Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

The Elopus and the Queen

by Rob - October 18th, 2016

In 2014, GISHWHES, the “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen,” had as an item: “Get a previously published Sci-Fi author to write an original story (140 words max) about Misha, the Queen of England and an Elopus [half elephant, half octopus].”

My friend Shoshana Glick (after whom the character in my novel Wake is named) was the first of a great many people to ask me, and so I wrote this for her on my iPhone (and turned the others down):

Choosing Doctor Moreau as her Minister of Science had seemed like a good idea at the time. But Queen Misha was regretting it now. Not only was the chimera elopus he’d grafted together a frightening sight, but the beast’s nine appendages — being a woman of breeding, she refused to count the tenth — were, thanks to the infusion into each of a Cavorite extract, gravitationally bound to capital cities of Her Majesty’s various territorial possessions. And as each of those colonies declared independence, the corresponding extremity stretched and snapped off, sailing across the sky to the appropriate far-off land. The beast’s cries were horrifying, but Queen Misha’s own piteous wails were worse, she knew. Only Moreau, the monster who created monsters, found joy in this figurative and literal dismemberment.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

vDosPlus: 21st Century DOS!

by Rob - September 24th, 2016

Two years ago today — September 24, 2014 — I started experimenting with vDos, a DOS emulator for serious business applications under Windows developed by Jos Schaars in the Netherlands.

There’s been a wonderful side project for some time, now called vDosPlus, developed by Wengier Wu of the University of Toronto that adds lots of additional support for word-processing users; Wengier has worked closely with power users of WordStar (me!), WordPerfect (Edward Mendelson), and the whole XyWrite mailing-list community to give us a wonderful, stable platform for running our old workhorse software under Windows XP through 10, both 32-bit and 64-bit.

Up to today, I’ve run WordStar mostly under TameDOS, not vDos (or vDosPlus), and exclusively on 32-bit machines; my interest in vDos and vDosPlus was in future-proofing my key writing tool, WordStar.

But today, on the second anniversary of me becoming involved in the vDos community, I now actually have a production system that uses vDosPlus exclusively: my first Windows 10 computer, and my first 64-bit computer: a Dell Inspiron 11 3162 ultrabook. I just finished my first writing assignment on the new computer, and everything went flawlessly.

Many thanks to Jos and Wengier!

Why I love WordStar!

Info on running WordStar under vDosPlus

Robert J. Sawyer online:

40 years since my first submission

by Rob - August 14th, 2016

Forty years ago, on August 16, 1976, I made my first submission to a science-fiction magazine. I was sixteen years old.

I submitted a story called “Loophole” to a small-press magazine called Unearth: The Magazine of Science Fiction Discoveries, edited by John M. Landsberg and Jonathan Ostrowsky-Lantz.

I had almost no recollection of “Loophole” until I reread it last month. It features the Quintaglio race of intelligent dinosaurs that went on to feature sixteen years later in my novel Far-Seer. The story — doubtless quite rightly — was rejected eleven days after I submitted it with a personal note from Mr. Ostrowsky-Lantz.

(The original manuscript for “Loophole” and the personal note from Unearth‘s editor are now in the Robert J. Sawyer Archives at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.)

Unearth had as its mission publishing new authors (plus, in each issue, one reprint of the first sale of an established author). According to the editorial in the first issue, the magazine was “a market solely for writers who had not yet made a sale, where their work would not have to compete with that of established authors … the only prozine to work exclusively with unpublished writers.”

I stumbled upon the magazine at Toronto’s Bakka Books (where I myself went on to work six years later) and bought the first issue there (pictured). It featured the first story by Paul Di Filippo, now a major name, ironically with an author’s note saying, “Paul Di Filippo has announced that he is leaving science fiction for greener pastures. He has vowed that `Falling Expectations’ is the last SF story he will ever write.”

The magazine launched several other notable careers in its three-year run, including William Gibson, James Blaylock, Craig Shaw Gardner, Rudy Rucker, and Somtow Sucharitkul.

My actual first publication came four years later, in 1980, when I was nineteen: the story “The Contest” in my university’s literary annual White Wall Review; that story went on to be reprinted in the anthology 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Terry Carr, and Martin Harry Greenberg.

Today, in 2016, I’ve essentially given up writing short fiction. I’ve done precisely one story in the last ten years, “Looking for Gordo,” which was a nominee for Canada’s Aurora Award, because the commission for that story, paying way more than I got as an advance for my first novel, was too good to turn down. But nonetheless, I had a nice little career as a short-fiction writer, which began (even if unsuccessfully) with that first submission to Unearth four decades ago:

  • I’ve had 45 stories published in total, with all but “Waiting for Gordo” collected in two volumes: Iterations and Other Stories and Identity Theft and Other Stories. The stories first appeared in a mix of classic genre venues such as Analog, Amazing Stories, and On Spec, original anthologies, and places that don’t normally publish fiction, such as The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Leisure Ways (the magazine of the Canadian Automobile Association), and The Village Voice.

  • My stories were nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards; won Science Fiction Chronicle‘s Reader Award for best short story of the year; won Analog‘s Analytical Library Award for best short story of the year in that magazine; won five Aurora Awards; won France’s and Spain’s top SF awards (the latter a record-setting three times); and won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

  • I had a story in the journal Nature; had a story read on CBC Radio; had a story produced as a planetarium starshow; had stories optioned for film; and had work reprinted in Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF and in The Penguin Book of Crime Stories.

  • My short fiction has been praised as everything from “quietly intelligent” (Booklist) to “gobsmacking” (Publishers Weekly) and “highly entertaining” (Quill & Quire). Of Identity Theft and Other Stories, Booklist said: “Sawyer’s collection showcases not only an irresistibly engaging narrative voice but also a gift for confronting thorny philosophical conundrums. At every opportunity, Sawyer forces his readers to think while holding their attention with ingenious premises and superlative craftsmanship.”

So: many thanks to Unearth and its open-door policy for inspiring a teenage kid forty years ago to take a stab at this crazy game of publishing science fiction. Even without accepting my story, you gave me my start.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Toronto Star Trek ’76 — 40th anniversary

by Rob - July 23rd, 2016

Forty years ago today, the fabulous fan-run convention TORONTO STAR TREK ’76 began at the Royal York Hotel. Here’s one of the flyers for the con (Nichelle Nichols and Mark Lenard, listed as only “invited” on this flyer, actually did come — as did the entire cast, except for Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley).

One of the most amazing weekends of my life (I was 16), and, even now, hundreds of conventions in, it’s still one of the best cons I’ve ever attended. Had so much fun spending the weekend there with friends Carolyn Clink, Gillian Clinton, Ted Bleaney, Lynn Conway, Steve Scott, and my late bestie Gary Mackenzie.

Incredible to think, 40 years later, it’s the debut weekend for the 13th Star Trek feature film, and the sixth Star Trek live-action TV series is now in production … here in Toronto.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

20 Years an Ifwit

by Rob - July 20th, 2016

Twenty years ago this week, my life changed in a big way. I did my first-ever stint teaching science-fiction writing. Hayden Trenholm, who lived in Calgary then, had been charged with finding a leader for the first-ever workshop run by a professional writer for Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers’ Association (IFWA), and since I’d won the best-novel Nebula Award earlier in that distant year of 1996, Hayden reached out to me.

Out of that workshop came an annual tradition of facilitated Calgary SF&F writing workshops that continues to this day (with my former Penguin Canada editor Adrienne Kerr running this year’s workshop).

Out of it also came my close association — two decades now — with Calgary, a city I visit several times each year, and all the great many friends I have there now.

And out of it came my teaching career, which has seen me teach writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and the Odyssey workshop, among other places (as well as IFWA having me back twice more to lead workshops for them).

But, most important to me, I met for the first time some great people, including some who have gone on to be amongst my very best friends.

The ten participants in that 1996 workshop were:

    Renee Bennett
    Katie Harse
    Tony King
    Valerie King
    Danita Maslankowski
    Randy McCharles
    Glenn McIntyre
    Al Onia
    Hayden Trenholm
    Liz Westbrook (later, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm)

Many of the writers in that workshop have gone on to significant publication success. Carolyn and I bought work from two of them [Katie and Hayden] for the anthology Tesseracts 6 we were editing at that time; I published a novel under my RJS Books line by one of them [Danita, who publishes as Danita Maslan]; three others have also published multiple novels each [Randy, Al, and Hayden], and two each have won multiple Aurora Awards [Randy and Hayden].

I haven’t seen Glenn for some time, but the others I do see often, and I was a houseguest in Randy’s place last week, and Hayden and Liz were houseguests at my place the week before. And, of course, I’m a proud Ifwit (as members of IFWA are called) to this day.

Teaching that workshop was one of the major turning points in my life — I can’t imagine what my life would be like today without the wonderful friendships and other good things that came out of that fabulous trip to Alberta all those years ago.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

The Order of Canada

by Rob - July 7th, 2016

On July 1, 2016 — Canada Day — I was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour bestowed by the Canadian government. The citation reads:

Robert J. Sawyer, C.M., for his accomplishments as a science-fiction writer and mentor and for his contributions as a futurist.
(C.M. is the postnominal used by members of the Order of Canada.)

Although I won’t get my Order of Canada medal until the formal investiture ceremony at the Governor General’s residence sometime in the coming year, I was very pleased to find my Order of Canada lapel pins waiting for me upon my return to Toronto yesterday after a vacation in Spain.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter on Quantum Night

by Rob - June 18th, 2016

The top books-discussion radio program in Canada is CBC Radio One’s The Next Chapter hosted by Shelagh Rogers. Here’s Shelagh’s 15-minute interview with me, first aired Saturday, June 18, 2016.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Alan Sawyer plaque in Banff

by Rob - June 8th, 2016

Three years ago, on June 8, 2012, I lost my brother Alan Sawyer, an Emmy Award-winning multimedia producer and broadcasting policy analyst, to lung cancer.

On this past Saturday, June 4, 2016, I was in Banff, Alberta, for the first time since Alan passed. Alan was a regular at the Banff World Media Festival, and in the St. James Gate pub there, there’s a plaque put up by his friends in honour of him. I made the pilgrimage to see it; the hostess at the bar bought the drinks for my table after she found out why I was there.

The plaque says:

In loving memory of our friend

Alan Sawyer

Husband, producer, policy wonk.

In this hallowed spot, with a few pints under his belt, there was no problem in Canadian media that was too big to tackle.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

A new interview with me

by Rob - May 28th, 2016

The great Italian science fiction and fantasy magazine La Bottega del Fantastico interviews me in its just published fifth issue, which you can get for free here. In the magazine, the interview, conducted by editor Franco Giambalvo, appears in Italian (and is accompanied by this fabulous portrait of me by the artist Giuseppe Festino), but you can read my original English responses below.

1) Robert, often in your novels and stories you talk about new technologies, for example in your WWW trilogy. What is your attitude against this true epochal mutation? Is, in your opinion, a good, positive instrument, useful for the Humanity, or vice versa you may think it will lead to a sort of global dehumanization?

If one is a policy-maker, one has to pick a version of reality and advocate for it. That’s not the job of the sciene-fiction writer. Our job is to outline as many possible futures as we can, and let the public see which ones they prefer to choose. So, I’ve written about the Singularity — the dawn of artificial intelligence that exceeds human capabilities — as both a wonderful thing, as in my Factoring Humanity. Which it will be, I don’t know — but I do know that if we don’t have at least one positive roadmap, such as the one I outlined in my trilogy, if all the scenarios being considered are negative ones (elimination per The Terminator; subjugation per The Matrix; or assimilation per Star Trek‘s borg), then we are doomed to end up in one of those disastrous futures. Of course, I hope for the best — I’m generally an optimist about most things — and would like to see us find a way to survive the advent of intellectually superior AI with our essential human liberty, dignity, and individuality intact.

2) Your SF is “Hard Science Fiction” with solid scientific basis, and many people think of you as a new Arthur C. Clarke. In your case, however, the characterization is more thorough, rich of introspection and intimacy. Emblematic in this regard, I feel is your novel Rollback. Moreover, you have declared to appreciate the “sense of wonder”: how you amalgamate these different and apparently contrasting aspects?

Thank you for noticing! Clarke is my favourite science-fiction writer, but he had only a glancing interest, if any, in characterization. My own mission statement for my work is to combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic. Put another way, I think science fiction should be fractal: no matter what level of magnification you look at it — a single person, a couple, a family, a community, a city, a nation, a world, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, the multiverse — it should be interesting. No other type of literature has that zoom-in / zoom-out potential, and I like to take full advantage of it. As to how I do it, well, it simply comes from remembering that “science fiction” as a term consists of two equal parts — in English, both words have seven letters — and one shouldn’t be weighted more heavily than the other. Even a hard-SF writer, if he or she takes the position that characterization is simply the dramatization of principles from the science of psychology, can achieve this, telling stories of believable people facing extraordinary events.

3) If science fiction really is a literature of ideas, you are a valid representative. But I would really understand why you write science fiction? What is that’s attracting you in this literary movement, unlike “mainstream” production?

Science fiction is about all of space, all of time, and all forms of life; it’s the least-limiting, not the most-limiting, form of storytelling. I’ve gotten to write science-fiction adventure (Far-Seer), science-fiction romance (Rollback), science-fiction mystery (Red Planet Blues), science-fiction philosophy (Quantum Night), and science-fiction thriller (Triggers); no mainstream author gets that amount of freedom. Indeed, a romance writer has to tell the same basic story over and over again; a mystery writer often spends his or her entire career writing about one single detective character.

3) If you had a non-SF idea, would you start writing a book using it?

No. I have tons of ideas I will never get around to writing, but the reality is that no one would pay me nearly so much if I wrote in another genre; I’d get beginner’s money — the kind of money I got for my first SF novel a quarter of a century ago — if I tried to sell a mystery novel or a mainstream thriller. Given that I have to do triage on my ideas — choosing which will live as books and which will die unwritten — I might as well do the ones that will make the most money, or best serve my loyal, already established audience.

4) How do you consider the current situation in science fiction? Do you agree with the so told Law of Sturgeon, when he says that “the standards categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap”?

I’m not a fan of the proliferation of military science fiction; I’m not a fan of space opera. I think SF should tell stories of social comment, of philosophical rumination, not just escapism or action/adventure — or crazed power fantasies of blowing up aliens. So, yeah, it’s still 90% crap — but the good modern stuff, the stuff by Marguerite Reed and Julie E. Czerneda and Paolo Bacigalupi and David Brin and Robert Charles Wilson, is the best science fiction ever written.

5) If you were abandoned on a distant planet, and could hold a book of SF, what would it be and why?

Gateway by Frederik Pohl, my all-time favourite science-fiction novel. I learned so much reading that book as a 17-year-old; everything I said SF should be above — fractal; intimately human as well as grandly cosmic — Pohl did in spades in that book; he also taught me something far too few writers ever learn: that your main character doesn’t have to be likable, only believable.

6) What do you think about the proposal to write detective stories? You have some experience in SF-detective stories: I’m thinking about The Terminal Experiment or Golden Fleece or Illegal Alien perhaps.

I think science fiction and mystery compliment each other very well: both require the reader to pay attention to the text, picking up subtle clues — about the crime in mystery; about the world in SF; both prize rational thought. In addition to the books of mine you mentioned, Factoring Humanity, Frameshift, FlashForward, Hominids, Triggers, and Red Planet Blues are also all in part mystery novels; it’s a combination that’s worked well for me, and it’s one I’ll doubtless use again.

7) Do you follow the SF production outside America?

Given that I don’t live in America, the answer is clearly yes. Canadian SF is a distinct beast, far more prone to downbeat or ambiguous endings than the American brand. And, of course, I’m aware of the vigorous hard-SF tradition in the United Kingdom. As for the rest of the world, we get so little in translation, sadly, although of course I’ve read Stanislaw Lem and Pierre Boulle, and was thrilled to see the Chinese novel The Three-Body Problem take the Hugo last year.

8) Do you remember the first book you read? Not only SF: the first full book you read!

Ah, but they are one in the same! I was an SF reader from very early on; the first book I recall reading, beyond Dr. Seuss, was The Enormous Egg, by Oliver Butterworth, about a chicken laying an egg out of which a Triceratops hatches; the novelist knew dinosaurs and birds were closely related, and once you get past the outlandish premise, the interaction of his paleontologist characters and all their dialog was spot on; it’s a wonderful book, gently satirizing big business, government, small-town life, and institutionalized science.

9) May you say to me something about the place where you live, and what do you like in your place?

I live in Mississauga, a city of 850,000 that abuts Toronto’s western border; Toronto is the largest city in Canada. I live in a penthouse apartment — top floor of a condominium tower — in the heart of downtown Mississauga. I love it: fantastic views, a wood-burning fireplace, and lots of room. I also love that it’s close to the Toronto International Airport (which is actually in Mississauga not Toronto), since I fly at least twice a month, heading off to science-fiction conventions, science conferences, literary events, or on research trips; the airport is 15 minutes from my home.

10) There is something in your production that you could have done differently, or better? And what is it?

Differently? Sure; there are many approaches I could have taken. Better? That’s for others to say; I’ve done my very best on every book, but I made a deal with myself when the first one, Golden Fleece, came out in 1990: I wouldn’t re-read each one until 40 years after its publication, when I could look at it with fresh eyes; I’ll re-read Golden Fleece in 2030; you can ask me then if, in hindsight, I would have done anything differently.

11) Have you never lived the literary stress so often proposed in the stories about Authors, of being behind in the writing, and your editor asking for an immediate result?

Oh, sure. This is a deadline-driven profession. But I wrote for newspapers and magazines before becoming a novelist; you quickly learned that you need to be disciplined and to meet your deadlines. That said, my most-recent book, Quantum Night, was finished way past its orginal deadline; it should have been completed in 2013, and published in 2014, but, sadly, the day after I wrote the first paragraph of it, my younger brother Alan got in touch to say he was dying of lung cancer. When I told my editors — Ginjer Buchanan in New York and Adrienne Kerr in Toronto — that I was going to be late with the book, they were 100% supportive; as they both said, I’ve been so good about meeting deadlines for decades, when a real reason for being late came along they were happy to grant me whatever time I needed.

12) Thank you, Robert: this is the last question: in Italy the illustration of science fiction has a rich tradition of valid artists like Kurt Caesar, Karel Thole, Giuseppe Festino, Franco Brambilla. Do you know them? What do you think of them? Which is the illustrator you like best, and why?

I know Franco; he and I are friends; we met when I was one of the guests of honour at DelosDays: The 2011 Italian National Science Fiction Convention in Milan. I love his work, and his covers for the Italian editions of my WWW novels are spectactular. I also know Fred Gambino, who is of Italian heritage; he did the magnificent cover for the British edition of my novel The Terminal Experiment; I liked it so much, I bought the original art from him.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

How do you spell “FlashForward”?

by Rob - May 10th, 2016

A question I received today:

There’s seem to be some dissent on the topic of how to capitalize/space FlashForward. Is it FlashForward or Flashforward? Or Flash Forward?

My reply:

It’s an interesting question. The official TV series spelling was FlashForward, but since the wordmark was always rendered in all-caps on screen, that wasn’t obvious to most people (although that’s what you saw in the press coverage).

My novel’s title was Flashforward, per the manuscript and title page; also, it was one word with a capital initial F per the usage of the term to describe the phenomenon in question in the text of the novel.

But someone in the art department at Tor blithely put it BOTH as two words (front cover and spine of dustjacket) and one word (title page, page headers, and back cover of dustjacket) on the first edition, without ever once checking with me.

Not only did that screw up turn-of-the-century search engines and Amazon (searches for one did not turn up the other; Amazon had “Flashforward” linked to the hardcover but “Flash Forward” linked to the paperback, and reviews of the former weren’t carried over to the latter), but it also caused the book to be left off the preliminary Nebula Award ballot (you needed a minimum of ten recommendations from SFWA members, which I had, but they were split between the two spellings and the person in charge couldn’t see that they were obviously for the same book until it was too late).

The copyright page of the first edition says FLASHFORWARD, all capitals.

Since the advent of the TV series in 2009 seven years ago, I’ve used unified branding, and consistently referred to the book in camel case: FlashForward. Call that the author’s preferred spelling. The latest paperback edition from Tor uses the TV series wordmark: FLASHFORWARD.

Flashforword is an acceptable alternate. The two-word version, “Flash Forward,” is wrong (despite its use, along with the one-word version, on the Tor dustjacket), and that mistake should not be perpetuated.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

20th anniversary of winning the Nebula Award

by Rob - April 27th, 2016

Twenty years ago tonight, on April 27, 1996, my life changed forever. Aboard the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California, Sheila Finch presented me with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award for best novel of the year, for The Terminal Experiment.

As my editor John Douglas said at the afterparty, “You’ve gone overnight from being a promising newcomer to an established, bankable name.”

The gorgeous trophy was designed and built by William Rotsler. The large sphere is actually the Jupiter-like Face of God from my novel Far-Seer; the Quintaglio home world is orbiting close to it off at right.

William Rotsler was doing Nebula trophy designs based on the author’s work back then. He also did a great one for Greg Bear‘s Moving Mars (red sandstone sphere for Mars), which won the year before I did, and Nicola Griffith‘s Slow River, which won the year after (lapidary stones having sunk to the bottom).

Nebula Awards always have the spiral galaxy at the top.

The full list of nominees for Best Novel of 1995:

  • Mother of Storms by John Barnes
  • Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress
  • Celestis by Paul Park
  • The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams
  • Calde of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe

And here’s the press release about my win from all those years ago.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Reviews of Quantum Night

by Rob - April 14th, 2016

“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. Sawyer is very good at grounding the technical speculation in personal conflict, as Marchuk’s utilitarian principles struggle with his emotional impulses and the political/media references keep the story uncomfortably close to present-day fears.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review, denoting a book of exceptional merit

“A really good book. Just the sort of science fiction I’d like to be writing myself if I had the time.”

John Gribbin, author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat

“This is one `hard SF’ book that manages to throw in large information dumps without boring the reader! The information — and one thing Rob Sawyer is well known for — is necessary to the plot, and extremely well researched, but somehow (and this is a very rare thing) manages to keep the reader alert and involved with the story.

“Rather than a dry discussion on philosophical points, Quantum Night takes you on an exciting ride through a scientific extrapolation in the near-future time of 2020 — only four years away from now — when the US has a new President who seems not to share the conciliatory nature of Barack Obama; when Justin Trudeau’s government is only surviving through a coalition with the NDP (Canadians will understand what that means), and where the entire world seems to be falling into a crevasse of mindless violence where the highest mentality is mob mentality.

“This book makes you want to follow up on all those things mentioned by Sawyer: what are `microsaccades,’ is quantum superposition a real force in neurology, what does it mean to be `neurotypical’? After reading this I spent a couple of days with Google, tracing down paper after paper to find out what’s real and what’s extrapolation.

“This is some exciting writing! This book will be a strong contender for the Aurora Award next year.”

Steve Fahnestalk, in Amazing Stories

Quantum Night is simultaneously a breath of fresh air and a return to classic Sawyer: big ideas, relatable people and a Canadian perspective. This is trademark Sawyer.

“Though returning to a favourite topic — the nature of consciousness — he doesn’t retread any old ground here, taking an entirely new angle and approach.

“The publisher is marketing this release as a techno-thriller as much as a science-fiction novel. But Sawyer does it a lot smarter and deeper than is typical of such fare. Thriller fans, science-fiction nuts, armchair philosophers, and psychology teachers alike should enjoy it.”

Winnipeg Free Press

“Absolutely fascinating, thought provoking, and a ripping good read to boot. I’ve never been disappointed by one of Sawyer’s novels, and the streak continues. A great blend of the scientific with the fantastic, with a philosophically and scientifically compelling hook … Between the great characters, fascinating plot, solid pacing, and just really really interesting concept underpinning the book, it should be a must-read for 2016 for anybody who loves sci-fi, philosophy, psychology or physics.”

Dan Ruffolo at Strange Currencies

[One of the] “best science fiction and fantasy [books] this month; a fast-paced sci-fi thriller.”

The Washington Post

Quantum Night is a classic example of a Sawyer novel: a near future with some cool tech, a complex plot that has the reader thinking and questioning from cover to cover, and plenty of Sawyer-patented wry humor. Fans will be delighted and new readers will be sucked in with this compelling story.”

Alex C. Telander at Book Banter

“Stunning. Like all of Sawyer’s work, Quantum Night is a compelling read, intensely thought-provoking, filled with real human characters learning new things about their world.”

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

“This thought-provoking psychological thriller explores the dark recesses of the human mind, tackling concepts such as ethics, morality, consciousness, and human nature. The concepts are well-researched, yet accessible. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thought-provoking read, look no further.”

NerdMuch? (#1 on list of best SF/F books to read in March 2016)

“I often think of Sawyer as the last of the old-fashioned SF writers, someone who’s less concerned with the minutiae of imaginary worlds than creating thought experiments that explore the consequences of science fictional ideas in the real world. The central conceit in this one is a doozy, so I won’t give it away. Needless to say, if I were trying to get a non-genre person to read it, I’d describe it as a thinking person’s Purge, with Canadians and Star Trek jokes. It’s also Sawyer’s most explicitly political novel. I’ll be thinking about it a lot this election year, and for years to come.”

Observation Deck

“Toronto’s award-winning sci-fi novelist returns with a dark gem of a story involving experimental psychology.”

Post City Toronto

“A truly remarkable work; one of Sawyer’s best. An essential read for anyone interested in the science (and philosophy) of human consciousness, and simply a great dramatic thriller to boot.”

James Kerwin, writer and director of Yesterday Was A Lie

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer is a highly recommended science fiction novel set in the near future — with psychopaths, and philosophical zombies.

“Sawyer is an accomplished writer who knows how to give his readers the science they need while keeping the plot flowing. He uses Jim’s lectures to his class in-between chapters to help impart information about psychology and ethics that will be used in the novel. The science and research in the novel is based on fact and Sawyer includes a sizable section of further nonfiction reading that influence his plot and the research within the narrative.

“While there is plenty of thought provoking information in Quantum Night, you’ll find humor in this novel too as well as plenty of geeky quotes and Star Trek references.”

She Treads Softly

“Robert J. Sawyer’s first new novel in three years is his familiar enjoyable blend of science-based extrapolation, strong characterisation, plot twists, philosophical treatise, pop culture references, bad jokes and high stakes, which I suspect will increase the sales of many of the texts the author quotes in his afterword, since it’s an eye-opening look into our understanding of human consciousness (pun, for those who’ve read the book, fully intended). It’s a subject Sawyer has tackled before — there’s even a fun throwaway line about the FlashForward TV show — but he comes at it from a very different angle on this occasion.

“It’s Sawyer’s most blatantly Canadian book — there’s a considerable amount of detail about the locations in which it’s set. It’s not a paean of praise to his home country, however; in places it’s an almost forensic examination of the cultural and political differences between Canada and its neighbour, which become highly relevant to the book’s third act. The various philosophical discussions that underpin the first two acts are equally important to the denouement; Sawyer reinforces the differing sides of the arguments regarding utilitarianism with deftly chosen pop culture references (Star Trek II unsurprisingly turning up in this, alongside a savage dismissal of its sequel!) as well as through his characters.

“As with all Sawyer’s best novels (of which this is one), the discussions come out of the plot and character development, and there are many taut action sequences that will have you powering through the pages — but it is the concepts at its heart that will reverberate through your thoughts for some time to come.

“Verdict: Another thought-provoking and tense novel from a master science fiction writer.”

Sci-Fi Bulletin

“No one uses science fiction to ask the big questions quite like Sawyer. IQuantum Night is another exceptional addition to his already-considerable canon, combining his passion for scientific inquiry and a deep curiosity about humanity’s potential with a meticulous attitude toward research and  of course — a mastery of narrative and world building. It’s another first-rate effort from the current king of Canadian science fiction.”

The Maine Edge (Bangor, Maine)

“Sawyer’s science-fiction novels are about what happens when you introduce one high-concept sci-fi element to an otherwise ordinary world. He then spends the rest of the book examining the ramifications of that collision. His newest, Quantum Night, uses experimental psychology and quantum physics to explore human nature.”

Seattle Weekly

“What a great, provocative read! From quantum physics to the philosophy of mind, Sawyer’s latest novel will leave you pondering deep questions long after you turn the final page.”

Dan Falk, author of The Science of Shakespeare

“I just finished Robert J. Sawyer’s new book, Quantum Night. It’s already my new favourite of all of his work. I couldn’t put it down.”

Kat Curtis, anchor, Naked News

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.”

Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths

“Mind-blowing. What Sawyer does, possibly better than anyone else, is take a new scientific theory and extrapolate its real-world effects to their logical extremes. Then he tosses some Canadian, Star-Trek-quoting academics at it to see what happens.

“The ideas that run through his story and the relentless examination of how those ideas might affect the world keep me thinking about his books long after I’ve put them down.”

Daytona News-Journal

Quantum Night is literally a psychological thriller, and Sawyer builds heavily on the real-world research of psychologists including Robert Hare (author of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist) and Philip Zimbardo (creator of the infamous Stanford prison experiments). It’s a slow-burn thriller that gently eases up the heat until it’s too late to jump out of the pot   one that will likely leave the reader thinking about it long after they’ve read the final page.”

Prince George Citizen

“Which are you? Are you a sheep, a psychopath or an intellectual? It is a thesis that superstar science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer poses in his latest novel Quantum Night. It is an academic paper given the gift of action, adventure, romance and all the other trappings of dramatic storytelling that Sawyer has become world famous for. His discussion, like the book itself, is a made up story, yes, but it is also a button Sawyer is pushing to get the reader thinking about, well, thinking.

“Clearly, this book is not merely an escapist sci-fi story. Anyone familiar with Sawyer’s past work will know that he almost never offers a book just to narcotize the reader with wit and plot. This held true even when Hollywood got their hands on his material, when his book FlashForward was turned into a network television series starring Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Dominic Monaghan and other notable actors. Even though they took liberties with the script, the social commentary was always at the front of the product.”

Prince George Citizen (again)

“Science-fiction books to look forward to: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer uses science as a way of exploring the fuzzy line between good and evil.”

John DeNardo in Kirkus

“Oh how I wish there were more than 5 stars to give to this book! I started reading, and knew right away that I had something wonderful in my hands. Books like this one are why I continue to buy every book that Robert J. Sawyer publishes.”


“Nebula Award winner Robert J. Sawyer addresses the intricacies of human nature in his latest novel. Sawyer’s novel addresses current cultural and political anxieties within North America in the context of a fast-paced thriller.”

Quill & Quire

“I loved this book. Loved it. It had all the things I’ve come to expect in a Robert Sawyer book — well researched high concept science fiction, interesting characters, Canadiana, philosophy jokes. If you’ve liked his previous work, you’ll like this one. If you haven’t read anything by Robert J. Sawyer, why the hell not? Reading his books is like riding a water slide; you jump in one end and whoosh through the twists and turns until you pop out the other side.”

Raven Lunatick

“Where to start in recommending Quantum Night? Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel is set in the very near future. The author has created a plausible, unpleasant future in which new discoveries in psychology and quantum physics might be the only hope for stemming a rising tide of violence and unrest. The novel is fast-paced and thoroughly engaging, questioning what we should do to save humanity given the necessary knowledge and technology.

Quantum Night examines philosophy, morals, ethics, and science in the context of a society that is slightly different, but completely recognizable to us in 2016, and takes on an added element of foreboding when one considers the current political drama taking place in the United States.”

49th Shelf

“I’m nursing my copy of Quantum Night, reading a chapter a night, to prolong the reading experience. I’m prepared to regard it, now three-quarters finished, as Rob’s best novel so far, an immense accomplishment — best in the sense of being accomplished, exciting, engrossing, good-humoured, informative, thought-provoking … and very Canadian!”

John Robert Colombo, compiler of Colombo’s Canadian Quotations

“A new mind-bender from Robert J. Sawyer. It’s been way, way too long since Robert J. Sawyer unleashed one of his thought-provoking high-concept books on us. And this time, he’s asking deep questions about the nature of consciousness.”


“A great read; Sawyer’s best novel of ideas yet in terms of science, plot, character, and sheer mind-stretching, expansive generosity of spirit. This book is a page turner — and for the purposes of those who work away at that which makes us human, it could not be better.”

James Christie, Director of The Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Door prizes for Toronto launch party!

by Rob - February 29th, 2016

DOOR PRIZES! The weather is so crappy in Toronto, I figure we need to sweeten the pot a little to get people to come out to Tuesday night’s QUANTUM NIGHT book launch party (6:00 p.m. Tuesday, Lansdowne Brewery, 303 Lansdowne Avenue at Dundas West). So, we’re going to have a free door-prize draw for these items:

  • Hardcover limited-edition the FUTURE VISIONS anthology — the Microsoft SF anthology featuring my story “Looking for Gordo,” one of the rarest and most collectible SF books of 2015
  • DVD set of FLASHFORWARD: The Complete Series, based on my novel of the same name
  • QUANTUM NIGHT bound galley — the rare version of the text that has Thomas Mulcair instead of Justin Trudeau winning the recent Canadian Federal election
  • Hardcover first edition of my first short-story collection ITERATIONS, with an introduction by James Alan Gardner
  • A copy of the beautiful Red Deer Press trade-paperback edition of my Aurora Award-winning novel STARPLEX, the only novel of its year to be nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula
  • And — super-rare! — a copy of the first draft (my preferred draft) of “Course Correction,” the episode of FLASHFORWARD I wrote.

Each one is a separate prize. I’ll happily autograph prizes for the winners.

Hope to see many of you tomorrow! The event is free and open to the public; everyone is welcome!

Robert J. Sawyer online:

eBooks of Quantum Night available worldwide

by Rob - February 28th, 2016

English-language eBook editions of my 23rd novel, Quantum Night, are available worldwide in Kindle and Kobo formats (plus additional formats in Canada and the United States). Find your country’s links here.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Book tour for Quantum Night

by Rob - February 24th, 2016

I’m touring extensively in March and April 2016 to promote the release of my 23rd novel, Quantum Night. Come on out and say hello!

In Canada, I’ll be in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Muenster, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Waterloo, Prince George, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Wasaga Beach.

In the United States, I’ll be in Rye Brook, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

The full list is below (and any future updates will be here):

  • Book Launch Party for Quantum Night
    Lansdowne Brewery Brew Pub
    303 Lansdowne Avenue
    (northeast corner of Dundas Street West and Lansdowne, in the Brockton Village neighbourhood)
    Held in conjunction with but not at Bakka-Phoenix Books
    Toronto, Ontario
    Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
    Lansdowne Brewery

  • Book Tour Event in Winnipeg
    McNally Robinson Booksellers
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    Thursday, March 3, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    McNally Robinson

  • Reader and Panelist
    Talking Fresh 14: Duality
    Free writers’ conference at the
    University of Regina
    Research and Innovation Lecture Hall, Room 119
    Regina, Saskatchewan
    Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, 2016
    Talking Fresh Festival

  • Reading and Talk
    St. Peter’s College
    in the Student Lounge
    Muenster, Saskatchewan
    Monday, March 7, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Refreshments will be served

  • Book Tour Event in Saskatoon
    McNally Robinson Booksellers
    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
    Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Facebook event page

  • Book Tour Event in Edmonton
    Audreys Bookshop
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Facebook event page

  • Book Tour Event in Calgary
    Pages on Kensington
    Calgary, Alberta
    Friday, March 11, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Facebook event page

  • Book Tour Event in Waterloo
    University of Waterloo
    Quantum Nano Centre
    Waterloo, Ontario
    Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Guest of Honor
    Lunacon 58
    Westchester Hilton
    Rye Brook, New York
    March 18-20, 2016

  • Book Tour Event in Seattle
    University Bookstore — Main Store
    (aka “U District” store)
    4326 University Way NE
    Seattle, Washington
    Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    University Bookstore

  • Program Participant
    Norwescon 39
    SeaTac, Washington
    March 24-27, 2016

  • Book Tour Event in Prince George
    Books & Company
    Prince George, British Columbia
    Tuesday, March 29, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.

  • Book Tour Event in Vancouver
    Cottage Bistro
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    Wednesday, March 30, 2016, at 6:00 p.m.
    Cottage Bistro

  • Book Tour Event in San Diego
    Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
    San Diego, California
    Thursday, March 31, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Mysterious Galaxy

  • Book Tour Event in Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
    University of Southern California
    Los Angeles, California
    Saturday, April 9, 2016, at 3:00 p.m.
    in Seeley G. Mudd 123
    LA Times Festival of Books

  • Book Tour Event in Ottawa
    (joint event with fellow SF author Sylvain Neuvel)
    Ottawa Writers Festival
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Monday, April 18, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.

  • The Walrus Magazine Talks The Future
    National Gallery of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Thursday, April 21, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
    Tickets are $12 for students, $20 for everyone else.
    Walrus Talks

  • Returning Guest of Honour
    Ad Astra
    Toronto, Ontario
    April 29-May 1, 2016
    Ad Astra

  • Book Tour Event in Toronto
    The Eh List Reading Series
    Lillan H. Smith Branch
    (Home of The Merril Collection)
    239 College Street
    Toronto Public Library
    Monday, May 2, 2016, 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.
    The Eh List

  • Keynote Speaker
    Creative Ink Festival
    Burnaby, British Columbia
    May 6-8, 2016
    Creative Ink Festival

  • Headliner
    Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival
    Shuswap, British Columbia
    May 20-22, 2016
    Word on the Lake

  • Reading
    Wasaga Beach Public Library
    Wasaga Beach, Ontario
    Monday, June 20, 2016

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Quantum Night comes out one week from today

by Rob - February 23rd, 2016

Quantum Night, my 23rd novel — and my first in three years — comes out one week from today, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, simultaneously in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

I’ll be touring throughout Canada and into the US for the book; see my book-tour schedule here.

Pictured: Morgan Hoffman, cohost of Space’s InnerSpace, with Quantum Night.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Publishers Weekly gives Quantum Night a starred review

by Rob - February 7th, 2016

Publishers Weekly just gave my Quantum Night a starred review!

The most-coveted review in the industry, a “starred review” from PW indicates a book of exceptional merit. PW is the trade journal of the publishing industry.

Note: There are spoilers in the full review, but here are the first and last lines:

“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.”

“Sawyer (Red Planet Blues) is very good at grounding the technical speculation in personal conflict, as Marchuk’s utilitarian principles struggle with his emotional impulses and the political/media references keep the story uncomfortably close to present-day fears.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

35 Years Ago Today: My First SF Publication

by Rob - January 14th, 2016

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 a planetarium starshow), but that was my first science-fiction publication — and it came out exactly 35 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 35 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:

Hugo / Nebula / PKDick overlap — and SF’s true Triple Crown

by Rob - January 13th, 2016

On a friend’s wall, there’s a discussion of the lack of overlap between winners of the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo and the Nebula. There was also mention of the Hugo, Nebula, and Dick being “science fiction’s Triple Crown.” My comments:

Speaking as (a) a past Philip K. Dick Award judge, and (b) a past best-novel Hugo Award winner, and (c) a past best-novel Nebula Award winner, there are reasons for this. The Hugo is open to science fiction AND fantasy, in ALL book formats; the Nebula is open to science fiction AND fantasy in ALL book formats; the Philip K. Dick is open ONLY to science fiction ONLY first published in paperback. The POINT of the PKD is to spotlight books that have NOT been given prestige publishing (hardcover original) — just as Dick’s own works were not; it’s a way of spotlighting books that did not get hardcover treatment.

So, to find overlap in the winners you have to look at the years the Hugo or the Nebula went to a science fiction novel, not a fantasy novel, then look at years when that science fiction novel wasn’t published in hardcover.

It’s a rare overlap (it COULD have happened in 2014 with Anne Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the first paperback original to win the Hugo in a long time; ANCILLARY was also a PKD finalist). But that’s the ONLY example of a Hugo winner that could also have been a PKD winner form this century/millennium.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a Dick nominee, but the Dick is not, and was never intended to be, what the Hugo and the Nebulas are: an award for the best science fiction or fantasy novel of the year.

It’s only in the marketing of NEUROMANCER that the Dick/Hugo/Nebula is ever referred to as “science fiction’s Triple Crown.” It CAN’T be, because many/most of the SF books published in a given year are ineligible for the Dick (by virtue of not being paperback originals). NEUROMANCER was first published as a mass-market paperback original in the New Ace Specials line edited by Terry Carr.

If you want to make an analogy to the Triple Crown, the third award, after the Hugo and the Nebula, would be the juried John W. Campbell Memorial Award (not to be confused with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer); it’s the most-significant science-fiction award to be open to all science-fiction books (but, unlike the Hugo and the Nebula, it is only open to SF, not fantasy).

There have only been four winners of this actual Triple Crown (years are years of presentation for the Hugo and the Campbell; the Nebula is dated for the year of publication):

  • RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (1974)
  • GATEWAY by Frederik Pohl (1978)
  • FOREVER PEACE by Joe Haldeman (1998)
  • THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

More about the John W. Campbell Memorial Award

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Writers groups call on publishers to offer fair contracts

by Rob - January 8th, 2016

The Authors Guild (US), Society of Authors (UK), and The Writers’ Union of Canada, among other groups, have all just written to traditional publisher demanding fairer, more-modern contract terms. I was asked on Facebook if these initiatives were likely to get any traction. Here’s my response:

Honestly? I think traditional publishers will continue to dig in their heels — and die. When their top authors start leaving for direct engagement with their audiences — and they will since people like Scott Turow (past president of the Authors Guild in the US) and Philip Pullman (current president of the Society of Authors in the UK) are the ones behind these fair-contract initiatives — that will leave traditional publishing with no perceived quality advantage in the mind of the reading public over self-publishing.

Traditional publishers have kept for themselves every single dollar — every one — that new production methods have saved them. Typesetting from authors’ disks instead of manually rekeyboarding? They kept all that money. Economies of shorter print runs? They kept all that money.

For newer distribution methods, they’ve insisted on the lion’s share, offering just 17.5% ebook royalties (25% of 70%) vs. Amazon / Kobo / iBooks offering 70% of ebook royalties for self-publishing. They’ve become more aggressive about trying to take control of valuable rights such as digitial audiobooks. I can’t think of a single bone — again, not one — traditional publishers have thrown to authors in the past decade.

And they’ve been rapacious about holding on to rights, trying to spin the mere hypothetical existence of print-on-demand copies or the mere availability of ebook editions as being “in print” (and then in many cases producing atrocious bad-photocopy-quality print-on-demand editions and typo-ridden OCR-scanned ebook editions of backlist that they quite literally should be ashamed to have their publishing imprints associated with), paying out zero, or ten, or maybe if you’re lucky a few hundred dollars twice a year to keep control of older titles the author could be profitably selling (at reasonable ebook prices, something traditional publishers are incapable of grasping) for thousands.

Meanwhile, while authors are feeling ripped off — and experienced ones are — publishers (Tor, for example) have gone on record claiming that 2014 (the last year we have data for so far) was their best year financially ever. I mean really.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

I finished writing Far-Seer 25 years ago today

by Rob - January 4th, 2016

Twenty-five years ago today, on Friday, January 4, 1991, I finished writing my third novel, Far-Seer (I’d already written Golden Fleece and End of an Era). Far-Seer became the first volume of my Quintaglio Ascension trilogy. I’ll be releasing the whole trilogy as ebooks later this year. Some reviews (the novel was published in June 1992 by Ace):

“The most memorable interstellar dinosaurs of all were introduced in Robert J. Sawyer’s Far-Seer. Collectively, Sawyer’s Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner are the greatest tales ever written about intelligent, space-faring dinosaurs.” — Allen A. Debus in Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction

“A tour de force. Vastly enjoyable, beautifully realized.” —Asimov’s Science Fiction

“Afsan’s world and nature feel quite real. The reader gets involved and cheers him on, and many another writer must say to Sawyer just what one saurian says to a superior: `I cast a shadow in your presence.'” —Analog

“This is a truly great piece of SF.” —Kliatt (starred review “highlighting an exceptional book”)

“A modern parable about the conflict between science and religious faith. Painstakingly researched, lucidly written, meticulously crafted — a vivid depiction of the scientific method and the scientific mind.” —Books in Canada

“Riveting; compelling; thrilling — a real treat. The science in Far-Seer is impeccable, the story-line is refreshingly original, and the world Sawyer’s constructed is audacious. He’s already being compared to Heinlein, Clarke, and Pohl, an illustrious company of SF masters. If he keeps up the high standard set by Far-Seer, this comparison will be well deserved.” —Quill & Quire (starred review “indicating a book of exceptional merit”)

“Without question, Far-Seer will be remembered as one of the year’s outstanding sf books.” —The Toronto Star

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Book dedicated to Tom Jericho

by Rob - December 25th, 2015

So, this kind of made my year. One of the definitive texts in vertebrate paleontology is The Complete Dinosaur, edited by Michael K. Brett-Surman, Thomas Holtz​, and James O. Farlow. And the second edition is dedicated in part to Thomas Jericho, the fictional paleontologist who is the main character in my 2000 Hugo Award-nominated novel Calculating God. The full dedication reads (all the others named were real paleontologists):

This second edition is dedicated to our colleagues,

Halszka Osmólska
John H. Ostrom
John S. McIntosh
W. A. S. Sarjeant
Edwin Colbert
Tobe Wilkins
Jim Adams
Robin Reid
Donna Engard
Thomas Jericho

You advanced our science. You made a difference.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Classic Star Trek’s two key episodes

by Rob - December 25th, 2015

There are two episodes key to understanding classic Star Trek. One, of course, is “The Naked Time,” in which we learn everyone’s inner secrets and motivations. But the other, I’d argue, is “The Conscience of the King,” in which we learn that Star Trek is best viewed as theatrical, as a stage play, as a bit over-the-top in terms of performance, a bit under-realized in terms of sets, with stylized dialog that would make Aaron Sorkin and Tom Stoppard proud, and, at its best, as a play within a play wherein we’ll at last catch what’s really being discussed. It’s no accident that Roddenberry hired a Shakespearean actor, William Shatner, to portray his first series star, or another, Patrick Stewart, to play his second.

In the above light, consider such episodes as “Requiem for Methuselah,” with the most Shakespearean dialog of any installment (and clearly a riff on “The Tempest”), “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the most blatant of Trek’s morality plays, “Elaan of Troyius,” which is, of course, “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Is There In Truth No Beauty?,” with its Miranda and Caliban-like Medusan, the minimal staging of “The Empath” and “Spectre of the Gun,” soliloquies such as the “Risk is our business” one from “Return to Tomorrow,” and the frequent Shakespearean references throughout right down to the title of the penultimate episode, “All Our Yesterdays.”

Most of the episodes I cite above are from the third season (although “The Conscience of the King” was the 13th episode produced and the 13th aired): the show became more blatantly Shakespearean under Fred Freiberger, and Shatner’s performances grew more theatrical, playing to the back row, as the series went on. But the Shakespearean influence is there from day one, and the theatrical quality is pervasive through the entire run.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

An interview on marketing and promoting your book

by Rob - December 23rd, 2015

Ten years ago today, Tee Morris interviewed me for his “Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” podcast about the business of marketing and promotion for authors. I think most of it is still quite relevant today, so here it is, a decade on (MP3; runs 35 minutes).

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Three new SF novels coming March 1, 2016

by Rob - December 21st, 2015

Tuesday, March 1, 2016, is the pub date for my next novel, Quantum Night, from Ace — but it’s also the pub date for the new novels by two very good friends of mine (both of which have cover blurbs from me!): Arkwright by Hugo winner Allen Steele from Tor, and The Courier, the debut novel by Gerald Brandt from DAW.

Of Arkwright I said:

Arkwright is both a love-letter to the science-fiction field and a terrific cutting-edge hard-SF novel. Steele’s affection for the Golden Age of Science Fiction shines through on every page, and the narrative rapidly accelerates to interstellar velocity.”
And of The Courier I said:
“Gerald Brandt’s The Courier is a stunning debut: a fast-paced cyberpunky story of a future Los Angeles with a kick-ass heroine you’ll never forget. A terrific book from a distinctive new voice; I’m looking forward to many more books from this author.”
Robert J. Sawyer online:

Mentioned in Tim Wynne-Jones’s latest

by Rob - December 21st, 2015

I’m thrilled to see that the great Canadian young-adult writer Tim Wynne-Jones mentions my 1995 Nebula Award-winning novel The Terminal Experiment in his latest book, The Emperor of Any Place, which came out in October 2015, and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Says one of Tim’s characters:

“If you would like something very entertaining, I have just finished a work of science fiction by Mr. Robert J. Sawyer, The Terminal Experiment. It is a shocker, let me tell you: a murder mystery but also a very interesting treatise on ethical philosophy. Most intriguing.”
Robert J. Sawyer online:

Authoritarians: an existential threat

by Rob - December 18th, 2015

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;

Favorite books in six words

by Rob - December 16th, 2015

Yesterday on my Facebook wall, we played this game:

Describe the plot of your favorite book in exactly six words — but don’t say what it is, let us guess.
I described seven favorite books thusly. Here are the descriptions, along with the books’ titles:

“Computer psychoanalyzes astronaut paralyzed by guilt.”

Gateway, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science-fiction novel by Frederik Pohl; my choice for the best SF novel ever written.

“Hen lays dinosaur egg; chaos ensues.”

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. As The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature says, the book is “largely a satire on modern life in the USA” — and a brilliant one, at that. Plus, it features two paleontologists and is a rigorous science-fiction novel, to boot.

“Law student tries to impress professor.”

The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr. — the novel about Hart, a first-year Harvard law student, and his imperious professor, Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., later played to Academy Award-winning perfection by John Houseman first in the movie then in the subsequent TV series.

“Noble father defends innocent black man.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, my all-time favorite novel.

“Scion of British family is unlovable.”

The Man of Property by John Galsworthy, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature; the first volume of his “The Forsyte Saga.”

“Time traveler meets bifurcated human descendants.”

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, in which he pretty much invents the notion of science fiction as social comment.

“Definitions in alphabetical order; dull, really.”

The dictionary! My favorite is American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, Unabridged.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

R.I.P., Virginia Sawyer

by Rob - December 9th, 2015

My mother, Virginia Sawyer, aged 90, passed away very early yesterday morning (Tuesday, December 8, 2015), at North York General Hospital in Toronto. She was lucid until the end, and made her own decision to have life-sustaining aids removed.

She was able to say goodbye in person to Jack (her husband of sixty-three years), as well as to me, my wife Carolyn, my brother Peter, his wife Jacquie, and our sister-in-law Kim (my brother Alan’s widow), and, by phone, to her brother Quentin Peterson in California and my mother’s niece Sonja Peterson.

My mother’s remains will be cremated tomorrow morning. At her specific request, there will be no memorial service or memorial marker. Brief death notices — as dictated by her to me shortly before her passing — will appear in The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail newspapers on Thursday, December 10 (tomorrow).

My father John A. Sawyer prepared this obituary for my mother:

Sawyer, Virginia Kivley (Peterson)

Virginia was born in Appleton, Minnesota, on February 26, 1925. She was the daughter of George Martin and Nell (Kivley) Peterson and sister of Quentin Kivley Peterson.

She married John A. (Jack) Sawyer in 1952 and was the mother of Peter D. Sawyer (Jacquie), Robert J. Sawyer (Carolyn), and the late Alan B. Sawyer (Kim).

Virginia graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Minnesota (M.A.), and the University of Chicago (M.B.A.).

She taught Statistics at the University at Buffalo (1947-49), and was a part-time lecturer at the University of Chicago School of Business, Carleton University (Ottawa), McMaster University (Hamilton), and the University of Toronto Woodsworth and Scarborough Colleges.

She was a member of the North York University Women’s Club for many years and made donations to establish the Virginia Sawyer Award in the School of Women’s Studies at York University.

In January 2014, she moved into Canterbury Place Retirement Residence in North York. She died on December 8, 2015.

My mother was predeceased by her youngest son, my brother Alan, who passed away thirty months to the day before her. At my mother’s request, there will be no memorial service, but she asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Alan Sawyer Memorial Awardat Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media (my alma mater, but where Alan, an Emmy Award-winning producer, frequently guest-lectured and mentored):

Or: 416-979-5000 ext. 6541 (ask for Karen)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

Quantum Night cover blurb

by Rob - December 1st, 2015

Here’s the cover blurb for Quantum Night, my 23rd novel, being published three months from today, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, simultaneously in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook:


ROBERT J. SAWYER’s novels are “intelligent, literate, and immensely readable explorations of the biggest ideas there are.”* Now the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues, FlashForward, and the WWW trilogy explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing …

Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously — a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible — change human nature — before the entire world descends into darkness.

* The Halifax Chronicle-Herald

Robert J. Sawyer online: