[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Writing The Terminal Experiment

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1996 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Each year, the Spring issue of the SFWA Bulletin features essays from the current Nebula Award finalists about their nominated works. Here's my essay from the Spring 1996 Bulletin about my novel The Terminal Experiment, which was serialized in Analog as Hobson's Choice:

Robert J. Sawyer founded the Canadian Region of SFWA, and served on SFWA's Board of Directors from 1992 to 1995. He has won five Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), three HOMer Awards from the CompuServe SF&F Literature Forum, and an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. His seventh novel, Starplex, will be serialized in Analog beginning with the July 1996 issue; the book version will follow in October from Ace.

[Cover Art] Two of my favorite SF short stories are Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" and "The Star." Each asserts as real an aspect of religion normally taken on faith, and then examines the repercussions of that reality. Not many novels have done the same thing successfully, and so my goal in creating The Terminal Experiment — which begins with a man discovering scientific proof for the existence of the human soul — was to write such a book.

(I had other goals, too: as a long-time booster of Canadian science fiction, I wanted to write a novel that takes place entirely in Canada. Canadian writers are constantly told not to set material in our own country if we wish it to sell internationally; I wanted to help disprove that. So far, The Terminal Experiment has sold not just to HarperPrism USA, but also to New English Library in the UK, Editrice Nord in Italy, and AST in Russia. Needless to say, I'm delighted.)

I believe science fiction is at its best not when it's making predictions, and not even when it's sounding warning bells, but rather when it is giving us unique insights into what it means to be human, examining the human condition in ways that mainstream fiction simply can't. That's why Frederik Pohl's Gateway is my favorite SF novel: it looks at guilt under temporal circumstances that no one has yet experienced — and yet Fred's portrayal rings true. Well, The Terminal Experiment is my own attempt at uniquely science-fictional insights: an exercise in determining what a human mind might be like if it were aware either that it would live forever or that it was already dead. (The Hobson's Choice of the serial title is the choice between immortality or a scientifically verified life after death.)

After spending a couple of years writing my Quintaglio trilogy, which has no humans in it at all, I also wanted to produce a work in which every twist and turn of the plot was driven solely by all-too-human psychology. That Stan Schmidt liked the finished product enough to serialize it in Analog means more to me than I can say. I'm also very grateful that John Silbersack and Christopher Schelling at HarperPrism put the book out as a classy mainstream package. My profound thanks to them — and to everyone who nominated The Terminal Experiment.

More Good Reading

More about The Terminal Experiment
Robert J. Sawyer's essay on winning the Nebula Award

Writing The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy
Writing Starplex
Writing Frameshift
Writing Illegal Alien
Writing FlashForward
Writing Calculating God
Writing "Lost in the Mail"
Writing "You See But You Do Not Observe"
Writing "The Shoulders of Giants"

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