Alternative. Oppenheimer started out as a chemist, his own pre-war work was in astrophysics, and only after the Manhattan Project became public was he famed as an atomic physicist.

And my novel brings together disparate thinkers indeed, including the physicists who built the bomb and rocketeer Wernher von Braun.

But, more than that, I think Oppie’s quote is particularly applicable to the field I’ve devoted my life to: science fiction. Indeed, when asked to define science fiction, I sometimes call it “the literature of intriguing juxtapositions.”

Where else would one find, for instance, quantum physics and paleoanthropology cheek-by-jowl except in a novel such as my Hominids? Or life-prolongation technology and SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, as in my Rollback? Or experimental psychology and (again) quantum physics as in Quantum Night?

At most universities, professors in such disparate departments probably don’t even know each other (unless they have to serve together on some cross-faculty committee).

When McMaster University decided to hold a three-day academic conference in honor of the donation of my papers to their archives, they took my suggestion and called it “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre,” and we had papers presented by academics in such diverse fields as theology, theater, literature, philosophy, astronomy, and gender studies.

I initially set out to be a paleontologist — but you can’t just be a paleontologist; you have to drill down the tree of subspecialties until you end up being a paleontologist (level 1), a vertebrate paleontologist (level 2), a dinosaurian vertebrate paleontologist (level 3), a dinosaurian vertebrate paleontologist who specializes in theropods (level 4).

But I am interested in ALL THE THINGS, and being a science-fiction writer was one of only two possible career choices that would let me hop freely from scientific discipline to discipline (the other is science journalist).

And so, The Oppenheimer Alternative: a novel that combines political history, military history, the history of atomic and nuclear physics, astrophysics, quantum physics, rocketry, and Martian observational astronomy, along with — in the character studies — psychology into a single whole, which, to paraphrase Oppie, brings multiple sets of ideas, developed in separate contexts for the pursuit of new truth, into touch with each other.

The novel comes out one week from today, on June 2, 2020, in print, ebook, and audiobook worldwide.

Pictured, left to right, at Einstein’s 70th birthday party at the Institute for Advanced Study (where much of my book takes place):

Eugene Wigner, Hermann Weyl, Kurt Gödel, I.I. Rabi, Albert Einstein, Rudlof Ladenburg, and J. Robert Oppenheimer — all but Weyl and Ladenburg are characters in The Oppenheimer Alternative.

(Click picture for a bigger version.)
Robert J. Sawyer online:

Free eBook: The Maltese Falcon

by Rob - May 25th, 2020

Forget all those (cough, cough) rave reviews of my novel The Oppenheimer Alternative, coming out in eight days. Here are the reviews one of my top-five favorite novels got when it was first published in 1930: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. It’s a great read for a hot summer day!

“This department announces a new and pretty huge enthusiasm, to wit: Dashiell Hammett. Moreover, it would not surprise us one whit if Mr. Hammett should turn out to be the Great American Mystery Writer. The horsepower of Mr. Hammett’s pen must be sampled to be believed. In short, The Maltese Falcon is the best one … in Lord knows when. Read it and see.”

— Will Cuppy in The Herald Tribune

“If the locution ‘hard-boiled’ had not already been coined it would be necessary to coin it now to describe the characters of Dashiell Hammett’s latest detective story.”

The New York Times

“First and foremost among the new thrillers comes Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It stands out among the rest like a .45 among a flock of cap pistols. The story has plenty of action, a good plot, excellent characterization, and a startling denouement. Also, Mr. Hammett knows all about detective work, and the authors who really know that can be counted on the thumbs of one hand. This is not only probably the best detective story we have ever read, it is an exceedingly well-written novel. There are few of Mr. Hammett’s contemporaries who can write prose as clean-cut, vivid and realistic.”

— Walter Brooks in Outlook

The Maltese Falcon is in the public domain in Canada and many other countries (but not yet in the US, the UK, or the EU).

For those in countries with copyright terms of 50 years or less after the author’s death, here’s a FREE EBOOK VERSION

I took the text from Gutenberg Canada, cleaned up the formatting (smartening the punctuation and indenting the paragraphs), and added the cover from the first edition. FREE!


Robert J. Sawyer online:

Pre-pub Oppie ebook special ends soon!

by Rob - May 19th, 2020

Just two weeks — a scant 14 days! — left to get my latest novel The Oppenheimer Alternative at the pre-publication special ebook price of an atomically small US$4.99 or local equivalent at Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, Kobo, etc., worldwide. After that, the price goes up, up, up like an Orion rocket!

Worldwide ebook buying links are here.

“My favorite Sawyer book of all; a solid award contender!” —Amazing Stories

“Science fiction fans will devour this smart speculative tale.” —Publishers Weekly

“I loved it!” —Lee Smolin

“This book has everything a reader wants from Sawyer.” —Analog

“Oppenheimer fans will be intrigued.” —Martin J. Sherwin

“I felt like I was back in Los Alamos — and I should know: I worked there!” —Doug Beason

“I knew many of these physicists, and Sawyer nails them accurately.” —Gregory Benford

“A compulsive fictional narrative.” —Jem Rolls

“Sawyer portrays brilliantly the struggles of the scientists who started it all.” —James Christie

“A novel as expansive as the physics (and physicists) under whose watch the original Project Orion was launched.” —George Dyson

“A realistic and intriguing look at Oppenheimer and his work.” —Booklist

“A terrific story.” —Eric Flint

“Sawyer has outdone himself!” —Jonas Saul

“I was hooked from the beginning to the end.” —Andre Bormanis

“I read this book at a gulp — now I’m going to go read it again. Bravo!” —S.M. Stirling

Get your discounted ebook copy from your favorite ebook store here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

The Beginning or the End

by Rob - May 19th, 2020

We spent an interesting evening watching the 1947 movie The Beginning Or The End, which was the first-ever dramatic treatment of the Manhattan Project (the subject, in part, of my new novel The Oppenheimer Alternative, coming out two weeks from today).

Overall, the film ranges from charmingly earnest to sappily sentimental to just this side of propaganda. But, that said, I quite enjoyed it. J. Robert Oppenheimer is a minor character in the film, affably portrayed by the Canadian actor Hume Cronyn, the first person ever to portray Oppenheimer in any medium.

The film’s star is Brian Donlevy, playing General Leslie R. Groves, and he does the character credit. (Donlevy went on to portray Professor Bernard Quatermass in the movie version of The Quatermass Xperiment).

The second and third leads are Robert Walker (the father of the actor of the same name who played in the classic Star Trek episode “Charlie X”) and Tom Drake.

Walker plays a version of Groves’s right-hand-man Kenneth Nichols so fictionalized that they had to change his name to “Nixon.” And Drake plays a wholly fictitious character, whose romance with his new bride (a stunningly beautiful Beverly Tyler) is tacked on as “human interest” that the film really doesn’t need, although the actors are pleasant enough.

The film gave to Drake’s character the story of Canadian physicist Louis Slotin, who accidentally triggered criticality and saved others at the cost of his own life. That event that actually happened in May 1946 in Los Alamos, but the filmmakers move it to August 1945 and Tinian airbase just hours before the Enola Gay takes off from there to obliterate Hiroshima.

The movie does do a good job of showing people conflicted about their work on the bomb and has a nice (but wholly fictitious, as far as I can tell) bit with a Quaker and two other scientists giving their resignations to Enrico Fermi after the Stagg field atomic-pile test because of their pacifist beliefs.

But the film out-and-out lies about the people of Hiroshima having been warned by an air-drop leaflet campaign for ten days leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima so that they could safely evacuate. As the review in the March 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says, this was “the most horrible falsification of history” in the movie.

Unlike so many of the American fictional treatments of the Manhattan Project, this film repeatedly gives Canadians (and the Brits!) their due, with an actor portraying C.D. Howe, Canada’s Minister of Munitions and Supply.

I spotted an uncredited John Hamilton (later Perry White of the 1950s Superman TV series) as Harold Urey. The recreated bomber sequences involving the Enola Gay and its two companion planes — which seemed to be done with a trio of actual bombers, rather than miniatures — are really well done, as are the atomic-blast sequences.

The movie is available from Warner Archive, and the print and the transfer is as clean and crisp as one could hope for from a film this old that hasn’t undergone a clean-up restoration.

The one special feature is the theatrical trailer — and that must be seen to be believed. Rather than scenes from the movie, it consists of supposed interviews with movie-goers on preview night (all of who are actors in scripted parts, it seems) praising the movie to the skies and debating in measured tones the wisdom of atomic energy. The trail over the top; stunningly so.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

A stillborn Sieg Heil

by Rob - May 17th, 2020

Each year, July 16 marks the anniversaries of two of the defining moments in the entire history of Homo sapiens, both of which are still within living memory for some.

For this year, 2020, July 16 is the fifty-first anniversary of the day on which human beings first embarked on a voyage to another world, with the launch of Apollo 11.

And that same day this year is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the world’s first atomic-bomb explosion, the Trinity test, conducted near Alamogordo, New Mexico. As I put it in The Oppenheimer Alternative — which comes out in just sixteen days and is available for pre-order now: “For the first time, humans were doing what only the stars themselves had previously wrought, converting matter directly into energy, Einstein’s E=mc2 graduating from mere textbook formula into a devastating weapon.” Indeed, it’s this platinum anniversary that the release of my novel is timed to coincide with.

The ostensible reason for developing the atomic bomb was to defeat the Nazis. But, as I say in my novel, “In the end, conventional troops pressing in on Berlin — and maybe, Oppie mused, Hitler having learned of Mussolini’s corpse being strung up by its ankles and stoned and spat upon by those who had suffered under his regime — had moved Der Führer to accomplish with a single bullet what Oppie’s multi-million-dollar gadget was supposed to do: end the war in Europe.”

Of course, after the war, key Nazis were tried at Nuremberg; indeed, Oppenheimer’s best friend, Haakon Chevalier, was one of the translators at those trials. But some Nazis were given a free pass on their atrocities because the knowledge they possessed was deemed useful to the victors. And so Wernher von Braun, an S.S. officer, whose V-2 rockets, which had devastated London, had been built by slave labor, was able to surrender to the Americans, along with the rest of his German rocketeers.

His war crimes were ignored, and he was put in charge of the development of the Saturn V, the rocket that took humans to the moon. And although J. Robert Oppenheimer is the main character in my book, Wernher von Braun also figures prominently; indeed, in a fictional meeting between the two men, I have von Braun draw parallels between them, saying they were both cut from the same cloth:

“Both of us the brains behind massive technological efforts. Each with his sometimes benighted military supervisor — you with Groves, me with Dornberger. Both now celebrated for our war-time accomplishments. And both with a larger purpose, science —” Von Braun stopped, but the lilt of his voice suggested he’d originally intended to utter more. Oppie suspected the rocketeer had halted before the words “Über alles” could pass his lips.

When von Braun had surrendered to the Americans, his arm, which had been broken in two places, was in a huge cast, stuck in a half-raised position. In the novel, I call it “a stillborn Sieg Heil.”

We’ve only recently learned just how dark von Braun’s past was. Here’s a real-life chapter-head epigraph from The Oppenheimer Alternative, which references the fact that his history had been classified secret by the U.S. government:

Not included among the dossiers is one for rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. It was never transferred to N.A.R.A.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

[Wernher von Braun]

Pictured: Wernher von Braun, with his arm in a cast,
surrendering to the Americans in May 1945.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Did the US have to drop the atomic bomb on Japan?

by Rob - May 3rd, 2020

In my new novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative — coming June 2, 2020, and available for pre-order now — the following exchange occurs between J. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty (with Kitty employing a racial slur that was regrettably all-too-common during the Second World War):

“They … they’ve dropped a second bomb,” Oppie said, holding her. “Apparently Kokura was clouded over, so they …” His voice caught; he’d intended to say “they hit Nagasaki instead,” but it didn’t matter, he realized; they were just names to Kitty, and to him, alien syllables.

“I’m so sorry,” she said softly. Kitty was much shorter than Oppie; the words were spoken into his bony chest.

“Why didn’t they surrender?” asked Oppie. “After the first one, why didn’t they surrender?”

“Truman said it had to be unconditional,” Kitty replied, still holding him. “Charlotte Serber thinks that’s the problem.” She disengaged from Oppie’s embrace but took his hand and led him to the couch by the stone fireplace. “She thinks the Japs want to keep their emperor. They think he’s divine; a god. She says unconditional surrender would be like asking the United States to agree to renounce Jesus.”

Was Charlotte Serber, the librarian at the Manhattan Project’s secret Los Alamos facility, correct? Yes.

Sure, in Killing the Rising Sun, often said to have been written by Bill O’Reilly, the case is made that the U.S. had to drop atomic bombs on Japan. But that’s simply wrong.

From July 17 to August 2, 1945, the leaders of the “Big Three” Allied countries — Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (replaced on July 26 by newly elected Prime Minister Clement Attlee), and U.S. President Harry S. Truman — met in Potsdam, Germany, to negotiate terms for the end of World War II. Four days after the end of this Potsdam Conference, on August 6, 1945, the United States unilaterally dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; three days later, it dropped another one on Nagasaki.

But this was unnecessary. The key issue that had come out of the Potsdam Conference, which O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, who actually wrote the book, gloss over, is that Japan was willing to surrender well before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; they simply weren’t willing to surrender unconditionally. They considered their emperor (Hirohito) to be divine, and they needed him to at least putatively remain as post-war head of the Japanese state (under whatever international oversight might be imposed).

The war could have ended in July 1945, or earlier, if the U.S. had been willing to forego the “unconditional” requirement. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes:

On the other hand, [U.S. Secretary of War Henry L.] Stimson had argued, because of the mountainous Japanese terrain and because “the Japanese are highly patriotic and certainly susceptible to calls for fanatical resistance to repel an invasion,” America would probably “have to go through with an even more bitter finish fight than in Germany” if it attempted to invade. Was there, then, any alternative? Stimson thought there might be:

I believe Japan is susceptible to reason in such a crisis to a much greater extent than is indicated by our current press and other current comment. Japan is not a nation composed wholly of mad fanatics of an entirely different mentality from ours. On the contrary, she has within the past century shown herself to possess extremely intelligent people, capable in an unprecedentedly short time of adopting not only the complicated technique of Occidental civilization but to a substantial extent their culture and their political and social ideas. Her advance in these respects … has been one of the most astounding feats of national progress in history ….

It is therefore my conclusion that a carefully timed warning be given to Japan ….

I personally think that if in [giving such a warning] we should add that we do not exclude a constitutional monarchy under her present dynasty, it would substantially add to the chances of acceptance.

Within the text of his proposal the Secretary of War several times characterized it as “the equivalent of an unconditional surrender,” but others did not see it so. Before [U.S. Secretary of State Jimmy] Byrnes left for Potsdam he had carried the document to ailing Cordell Hull, a fellow Southerner and Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944, and Hull had immediately plucked out the concession to the “present dynasty” — the Emperor Hirohito, in whose mild myopic figure many Americans had personified Japanese militarism — and told Byrnes that “the statement seemed too much like appeasement of Japan.”

It may have been, but by the time they arrived in Potsdam, Stimson, Truman and Byrnes had learned that it was also the minimum condition of surrender the Japanese were prepared to countenance, whatever their desperate situation. U.S. intelligence had intercepted and decoded messages passing between Tokyo and Moscow instructing Japanese ambassador Naotake Sato to attempt to interest the Soviets in mediating a Japanese surrender. “The foreign and domestic situation for the Empire is very serious,” Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo had cabled Sato on July 11, “and even the termination of the war is now being considered privately …. We are also sounding out the extent to which we might employ the USSR in connection with the termination of the war …. [This is] a matter with which the Imperial Court is … greatly concerned.” And pointedly on July 12:

It is His Majesty’s heart’s desire to see the swift termination of the war …. However, as long as America and England insist on unconditional surrender our country has no alternative but to see it through in an all-out effort for the sake of survival and the honor of the homeland.

And this whole insistence on unconditional surrender dated back to an off-the-cuff ad lib by now-deceased president Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1943. Also from Rhodes:

The month [journalist Henry C.] Wolfe’s call to aerial battle appeared in Harper’s — January 1943 — Franklin Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill at Casablanca. In the course of the meeting the two leaders discussed what terms of surrender they would eventually insist upon; the word “unconditional” was discussed but not included in the official joint statement to be read at the final press conference. Then, on January 24, to Churchill’s surprise, Roosevelt inserted the word ad lib: “Peace can come to the world,” the President read out to the assembled journalists and newsreel cameras, “only by the total elimination of German and Japanese war power …. The elimination of German, Japanese and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan.” Roosevelt later told [U.S. Secretary of Commerce] Harry Hopkins that the surprising and fateful insertion was a consequence of the confusion attending his effort to convince French General Henri Girard to sit down with Free French leader Charles de Gaulle:

We had so much trouble getting those two French generals together that I thought to myself that this was as difficult as arranging the meeting of Grant and Lee — and then suddenly the Press Conference was on, and Winston and I had had no time to prepare for it, and the thought popped into my mind that they had called Grant “Old Unconditional Surrender,” and the next thing I knew I had said it.

Churchill immediately concurred — “Any divergence between us, even by omission, would on such an occasion and at such a time have been damaging or even dangerous to our war effort” — and unconditional surrender became official Allied policy.

As for the Emperor being allowed to retain his throne being the sticking point, it was — right to the very end, even after Nagasaki. From Rhodes’s final chapter:

The military leaders of Japan had still not agreed to surrender. The Emperor Hirohito therefore took the extraordinary step of forcing the issue. The resulting surrender offer, delivered through Switzerland, reached Washington on Friday morning, August 10 [, 1945]. It acknowledged acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration except in one crucial regard: that it “does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.”

In addition to Rhodes’s book, another excellent source on this topic is the more-recent Inferno: The Fall of Japan 1945 by Ronald Henkoff, which states:

The Americans were aware the Japanese had approached the Russians; the Army Signal Corps had long since cracked Japan’s diplomatic code and had been intercepting messages from Tokyo since 1940. In all the cables the Americans had decoded, Tokyo’s message remained the same: “Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace.”

By late May [1945], Truman’s top advisers were beginning to grasp that, on this point, the Japanese would not bend.

Secretary of War Stimson, his deputy John McClory, and Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew argued that if the Japanese knew no harm would come to their emperor, peace might be within reach — and postwar reconstruction might be easier to manage. Hirohito’s presence could lend legitimacy to the regime put in place by the Americans.

And, as I wrote in The Oppenheimer Alternative, the Japanese did finally get that one concession — after tens of thousands had died in atomic hellfire in Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

The Japanese had surrendered two weeks ago, on August 15, 1945, although the formal ceremony, to be held aboard the U.S.S. Missoui was still several days away. In the end, they’d received the only thing they’d wanted since first making overtures to surrender a year ago, in the summer of 1944: Hirohito, their divine Emperor, would retain the Chrysanthemum Throne. No other solution had ever been possible: the post-war world required a functioning domestic government on the Home Islands. But Truman had continued to insist on unconditional surrender, not making the Hirohito concession until after the two American atomic bombs had been dropped — after the new world order had been set.

Hirohito retained his throne until his death in 1989 at the age of eighty-seven — forty-four years after the end of World War II.

So, since the atomic bombings weren’t necessary, why do many American and Japanese history books continue to claim that they were? Writing in the magazine Foreign Policy (in an adapted excerpt from his book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons), Ward Wilson, a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council, gives a plausible answer:

Put yourself in the shoes of the emperor … The war, in short, has been a catastrophe and, worst of all, you’ve been lying to your people about how bad the situation really is. … So which would you rather do? … Issue a statement that says that you miscalculated spectacularly, made repeated mistakes, and did enormous damage to the nation? Or would you rather blame the loss on an amazing scientific breakthrough that no one could have predicted? … The Bomb was the perfect excuse for having lost the war. No need to apportion blame; no court of enquiry need be held.

Wilson also believes letting the bomb take all the blame suited Japan’s diplomatic needs in the post-war era:

Being able to recast Japan as a victimized nation — one that had been unfairly bombed with a cruel and horrifying instrument of war — would help to offset some of the morally repugnant things Japan’s military had done. Drawing attention to the atomic bombings helped to paint Japan in a more sympathetic light and deflect support for harsh punishment.

Wilson goes on to say that crediting the surrender to the bomb also strongly served American purposes:

If the Bomb won the war, then the perception of U.S. military power would be enhanced, U.S. diplomatic influence in Asia and around the world would increase, and U.S. security would be strengthened. The $2 billion spent to build it would not have been wasted.

The final version of Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia was dated as 2005 and published in 2004. It contained an excellent essay by historian Gar Alperovitz that is no longer readily available; the online version of Encarta is long gone, too. The essay consists of 2,700 words of considerable wisdom, and I’ve unearthed it here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Getting good press for your novel

by Rob - March 17th, 2020

Many years ago, I attended a talk by Cynthia Good, publisher of Penguin Canada. When asked what was the first thing she looks for in a book submission, she said, “A way to get the author on TV.”

I’ve now got over 400 TV appearances to my credit, and an equal number of radio interviews — and I’m already booked to add significantly to that number for my 24th novel for The Oppenheimer Alternative, coming on June 2, 2020.

The easiest way to get press interest is by tying your book into an anniversary, an upcoming or current news story, or, at the very least, a local appearance. Even then, you should hand it to them on a silver platter: why they should do a story, why you should be the one interviewed for it, and precisely what you can say that’s interesting and provocative. This press release entitled “75th Anniversary of the Birth of the Atomic Age” makes precisely those points.

But what about talking about the actual book? Again, you need a way to make your novel be more than “There’s this guy, see, and he’s off on an adventure, and then — bam! — something happens, and then …” No one is going to schedule an interview with you so that you can just give a plot synopsis. But pointing out why your book is different and special and how it came to be can do the trick. Take this press release, “The Secret History of the Manhattan Project,” for instance.

Finally, there are many blogs and a few trade journals devoted to publishing-industry news. They want a completely different kind of approach. Hence, this release about the “Precedent-Setting Deal for Sawyer.”

Using similar approaches in the past, I’ve gotten media attention from countless places that do routinely cover fiction — and also from a great many that normally don’t.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Remembering Robyn Herrington 15 years on

by Rob - May 3rd, 2019

[Robyn Herrington]

Robyn Meta Herrington, active member of both SFWA and SF Canada, passed away fifteen years ago today, on Monday morning, May 3, 2004, in Calgary, Alberta, after a courageous multi-year battle with cancer.

Robyn’s short fiction appeared in such places as On Spec, Talebones, Adventures of Sword and Sorcery, Parsec, and in Mike Resnick‘s DAW Anthologies Return of the Dinosaurs (her first sale), Women Writing Science Fiction as Men, and New Voices in Science Fiction; one of her stories was produced by CBC Radio as part of its Alberta Anthology series. Her genre poetry appeared in Tesseracts 6 and Chiaroscuro, and she was working on a novel.

Robyn was an acquisitions editor for EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy, and was instrumental in bringing Australian writer K.A. Bedford‘s first novel, Orbital Burn, to market.

Robyn was a beloved mainstay of Calgary’s SF&F workshop, the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, where she was known for insightful, compassionately presented critiques. She was also a frequent member of the committee for Con-Version, Calgary’s annual SF convention (including in 2002, when Con-Version was the CanVention–the Canadian National Science Fiction Convention), and was often involved with the con’s writers’ workshop and annual short-story contest.

Robyn was born in Melbourne in 1961, and grew up in Elizabeth Fields, South Australia; she moved to Calgary 40 years ago. She was employed as a graphics designer by the University of Calgary (and edited the publication New Currents In Teaching Technology there). She was also an accomplished glass blower and an inveterate traveler.

The Calgary writers conference When Words Collide holds the annual In Places Between: The Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Competition in her honour.

Robyn is survived by her husband Bruce Herrington, universally known in Calgary as “the wonder spouse,” her parents, and sister Sandy Van Damme.

Robyn had time to draft her own eulogy before passing, to be read at her funeral, at her request, by her friend and mentor, Robert J. Sawyer. Here it is:

Wow. A Eulogy. A moment when we pause and reflect — and a moment when those gathered aren’t allowed to get up and leave — it’s an awesome responsibility. What do I say? What is it that I really want you all to know? The long printed version has the really important stuff (pick one up @ the door) — but what about now?

I need to tell you that my parents, brother and sister and their families are amazing people. John and Gisela Brown will give you the shirts off their backs if you asked them to — but don’t try it now because it’s probably more than a little inappropriate. They have always been there to give me whatever I needed and would still do. IFWA — if you need a place for the annual barbeque maybe that could be my legacy, hey mum and dad?

Michael & Sandy are more than a brother and sister. They’ve been my friends. We actually LIKE each other. Not too many kids make it to adulthood and can say that. OK sure, maybe we didn’t have to run Sandra into the wall *quite* so many times when she was learning to crawl, but it doesn’t seem to have left any permanent damage. And Michael? YOU dropped the orange juice all over the lounge in South Australia.

Speaking of which, this is the standard eulogy info: Robyn was born in Melbourne, Australia, on March 28th, 1961 — a good day by any standards. She moved to South Australia in Elizabeth Fields, when she was four. At 17, her family made the move to Calgary. While she never regretted the move — how could she, it’s where she met Bruce — she did regret the -40 weather.

She never went to University, other than to work there. She believed in and advocated life-long learning. Don’t be so foolish as to think the only way you can learn though is through someone telling you what to think. Think for yourself. Get out there. Just do it.

Robyn met Bruce pretty much right away upon arriving here in Canada. She met him at lunch one day after church. When no-one was available to drive her home, Bruce did. Robyn ran upstairs to her bedroom and scrawled Bruce’s number across her bedroom door.

Epic phone calls ensued. Two hours was average; six was the record. Six hours very nearly lead her father to remove the phone from Robyn’s room. In retrospect, six hours is kind of insane, but it *did* get her married off and out of the house — so you be the judge.

Robyn sincerely hopes that by this time she has NOT been pre-deceased by her older brother Noel. If so-that really sucks. If not — Ha Ha I win. I got sick first so it wouldn’t have been fair if you’d beaten me. (In fact he won — by a mere six weeks.)

Back to Bruce. I have said it on many occasions he is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and deep thinking people I know. His family has had their own hard moments in 2003-2004 and they have proved that they are stronger than their grief.

Robyn loves Bruce deeply — and notice how I — Robyn — said that in third person so it doesn’t sound like I — Rob — is deeply in love with Bruce. Not the he isn’t worthy, but he’s mine.

What else do I want you to know?

Try surf-fishing, or fishing off a pier. It’s peaceful, exciting, a time to sit quietly or to talk — but either catch and release or make sure you have someone else to gut the fish.

Stop and smell the flowers. Honestly. DO IT! Take the time to look around you because it can all go too fast.

Learn two songs by heart & really well. You never know when you might be stuck in a karaoke situation.

Never, ever, ever eat Durian. Ever. Yuck.

Always try food that you have never have. What’s the worst that can happen? You might find something you like. But it won’t EVER be Durian, or thousand-year-old eggs. Yuck Phooey.

I want you to learn to not hold grudges. They are a waste of time, and no good can come of it for either party. Be the bigger person. Be nice. And in if all your attempts fail — then, unfortunately, you’re spending your time on someone who doesn’t deserve you. Move on, guilt-free, knowing you’ve done all you can.

Which brings me to friends. You’ve made me dance — at the Boogie Emporium. You’ve made me laugh too many times and *every* time we were together. Sing? Of course. How do Lottie, Chick and Babe pass those long trips to the cabin? My writing group — IFWA — too valuable to put a price on all of it; the good, the bad and the ugly — it was, and is all good. My smaller group, 7 of 40 — what a stunningly remarkable group. Astute, each of a different mind, each complimenting the strengths of the other.

My husband, my family, my friends — my golden trinity, and the reasons I loved life so much.

Finally, find your faith or hold on to your faith.

Why did this happen? I don’t know — I could say it was for the sole purpose of getting to meet me — but I’m kind of hoping it’s for more than that. For whatever reason, it has happened. It’s sad, horrible, devastating … or maybe I’m just overstating my importance … You know I love you all. You know that I’ll be watching you all.

I once heard, on some TV movie, an old man say that his friends would remember he was alive as long as they could feel the wind on their faces. I kind of like that idea. So when you feel the wind in your face that’ll be me —

right there —

In your face.

See ya ’round.

[Robyn Herrington]
Robert J. Sawyer online:

Astronomy and Science Fiction

by Rob - January 29th, 2019

On Saturday, January 26, 2019, I had the privilege of giving this year’s Paul Sykes Memorial Lecture to the Vancouver Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

My topic was “Astronomy and Science Fiction” and during the talk I mentioned the following SF novels (listed in italics) and short stories (listed in quotation marks):

  • H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
  • Arthur C. Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God”
  • Arthur C. Clarke, “The Star”
  • Hal Clement, Mission of Gravity
  • Larry Niven, “Neutron Star”
  • Robert L. Forward, Dragon’s Egg
  • James Gunn, The Listeners
  • Robert J. Sawyer, Starplex
  • Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback
Robert J. Sawyer online:

John A. Sawyer, R.I.P.

by Rob - December 31st, 2018

My father, John A. Sawyer, Ph.D., passed away at the age of 94 on Monday, December 17, 2018, at his retirement residence in North York, Ontario, Canada. The following death notice / obituary appeared in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star:

Sawyer, John A. (Jack)

Died December 17, 2018

Professor Emeritus (Economics), University of Toronto.

Born in Toronto (August 24, 1924), the son of Arthur J. and Bessie (Livingstone) Sawyer.

Married to Virginia (Peterson) Sawyer and father of Peter D. Sawyer (Jacquie), Robert J. Sawyer (Carolyn), and Alan B. Sawyer (Kim).

Graduate of Oakwood Collegiate Institute, the University of Toronto (Victoria College, Commerce & Finance, 4T7), and the University of Chicago.

John was an Economist at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (1953-60). He taught Economics at the University of Alberta (1949-50), the Royal Military College of Canada (1951-53), and the University of Toronto (1960-90). He was Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis (1975-80) and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Management (1985-86) at the University of Toronto.

At the Dominion Bureau of Statistics he directed the construction of the first inter-industry input-output table of the Canadian economy. At the University of Toronto he led the team that built the TRACE econometric model of the Canadian economy. He wrote two textbooks on macroeconomic theory and a number of articles, including a history of business education at the University of Toronto.

In lieu of flowers, a donation to your favourite health science charity would be appreciated.

Always a teacher, at his request his body has been donated to the U of T medical school; also at his request, there will be no funeral.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

I have a Patreon page!

by Rob - February 4th, 2018

The times they are a-changin’ in publishing, and so I’ve set up a Patreon page at, where my readers can support my work directly. Please check it out! Many thanks!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Double Aurora Award win!

by Rob - September 23rd, 2017


First, I’m thrilled that my Quantum Night just won the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (“the Aurora“) for Best Novel of the Year this evening; the award (pictured above) was presented at Hal-Con in Halifax. The nominees were:

  • Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
  • Company Town by Madeline Ashby, Tor
  • The Courier by Gerald Brandt, DAW
  • The Nature of a Pirate by A.M. Dellamonica, Tor
  • Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
  • Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, Bundoran Press

Hayden Trenholm graciously accepted the gorgeous trophy above on my behalf and read these remarks from me:

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in Halifax today; I’m a presenter at the Word on the Street festival in Toronto this weekend. But I’m thrilled to have won, and I thank my editors, Adrienne Kerr and Helen Smith in Toronto and Ginjer Buchanan and Jessica Wade in New York.

I’d also like to thank the voters for the Aurora Awards for this honour — while at the same time decrying those voters south of the border who turned what was supposed to be a cautionary science-fiction tale into a dystopian reality. I had good luck today; let us hope we all have better luck in the next U.S. presidential election.

And, for the first time ever, the Auroras had a “Best of the Decade” category this year, honouring works published from 2001-2010. To my absolute delight, my Neanderthal Parallax trilogy won; the trilogy consists of Hugo Award-winner Hominids, Hugo Award-finalist Humans, and Spectrum Award-finalist Hybrids.

The Best-of-the-Decade nominees were:

  • Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, Tor
  • The Blue Ant Trilogy by William Gibson, Berkley
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, Tor
  • The Neanderthal Parallax by Robert J. Sawyer, Tor
  • The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint, Tor
  • Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada

(Bill Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy consists of Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History.)

Hayden Trenholm — who won the Aurora for best short story himself tonight — accepted the beautiful trophy shown below on my behalf in Halifax, and read these remarks from me:

A best-of-the-decade award is about looking back, and although I’m thrilled with this honour, the sad truth is that both the agent who sold this trilogy for me, Ralph Vicinanza, and the editor responsible for it, David G. Hartwell, have passed away in the interim. Also no longer with us is one of my most insightful and helpful beta readers, my younger brother Alan Sawyer.

When I wrote this trilogy, the Neanderthal genome hadn’t yet been sequenced, but we know now that most of us carry a little Neanderthal within ourselves — and so, on behalf of myself and the Neanderthals, I thank you all and wish you, as Ponter Boddit would say, “Healthy day.”

What a night!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Where Star Wars beats Star Trek

by Rob - July 31st, 2017

One thing I like about the Star Wars franchise: it is coherent; it doesn’t keep trying to reimagine or reinvent or reinterpret itself. The latest film, Rogue One, goes to great lengths to look like and fit in with the very first film, the original Star Wars, from 40 years ago.

Star Trek made a mistake, starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (as much as I love it), in constantly changing things — the uniforms, the ships (we’ve seen seven Enterprises now), the details, and even the characterization. Do Andorians have thick antennae from the back of their heads (TOS) thin ones sprouting from their foreheads (TMP), or mobile finger-like ones that come from in between (ENT)? Do Klingons have smooth foreheads (TOS), spinal cords that move up over their skulls (TMP), or cow-patties on their foreheads (ST III and beyond)? Do Gorns have no tails (TOS) or tails (ENT)? Do the TOS Enterprise‘s impulse engines show as dark rectangles when running or as brightly glowing red ones (TOS original vs. TOS remastered)? Do shields go up by slowly encircling the ship (ST II), or growing outward in waves from the ship (ST V)? And on and on and on.

Alien races come and go in Star Trek (remember all the new aliens from TMP, never seen again?), but in Star Wars we constantly see old races we know well depicted as they’ve always been depicted.

Star Wars knows that its fans remember tiny little details from decades gone by; Star Trek has Kirk make remarks such as, in Star Trek V, “I lost a brother once” — and have it not refer to his late brother Sam, cuz, y’know, who the heck would remember that Sam had been horribly killed? Or they can have the deck numbers run in the wrong direction (and there be way too many of them) in Star Trek V, because no one would know, right?

Don’t get me wrong: I love Star Trek, but the Star Wars people know way more about how to manage a franchise and build fannish loyalty. When you’re entrusted with a classic, it’s your job to continue the tradition, not try to make it your own.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Triggers, FlashForward, and Me

by Rob - April 15th, 2017

A piece I finished five years ago today, on April 15, 2012, for the blog of Gollancz, my UK publisher:

Triggers, FlashForward, and Me

by Robert J. Sawyer

Thanks to the good people at Gollancz, I was recently interviewed in SFX, the world’s top-selling English-language magazine devoted to science fiction. I spoke in that interview about how my new novel Triggers was the first new writing project I’d started since
FlashForward — the TV series based on my novel of the same name — went off the air, and so I’d set out to create a novel that would appeal to fans of that TV series.

Working on the FlashForward TV adaptation — I consulted on every episode and wrote the nineteenth episode, “Course Correction” — was one of the best experiences of my life. But whenever I think about it, the memory is bittersweet, because instead of still being on the air — we’d be finishing our third year right about now — we were cancelled by the originating American broadcaster after twenty-two episodes.

That a science-fiction show got the plug pulled on it too soon is hardly a new story: there was an implicit promise in the opening credits of the original Star Trek that the series would run at least five years but it only survived for three. More often than not, it seems, ambitious science-fiction TV shows get cancelled prematurely.

By the time FlashForward‘s sixth episode first aired, I was predicting we wouldn’t be renewed for a second series. The ratings were dropping steadily week by week, not, I hasten to add, because of any deficiency in the program, but rather because, in the United States, we were stupidly scheduled at 8:00 p.m. on the east and west coasts and 7:00 p.m. in the interior; the show was simply too adult, too violent, and too raunchy, for what was perceived of as family-viewing time.

From that point on, I was urging that we film two different endings to the last episode of the first series: one that would have opened the show up for a second series, and one that would have provided real closure — the sort of resounding conclusion my original novel had.

FlashForward had numerous behind-the-scenes staff changes, and by the time we were nearing the end of our first series, the powers-that-be had other ideas. They were convinced we were coming back, and wouldn’t countenance the notion of a wrap-up at this point. It’s too bad: I think FlashForward could have become a cult hit like The Prisoner on DVD or via download if there’d been some sense of closure at the end.

Ironically, I’ve just returned from three days of meetings in Hollywood, discussing the possibility of adapting my new novel Triggers into a TV series. The novel Triggers has a definitive — and I like to think, mind-blowing — ending. The creative exercise in adapting a tightly structured standalone book into what could be an on-going series that might postpone its ending for five years has been fascinating. But, from the outset, this time I am planning for a real ending for the TV version, and hope I’ll have sufficient say to get it actually done that way.

I often think of the TV shows I loved that never got the run they deserve. Planet of the Apes. Kolchak: The Night Stalker. UFO. And, of course, more recent shows, such as Firefly and Charlie Jade, a show seen on Syfy in the US that I wrote the series bible for, had much shorter runs than their creators had hoped for. All left with a whimper, not a bang.

Still, even when SF TV shows do get to film an ending, it’s often a disappointment. I loved the new Battlestar Galactica but the final hour was a disaster. And Lost — whose writing office was next door to ours for FlashForward on the Disney Studio lot in Los Angeles — ended in an underwhelming way. Even The Prisoner, which I mentioned above, left many people scratching their heads with its conclusion.

Which, I think, is ultimately why I like writing books. The author is in full control; no one ever publishes just the first six chapters of a planned twenty-two chapter novel: you get to tell the whole story you intended to tell, and in a standalone novel, the audience can trust that between the two covers they’ll find a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end — which is precisely what I’ve set out to provide in Triggers.

And if the TV version ever does come to pass, hopefully we’ll get to provide the same thing there, too.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Kindle editions!

by Rob - February 28th, 2017

Eight of my backlist titles are now available worldwide for Kindle: Aurora Award-winner Golden Fleece, Seiun Award-winner End of an Era, Hugo Award-finalists Starplex, Frameshift, and Factoring Humanity, plus my full “Quintaglio Ascension” trilogy of Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner.

Just put “SFWRITER.COM” into the Amazon to find them all, or use these links:

Amazon USA

Amazon Canada

Amazon UK

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Donald Trump is president. How the hell did that happen?

by Rob - February 27th, 2017

Press Release: For Immediate Release

A year ago, science-fiction writer and futurist Robert J. Sawyer accurately predicted the rise of a far-right psychopath coming from out of nowhere to become the American president, propelled into office by large numbers of people manipulated to vote against their own best interests.

Sawyer’s predictions have often come true in the past, but none so quickly or with such far-reaching consequences. Now, with the paperback release of his bestselling Quantum Night, after its successful run in hardcover, readers can follow along with Sawyer’s characters — an experimental psychologist and an expert on the physics of consciousness — as they come to understand how authoritarians manipulate the masses to follow them … right to the brink of oblivion.

Building on the cutting-edge research — including Prof. Robert D. Hare’s world-famous studies of psychopathy done at the University of British Columbia and Prof. Bob Altemeyer’s research into authoritarian leaders conducted at the University of Manitoba (and quoted extensively by Nixon White House counsel John Dean in his nonfiction book Conservatives without Conscience), Sawyer has drawn together the latest in real-world scientific thought to explain exactly how we got to the political situation we find ourselves in today.

Sawyer was right in his prediction of a Trump-like president. Will Sawyer also turn out to be right in his prediction of the that president’s next move: an invasion of Canada?

In its starred review of Quantum Night — denoting a book of exceptional merit — Publishers Weekly says Sawyer’s “story is uncomfortably close to present day fears.”

And Oxford University’s Kevin Dutton, one of the world’s leading expert on psychopathy, says “Quantum Night is a fast-paced thinking-person’s thriller richly informed by modern science. Sawyer has certainly done his homework about psychopaths and he understands well that, far from being just the occasional headline-grabbing serial killer, they’re everywhere.”

Sawyer, a member of the Order of Canada, and bestselling author of FlashForward, which was adapted as an ABC TV series, is one of only eight people in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science fiction novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. As a futurist, he’s consulted with NASA, spoken at Google’s headquarters, and advised Canada’s federal Department of Justice. Quantum Night, his 23rd novel, is his most prescient, and timely, work of prediction to date.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Fat Man and Little Boy

by Rob - January 4th, 2017

Watched the 1989 movie FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY on DVD this evening. Rarely is a film so poorly cast; ironically, the first opening credit after the star names is that of the casting director, Nancy Foy.

Paul Newman can be a fabulous actor — by coincidence, the night before, I was watching brilliant clips of him in THE VERDICT as part of a PBS documentary about Sidney Lumet — but he was terrible as Manhattan Project head General Leslie R. Groves, giving a flat one-note performance.

And, holy crap, Dwight Schultz is awful as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Neither actor is aided by a crappy script (by Bruce Robinson and Roland Joffé) and stiff direction (by Joffé), but Schultz is simply out of his depth; it’s no surprise that this film ended his career as a movie leading man.

And the cinematography! Vilmos Zsigmond has lensed some visually great films (including CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), but his work here was pedestrian at best, and the fill lighting in the outdoor scenes (actually Mexico, standing in for Los Alamos) is so bright as to make everything outdoors look like a TV sitcom. Much of the film is also hampered by crappy ADR.

Groves and Oppenheimer are very difficult characters to play; for me, the gold standard is Brian Dennehy as the former and David Strathairn as the latter from the TV movie DAY ONE, which came out the same year as FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY. Newman isn’t the worst Groves I’ve seen — that would be Manning Redwood from the BBC OPPENHEIMER miniseries — but Schultz IS the worst Oppenheimer.

The film adds a subplot that sadly doesn’t fit. In real life, AFTER the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Canadian physicist Louis Slotin was killed when criticality was accidentally triggered during a demonstration he was making at Los Alamos.

His quite horrible decline and death would have been a sobering thing for Groves, Oppenheimer, and others at Los Alamos to witness while the decision about whether to actually drop the bombs on civilian targets in Japan vs. conducting a demonstration with Japanese observers was still being debated.

To move this tragedy up to BEFORE the bombs were dropped required contriving that Groves COVERED UP the accident and HID IT from Oppenheimer — which simply isn’t true.

Anyway, it’s not an awful film. Roger Ebert gave it 1.5 stars; I think it’s more of a 2-star effort. But it does underscore just how difficult it is to capture the drama of the Manhattan Project on film or TV.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

The inner life of a man who had none

by Rob - December 31st, 2016

My on-and-off bathroom reading for some time has been David A. Goodman‘s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk. I just finished it, and I quite enjoyed it.

Goodman took on two very difficult tasks. The first, obvious one, is making a coherent whole out of the contradictory mess that was TOS; the creators, after all, were literally making it up as they went along, and inconsistencies such as whether Kirk has three nephews or only one abound.

On this score, Goodman succeeds in finding entertaining solutions that hold together and make sense.

The second difficult task is a more subtle one. The brilliance of Star Trek was that the main character’s inner life was externalized: Spock was Kirk’s rationalism; McCoy was Kirk’s humanism. The triumvirate comprised three bodies but only one complete mind.

To write an autobiography — a first-person narrative — Goodman had to give Kirk an internalized inner life, a monologue of his own thoughts. As “ghostwriter,” Goodman had to make a choice, and he did: he decided Kirk was not just a lonely man (a recurrent theme in TOS, best embodied in “Requiem for Methuselah”), but also a man plagued by regrets: for the lives he’d ruined, over the people who’d died because of him, for the careers of others that had stalled or ended because of his actions.

It’s an interesting choice: a much more fraught, hand-wringy Kirk than we’ve ever seen before. As a reader, you can only decide for yourself whether Goodman’s depiction of Kirk’s inner life rings true. For me, it didn’t quite seem the Jim we’d come to know and love, but it was artistically an interesting choice, and I admired the integrity with which Goodman pursued it.


Robert J. Sawyer online:

Today’s history lesson

by Rob - December 22nd, 2016

Today’s history lesson, from November 15, 1945. Are you listening, Mr. Trump?
The President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister of Canada have issued the following statement:

1. We recognize that the application of recent scientific discoveries to the methods and practice of war has placed at the disposal of mankind means of destruction hitherto unknown, against which there can be no adequate military defense, and in the employment of which no single nation can in fact have a monopoly.

2. We desire to emphasize that the responsibility for devising means to ensure that the new discoveries shall be used for the benefit of mankind, instead of as a means of destruction, rests not on our nations alone, but upon the whole civilized world. Nevertheless, the progress that we have made in the development and use of atomic energy demands that we take an initiative in the matter, and we have accordingly met together to consider the possibility of international action:

(a) To prevent the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes.

(b) To promote the use of recent and future advances in scientific knowledge, particularly in the utilization of atomic energy, for peaceful and humanitarian ends.

3. We are aware that the only complete protection for the civilized world from the destructive use of scientific knowledge lies in the prevention of war. No system of safeguards that can be devised will of itself provide an effective guarantee against production of atomic weapons by a nation bent on aggression. Nor can we ignore the possibility of the development of other weapons, or of new methods of warfare, which may constitute as great a threat to civilization as the military use of atomic energy.

4. Representing, as we do, the three countries which possess the knowledge essential to the use of atomic energy, we declare at the outset our willingness, as a first contribution, to proceed with the exchange of fundamental scientific information and the interchange of scientists and scientific literature for peaceful ends with any nation that will fully reciprocate.

5. We believe that the fruits of scientific research should be made available to all nations, and that freedom of investigation and free interchange of ideas are essential to the progress of knowledge. In pursuance of this policy, the basic scientific information essential to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes has already been made available to the world. It is our intention that all further information of this character that may become available from time to time shall be similarly treated. We trust that other nations will adopt the same policy, thereby creating an atmosphere of reciprocal confidence in which political agreement and cooperation will flourish.

6. We have considered the question of the disclosure of detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy. The military exploitation of atomic energy depends, in large part, upon the same methods and processes as would be required for industrial uses.

We are not convinced that the spreading of the specialized information regarding the practical application of atomic energy, before it is possible to devise effective, reciprocal, and enforceable safeguards acceptable to all nations, would contribute to a constructive solution of the problem of the atomic bomb. On the contrary, we think it might have the opposite effect. We are, however, prepared to share, on a reciprocal basis with others of the United Nations, detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy just as soon as effective enforceable safeguards against its use for destructive purposes can be devised.

7. In order to attain the most effective means of entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes and promoting its widest use for industrial and humanitarian purposes, we are of the opinion that at the earliest practicable date a Commission should be set up under the United Nations Organization to prepare recommendations for submission to the Organization.

The Commission should be instructed to proceed with the utmost dispatch and should be authorized to submit recommendations from time to time dealing with separate phases of its work.

In particular the Commission should make specific proposals:

(a) For extending between all nations the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends;

(b) For control of atomic energy to the extent necessary to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes;

(c) For the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction;

(d) For effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying states against the hazards of violations and evasions.

8. The work of the Commission should proceed by separate stages, the successful completion of each one of which will develop the necessary confidence of the world before the next stage is undertaken. Specifically, it is considered that the Commission might well devote its attention first to the wide exchange of scientists and scientific information, and as a second stage to the development of full knowledge concerning natural resources of raw materials.

9. Faced with the terrible realities of the application of science to destruction, every nation will realize more urgently than before the overwhelming need to maintain the rule of law among nations and to banish the scourge of war from the earth. This can only be brought about by giving wholehearted support to the United Nations Organization, and by consolidating and extending its authority, thus creating conditions of mutual trust in which all peoples will be free to devote themselves to the arts of peace. It is our firm resolve to work, without reservation to achieve these ends.

The City of Washington
November 15, 1945

Harry S. Truman
President of the United States

C. R. Attlee
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

W. L. Mackenzie King
Prime Minister of Canada

Text taken from the book 1945: Year of Decision (Memoirs: Volume 1) by Harry S. Truman.

Photo left to right: Truman, Attlee, King.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

A repeat from one year ago today; more apropos than ever

by Rob - December 18th, 2016

Foresight consultancy Idea Couture publishes a wonderful magazine called MISC. For their Fall 2015 issue, they asked me to contribute a piece on a “looming potential crisis nobody is talking about.” This is what I had to say in MISC; I explore this theme in much greater depth in my upcoming 23rd novel Quantum Night, to be released March 1, 2016:

In all cultures there are a few manipulative authoritarians who wish to lead — and many who are predisposed to follow them blindly. Bob Altemeyer, a professor at the University of Manitoba, demonstrated that whenever authoritarians gain power disaster ensues, as we saw with the invasion of Iraq based on fabricated intelligence. But that fiasco was small potatoes: Altemeyer’s simulations suggest a nuclear holocaust will eventually occur as authoritarian leaders in different parts of the world come into conflict.

His research is still largely ignored even though former Nixon White House counsel John Dean highlighted it in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience. Oh, we panic when Al-Qaeda radicalizes millions, but we’ve paid no attention as the practice has become blatant among political and religious leaders in the West. Indeed, whenever someone tries to draw a parallel to the most obvious historical example — Germany falling under Hitler’s thrall — Godwin’s Law is invoked to falsely insist that no such comparisons are ever apt.

George Orwell said that mind-controlling messages would soon be pumped into our homes — but he would have been astounded that millions voluntarily tune into them in the form of FOX News and conservative talk radio. As Altemeyer has shown, huge numbers have already been radicalized in this way, and they ignore overwhelming evidence that they’ve been lied to. (The failure of blind followers to accept evolution is merely galling; the failure to accept anthropogenic climate change is an existential threat to our species.)

Is there hope? Perhaps. But until we begin to guard against the ways in which whole societies are easily manipulated by charismatic authoritarians, we’re still in enormous danger.

Although a PDF of Bob Altemeyer’s book is available for free here, I recommend the Audible version, which has an updated introduction by John Dean.

Robert J. Sawyer online;

Arrival review

by Rob - December 14th, 2016

Okay, look, I know I’m supposed to say I loved the movie Arrival, but, um, well, I admired it, but, my God, new rule: no one who liked Arrival is ever allowed to complain that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was slow-paced again. A different director could have executed Arrival‘s entire screenplay without dropping a single scene or line of dialog in half the running time.

And although Amy Adams is fine and appealing in her lead role, Jeremy Renner is just irritating in a lacklustre part, and the awesome Forest Whitaker’s talents are utterly wasted in a one-dimensional role anyone could have played.

Plus, come on, where’s the logic in this? [SPOILERS]

We need to decode an alien language, so we’ll try our very best linguists one at a time, and bring in, oh, let’s say, um, how about precisely one physicist, too, just for shits and giggles?

Seriously, Whitaker’s character says Amy was better than the last guy, and had threatened to go on to the next guy if she didn’t want the job when trying to recruit her. They would have gotten all the top linguists and all the top physicists at once to try to crack this.

And given that this is absolutely effing crucial to the (somewhat contrived geopolitical) plot, we are never shown the decision-making leading up to or the moment when someone actually does try to teach the aliens the word for “weapon.” I mean really. To quote the Classics Illustrated version of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon, “I was mad to let the Grand Lunar know [about war].”

Also, come on, the giant alien ships arrive right over the city of Shanghai (and other cities), but we never see any of the chaos that would cause — and instead, inexplicably, the alien ship we do follow is the one in the wilds of Montana, where access can be contained, and public reaction completely ignored. Sure, that’s the American team, so we’re supposed to be rooting for them, but only the American team could have put up a military cordon around their ship — vastly simplifying the storytelling (in the way having only one expert on each topic did) but hardly telling the most-interesting version of the story.

So, yeah: intelligent, sure. Thoughtful, even. But languorous and visually dull in terms of cinematography and special effects (it’ll play fine on DVD).

I’m going to re-read Ted Chiang’s original novella soon, as well as the screenplay (which has been provided to WGA members for awards consideration). Maybe because so many people said the loved, loved, loved this movie, my expectations were unreasonably high, but I’ll take Interstellar over Arrival any day.

Still, I love Ted Chiang’s fiction. Arrival is adapted from Ted’s novella “The Story of Your Life,” and in December 2002, in The Globe and Mail newspaper, I named Ted’s collection Stories of Your Life my “favourite book of the year,” writing:

It’s often been said that science fiction works best at shorter lengths. Proving that maxim better than anyone in recent history is Ted Chiang. He’s never published a novel, and only has eight short stories to his credit — but what short stories! His first — 1990’s “Tower of Babel” — won him the Nebula Award, the SF equivalent of an Oscar. His most recent — 2001’s “Hell is the Absence of God” — got him a Hugo, SF’s people’s choice award. Chiang’s entire oeuvre is collected in Stories of Your Life (Tor Books, Cdn$34.95). Chiang is a consummate stylist, and these lyrical tales aren’t just great SF; they’re great literature.
Robert J. Sawyer online:

RJS December 2016 newsletter

by Rob - December 13th, 2016

Myy latest newsletter is below; you can subscribe here.

Hello, Robert J. Sawyer reader! A few exciting news items for you — including a free ebook!


First up, probably the biggest thing that will ever happen to me: On Canada Day, July 1, 2016, I was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour bestowed by the Canadian government; I was honoured for “accomplishments as a science-fiction writer and mentor and for contributions as a futurist.” This makes me the first person ever to be admitted into the Order for work in the science-fiction field.

I will be presented with a medal by the Governor General of Canada early in the new year, and now am entitled to append the post-nominal initials C.M. to my name.

As a bonus, I’m now also empowered to officiate at Canadian citizenship ceremonies. I’ve been having the time of my life swearing in new citizens at the Mississauga office of the Canadian Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; I’ve sworn in about 500 new Canadians so far, from over 40 countries.


Sorry to make Kindle users wait, but Kobo users can get eight of my backlist titles right now, all cheap — and one for FREE!

The free one is Far-Seer, first volume of my Quintaglio Ascension trilogy. The trilogy is a parable about the dawning of modern science featuring alien counterparts of Galileo, Darwin, and Freud. The Quintaglio books are simultaneously my worst-selling books of all time and have also generated the most fan mail over the years. So, if you’ve got a Kobo E Ink device, or the free Kobo app for iOS or Android, please give Far-Seer a try; it’s FREE until the end of 2016 worldwide:


Other backlist titles now available directly from me as Kobo ebooks: Fossil Hunter, Foreigner, Golden Fleece, End of an Era, and Hugo Award finalists Starplex, Frameshift, and Factoring Humanity:


(Why Kobo editions first? Three reasons. First, they’re the home team; the Kobo head office is here in Toronto. Second, they’re giving me some free promotion in exchange for this brief exclusive period. And, third, I think it’s important for the long-term health of the ebook industry to foster a competitive marketplace rather than a monopoly.)

Kindle editions of the same books will be available in February 2017, to coincide with the paperback release of my novel Quantum Night, after its successful run in hardcover.

Speaking of which:


You know, I was happier that I correctly predicted the name of future pope Benedict XVI in 1995’s The Terminal Experiment than I am about this …

… but in my latest novel, Quantum Night, I predicted the rise from out-of-the-blue of a far-right-wing U.S. president with disastrous consequences for undocumented immigrants … and for Canada. The book also posits a scientific explanation for why the election went the way it did!

I honestly think Quantum Night is my best book yet, and many reviewers have agreed. It’s a mainstream bestseller in Canada and hit #1 on the bestsellers list published by LOCUS, the U.S. trade journal of the science fiction and fantasy fields.

“Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Sawyer’s latest work is a fast-moving, mind-stretching exploration of the nature of personality and consciousness; it balances esoteric speculation with action and character.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review, denoting a book of exceptional merit)
If you’re a Hugo Award, Nebula Award, or Aurora Award nominator, please keep Quantum Night in mind; nominations for the Nebulas are open now, and Aurora and Hugo nominations open January 1 or thereabouts.

Oh, and if you live outside North America, you can get the Quantum Night ebook — Kindle or Kobo — for just $2.99 or the equivalent in local currency (because outside of Canada and the U.S., I can set my own price instead of the publisher doing so):


Reviews of Quantum Night are here.


I’ve given over 100 futurism keynote addresses for corporations, associations, and government agencies including the Federation of State Medical Boards, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, Health Canada, the Institute for Quantum Computing, Lockheed Martin, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mensa, and Sanofi. I have spoken at the Library of Congress, the Googleplex, Cambridge University, the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing, and multiple TEDx events, among many other venues.

For information on booking me as a speaker, please see here.


Personally, it’s been a rough year for me. After having lost my younger brother to cancer in 2013, in the last twelve months I’ve also lost my mother (at 90), my only uncle, and my only aunt. That, plus pursuing some TV projects (about which I hope to be able to say more next time), means not a lot of fiction writing got done this year, and so I apologize that there will be no new RJS novel in 2017.

But if you’re looking for a new writer to fill the void, these debut novels greatly impressed me in 2016: The Courier by Winnipeg’s Gerald Brandt (published by DAW), Sleeping Giants by Montreal’s Sylvain Neuvel (published by Del Rey), and Archangel by Kansas writer Marguerite Reed (published by Arche Press).

If you like short stories, the new collection Soulmates (Arc Manor) gathers together the wonderful collaborations between Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn.

And my great friend Robert Charles Wilson‘s new novel Last Year just came out in hardcover from Tor; that’ll be my own vacation reading.

I hope you have fabulous holidays!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Eight backlist titles now available from Kobo

by Rob - October 24th, 2016

KOBO USERS! Eight of my older titles are now available worldwide in new Kobo editions, each with a Kobo-exclusive bonus short story: all three volumes of the Quintaglio Ascension trilogy (starting with Far-Seer), plus Aurora Award winner Golden Fleece, Seiun Award winner End of an Era, and Hugo Award finalists Starplex, Frameshift, and Factoring Humanity.

I’m giving Kobo an exclusive 90-day window on these ebook titles; Kindle, iBooks, and other formats will follow later (on February 1, 2017, to coincide with the release of Quantum Night in paperback). You can get them all HERE.

Why the exclusive? First, Kobo has always been a big booster of mine; second, they’re headquartered here in Toronto and I’m rooting for the home team; third, they’ve offered me some forthcoming promotion in exchange for this; and fourth, I think it’s important that the ebook landscape have multiple healthy players, and I want to do what I can to promote competition, rather than monopoly, in the industry.

Robert J. Sawyer online: